How The Coalition Designed Gears Tactics for Everyone to Play
In the beginning, Gears of War was meant to be one thing and one thing only — a system seller in the console wars.
The third-person cover-based combat was well-suited and relentlessly tuned for a game pad. The graphics were intense, both in their fidelity and content, as Marcus Fenix and his friends wielded their chainsaw bayonets against the Locust Horde. But one question that had been around since the beginning is only now being answered — what would it be like if you could control the entire squad?
Much of the foundation had existed since the series debut on Xbox 360, including a Tac-Com system that allowed players to send commands to other COG soldiers, directing basic maneuvers such as cover and flank. But its actual effectiveness was limited, and the feature was discontinued in the sequels.
Yet the fantasy remained. Rough prototypes that placed the camera higher on the battlefield were developed. But the developers quickly realized it would take more than half-measures to bring genuine tactical gameplay to the Gears of War universe.
That opportunity would come a nearly a decade later at The Coalition, where a separate team could go off and explore the idea, and when required, make a break with the series’ tradition.
The result is Gears Tactics, which is not only the first turn-based strategy game set in the Gears universe, but the first Gears of War game built from the ground up for the PC. While the game shares many of its underpinnings with Gears 5, the development focus was different. How could the game reach a much broader range of devices, including those owned by people who may have never played a Gears game before?
The answer was to get it to run on as many systems as possible. Whether you’re using a gaming laptop, a hand-me-down desktop PC housing decade-old components, or a state-of-the-art system with the latest tech, The Coalition wanted to make sure Gears Tactics would work seamlessly on your computer.
“When we started Gears Tactics we didn't want hardware to be a barrier to entry,” Technical Director Cam McRae said. But anyone familiar with PC hardware would acknowledge that accomplishing such a feat is much easier said than done. Older components impose limitations on what a machine can do, and these limitations get more and more rigid as games get more and more demanding.
Luckily, The Coalition was able to partner with Intel to broaden the reach. “Early in the project we decided to invest in making the game scale well enough to run on mainstream thin & light laptops, and that ended up being a great fit with Intel® Xe Architecture-based graphics,” McRae said. The game was optimized for the Intel Xe Architecture, and the Coalition worked hard to ensure that the game would be compatible with Intel hardware every step of the way.
By working together with Intel, The Coalition strived to reach their primary benchmark, which was the ability to increase the screen resolution while maintaining a stable framerate. They also wanted to be able to introduce settings like shadows, which have a palpable impact on the visual fidelity of a player’s experience, without sacrificing resolution or framerate.
Such settings, however, are typically demanding on a system’s GPU. As a result, The Coalition looked for solutions that would help them mediate the GPU’s workload.
One solution implemented was Variable Rate Shading (VRS). “Variable Rate Shading is a technique to adjust the number of pixels affected by a pixel shader,” McRae said. Usually, pixel shaders determine the graphical output of a single pixel. These shaders are typically responsible for calculating and conveying lighting and surface effects in 3D scenes.
VRS, however, gives designers a wider control over the ways in which shaders affect groups of pixels. “With VRS we can affect multiple pixels, which reduces GPU load,” McRae said. Throughout development, The Coalition fine-tuned their use of VRS, making adjustments to balance performance gains against image quality. “While working on these features we had Intel engineers profiling the game and providing feedback on areas [where] we could make more improvements,” McRae said.
For players more interested in managing their own game’s balance between performance and quality, Gears Tactics offers a particularly robust suite of adjustable settings. Upon booting for the first time, the game runs a quick benchmark to determine the system’s CPU and GPU quality. It uses this information to generate a list of “recommended” settings, which can be altered according to the player’s preference.
Gears Tactics’ settings are broken into five categories: General, Textures, Environment, Post-Process, and Advanced. While many of these settings are standard fare for PC games, others provide players with even more comprehensive levels of control over their experience.
“In addition to the standard maximum frame rate limiting most games have, we have a minimum frame rate feature that dynamically adjusts the resolution of specific stages of the rendering pipeline in order to maintain the selected minimum frame rate,” McRae said. There are also settings that manage the game’s planar reflections, which reflect objects not seen on-screen, and glossy screen space reflections, which generate more accurate reflections using information gleaned from ray casting.
Gears Tactics also offers comprehensive colorblind support. “We expanded our colorblind support to use a full screen color conversion shader,” McRae said. “This allows us to recolor the whole scene in different ways to make it easier to see for people with varying types of color blindness.”
In short, even a brief glance at Gears Tactics’ in-game settings illustrates that the game was made from the ground-up with PC players in mind. It’s clear that The Coalition funneled careful consideration into every element of the game’s art and technical design, working with Intel to further the PC foundation.
Whether you’re an old Gears fan or a new one, and whether your PC is getting on in years or freshly upgraded, Gears Tactics serves as the perfect opportunity to experience war-torn Sera in an entirely new way.
Gears Tactics is available for PC today.
- OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)
- CPU: Intel® Core™ i5 or higher
- RAM: 8GB of system memory
- Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon RX 570
- Storage: 45GB of available space
- DirectX: Version 12