Moviegoers got their first look at Gears Of War in a stunning trailer that appeared in movie preview ads over the holidays.A haunting acoustic cover of Mad World by Tears for Fears played while hero Marcus Fenix contemplated the ruins around him, then ran for his life down a shattered city street. That the ad's director, Fight Club's David Fincher, was able to make this commercial footage poignant says a lot about how far video game creators have come in their ability to connect with us.The Xbox 360 title was the big winner of the season, selling over 2 million copies and landing at the top of nearly every end-of-year best-of list. It was also the first to surpass the other juggernaut of multi-player action, Halo 2, in the number of players on Microsoft's online network. Wired writer Clive Thompson compared Gears to a "sonnet" in the way it made wonderfully new use of the formal elements of the played-out first-person shooter.Like many films, the game has an original look and feel that started in the art department. Art director Jerry O'Flaherty's role was to drive the visuals so that every element was tied together. According to O'Flaherty, advances in the latest consoles give their engines more power than ever."It's a product of next gen, and what next gen really means is horsepower. The driving power that is running the machines that are running these products allows us artists to do more," says O'Flaherty in a soft Southern accent. "It allows us to make aesthetic decisions that are right for our games."We used to have beautiful concepts, but when we put them in games everything looked the same. Now the post-processing the lighting, the textures on our characters has come together to make it look the way it does."And it works. Gears Of War's operatic spectacles of carnage, particularly in high definition, glitter and glow. Somehow, there's beauty in everything, from the burned-out cars to the brick walls to the points of light reflected off each individual scale on the bad guys' armour. Even the camera work is thought out, switching to a war documentary shaky-cam whenever you run for cover."Our aim was a compelling single-player experience that didn't have the traditional industrial post-apocalyptic feel. We wanted to create a European city that was falling apart," says O'Flaherty. "We've done rust and metal in other products. Here, we wanted stone and mortar and organic materials. We wanted it to look like it was once a gorgeous city but was blasted apart by 10 years of war."For artists like O'Flaherty, that's the point. For the first time, they're able to fully realize distinctive worlds that can affect us on an emotional level. That used to be the realm of film only. The ruined cityscapes of Gears, for example, are presented in a defused daylight reminiscent of that found in the work of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet."We've all seen David Fincher and James Cameron movies," says O'Flaherty, "And, yes, Jeunet, who made Amélie and City Of Lost Children. Delicatessen is a great one; we're all products of having seen it. And now we can control the mood and feel more than we ever have before."But this isn't just about beauty in games. The details of the grisly elements, the frequent violent deaths can now be given the same attention found in the films of horror movie masters like George Romero. "In a traditional shooter, when something blows up into bloody bits you take generic body parts and basically switch the model out (meaning they instantly replace the model with a new set of 3-D models that represent the blown apart bits)."Because we have a limited number of characters, we took every character and cut it apart, so when you see this guy blasted or chainsawed apart, we actually have a model that has all of its bits and pieces, with bones sticking out and gore. That was a decision we made early on that we wanted to go further."With that level of dedication, it's only a matter of time before the art departments of Hollywood switch over to gaming. And with the same visual fire power at their control, how long until the rest of Hollywood's top storytellers make that jump, too?