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Class war - Bleszinski on GoW: Judgment's multiplay

A full day of E3 chaos after seeing Gears of War: Judgment may have dulled Alex Donaldson's memory, but the new class-based multiplay is hard to forget.

Classes are a significant addition to the Gears series, taking multiplayer gameplay previously about sets of identically-playing meatheads going at it and providing new layer of depth and complexity which fundamentally changes the Gears formula.

Classes. That word, and its effect on the massive franchise remained at the forefront of my thoughts at the end of the day.

The repercussions of that design decision are wide-reaching, and something Gears maestro Cliff Bleszinski clearly thought long and hard upon. He spoke about his thoughts on the system during the demonstration.

"I’m really excited to finally have classes in Gears,” said Bleszinski."In previous iterations, the best way to play Gears was to roll around and wall bounce and shotgun people in the face and that’s cool, you can still do that.”

“I'm really excited to finally have classes in Gears,” he said after showing an introduction detailing a plethora of different human and Locust classes.

“In previous iterations, the best way to play Gears was to roll around, wall bounce and shotgun people in the face - and that's cool, you can still do that. But I'm getting a little bit older, my reaction times aren't quite as good as the 19-year-olds out there and I'd like to be able to contribute to team-based games in different ways.”

While the traditional Gears load-out is still represented in the younger version of Cole – who fills the role of the typical soldier – other class types including Engineers, Medics and Snipers focus more on unique support powers to enable different ways of playing – and contributing – to a game.

“To be able to play a support class, to be able to deploy a turret while I'm repairing a fortification, to be able to throw out a stim-gas grenade to revive and heal batches of people - what's also quite nice is that it's an area of effect - to be able to have perches i can get up to where I'm able to snipe and not really be in the fray of things with my shotgun - that's cool,” Bleszinski enthused.

Those who are more traditional Gears fans won't be left out in the cold. While Judgment has been given subtle changes to its control scheme – including moving weapon changes from the d-pad to buttons and adding the ability to throw grenades without that lengthy wind-up animation if you wish - Cole will still feel largely familiar, and there's plenty of compelling reasons for old fans to check out the new classes.

“When you see somebody else throw out that really cool sonar grenade and it's tagging everybody and you see them getting points for it, you'll think 'hey, maybe I might want to try that,'” Bleszinski said. “That's the beauty of class-based gameplay – if you're playing as one guy – you're the soldier, you get your lancer and your boomshot, and that's all you get. You don't get any other toys, and I'm gonna constantly see you next to me using your cool reviving stimgas or repair tools and throwing out turrets you'll think, I want to try that.

“It really kind of ties into my mantra of the overall studio of Epic, which has been lately 'play your way' - not just one way to play the game - craft your own game experience, have a dynamic campaign, have a multiplayer that's class-based and has all these unique strategies, have asymmetrical multiplayer as well so each side is unique,” he explained while playing a video debuting a number of playable Locust types with abilities separate and unique from their human counterparts.

“It's not just a medic versus a medic - the human medic versus Kantus [The Locust Medic] is quite a different experience," he said. "There's different strategies we're still learning back at the home base about how the different classes work together, so that's very, very cool.”

Watch on YouTube

Gears of War: Judgment debut trailer

Bleszinski and Epic aren't alone in this endeavor, though – Judgment is partially developed by the team at People Can Fly in a setup Bleszinski seemed keen to paint as a partnership rather than a passing of the reigns.

“People Can Fly are doing a ton of lifting on this project, but Epic has plenty of bodies working on it on a day to day basis,” he said. “I'm in the playtest lab shouting out that I think the healing sucks on this guy and we need to tweak it – things like that. As always, at Epic I'm working on multiple things but Gears is our baby too. It's more like two parents raising their child to be a stone cold killer.”

“It's a pair of fresh eyes over the whole thing, but we also have the guys who created the original thing making sure that it's still Gears,” People can Fly's Adrian Chmielarz explained.

Chmielarz happily provided animated, more in-depth explanations of how the class system changes the dynamics of multiplayer, too, a view more from the trenches of the title's development. It's not just about individual players having more tools at their disposal and about the make-up of each team, but also about how players can interact directly with each other to create powerful effects in battle.

It's no longer rock-paper-scissors of weapons and cover – winning is as much about your team leveraging their own powers and combining them to create something bigger as it is your aim and choice of weapon, as Chmielarz elaborated.

“In class-based games, I never play as a medic. I only want to kill people,” said Chmielarz. “If everybody takes the soldier, you will lose. You’ll probably lose against all these mixed teams that are combining all these strategies. So, there’s this moment where somebody is thinking ‘ok, so we have to take the medic.’

“If you play the regular team deathmatch it's always like the coordinated team wins over those who just don't talk to each other," he said. "In this case there's this extra layer of combining things in a different way; it's this great synergy effect. Again, there are strategies we're discovering every single day, like – an example is a grenadier and a ticker. You start with the grenadier throwing a grenade, but then have the ticker eat that grenade. When that grenade explodes, the power of the grenade is then doubled. You can also use the grenadier to kick a ticker over a fence.

“So you can play in separation, not talk to each other – ticker as the ticker, grenadier as the grenadier, not talk to each other – but if you actually cooperate there's this great synergy effect that can allow your team to win. These strategies we're discovering are not something we put in; we talked about the systems – we designed a couple of systems and then we just see how they interact with each other.'”

It's always tough to write about a game without going hands-on and without seeing even a live demo played by a member of the development team. After seeing a few unreleased videos of Judgment's new features in action, though, it's hard not to leave invigorated for the future of the Gears of War franchise.

Recognizably Gears, this multiplayer is clearly twisted into something new and exciting thanks to Epic and People Can Fly's changes. Chmielarz closed his explanation of the new multiplayer classes and how they're implemetned with an anecdote.

“In class-based games, I never play as a medic. I only want to kill people," he said. "If everybody takes the soldier, you will lose. You'll probably lose against all these mixed teams that are combining all these strategies. So, there's this moment where somebody is thinking 'ok, so we have to take the medic.'

“This is the critical moment – are you enjoying the fight, or are you like 'I don't want to play as the medic but I have to play as the medic.' We're simply trying to make sure that even if your team forces you to switch to a different class it's still fun to play.

“Whenever you have a problem you're facing this choice for classes – when you have trouble choosing, we've done our job. If it's very obvious to you that this is the best unit to play, then of course, we suck. So far it just works – I'm now enjoying the medic for the first time in my life.”

The concepts are sound – though the teams now have to hope the multiplayer community embraces this new direction.

Gears of War: Judgment has a vague release date of 2013.

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