Interview: “Gears of War” Writer Josh Ortega
Gears of War is one of the bona fide hits of this generation of high-end videogames. When you want to show your friends (or justify the cost to your significant other) the difference between your Xbox 360 and your last game system, this is the disc you pop in.
Taking place on the planet Sera, Gears of War tells the story of how the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COGs) had just ended a world war when subterranean monsters emerged from the ground. Called the Locusts, the monsters have guns and weapons that rival the COG’s arsenal. The plot centers on the experiences of Marcus Fenix, a military prisoner released to join a war that is not going well.
Veteran comic writer Josh Ortega (Necromancer, Frequencies) was brought onboard by developer Epic Games to work on the story and deepen the Gears universe. He’s become an integral part of the Gears of War 2 team and DC Comics has announced that he’ll be writing the Gears of War comic for their WildStorm imprint. He took a few moments to let us know how the war effort was going.
COMICMIX: For our readers who are not up on all things COG and Locust, can you tell us in your own words whom you are and your involvement in building up the Gears of War universe?
JOSH ORTEGA: I’m the lead writer for Gears of War 2, I write the comic book for DC/WildStorm, and I also consult on the Gears of War franchise. I work closely with Mike Capps (Epic President), Cliff Bleszinski (Design Director), Rod Fergusson (Senior Producer), and the crew at Epic Games to make sure everything that I write fits in with what’s going on in the rest of the Gears universe, and vice-versa.
CMix: Why is the story set on the planet Sera? Why not Earth? Is this some sort of past, future, or just an unrelated world with humans on it?
JO: Setting it on a different planet allows for a lot of storytelling freedom. If it was set on Earth, many people would draw parallels where there weren’t any, and by the same token, certain parallels that we do want to draw might feel a bit forced or obvious if we set the story on our own planet.
It also allows us to have freaky creatures like the Locust, which, to the best of my knowledge, do not actually exist on Earth.
CMix: Do you think Gears has unfairly taken criticism for not having a deep story? It seems a deep past is hinted at but that’s hard to tell in an action game.
JO: Some of the criticism is unfair, and some of it is founded. The criticism should never be placed on the first two writers, however. Both Susan O’Connor and Eric Nylund did all that they could in the time they had available, but the realities of game publishing is that things sometimes get cut in order to make the ship date. So you can criticize Gears for having a sparse story, but I don’t think you can criticize it for having a bad story. As you said, there’s a deep past and backstory there, and you’ll be seeing a lot more of that in Gears 2 and the various multimedia projects.
CMix: Is this where the books, comics, and possible movies will fill in the details?
JO: Yeah, as well as in Gears of War 2.
CMix: In Gears of War 2 and the newer stories, will the plot revolve around Marcus or will it expand the rest of the cast?
JO: Gears 2 does focus on Marcus Fenix, but [co-op play character] Dominic Santiago is also spotlighted as well, and his story forms the emotional core of the game, at least on the interpersonal level. In the comic, we’ll be introducing a new Gear, Jace Stratton, and he’ll actually be the focus of the story arc, not Marcus or Dom. They’ll both be major characters in the comic, but Jace will be the star, at least for the first arc.
CMix: Like how Klingons, Sandpeople, and other "scary aliens mainly there to shoot at" evolved over time, will you expand on the Locust society?
JO: Definitely. You’ll be learning a lot more about the Locust as time goes by!
CMix: How much leeway is DC/WildStorm and Epic Games giving you to write the comics?
JO: A lot, though it really helps that I’m writing the game as well. That’s a huge advantage, and one that a comic writer working on a licensed property rarely enjoys. Both Epic and DC/WS have been awesome to work with, and I think we’re putting out a fantastic series. Liam Sharp, the artist on the book, is doing some of the best work of his career, and fans are really going to be blown away when they see what brings to the Gears universe.
CMix: For how long do you plan to write the comic? Forever or rotate with other writers?
JO: I plan on staying on the book as long as it remains interesting, compelling, and challenging, and as long as Epic, DC/WS, and I all agree that I’m right guy to do the job.
I will be co-writing the book with a special surprise guest at some point in the near-future, but we haven’t announced who that is just yet…how’s that for intrigue? [Laughs]
CMix: The COGs armor is powered. But what does it do besides blocking some incoming fire? I speculate that it probably enhances performance which explains how these soldiers all look like linebackers and keep fighting for hours. Basically, a big walking-around med bay for soldiers…
JO: The Gears’ armor definitely has some powered capabilities, though you’ll have to play the game in November and check out the upcoming comic, novel, and movie to find out more… all will be revealed in time!
CMix: As you start to flesh out the main characters, which has become your favorite to write for? Both in the game and in the comics.
JO: It’s a cop-out, but I like ‘em all. Certainly, characters like Baird, Cole, and Dizzy are a kick to write because they say such outlandish sh*t, but at the same time, the badass-ness of Marcus and the realness of Dom are also both compelling. I’m digging Jace in the comic too, he’s this young guy thrust right into this insane war, and that informs a whole different style of writing and characterization.
What can I say? Gears is blessed with awesome characters!
Gears of War 2 is currently scheduled for a November 2008 release on Xbox 360. There has been no release date scheduled for the DC/Wildstorm comic book series at this point.
Just got an update from Dana Cowley, the public relations manager of Epic Games. "By the way, we have confirmed that the first Gears of War comic will be released in October 2008."