New Gears of War 2 experience system due 3/24, Snowblind Map Pack coming 3/31

Q&A: Executive producer Rod Fergusson outlines update's brand-new ranking system, auto-balancing, and achievements; add-on features frosty remake of Fuel Depot, trio of all-new arenas.

Three months after the second Gears of War 2 map pack was announced, Epic Games has taken the wraps off its successor. The Snowblind Map Pack will arrive on Xbox Live on March 31 bearing four new maps: Grindyard, Under Hill, Courtyard, and a remake of Fuel Depot from the original Gears game. No price has been announced, but the last add-on for the game, December's three-map Combustible Map Pack, cost 800 Microsoft points, or $9.99 in real-world currency.

Grindin' in the Grindyard.

Though exciting for Horde mode addicts, the Snowblind Map Pack will be preceded by something far more ambitious--and completely free of charge. The week prior, Epic will launch its third and most extensive title update, which implements an all-new experience-based ranking system. The old TrueSkill system ranks will become hidden but will still be used under the hood to "set up the most competitive matches possible."

Under the new system, players will earn experience points for scoring in public matches, advancing all the way to level 100. Upon attaining certain levels, they will be rewarded with the following Xbox achievements: Rookie Gear (level 5), Seasoned Gear (level 15), Battle-Tested Gear (level 25), Battle-Hardened Gear (level 50), and Veteran Gear (level 100). (The last two achievements will also require that players download and achieve feats in the Snowblind Map Pack.) Four other unnamed achievements will be added as part of the update, with a total of 250 GamerScore points.

In addition to the new experience system--which will be based only on games played post-update--Gears of War 2's Title Update 3 will also feature new auto-balancing features, which will swap in bots for players who drop out mid-match. (Those same dropouts will suffer an experience-point penalty.) To learn about the rest of the update's features--and about Epic's future Gears of War plans--GameSpot spoke with executive producer Rod Fergusson.

GameSpot: What really prompted the changes in Title Update 3? What was the impetus behind them?

Rod Fergusson: Basically, it was a matter of listening to what people were saying about the TrueSkill system. We spent a lot of time on the forums and talking with other players, and we were noticing that people were sort of plateauing really quickly. At the middle of the road, they'd have a three-bar skill rank. Then they were having trouble understanding about what they needed to do to progress because of the way TrueSkill works. We're still going to keep the TrueSkill system under the hood, though, because we'll use it for matchmaking behind the scenes.

So to remedy the issues, we figured we should impose a system where people could earn experience; even if they lost the match they would feel like they're moving up the ladder. We want them to feel like they're progressing, gaining levels of experience in multiplayer play. It was really a reward thing to make people feel better about their progression online.

We also wanted to make sure the game types were balanced. We've had over 22 million matches for Gears so far. We looked at a bunch of data that we have on the back end about what the average score per match was of a particular game type like Warzone and Annex. We found that typically, Annex averages about four times as many points as Warzone does.

So, we had to normalize that discrepancy, so that people wouldn't say, "Oh, to get experience, you can only play Annex." We actually normalized it across so that no matter what game type you play, you're gaining experience at the same rate.

GS: Tell me about the new ranks, like Rookie Gear, Seasoned Gear, and their corresponding achievements.

The new experience system in action.

RF: We created five new achievements for the experience system. Normally, the only way Microsoft allows a company to add new achievements is to tie them to new downloadable content. So we were actually really lucky in that we were able to talk to the Microsoft Game Studios team and explain to them that this was a fundamental change to the game.

They actually allowed us to have the first three achievements--Rookie Gear (level 5), Seasoned Gear (level 15), and Battle-Tested Gear (level 25)--to be just on experience alone. However, the next two higher ones--Battle-Hardened (level 50) and Veteran (level 100)--we had to tie to the DLC.

To get Battle-Hardened Gear, you have to reach level 50 and have at least played a match on each of the four new maps. You don't even have to win. As long as you played and reached level 50 of your normal level progression, then you'll get the achievement. For Veteran, you have to reach level 100 and to win a match on each map.

GS: Can you describe the four new maps?

RF: Yeah, absolutely. Grindyard is kind of an interesting map for us. Any time you've ever heard us talking about Gears 1, we always talked about the fact that Gridlock was the map we used as a basis for a lot of our development. Grindyard was that map for us for Gears 2. When we first started bringing in the new weapons, like the mortar, it was the very first place we tried all these new weapons. We had hoped to make it part of the original 10 maps that were going to be in the Gears 2 box, but for a number of reasons, it ended up not being that way.

So, the team is really excited about Grindyard actually getting out. The fact that it's become a winter-themed map makes it even more awesome-looking. It's a junkyard processing plant with flames, but then you have this really cool falling snow which makes for an interesting contrast.

Then there's Courtyard. If you remember Embry Square in Gears 1, it has the same city feel with a nice dusting of snow. It's a really fun map because you can see people across the way really quickly, and so you get a really good sense of motion in the battlefield.

And, then we have Under Hill, which basically takes place on a highway juncture, just before it goes into the mountains. You have this raised highway and this tunnel into the mountain and it's sort of half-and-half on that sort of environment. You can go to the high ground on the turnpike and grab the mortar, but going up there exposes you because it's essentially a raised highway. It's a dead end to go up there. So, you can get the higher elevation, but once you get up there, you could potentially be stuck up there.

For the last map we're bringing back--by popular demand--Fuel Depot from Gears 1. This was a map that was sort of a warehouse map with a downed helicopter and these gas pumps that you could blow up. It had two transport truck trailers with the sniper rifle inside. We gave it a makeover, much like we did for the Flashback Map Pack and the other Gears 1 maps we revisited. We gave it a new look and feel in terms of the visual style--again, it's a winter theme.

Grindyard, before The Unpleasantness.

GS: Right, now on to DLC strategy in general. Gears of War 2 has obviously been a huge success for you. Are you going to keep its momentum going with new map packs until the next Gears of War game comes out?

RF: I have no idea what you're talking about! (Laughs.) Yeah, I mean, our philosophy at Epic has always been to try to keep the community vibrant and to keep giving new content where we can. We're definitely responding to their needs, when we see things like a way of tweaking the game to make it better. That's one of the big things we're really doing in this title update. I mean, this is the third title update. Title Update 1 was really about fixing matchmaking, since once we had scaled up we saw some immediate issues that we could fix. So we got it out as fast as we could.

Once things started to settle down in that space, there were a number of exploits that were starting to hurt the user experience online. So we dedicated Title Update 2 to getting rid of exploits and ways that people were kind of ruining the fun for others.

Now, with Title Update 3, we started looking more at how can we actually improve the experience. By doing things like adding the new experience level system, we have it set up so if people quit while you're playing a public match, we'll spawn one or a number of bots in to balance the teams.

There are a bunch of things like that in this update. We'll penalize players for quitting in the middle of a game with the new experience system. We also have some improved standby detections, but we don't want to go into too much detail, because we don't want to give away what we're doing. Essentially, we're able to tell when people are standby, and we're able to penalize them in a sort of undercover kind of way.

Then there are things like Public Horde. We had no idea that Public Horde was going to be as successful as it turned out to be. We thought Private Horde was going to be the way that most people played because you wanted to get together with five or four friends and play. Public Horde is basically playing with strangers, yet Public Horde has been outpacing almost all of our multiplayer game types.

A Horde-ing we will go!

But one of the things that sort of sucked about playing Public Horde was the fact that if the host quit on you after three hours of playing, then your high score never got updated. So one of the things we're doing now is, at the end of each wave, if the score that you have is a new high score for you, then that'll get posted to the leaderboard right away. So if a host quits after three hours, then you know at least that your high score has been saved along the way.

GS: OK, now there's a rumor going around saying that the next Gears game might be broken into episodic segments like Half-Life 2: Episode One and Episode...

RF: Well, there's been no recognition of another Gears of War sequel being developed. But in terms of a business model perspective, our goal is to supply the community with more content that allows a game to keep being played and for people to enjoy it. I'd hate for people to stop playing Gears just because they felt like they had seen it all and done it all. So we continually look at how we can we keep the experience fresh.

For us, a design goal was, from the very beginning with Gears 1, to find a way that one map could be used everywhere. We don't want to have a Warzone-only map and we don't want to have Horde-only maps. So when we release a pack like the Snowblind Pack, we know that not only are there four new maps for every multiplayer mode, now there's four new maps for Horde as well--because Horde plays differently on every map.

So, it's really about giving back to the community. That's really what we're trying to do. I mean we fought for a long time about trying to get stuff free and with Microsoft and their business model and marketplace, and that's not as easy as we would like it to be. And, also we had other issues there. But ultimately, it is really about just sort of keeping the community vibrant and keeping the game fresh.

GS: OK, so hypothetically, were you guys to make a Gears of War 3, would you reach out to the community for input and ideas as you did with Title Update 3?

RF: It's always a source of inspiration. I mean, we have to be careful about where you get all your sort of feedback from, and you can never blindly accept unsolicited game ideas. But in general, after Gears 1, we spent a lot of time listening to the feedback of what people were saying as a way of contributing to Gears 2.

GS: OK, earlier you mentioned how Epic is trying to keep it fresh. So far, Epic has only released multiplayer map packs for Gears of War games. This year, the single-player expansions for Fallout 3 (Operation Anchorage) and GTAIV (The Lost and Damned) are doing very well. Does the success of those two arouse any interest at Epic to work on some kind of update to the single-player campaign of Gears 2?

RF: It's certainly interesting. I mean, I can't say it's not interesting. I think everybody is sort of watching that and trying to understand it and how best to take advantage of that interest out there. But, I don't have anything to reveal or talk about in that space right now.

GS: OK. Now, I would be remiss if I didn't ask this question: With Midway Games going bankrupt, what's going to go on with Unreal Tournament 3? Have you guys thought about a new publisher?

RF: You know, I'm only the executive producer for the Gears of War series. I don't know that much about the business side or what Epic's plans are. I know there's still apparently a lot of interest in the UT experience and the updates that are coming out. But beyond that, I don't have any comment.

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362 comments
dylanloops
dylanloops

i love the game but im just gonna give up if you dont do somethin

dylanloops
dylanloops

ok now im sorry to say this but since that update came out I hate that freakin game MORE...... its not even worth it anymore you guys say you fix it and its all fine and dandy and when we go to bloody play i can barely even get a kill without a chainsaw..... i am sick of you epic.... either make change or lose profits. how about trying to let us choose who we play with instead of having an AUTO Seeker.... it does NOT work i can guarantee that we would have plenty times better connection choosing who we play with if not take it back to gears 1 style for god sakes its ridiculous...... call of duty is a perfect example even on a red bar connection i can beat people. i got a 16 kill streak and 0 deaths in one match on a red bar COME ON EPIC STOP DISSAPOINTING YOUR FANS

stuffyyo
stuffyyo

Does it take anyone else close to 5 or 10 minutes to start a match together, in the matchmaking thing. I also think that they should remake War Machine because that was by far the best map on Gears of War 1 and if they do i hope they don't change it like the other remade maps of Gears of War 2

zecc81
zecc81

I haven't played gears 2 in over three months because half of the games are sooooo unbelievably laggy I have to quit, but then quitting affects my rank even more now? I liked the host system in gears 1, where you search for a custom match of what your in the mood for, look for a game with a good connection, then join it. IT WORKED. And even if there was some lag it would still be playable. Plus only people with a good connection would host. I felt bad for people in gears 2 when I was host because I only have dsl (1500kbps, but still it aint cable). And another thing, remake War Machine, that was my favorite map!!!!

LSS_Broly29
LSS_Broly29

I think that is great that they continue to care for not only the gamers but the dedication to the game itself. But to be quite honest Xbox Live ruined Gears 2 when they gave noobs instruction manuals on 2 piece ing with the shotgun

mikeisaniceguy
mikeisaniceguy

They need to do something about the sniper and the shotgun. Its hard to snipe and everyone uses the shotgun.

penpusher
penpusher

I like the idea of the new exp system and bots replacing drop outs. I think it doesnt take the pressure off drop outs to stop dropping out, but it should ease the burden on those of us who can be bothered though I am worried that bots just cant cope in the later levels of horde :(

MAKEITRAIN1010
MAKEITRAIN1010

Whats going to happen when its leggy as hell but im not going to quit cuz ill lose experience but when someone quits there replace them with the bots that going to be BA

Lamb-of-God
Lamb-of-God

yes i agree gunguy0194, the games good, but my god sometimes it literally takes me 45 secs to get out of the spawn bc i always lag back to it, i quit on those kinda matches, why should i lose experience bc i cant even play the match : / another thing REMAKE WAR MACHINE!!!!!!!!!

Gunguy0194
Gunguy0194

Ok... The only time that I leave public matches is when the connection is very bad. So their saying that when I leave because of the $hitty matchmaking connection (compared to COD 4 and such), that I'm going to loose rank? Haha how about you fix the frequent lag that I get at least multiple times everyday!

PBN-Dawg
PBN-Dawg

this game is sick, & its gunna be better. I love how people complain bout this game comparing it to KZ2, when it came out b4 KZ2 and it is a completetly different console. Motofan 87 is right, stfu, go commment on KZ2's posts

motofan87
motofan87

how come people that don't like the game even read about the upcoming news and then post about it? if you think KZ2 and COD4 are way better, then go post stuff about them and leave the b*tching to people that actually play the game.

advanracer
advanracer

Futhermore, even with the T-weak U-pdate 2, there were still expolits being done. Regardless of all the updates, There's still people out there who are smart or smarter than the staff working in Epic who still alter the gameplay. Hehe...more power to them. Just another form of expression from the unhappy consumers out there whos sick and tired of the changes happening in this years gears.

advanracer
advanracer

hmmm.penalizing the mid game or early "Drop Outs?" So what would happen if one would get the all to often 50 dollar "Connection To Host Lost" incident? Hmmm..funny Epic never considered that all to often occurence within their servers or whatever. Oh yeh gotta love the "paid" maps in the future. buncha money mongers. Time to buy a ps3 and both killzones to start.

cozmoandwanda
cozmoandwanda

This new ranking system is a waste of time, whats the point in having it if it doesnt even determine who you play against as it states above, meaning that im still going to be put onto a team with 4 one cheverons when im at the fourth rank. Additionally you know when a game is lossing people cos they start releasing DLC, to try and attract players back to the game. Well i paid £45 for the game which was way too expensive for such a huge disappointment, and now there asking for more money for a few crappy little maps that everyone knows should had come with the game, its just a cheap way of making more money out of a rubbish game that died a week after release and ur all falling for it. Oh yeah and killzone 2 FTW!! ^^.

RD1109
RD1109

My did they make Gridlock mossy, Canals frosty, and Fuel Depot even frostier?

Thaius_Tydane
Thaius_Tydane

Umm... the very fundamentals of this game are nothing at all like COD or Killzone 2. Even if some small aspects of it are similar, it is in no way ripping them off. Oh, and Killzone 2 came out waaaaay after Gears 2, smart one, and this update has been in the making for a while too.

DrkRaptor
DrkRaptor

"yeah this seems like it's just copying other games like COD 4 and KZ 2. Oh well, should be tons of fun all the same". copying KZ2???? love how a game that JUST came out is being copied while the programming and setting up for the patch of this game has been in the making way before KZ just came out. and the ranking system wont make EVERYONE guaranteed level 100. you need to work it, you gain and LOSE points just the same, so its not like COD where you just gain and dont lose anything. no prestige modes here folks

ZabuzaR
ZabuzaR

lavatj- If you go to the Gears 2 website, they mention that the new update will include things to detect lag switchers.

lavatj
lavatj

WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE CHEATERS USEING "LAG SWITCHERS" AND "AUTO CONTROLLERS" IE WICKED CONTROLLERS AND OTHERS????IT DOES NO GOOD TO PLAY PUBLIC ONLINE AS LONG AS THESE EXIST.YOU HAVE NO CHANCE TO EVEN COME CLOSE TO WINNING!!!!!!!

DeanoFantasy
DeanoFantasy

"yeah this seems like it's just copying other games like COD 4 and Killzone 2" spot on there JackHoleFace00, but that's not a bad thing though is it? I guess everyone will be expecting it to be the same as COD4's online ranking system since its qunique in its own way, and then everyone will flock for COD5 modern warfare 2 when it lands later this year.

JackHoleFace00
JackHoleFace00

yeah this seems like it's just copying other games like COD 4 and KZ 2. Oh well, should be tons of fun all the same.

cozmoandwanda
cozmoandwanda

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Last_SurvivorAC
Last_SurvivorAC

The experience system should be rather interesting. Along with the Fuel Depot remake this will very keep into the game for a good while.

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

This coming update will give me reason to go back into gears. I shall wait and see.

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

The experience points is a good way to bring players back into the game that may have left or may have been thinking of leaving for another game. This gives gamers a FREE goal and achievement junkies something to work towards.

RasutoSSAikou
RasutoSSAikou

I'm glad Epic is listening to their fans. They were a little bit slow on the uptake, but hey, when the update is released, no one will have anything to complain about.

Buffalodude
Buffalodude

I own Gears 2 and was going to start playing versus instead of just Horde but after what I have heard on here from all these upset gamers I don't think I will. A chainsaw vacuum thats just wrong but I havn't seen any of these issues with horde mode. Has anyone else experianced any issues exept for the occasional short lag in Horde mode please share. The combustible map pack is a rip off you get only 3 maps for $10 no way mabye 5 for $10 but three maps is only worth $5 and thats still a big ripoff. You give me five maps for $5 not a penny more. Epic should have postponed the game a extra month explained that they had some multiplayer issues and used that time to Iron it out. People would dislike the fact it was pushed back but it would be better than all these upset gamers who worked hard for the $60 dollar price tag.

Koal_Jadian
Koal_Jadian

since when do game updates now brag about gamerscore? That's the most meaningless part of games and now its used as a selling point? How about adding new functionality instead

fillup0
fillup0

Hopefully you can quit matches without having to go to the dashboard this time.

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

Is this anything like the New Xbox Experience? Maybe we can use our avatars in the game. Leave the game alone.

azell07
azell07

I thought it said, "new guild wars 2 experience". Almost made a mess xD

bochap76
bochap76

Gears 1 was a gritty in your face game. The match making suited the type of game it was perfectly. Once you got in a game you were in it until the host quit. None of this waiting a voting crap. The competition was what drove you to get better. Personally I don't care what skill I am rated. What ever match I am in, I just want to be the best. Sometimes I am, most of the time I am not. Gears 1 was what people who didn't want play with 12 year olds on halo 2 & 3 were playing. As for those who would argue that the developers never wanted Gears 1 to be a run and gun type game and wanted it to be more tactical, I have only one thing to say: "The customer is always right". Gears sold over 3 million copies. Why screw around with a proven product. If I wan't a tactical shooter I will play six vegas; if I want to play a multi player game based on subterrenean aliens, I expect to be able to shoot a shotgun from the hip without looking down the sights at point blank range and splattering their upper torso. Gears 2 takes everything out of the multiplayer that made Gears 1 fun and adds bloated matchmaking that doesn't function well. Not even a month after release Epic drops a map pack for customers to spend another 12 bucks on, after the 60 already spent on a game with a broken matchmaking system. Epic's solution, "make sure that you have a party of at least 5 before starting matchmaking, or once you do get in match party up so that match making will be faster." Epic failure Pun intended

nygiants1080
nygiants1080

Nothing can fix the GoW 2 online play. Compared to the orginal GoW this one is garbage.

millencolin
millencolin

Gears of War 2 online was such a disappointment compared to the first!

anyjabroni
anyjabroni

the bots thing was supposed to be on the disc, not as an update later.

BVCX
BVCX

Fix the lag, disconnection issue and chainsaw Epic than I'll be a killer again.

Nimbuster90
Nimbuster90

Not one good comment amount Gears 2 online. Sadly, I completely agree. I loved Gears 1, and after playing the Gears 2 campaign and watching all the videos, I was so pumped for online. Then I began getting sucked into chainsaws, my shotty shot blanks, and the lancer became the new Halo assault rifle... Please bring back Gears 1 gameplay, keep all of the Gears 2 features, and you guys can consider that the last and only necessary update in my opinion. Quit trying the whole "Friday the 13th Sweepstakes" crap to get your Gear fans back because we won't play if we don't like to play it. Remaking old levels is cool... but if we liked the old Gears gameplay better, HELLO, we'll just play the original and save $10. Come one guys, make the game for your players, not yourselves.

xRomm3l
xRomm3l

CHAINSAW VACUUM!!!!!!!! Come on EPIC!

cgassassins
cgassassins

yes,, gears of war # 1 is better than the #2

Denveraic
Denveraic

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

joke_man
joke_man

5) chainsaw duels- if your opponent is shot during a chainsaw battle, or both of you are shot, the person with whom has taken the most damage should automatically lose the chainsaw battle. How the heck is someone going to chainsaw you in half after being shot 5 times...?

DefHalan
DefHalan

why are these maps named after a styx song snowblind?

joke_man
joke_man

As far as fixing the Chainsawing issue, here are my ideas and solutions: 1) The chainsaw should have a fuel gauge that lowers while it is revved and being used. Similar to the Hammer of Dawn. 2) They need to fix the blackhole deal where you are sucked into the chainsaw even if you are several feet, or more, away. 3) No matter where I shoot someone, once they are hit with a bullet while revving the chainsaw, they must lower the chainsaw and they have a 2-3 second penalty before they can begin revving the chainsaw again, thus causing them to either switch weapons or change tactics. 4) Once you have finished chainsawing 1 person, you have a 5 second penalty before you can go on your chain sawing frenzy again. I mean seriously, you just chainsawed a person in half, there are guts and blood soaked into every inch of this sucker, someone needs to take at least 5 seconds to clean it... 5)

halfpike95
halfpike95

The shotgun should be a one shot kill from close up.As long as you hit them in the chest or head. In the first gears you could get one shot kills if you had good aim with the shotgun.Im just saying it should do a little more damage.

AlexDemise
AlexDemise

They need to fix the chainsawing more than anything. If you chainsaw, you WILL kill someone. I've shot people point blank in the face with a shottie while they had their chainsaw revved, and they STILL kill me. I mean, come on, even in Gears1 the chainsaw was fair. In gears1, if someone shot you with like, 1 lancer bullet while you were revving, it would lower their saw. That's the way it SHOULD be.