Book Review: The Art of Gears of War 3

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Nearly 50 pages larger than any previous Art of the Game installment, Ballistic Publishing’s heaviest and beefiest video game art tome pulls gamers deep behind the scenes for an in-depth look at the creative development of Xbox 360 exclusive, Gears of War 3.

Gears of War’s iconic “destroyed beauty” motif explodes across 320 glorious pages of concept art and production renders in The Art of Gears of War 3, key members of the Epic Games art team, most notably Art Director Chris Perna, offering insightful commentary alongside concept art and production renders for the many characters, enemies, weapons, vehicles and places of the planet Sera, as depicted in the series’ third chapter.

Gears of War, while always graphically impressive from a technical perspective, has never been a series that I have considered a showpiece for video game artistry, but Gears 3 did a lot to switch that around by expanding the somewhat monotonous palette of grays and browns and heavy metallic colors of its predecessors with brighter tones, even bolder and livelier set pieces, and greater variety of environments and enemy types. Despite the bulky characters, terrifying creatures and the harsh sci-fi setting, there is a distinct, nuanced beauty to the world of Gears that this book forces you to appreciate.

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This art book highlights the broader artistic diversity Epic’s creative team successfully wove into the Gears universe without disrupting the gritty, brutal, chunky style the series is famous for. At the same time, while flipping through the pages readers will get a sense of the iterative process that goes into bringing a video game of this magnitude to life, how environments are altered to fit the progression of the game and how character outfits and hairstyles adapt from what looks cool in a still piece of conceptual artwork versus what technology will actually allow for during gameplay.

For example, late in development the Pendulum Fort, originally a refugee camp supposed to be set during the morning, was scaled back to a standard military encampment and the time of day was changed because the developers thought the game needed another nighttime scenario. It’s also interesting to learn about different design tricks developers have to pull out to make certain characters animate properly, such as how Bernadette Mataki’s dreadlocked hair was tied into bundles to help overcome the technical challenges presented by rendering the physics of her floppy locks. Hair alone made her one of the game’s toughest characters to model and animate.

These design insights are great, but as always my favorite part about these books is seeing and reading about abandoned concepts that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into final production. Studied fans probably already know this, but the most surprising thing I learned is how Gears of War was originally intended to be a vehicle-oriented, Battlefield-esque multiplayer game called Unreal Warfare. The design switch isn’t as drastic as Halo going from a PC/Mac strategy game to a third-person action game before ultimately becoming an Xbox launch title and arguably the world’s most famous first-person shooter, but the original concept still is radically different from the Gears gamers know and love today.

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The book is chock full of interesting tidbits like this. For instance, did you know Epic played around with the idea of jetpacks? Not the glitch, I’m talking about actual jetpacks. That certainly would made for an interesting shift in dynamics from the usual cover-based warfare. Epic’s design for a weapon prototype called the Buzzsaw also caught my eye. This crossbow-like weapon was intended to spice up combat by firing rotary saw blades capable of ricocheting off of objects and bouncing around corners, but complications with programming the physics of such a device led to its demise.

Between the gorgeous full-color artwork, the non-production prototypes, and the valuable behind-the-scenes commentary, this book is a must-have for every Gears collector as well as anyone with an interest in game/art design or an appreciation for video games as an art form. The Art of Gears of War 3 is Ballistic’s most impressive book to date, in more ways than one.

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The Art of Gears of War 3 is available to order now in three flavors: Soft Cover ($65), Special Leather Edition ($129), and Limited Folio Edition ($300). The first 100 customers will also receive a poster print of Clayton Carmine as a bonus.

Review disclosure: A copy of The Art of Gears of War 3‘s Soft Cover edition was provided to VGBlogger.com by Ballistic Publishing.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!