Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

The best of times

Put your Gears of War face on.


I’ve been spread pretty thin this last couple of years, so - as many of you have written to point out - I’m blogging even less than I used to. Work, of course, has wiped me out, pretty much; and family stuff which has been hard to handle. I haven’t even written much about my best beloved IP, Gears of War, either, and a lot of that is also due to strict embargoes.

But it’s nearly September 20, when Gears 3 goes on sale, so I can loosen my information corsets a bit.

I’ve worked on a number of IPs, most of which you know about, and some of which you probably never will. Some have been great: some have turned out to be less than terrific. Gears of War, however, has been in a class of its own. I loved it from the first frame of the first trailer I saw without even knowing what it was - or what it would become for me - back in 2006: I have continued to love it through four years of solid slog, laughs, and occasional hair-tearing moments: I have loved it while working in all its media formats, as novels, comics, and game: and now the story arc has reached its fruition.

I still love it as passionately as the day back in November 2006, when the trailer gave me a smack in the mouth and everything in me demanded answers to these questions - who was that big bloke in the armour, and what the hell had happened to his world?

So I’ve had the rare privilege of answering those questions for myself. And I can honestly say that Gears 3, the final game of the trilogy, has turned out to be more than even I wanted and expected it to be. Working on a team effort isn’t like working on a book, at least not for me. A book is just mine, a solitary thing that I produce several times a year and can keep producing until they nail down the lid: I’m interested in sales numbers, naturally, because I’m a money-grubbing bitch and these Smythson handbags don’t pay for themselves, but if someone doesn’t like a book, it doesn’t bother me because I know I’ve worked my arse off on it, I can look myself in the eye and say I gave it my best shot, and enough people will like it to keep me in the purchasing habits to which I’ve become accustomed. I don’t read reviews (never have) much to the frustration of various editors and publicists: they try to tempt me and say: “But it’s a GREAT review!” But I don’t care if they’re good or bad, because I used to be a reviewer (movies) in my early journo days, and I know what goes into that particular pork pie, so I just don’t look at them. I also know that books sell by word of mouth from friends or family, or by being piled high on the front table and end caps of bookstores, not by reviews.

But a game - that’s different. This isn’t just you. This is your mates as well, the people you’ve worked frightening hours with for two or more years to get that game made. Your tribe. Your oppos. Your ship. Your squad. Your family. There’s an emotional element in this for me that’s lacking in books. I care very much how the game is received and reviewed, because this is about my team. I want them to be showered with praise. I want to see them win.

So I’m happier than a pig in the proverbial to see how well Gears 3 has been critically received. It catches me at odd moments. I picked up the Daily Mirror yesterday - no, good God, I don’t read it, but my dad does - and saw the five-star review they gave the game. I was already aware of the media response, obviously, because I’d been doing promo stuff in the run-up to the release, but just seeing Gears 3 getting the kudos it deserved - in a paper that happened to be sitting there - gave me a football moment: my team had won the cup. That’s the only way I can describe it. Take it from me that when a novel of mine gets on the New York Times bestseller lists, as many do, it doesn’t light me up at all. I note it for the web site, because it’s a marketing point, and move on. But Gears getting rave reviews - that’s special. That’s us.

But then Gears is special, as I’ve told many journalists. I’ve worked on some projects where the primary product has been mediocre or the people working on it haven’t cared much about it, but I’ve kept my end up and made sure the product I’ve been responsible for has been the very best I could make it. It’s hard to really enjoy your work with that undercurrent. But when you work on something that’s solid quality in every aspect, like Gears, where you know that everyone on the team is as committed to it as you are and that team is made up of the very best people in the business, then it’s pure, unalloyed satisfaction. I’ve never felt I had to apologise for Gears, and I’ve always been able to bask in its reflected glory. It doesn’t have to prove itself to anyone.

And here’s something that I’d only told Rod, Cliff, and Mike at Epic Games up to now, but that I’ll share with you in case you really, really haven’t got it yet. I’m only writing now because of them. I’d had so much back-room crap in the job in 2007/ 2008 that I was going to go back to journalism, but then Gears and Epic came along and made the job worth doing again. Gears not only made a better writer of me; it made me keep writing, and made me love the craft once more. They put their faith in me, and when the best of the best believe in you, it’s transformational.

So go buy the game and everything Gears, and enjoy it, and be moved by it, and know that we put everything we had into it, and that it was worth every ******* second we spent on it. Forget the gold sarcophagus and chariot. I’ll be buried with a copy of Gears 3.