Vancouver's Coalition studio resets the scene for Gears of War

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      Rod Fergusson considers his move to Vancouver in January a “triple homecoming”. After years of working in the U.S., he was returning to Canada. After years of working for other companies, he was rejoining Microsoft. And after years away from the popular video-game franchise he helped create, he was returning to Gears of War.

      When Xbox head Phil Spencer acquired the intellectual property from Epic Games, he hired Fergusson to lead development on future Gears games. Microsoft’s studio, located on Cambie Street in the Crosstown neighbourhood, was called Black Tusk but is now known as the Coalition, a nod to the political organization called the Coalition of Ordered Governments, of which the games’ protagonists are members.

      Fergusson was on-stage at the Xbox pre-E3 press event on June 15, playing through a few minutes of the new Gears of War game. It was, he said in an interview the next day, just a teaser. It introduced two new characters, a woman named Kait and a man named JD, and provided “a sense of intent” and a “return to mystery and darkness”.

      That new game is at least a year away, and it doesn’t even have a title yet. But Fergusson hopes a new version of the first game in the series will help fans wait it out. On August 25, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will be released for Xbox One.

      The game is more than a remaster, Fergusson explained in Los Angeles. “We’re walking a fine line between servicing the nostalgia and improving the experience,” he said. The addition of Team Deathmatch is one example. The multiplayer mode was introduced in Gears of War 3 but was worked into the Ultimate Edition because, according to Fergusson, “it’s the number one way to play Gears of War.”

      Remaking the game, released in 2006, also gave Coalition staff an opportunity to reverse-engineer it and learn how it works, said Fergusson. Not to mention giving him an opportunity to fix little things that had been bugging him for years.

      Developers at the Coalition were shocked, he said, when they realized how much in the first game had been reused. In the multiplayer level, Gridlock, a lighthouse in the distance, is actually a shrunken street lamp seen from where the characters are battling. “We just didn’t have the time to make every piece of art unique,” Fergusson said. “As part of the Ultimate Edition, we fix all that.”

      They also re-created all the cinematic action from new performance-capture sessions and new storyboards. “We want to do it right,” Fergusson said. “There’s a reputation we have.”