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Q&A: Microsoft Game Studios' Tsunoda Talks Gears Of War Franchise

Former EA Chicago head Kudo Tsunoda is now at Microsoft Game Studios, helping to produce Gears Of War 2 from a first-party perspective, and Gamasutra catches up with him to discuss the game, MGS' heritage, and his boundless enthusiasm for his new r

Chris Remo, Blogger

June 5, 2008

12 Min Read

In an industry not known for having highly-recognized faces compared to other entertainment businesses, Kudo Tsunoda has gained a reputation for his insistence on wearing sunglasses at all hours (and indoors). From 2004 until 2007, Tsunoda served as general manager of Fight Night Round 3 and Def Jam: Icon developer EA Chicago, which closed last November after failing to hit earnings goals. This year, he made the move to Microsoft Game Studios, where he again serves as a general manager, now working under division boss Shane Kim. His current project is Epic's Gears of War 2. Gamasutra sat down with Tsunoda during a recent Microsoft event to discuss his role, his relationship with Epic, and his boundless enthusiasm for Gears 2. You're pretty new to Microsoft. Can you explain what you're up to there? Kudo Tsunoda: Yeah, totally. I'm general manager up at Microsoft Game Studios, so mostly I'm working on Gears of War 2 with Epic. A lot of what I'm doing...I mean Epic, they know how to make a great game, right? With great designers. What we're really focused on is trying to support as much of the good work that Epic's already doing on their product. I think Cliff [Bleszinski]'s got such a great vision for the game. Epic's got an outstanding track record of making top-quality product, and there's things like with the size of MGS and the resources that we have that we're really going to try and bring as much of what MGS has to offer to help, support, and enable the awesome creativity that's already going on at Epic. Isn't that Shane Kim's title too? KT: Yeah. I think he's, like, VP and general manager of the entire Microsoft Game Studios. I think one of the things that MGS is trying to do is - with their big four franchises - really trying to get senior people focused on each of the games, to make sure we can really do justice by each of the games. Obviously, a great developer like Epic you've got to work with on such a big property like Gears. That is just important. You want to make sure that we're doing anything we can on the MGS side to really match that top-quality level of product that you can count on Epic to deliver. So you're specific to that title? How does that work, exactly? What is the nature of your relationship with Epic? KT: Again, I think I'm just here to do anything I can do to help them. I don't think it's anything like...obviously, it's their IP. They already made the totally outstanding Gears 1, and I think they're well on the way to making the sequel even a bigger blockbuster hit than Gears 1 was. I think there's just stuff we have at MGS like our user research lab, where we're able to generate huge amounts of data that can really give Epic feedback on how people are playing the game, at what points they're getting stuck in, what things they like, and what feedback they have. I think it's just those kinds of things on the game side - just trying to get them as much feedback on how people are reacting to the game ahead of time, and also really trying to match on the marketing and PR side that same level of creativity, innovation, and quality that Epic brings to the product. Just making sure we're matching that with everything we're doing to market and PR the product. Last time I talked to you, it was at a big bash for EA Chicago. That studio closed last year. Can you comment on what happened? KT: You know, with any kind of thing like that, there's always a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on that isn't necessarily out in the public format. But at the end of the day, I really enjoyed my time working at EA. I've got nothing but good things to say about my experience at EA. There's tons of really good people there, and a really good five years of working there. I'm just really happy working at MGS. I think as far as looking for some place you want to go work, trying to find a place that really has a track record of delivering top-quality product, I think you look at the games that MGS has put out over the last three years, it's like, man, it's just all top-quality games. There's no developer or publisher, especially, that has such a wide portfolio of product that's been able to keep the quality bar so high on every release they put out, which I really respect the hell out of MGS for. Plus, I think MGS is really great at fostering and supporting creative people and new IP. They just have a really good long-term view. If people have good, creative ideas, it's not necessarily always about, "How can I monetize this idea over the next couple of years?" They're just really good at, you know, if it's a really good idea, they're going to put the resources behind it to back it and make sure it comes to fruition. So just as a creative game maker person, I just think out of anywhere in the industry, MGS is the best place to go, as far as being able to get when you have a good idea in your head, really being able to get all that stuff actually into the game. I think that's the really good thing about working here, you know? On that note, do you think Rare is sort of an example of that as something that needs to be incubated, to an extent? A lot of people have said that they haven't justified their price tag, in terms of revenue to date. KT: You know, I think you can just look at the great products that Rare has here. If you've got any hands-on time with Banjo, it's a really awesome product. The platforming genre has been so successful on previous generations of consoles, and you don't really see too many platforming games anymore. I think it's the kind of thing that the genre didn't really advance, creatively. Now you see what Rare's doing with Banjo, and that is what next-gen platform gaming is all about. And Viva Pinata 2 is just another stupendous game that's coming from Rare, and I don't know if it needs to be incubated any more. I think the products that are coming out of Rare that you see at the show, I think it just kind of shows you. I think when MGS makes a commitment to a property or a studio, the good things that come from it - maybe if there hasn't been as much of the products that are out there that you see today, but I think that MGS did a really good job of supporting Rare and what's going on over the years. It's all come to fruition, and you can see it here at the show. Do you think that first-party is in a better position to do that - to have that kind of leeway with properties and studios - moreso than a third party? KT: You know, the thing is that's really like any kind of developer or publisher that has more of a long-term view of what they're doing their business. It's just a fact. Games, let's face it, take a good two or three years to put together now. They're so technology and content-intensive, let alone just being able to come up with the creative ideas that make them fun. With MGS, that's just the kind of philosophy they've taken. I don't think it's so much about being first-party or third-party as much as it is...if you want to be successful in this industry in the long run, you've really got to foster new ideas, creativity, and innovation in the gaming space. Again, Banjo's a great example. The platforming genre has been stale for a long time, and now someone's doing something really cool and creative with it. That kind of stuff takes time, and again, whether you're first-party or third-party, if you're not taking a more long-term view of how you're developing creative ideas like that, you're not going to get the time that's necessary for them to come to fruition. Again, it isn't so much about MGS being first-party. It's just a really smart move on the part of Microsoft Game Studios to really take care of the creative people that they have and make sure that they're really supportive of people with new ideas. It's so hard. Lots of times when you come to the table with something that's totally different, it's hard to get people's support for new ideas, because they have nothing to compare it to. So much of the game industry is people wanting to go, "Oh, it's like Gears of War, but with this," or something like that. And when you do something really new and innovative and there's nothing for people to really grab on that's existing that you can compare it to, lots of people will just be scared away from that. But again, I think MGS is just a development house and a publisher that really wants to bring a high level of not only quality, but innovation in the games that they put out. Are you working with Epic at all on Unreal Tournament III for Xbox 360 from a first-party perspective? KT: No. Gears of War 2 is an internal product for them as well. The development's all being done at Epic. I just think that as far as the stuff I'm working on, it's all the Gears of War 2 stuff. I think Shane Kim recently said he expects Gears 2 to be the biggest exclusive 360 title this year. Do you think that's likely? KT: I don't know if you saw the demo, but damn, the game is just coming out great. And there's already such a huge fanbase from Gears 1. A lot of the stuff they're doing on the gameplay side...I mean, the more immersive story mode and the good character development is going to draw a lot more people in. I think just from a gamer perspective, just seeing the bigger, grander battles that you're getting out of the technology now, plus adding a lot more variety to the gameplay, is going to really be satisfying gamers. But I also think one of the coolest features of the game is that in campaign mode, you can play in co-op. One of the great things they're doing is being able to set the difficulty mode based on individual people playing. So if you and I are playing the game together and I want to play on Insane mode and you want to play on a more casual mode, when you play co-op in Gears 1, either I've got to play in casual mode because that's the level you want to play at, which is maybe not more fun for the advanced player, or you've got to play on Insane mode, which if you're new to the game, is not going to be something good for you. I think anyone who plays Gears, you get your hands on the game for five minutes, and everybody gets really addicted to it fast. I think that's something that's really going to be drawing in so many more different types of people who play the game. Just the accessibility of the gameplay, being able to get hooked into the co-op mode, and the different difficulty levels, that's just going to make the game fun for a lot more different types of people. And if you saw the demo today, one of the cool things that Epic's adding onto Gears of War 2 is the new destructible environments, and the whole sense of moving cover. I don't know if you saw the meat shield at all, where you have to actually grab people up off the battlefield and shoot out from behind them now. That's more stuff where it's not just like making a better Gears 1, but really doing something revolutionary for Gears 2. That's the hard part. If you make a great game, everybody's going to copy your stuff. Every action shooter game now has got the Gears of War cover system in it. Is that a thing you think the designers are conscious of deliberately, in terms of trying to top the mechanics that people have been adopting? KT: I don't think it's like topping as much as it is wanting to make Gears of War 2 as revolutionary a game as Gears 1 was. I think that's always the most important thing in making a sequel. You don't just want to put out another version of the same game, but you really want to put the same amount of creative juice and features into the sequel that you did in the original. I think that's, again, you look at the movable cover system, where not only are you able to pick people up and carry them around as a shield, but you're able to...the creatures in the game, like the rock worm, where it's actually flowing through the level and it's moving constantly, but you're able to hide behind it and use it as cover. And even the destructible environments, where it's like...before you can hide behind one piece of cover, bullets are flying in. But now it's, like, totally destructible. You've got the whole thing decaying and flying off in front of you. It keeps you on the move. I think that's a great thing. Epic's done such an awesome job of...as breakthrough and revolutionary as Gears 1 was at the time that it came out, compared to everything else in the industry, really making sure that Gears 2 is head-and-shoulders above everything else that's come out at the time. I think that's, again, why it's going to even surpass the Halo 3 franchise and really bring a lot of new people into the game. They're really making it as breakthrough a game as Gears 1 was at the time.

About the Author(s)

Chris Remo


Chris Remo is Gamasutra's Editor at Large. He was a founding editor of gaming culture site Idle Thumbs, and prior to joining the Gamasutra team he served as Editor in Chief of hardcore-oriented consumer gaming site Shacknews.

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