Gears 5: An Interview with Colin Penty, Technical Art Director at The Coalition Studio
Xbox Game Studios and The Coalition Studio’s Gears 5 has officially launched worldwide. Last Thursday, I had the incredible pleasure of meeting and speaking with Colin Penty, the Technical Art Director for Gears 5 at the Melbourne Gears Ink event, courtesy of Xbox ANZ.
Below is a transcript of my interview with Colin Penty.
What do you do at The Coalition Studio?
I’m the Technical Art Director there and work with the Art Director and Technical Director to make sure that their visions are brought to life, as well as making sure that everything works on an Xbox, while helping push visual quality. For example, working on improving the visuals from Gears of War 4. Since the hardware are all still the same, there needs to be changes made to the art process. So, yeah, bringing all the pieces together.
Do you think you’ve stepped it up a notch with Gears 5? I’ve seen the game being touted as one of the best looking games of our time.
It’s definitely a pretty looking game. I think that on the Xbox One, it’s one of the best looking games ever made. I’m really proud of what we’ve done with Gears 5. We didn’t really leave any stone unturned in terms of making it more visually compelling than Gears of War 4. I’m really happy with where we’ve landed and I think the last 24 hours have been validation of that, especially with all the fan feedback and reviews talking positively about the game’s visuals.
How long was the process of making Gears 5 look as great as it does and improve on previous Gears of War games?
A lot of that started in pre-production, which took about nine months to a year. So, yeah, we took about a year to really push visually forward, improving on slices of the game so that the cinematics can be run in real time, whereas Gears of War 4 was pre-rendered cinematics. We needed to prove that we could make the environment run at 60fps on Xbox One X and at 4K, whereas Gears of War 4 only ran at 1080p at 60fps.
Pre-production is where we tried to prove these points. You kind of need to do things on a small scale first and then scale it up, to fit the massive surface area of Gears 5. So that was over the last few years.
In terms of the story of Gears 5, why did Kait become the lead and featured character?
I think when Rod Fergusson (Studio Head of The Coalition Studio) and the design team looked back at Gears of War 4, they realised that the story there was actually Kait’s story. J.D was just along for the ride. So they wanted to explore that further and instead of just watching that person go through that experience, what if you are that person?
Making the story focus on Kait, I think, makes it a lot more interesting since its all about her discovering her connection with the Swarm and what that means.
Do you think Kait will become the next big female gaming character, similar to the likes of Lara Croft?
Oh that’s a very high bar. I certainly hope so! It’s too early to say but everyone loves Kait and the actress, Laura Bailey, does such a good job as Kait so she definitely has staying power. IT would be pretty cool to have Kait be on the same level as Lara Croft some day.
We need more female protagonists for girls and women playing games to feel a bit more empowered that way. It’s really exciting to see, especially at events like E3, where Kait is standing shoulder to shoulder with Master Chief and other iconic characters. It’s really cool to elevate a female protagonist to that level.
What does the future hold for the Gearsof War franchise?
I definitely hope the franchise will go on forever but that’s the challenge isn’t it? To keep something continually relevant, reinventing it without changing it too much? I don’t actually know where Gears is going right now, as we’re so focused on Gears 5, but I hope it sticks around for a while.
I know there’s some vision of it being a trilogy, so there’ll probably be another Gears game that continues the story, but I honestly don’t know much about it.
Have you been able to get a feel of fan reactions from this Gears Ink event?
A little bit. It’s been fun to do the interview loops in the last 24 hours and talk with people who’ve played a good chunk of the game, and even beat the game. I’m very interested in those people because I’ve been living in my own head for the last three years and want to know what they think about different aspects of the game.
Getting their input is super interesting to me.
Do people new to the Gears of War franchise have to have played the previous games to be able to play Gears 5?
I think it’s definitely the most accessible Gears game we’ve ever made. There’s a whole Boot Camp training section in the game. We kind of realised that we’ve never made a full on tutorial mode in any of the games before so Boot Camp teaches you how to cover, perform executions and all that.
Even like myself, who’s played all the Gears games, I learnt a few new things in Boot Camp that I’ve not learnt before, so I definitely think there’s something there for everyone.
Then there’s playing as Jack. If you feel intimidated by the dual stick controls of playing a Gears of War game, you can jump into a co-op campaign game or Horde mode and play as Jack, which is a little bit easier to manoeuvre. Not to say that it’s just for newbies, since there’s a lot of depth, I think, to Jack’s gameplay, especially in Horde where it becomes critical to play as Jack properly in the later waves.
I think the Jack part is another great entry point in the series.
Colin Penty was an absolute pleasure to chat with and it was very clear how passionate he is about his work and the game itself. Thank you Colin, and a huge thank you to Xbox ANZ once again for the opportunity to not only attend the Gears Ink event in Melbourne but to also speak with Colin.