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Cliff Bleszinski: The Escapist Interview

Russ Pitts | 13 May 2008 20:15
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Cliff Bleszinski, aka "CliffyB," is the last person you'd expect to hear talk about his dog. The poster child for hyper-macho gameplay, who came onstage at GDC this year bathed in blood red light, holding a gun larger than a child with a chainsaw attached to the end of it, is a gamer's designer. Frequently described as a playboy man-child, Bleszinski, age 33, drives a convertible Lamborghini, is rumored to have a girlfriend 10 years his junior and says "fuck" a lot.

Bleszinski got his start, as did a number of designers of his generation, designing a game out of his bedroom, which he then sold to Epic MegaGames. Epic hired him to follow it up, and he's now the company's design director, responsible for the award-winning, blockbuster Unreal games, which have helped keep the PC multiplayer shooter genre alive and kick-started Epic's engine licensing business, and the multi-million-copy-selling console shooter Gears of War. His last appearance at GDC was to announce the release date for the Gears sequel, Gears of War 2, expected in stores this holiday season.

The Escapist recently visited Epic's home offices (just down the road from ours) for a quick look at the making of a Gears of War 2 level, as chronicled in Jordan Deam's article, Into the Sinkhole: Behind the Scenes with Gears of War 2. Afterward, I sat down with Cliff Bleszinski in his action figure-adorned office, where he talked about how awesome the new Gears installment will be, the difficulties involved with being one of the last of the rock star designers, the movie Poltergeist, how many developers have ripped him off, why he thinks some online gamers are dicks, the importance of not playing games from time to time and his dog. I also tried to make him cry.

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The Escapist: So I was talking to Rod [Fergusson, producer of Gears of War 2] earlier, and he was telling me you guys were putting the finishing touches on [the Gears of War 2 demo level].

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Cliff Bleszinski: It's come a long way in the last few weeks. For some reason, our team responds extremely well when they know something's going to be featured publicly ... "Oh my god, this is going to be shown! Holy shit!" And suddenly it's a mad scramble and artists are in the meeting making shit look better, animators are animating stuff and leads are staying late to hook it all up and plug it in. I think it's one of the craziest videogame levels ever made. I can't play it without my palms sweating.

TE: What's the red button [on your desk] do?

CB: That's destruct.

TE: Of course. Does that kind of mini crunch help you get your ideas down?

CB: The majority of the ideas are down and now we're at the point where it's all about iteration. We have the basic forge of the sword and now it's about hammering it out. It's a matter of playing with timing, a matter of what looks good and what doesn't work, pacing and everything like that.

Now that the base level is there, from here on out until ship what we do is start tweaking difficulty, ammo placement, ammo balancing as well as overall pacing, music hitting at the right moment, stingers hitting, things like that.

Locally I'm going to be firing up the game to play it and periodically having team-based peer reviews where we all just sit down with a notepad and call out what we think sucks, what we think needs work and how we can make it better.

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