Gears of War – “Escape Artists”
October 2010 – December 2010 Engine: (Gears of War Editor)
The starting location of the map. The empty room allows players to investigate their surroundings. Save for the main room floors, the entire cave is static mesh rocks carefully placed to create a sealed, underground cave. This was an incredibly tedious, but rewarding effort that allowed me to make the cave exactly the size and shape I wanted.
Enemies carry the valuable weapons and ammo Marcus needs to escape. No ammo crates exist in the map, making players choose their shots, and weigh what weapons or melee attacks to use and when. I also limited ammo capacity, to help emphasize the lack of quality weapons and ammo drops, and keep the player constantly thinking about how to engage.
In the third main room, Marcus spots a possible exit: a tunnel lined with lights, which help attract the player’s attention. However, a pit of imulsion blocks Marcus’ path. Right above the imulsion pit is a hanging stalactite, highlighted by a Point of Interest to make sure the player is aware of it. Small arms fire cannot bring it down, and grenades cannot reach it. Marcus needs a heavy weapon.
At the very start to the level, the player can move through the first tunnel seen, which is quickly sealed by a cave in, forcing Marcus to find another route. Once he reaches the room the first tunnel was leading to, he can find some grenades next to the rocks and rubble blocking his path. These grenades can reopen the tunnel, which speeds up the backtracking, and also gives weapons more use than just killing enemies.
Enemies do reappear in rooms that have been cleared before. I justify this by having a new room open with an obvious but unreachable emergence hole inside it. This occurs after players have been through the majority of the caves and found the hanging stalactite, so the enemies have had time to repopulate the level while the player backtracks.
In the hidden room that opens after finding the hanging stalactite is a small group of enemies, including a Boomer. The Boomshot he wields is the only weapon capable of bringing down the stalactite to escape. He stands next to the emergence hole that is the justification for new enemies populating the level.
Once the player has the Boomshot they can shoot down the stalactite and enter the final phase of the level, the escape. While playing the main game, I always felt that the Boomshot was somewhat unwieldly and not a practical choice next to the other weapons. Having it be the key to escape was a feature I wanted to include to give it some actual use. In fact, I wanted all the weapons to be more important and excite the player when found, which is why I limited ammo and made Marcus slowly rebuild his arsenal as the level progressed.
The tunnel escape is easily the most difficult part of the level. Enemies come from in front and behind Marcus, forcing him to watch both sides while trying to find the best cover for taking them out. Patience and awareness are key to escaping, rushing ahead as fast as possible actually makes the enemies in front spawn fast and group up together.
A screen capture of the third room in the level, the one with the stalactite. The shot helps to convey the sheer number
of static mesh rocks used to create the ceilings and walls of the cave system. Despite that, the level was fun to make, and I feel differs slightly from regular Gears gameplay due to the reused spaces, backtracking, and ammo conservation mechanics.
Escape Artists focuses on Marcus Fenix’s efforts to escape a ruined Locust cave with little initial equipment and no allied support. The story occurs just days after the end of Gears of War and the successful Lightmass Bomb deployment; Marcus falls into a Locust tunnel system heavily damaged by the bomb, and loses all but his pistol in the fall. The level focuses on exploration of the cave system, conserving ammo, and building up an arsenal that allows Marcus to find an exit and escape alive.
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