SAN DIEGO – Gears of War 3 is everywhere at Comic-Con 2011, one of the year’s biggest and most important videogame and entertainment conventions.

Microsoft has an Xbox 360 Games Lounge set up at the Hard Rock Hotel, where many of the Hollywood celebrities promoting new movies and TV shows at the convention stay.

Just down the street, Hollywood actor Zachary Levi (NBC’s “Chuck”) has set up a four-day fan festival called Nerd HQ. Gears of War 3 multiplayer is running on Xbox 360s at that location, as well. Levi’s Nerd Machine company is also selling limited edition Gears of War 3 t-shirts at the event.

Thursday night, Microsoft hosted a Comic-Con video game showcase at the Hard Rock Hotel, where media were able to play Gears of War 3 and other Xbox 360 and Kinect games and do interviews with Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski and Gears of War 3 producer Rod Fergusson.

Those two developers packed a convention ballroom earlier Thursday night with a Gears of War 3 panel. Levi actually introduced the panelists, sporting the aforementioned Gears t-shirt, before Epic discussed the third and final game in the first Gears trilogy.

“We wanted to make the story more personal to all the characters,” said Bleszinski, when asked what the team’s goals were for this chapter in the science fiction video game franchise. “The female Gears will be strong characters, not strippers. Strippers are nice people too, though.”

Fergusson said the new game will introduce four-player cooperative (co-op) gameplay, which will accommodate different play styles and difficulty. He said if someone plays on the Casual mode of the multiplayer, the game will have an automatic aim assist. The game’s been designed to be the most user-friendly for those who have never played a shooter before.

Bleszinski said Epic takes fan forums and Twitter feedback seriously and has listened to what fans have wanted. One new feature in Gears 3 is the ability to unlock everything in the game simply by playing through the campaign mode.

Joining Ice T (“Law & Order: SVU”) and Lester Speight (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) in the voice cast for Gears of War 3 is Old Spice pitchman Isaiah Mustafa. Bleszinski said that he chose to work with Ice T because he grew up listening to his music. Ice T’s group, Body Count, has created an original song for Gears of War 3. The single will be a digital download and part of the Gears 3 official soundtrack.

When asked about the Gears of War movie project that has been long-gestating in Hollywood with Legendary Entertainment, Bleszinski said he’d rather have no movie than a bad movie.

During the 60-minute panel, Bleszinski and Fergusson shared insights about the emotional journey that went into closing the trilogy. They elaborated on how they took the story of an epic war and made it a personal saga of brotherhood and survival. The panel featured the debut of a new video documentary, “Crescendo: The Making of Gears of War 3.”

(Watch the video here.)

The panel also explored how Epic has collaborated with renowned graffiti artist OG Slick to design in-game graffiti, political posters and street art for the game. OG Slick also created t-shirts that Epic is selling.

The panel ended with reality TV personality Paul Teutul Jr. from “American Chopper: Junior vs. Senior” taking the stage to announce a new Gears of War 3 custom chopper. The entire room emptied out into the night and across the street to the Hard Rock Hotel where the chopper was on display. Fans will be able to watch the story of the bike’s creation on two episodes of the Discovery Channel’s TV show on September 19 and 26.

A second custom Gears of War 3 bike was created and is available as the grand prize of the Best Buy Gears of War 3 Sweepstakes. Other contest prizes include a VIP trip to the Gears of War 3 Launch Event in New York City on September 20, Gears of War 3 prize packages, and spending cash.

On Saturday, Bleszinski and Fergusson will also be speaking at Nerd HQ in front of a more intimate crowd of 200 fans, discussing the making of Gears of War 3, video games, and anything else the audience is interested in. This is part of the Conversations for a Cause series, which raises money for Operation Smile. Entry to these sessions is $20 with all proceeds going straight to that charity.

Gears of War 3 has already surpassed one million pre-orders worldwide, making it the fastest pre-selling Xbox exclusive in the history of the platform. This past spring, over one million players participated in the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta, which allowed Epic to further polish the game.

In addition to the Standard ($59.99), Limited ($79.99) and Epic ($149.99) editions of Gears of War 3 hitting retail this September 20, Microsoft will release a $399.99 limited edition Gears of War 3 Xbox 360. The console (320GB hard drive) and two wireless controllers have been custom designed with artwork inspired by Gears of War 3.

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