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Epic Games' 'Gears Of War' Hits Stores With Mega Seller Buzz

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CARY, N.C. — The crew at Epic Games feels as if it has just given birth – not to a child but to an action-filled videogame creation that is filled with sizzling special effects and could be one of the biggest sellers to hit the market in years.

After months of endless promotion and hype that have driven expectations for quality to what might have been unreachable heights, “Gears of War” began arriving in stores across the nation on Tuesday.

Soon, people around the world will be donning body armor, grabbing futuristic weapons (including some nasty chainsaws) and going off to battle the “Locust Horde” on the planet Sera.

The locust attack led to the “Emergence Day” theme used in the game. Microsoft will officially launch "Gears of War" with Emergence Day activities on Nov. 12. Among the highlights will be appearances by "Gears" lead designer Cliff 'CliffyB' Bleszinski.

The title, which Epic developed exclusively for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game system and which is published by Microsoft’s games subsidiary, is already receiving sizzling reviews. Pre-orders point toward "Gears" selling 1 million-plus copies at $59.95 a copy. A limited edition with book and DVD is also available.

In industry jargon, Epic is hoping "Gears" will be a “triple A” title – one that cracks the top 10 in sales. It appears to be headed that way.

Having the game “gone gold” just days ago and now being shipped means the Epic crew can catch their collective breath before plunging into the next project.

“It’s like being at the hospital with your wife who is in labor but the process is real slow,” said Mark Rein, Epic’s vice president for marketing and one of the privately held firm’s principal owners. “It’s a surreal day.

“Very few people will get the game (Tuesday), but what will happen when the reviews come out – that’s what will set the tone if people haven’t bought it already,” he added. “We’ve gotten perfect scores from the four we have heard about already. We know it’s not going to get a perfect score from everybody, but we are excited.”

Epic should be. In fact, a series of reviews compiled by GameRankings.com on Tuesday gave "Gears" very high scores, with the low being 8 out of 10 and most at 9.4 out of 10 or higher.

Epic used its proprietary, cutting-edge game engine called Unreal to develop "Gears." The title dazzled players and reviewers at its premier earlier this summer at the E3 entertainment show in Los Angeles. Pre-orders for it are rumored to be equal to or exceeding those of the “Halo 2” title – another Microsoft Xbox title that has a global following.

Bigger Than Unreal?

Prior to "Gears," Epic was best known for its series of “Unreal” games. The company, which owner and Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney founded in 1991, has sold more than 7 million copies of various Unreal titles.

"Gears" may set a new sales standard. Said Rein: “I think the potential of 'Gears of War' is even higher.”

Although Microsoft and Rein won’t comment, talk already is circulating that "Gears" will be turned into a franchise such as "Halo."

Microsoft Game Studios and Epic originally planned a global release of "Gears" for Nov. 12. But with the pending release of Sony’s new PlayStation 3, the decision was made to get "Gears" to market sooner.

“Microsoft felt with Christmas coming up and with PlayStation 3 coming out next week that it wasn’t worth holding the game up, and we agreed,” Rein said.

As a consequence, however, Epic faced what Rein called a “tremendous crunch period.”

“Everything was pushed. It wasn’t easy,” he added. “But we pulled it off, and we’re very happy with the results.”

Mike Capps, Epic’s president, told Computer and Video Games Magazine that the pace required to finish "Gears of War" was tremendous.

“We were on seven-day weeks, 12-hour days, catering dinners to keep guys working, you name it,” Capps said. “Luckily, we have a lot of industry vets who knew how to pace themselves. We said it was a marathon, not a sprint - until the end, when it was just a free-for-all sprint to the finish line.”

Epic’s management team was quite careful to not let staffers get too tired or burned out, Rein stressed. “When you get too tired, you get sloppy and make mistakes,” he added.

’Biggest Launch in Memory’

Microsoft is being mum about specifics on sales. However, Rein said the word on the street has the publisher and the Epic team expecting big sales.

“We don’t want to count the chickens before they hatch,” he said. “But Microsoft has confirmed that based on big pre-orders, this will be the biggest launch in memory for a new game franchise.”

"Gears" required an intense team effort from Epic. At times as many as 55 of the company’s 80-person staff worked on it, according to Rein. The title is the most expensive that Epic has established in its 15-year history, too, Rein said. He told a recent game conference that "Gears" cost $10 million to create.

To pay for the game’s creation, Microsoft advanced royalties against future sales. "Gears" took “a little more than two years” to develop, according to Rein.

Called a “third-person shooter,” "Gears" is “a different style game, a little bit more intimate type of a game that you play in close proximity to your squad mates as opposed to 'Unreal,'” Rein explained. “You see your character, and the other characters are close enough to you that you feel their emotions. There is more interaction, and there are far more details. There is an immense amount of detail on the screen.”

"Gears" can also be played in a multi-player role. “It is a much tighter environment with even more emphasis on team play,” Rein added. “Instead of being run-and-gun like 'Unreal,' we call it ‘stop-and-pop.’ You keep under cover, it’s a little more tactical, and you watch your back.”

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