Editor’s note: For millions of gamers around the world, today is “L” day – launch day for “Gears of War 3” from Cary- based Epic Games. Expected to be one of the megahits for 2011, the third in the gears trilogy went on sale at midnight with well over 1 million copies sold in advance. WRAL Tech Wire publishes the latest in a series of exclusive in-depth stories about the Gears empire and Epic today with a focus on the multiplayer experience – one of Gears’ many strengths.

CARY, North Carolina – One of the keys to the 13 million copies of Gears of War 1 and 2 that Epic Games has sold worldwide has been the multiplayer experience. The pending success of Gears of War 3 is no different.

Epic took extra time in delaying the launch of the game to fine-tune the multiplayer and have an open beta for players to test the parameters of the online experience.

Early reviews are glowing (Check here for scorecard) as a result, and gamers will be experiencing all-new online goodies when they load Gears of War 3 into their Xbox 360. (Read about the launch here.)

“Gears 3 is a really big game,” said Chris Kimmel, executive producer of Gears of War 3 at Microsoft. “We have the campaign story, we have Horde mode, we have competitive multiplayer. We have cooperative multiplayer where three, four, or five friends can get together and play.”

Horde 2.0

One of the cool new online modes in Gears of War 3 is Horde 2.0, which adds fortifications and command posts to the gears of War 2 version that has been imitated by almost every other shooter franchise. The five-player game mode pits a team of Cog soldiers against a never-ending wave of Locust and Lambent creatures. The mode challenges players every ten waves (there are 50 total) with a boss battle against behemoths like the Brumak.

“In Gears 2 people naturally stuck together and put their backs up to a wall in Horde, so now they can face out forward and try to resist the Horde by building fortifications,” said Kimmel. “In between waves you can purchase fences, decoys, sentry guns, turret guns and ultimately the silverback, which is mechanized armor that you can put on. The way you buy these things is by earning cash by killing locusts. You kill a bunch of locusts, then you get a small down time in between waves where you get to buy these different fortifications, build up your defenses and then go after the next wave, and it comes to a head when you get to every ten waves we have a boss battle. We have Berserkers that actually go through and destroy all your defenses, so you have to go back and build them up again.”

There’s also a new mode that twists this human versus beast concept around.

“The Beast”

“The new mode is called Beast and we had Hoard previously in Gears 2, where you were Cog soldiers dealing with the monsters who are overwhelming you and this starts off initially as the reverse of that,” explained Cliff Bleszinski, design director at Epic Games. “Then when you start playing it you realize it’s a very deep game mode because it’s a class-based and monster-based mode. There are different monsters from one that has a little ticker who’s like a stealth suicide bomber and then you can play as a giant electric centipede. How many games let you do that? And then it goes all the way out to the Berserker, who’s kind of this tank class. Another class is working together with the healer class of the Kantus and a Mauler, who has a deploy shield. He lets the tickers get behind him, work together, team up and kill the good guys.”

But that’s just the tip of the multiplayer experience for the third and final chapter in the original Gears trilogy.

Unlocking character variances

“We’re really trying to leverage the different game modes that we have and the different co-op play so that something you earn or unlock in one mode encourages you to go try out something else,” said Lee Perry, senior gameplay designer, Epic Games. “We’re really diving in and putting in very complex ribbons, medals, achievements, and challenges within the gameplay structure. We have a large selection of multiplayer characters that you can unlock. We were really noticing that all kinds of people from different demographics were kind picking characters that they could relate to, so we’re really giving them e a lot of options for different styles of characters.”

Rather than having a system of unlocking a shoulder pad or a cowboy hat, Epic designed a system that allows players to unlock an entire variance of a character. In fact, it’s more like a fighting game, where you unlock different styles of character. This adds depth to the gameplay experience while also opening up Gears 3 to an even wider audience of gamers.

“Team Death March”

Jim Brown, lead level designer on Gears of War 3, said the team tried to make the online multiplayer experience more accessible. One example is the new Capture the Leader mode, which is a twist on the Capture the Flag mode of previous Gears games, as well as most games out there. The twist here is that instead of finding the flag, players are targeting the leader of the opposing team.

“The leader has some special abilities and things they can do to offset them so they’re not just always playing the defensive position and trying to hide in the corner,” said Brown. “And then we also have Annex and King of the Hill, which were two game types that were introduced in gears DLC. We went back and combined these two into a single game type we’re calling King of the Hill. A ring forms and everybody piles into it. We’re trying to make it simple so anyone can jump in and play.”

Team Death Match has been designed to welcome new gamers, as well. The twist here is that when teammates die, they respawn together in waves so they can establish a front and then fight to keep that front strong against the enemy.

There’s a lot more depth in this new game all-around. And even this multiplayer story only taps into some of what’s available in the new game. The good news for gamers is that the beta has allowed Epic to support a huge number of gamers out of the gate.

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