Cliff Bleszinski has spent nearly half his lifetime at North Carolina-based Epic Games, where he serves as design director. At only 33, Bleszinski (who earlier this year formally divorced himself from his "CliffyB" nickname) is one of the industry's best known designers, heavily contributing to the Unreal Tournament franchise and spearheading the Xbox 360 flagship Gears of War series.
The Microsoft-published Gears of War, a showcase for the industry-leading Unreal Engine 3, was a major hit for the console upon release in 2006, and its third-person cover mechanics proved to be influential to other developers. Two years later, Epic has wrapped up work on its sequel.
With Gears of War 2 complete and releasing next month, Gamasutra sat down with Bleszinski to discuss his development process, the divide between games and Hollywood, the role of a designer in modern game development, and why as a well-known personality it's important to pick your battles.
How long have you been in development? Basically since Gears shipped?
CB: Just two years. It was shortly after when we realized what the ship and sale [figures for Gears] were going to be. Then review scores started coming in. We had ideas what we could do with the sequel. It wasn't to the point where we were like, "Okay, all hands on deck" until we were sure the game was going to be a hit.
You weren't operating on the assumption it would be a success?
CB: Deep down we were hoping but we never make that assumption. Same thing with looking at [Gears of War 2]. I believe the response from the journalists has been very, very positive and very exciting but I never take anything for granted in this day and age. Always remain cautiously optimistic. It's a lesson learned. I never get cocky.
So, going right from Gears into Gears 2's develpment, did it basically feel like you were just extending the first game?
CB: Well, I mean we sat down and we had this whole process we called "New, Better, More." It was just what was going to be new, what was going to be better, and what we were going to have more of. All the leads got together and put our heads together and said, "What features will we add?"
The funny thing is, bots came out on top. It was such a no-brainer for us to do and it's great to have those in there now.
In regards to the campaign, we knew we wanted to be longer. We knew we wanted to do a better job with the story because the story in the first one was very straightforward, very simple.
We wanted to get into who these guys were with regards to Dom and his search for his wife. Then lots, lots more nasty Locusts. We really shot for the more robust multiplayer this time around, hopefully knocking it out of the park.
You had no bots in the first Gears, and yet you guys have a strong history of bots with Unreal Tournament.
CB: Yeah. Steve Polge invented the bot.
You tapped the UT team for this game, I assume.
CB: Oh yeah. Once you start getting to the point you're getting close to shipping a product, everything gets very incestual in the company. People who are working on one thing spend a month chipping in and helping out to ship the product.
So some of the guys from Unreal Tournament were working on this. You get to the point where it gets dizzying towards the end, to be honest, when you're working these 12 plus hour days for a few months on end.
Also, when you think about now, forget about bots for just a second and think about what it means to be a game designer in this day and age. You not only have to try to make a game you think is amazing but the second you're done, you have to go on a whirlwind press tour now.
Sorry for my contribution to that!
CB: Well it's part of the job, man. I love doing it. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but you compare it to a movie director who gets a few months off when the project's in the can and he can go to the beach and relax and recharge. I'm just like, "Ahhh!"
I had to do the five European cities in five days recently. It's not like you have time to go see the Eiffel Tower. You're just -- boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, which is part of building the hype in this day and age.
It doesn't matter what kind of game you make if nobody knows about it, if the journalists don't write about it. You're not building that buzz making an event launch. Anyway, I don't know how I got on that from bots.