You might not know the name Rod Fergusson, but if you've so much as poked an 'X' button in the last ten years, you'll have played one of his games.
He's had hand in the likes of Half-Life: Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament 3, BioShock: Infinite, but the fattest string on his bow is undoubtedly Gears of War - the chainsaw-wielding franchise that's helped shift thousands of Xbox consoles the globe over, which he's worked on since it's inception in 2006.
Fresh from directing Gears of War 4, we spoke to Fergusson about the games that helped shape his life.
Which are the most important games from your childhood?
"I was born four years before Pong was invented so we’re going waaay back. I have lots of great memories from adventure games on teletypes connected to the local University: Missile Command on my first computer (TRS-80 Color Computer with a whole 4K of RAM), RPGs like Wizardry on my Apple IIe and the one arcade game I was really good at – Star Castle.
"During those times it felt like every game was magic – whether it was the immersive 3D world of Battlezone or the production values of Dragon’s Lair. All of my memories around gaming have to do with the social aspect of playing/being with other people. Whether it was my family huddled around a monitor trying to not to get virtual dysentery on the Oregon Trail or a group of friends at the arcade after school trying to beat each other’s score. My favourite arcade game was the stand-up version of Discs of Tron which I got to play mostly at the Drive-In."
What's the greatest game you've ever played?
"I don’t know if there is a good answer for 'greatest game ever' because gaming is so dependent on ever changing technology and what you’re feeling at that moment.
"The original Tribes had a huge impact on me as it was the first game that I ever created an official Clan for with try-outs and everything. We played that game religiously. The series I’ve dedicated the most hours to is the Diablo series and that continues today on my Xbox One. A recent game that had a major impact on me was Uncharted 2 as it inspired me to be a better game maker and story teller."
Which old titles still have an influence on you now?
"There’s no one game I can say we pull from for Gears, but there are some truisms that come from old games that you leverage even in today’s design.
"For example, the rule of threes: it’s the idea of having a player do something three times so the concept is introduced to them progressively over time such that the third time they are able to demonstrate mastery of it. We even made an inside joke of this design method early in Gears 3 where the aircraft carrier is being attacked and one of the characters calls that there must be another attack coming because 'everything happens in threes'."
When making a game like Gears of War 4, do you make it with a particular gamer in mind? Your younger self? A more mature gamer?
"Gears of War has such a diverse community that you can’t really create it for one specific audience in mind, instead we try to be as diverse as possible while still being true to ourselves and the story we’re trying to tell.
"I don’t think you can knowingly create a 'classic' - I think to attempt to do so would be paralysing because you’d second guess every decision you made. Instead of making the game you want to make, you’d end up trying to design with critics in mind and worrying constantly about what other people will think. At the end of the day, you just make the best game you can and you hope to catch lightning in a bottle."