Q&A: Gears 2 dev Pete Hayes

Epic Games' "squeamish" senior artist talks about modeling gore, weapons, and vehicles for Microsoft's Xbox 360-exclusive shooter series.

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When curb-stomping Locusts in Gears of War or cutting a swath through their torsos with the chainsaw-equipped Lancer rifle, it's easy to overlook the fact that some talented developer had to craft every last gory giblet of the ensuing carnage in three dimensions. For Gears of War and its upcoming sequel, that developer is Epic Games senior artist Pete Hayes.

Hayes, who also models the franchise's vehicles and weapons, recently sat down with GameSpot to talk about his work on the series, what he wanted to change for Gears of War 2, and what he thought about seeing his work replicated in the real-world with the Amazon.com exclusive life-size Lancer promotion.

GameSpot: So how does one model gore?

Pete Hayes: Basically, I don't use reference because I don't like real-life violence. I'm actually kinda squeamish. I grew up on horror movies like the Evil Dead series, sci-fi action like Starship Troopers. So I'm more into the friendly violence, the fun violence, stuff like Bad Taste or Dead Alive. Campy kind of movies like that.

I basically create a little stockpile of chunks of meat and bones and things along those lines. Then I figure out where the character has to be chopped up or blown apart for gameplay purposes. Obviously, with a chainsaw, you have to have cuts in certain places. Then I just try to make it look cool. It's not anatomically correct by any means whatsoever. There's lots of "mystery meat" in there.

The goal is not to gross people out or have super-uber-realistic gore. It's more just for the type of action game that we are and [to have] that over-the-top exclamation point, much like profanity would add an exclamation point to certain comedy routines. It serves that purpose.

GS: Now in Bad Taste or Dead Alive, the audience reaction to the gore is laughter. In Gears of War, is that the same reaction you're going for?

PH: Oh, absolutely. It's not some kind of sinister, premeditated, creepy sawing your head off or whatever. It's just very action-packed. It's like the smack-talking you do with your friends, or serendipity when something happens like a headshot where the skull flies up and lands on somebody else's head. It's Three Stooges, ridiculous, over-the-top. At least that's the way I envision it; that's the response. It's not scary or done in a weird, malicious way. It's just fun and part of the action.

GS: Do you ever hear from people who missed the point or took it a little more seriously?

PH: I don't think so. I personally haven't. I've read forums where people are like, "More gore, more gore, more!" And I think we got enough and maybe they should seek counseling... But at least from my exposure, it's one small part of the equation; it doesn't define Gears.

GS: How do you explain to your family what you do?

PH: My family's actually fairly eclectic. They follow what I do and enjoy it. I've got a 17-year-old son who's a superhardcore gamer, and I think the only way he could be any more proud of me is if I worked for Blizzard because he's a huge fan of theirs. But he's a Gears fan as well.

GS: You also modeled weapons and vehicles for the second game. Haven't some of these already been modeled once, like the Lancer?

PH: Yeah, absolutely. The Lancer's a good example that's been revamped. It was actually the very first model I did for Gears 1... I got the concept art, and when we started Gears 1, we didn't know what kind of poly count we had to work with. And my skill level five years ago wasn't close to what it is today. So I went back and remodeled [it]. It's actually three times the amount of polygons that the Gears 1 Lancer was. We refined the scope slightly, but there was a very conscious decision that we didn't want to mess with the design too much because that's the iconic Gears gun.

Some of the other weapons are straight over from Gears 1. They work; they're good enough. We've improved the game in so many areas we didn't feel the need to go back and remodel every single asset. We focused on doing the new weapons, like the mortar, the mulcher Gatling gun that you can mow people in half with.

GS: How about the vehicles you can talk about?

PH: There's the centaur tank, which I modeled. The directive from [lead designer] Cliff [Bleszinski] was "I want a cross between a monster truck and a tank." That's the kind of vibe we wanted. I did the Junker from Gears 1, and I was critical, as were some other people, about that vehicle sequence in Gears 1. So we [knew we had to] do something good because people were a bit grumbly about that.

GS: When it came time to do Gears of War 2, what was the most appealing part of doing the sequel?

PH: The biggest thing for me was knowing that we had the solid foundation and people out there liked it. Gears 2 was very liberating for me. I didn't feel any pressure, I was just like, "Sweet! We know we've got this part that works. Now let's do all the other stuff we want to do with more variety, even more over-the-top, cooler weapons, bigger weapons..." I was just chomping at the bit to get back on it.

Redoing the Lancer was a huge part [of the second game's appeal]. That was something that was a thorn in my side for the entire game because I thought my skills weren't near what they are. And it was probably the lowest-polygon [count] model in the game when probably it should be the highest-poly weapon in the game.

GS: How much did you work with NECA on the toys and life-size Lancer replica?

PH: I'm basically the biggest resident toy freak at Epic. I'm a huge comic fan, toy fan, genre fan... I collect it all. So I got to give feedback on what I thought was good build quality, what I liked about previous lines, what I thought would be good articulation. As far as their translations of the weapons, I thought all their stuff was dead-on. They had incredible attention to detail, not only with the toys but with the life-size Lancer. It's dead-on, down to the bolts. I haven't seen the finished product but I saw the prototypes, and they nailed it. I preordered six of them on the spot.

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