Interview With Cliff Bleszinski

Back like a month ago I got to interview the legendary Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games, to talk about whats new and what they have been up to. Since my discussion they have announced some cool stuff about multiplayer, delayed the game, and closed the Save Carbine contest.  This article was was originally going to be in the print release of the magazine, but due to some size constraints in the section, we couldn’t weasel it it. That said, its a super cool interview and you should consider this to be part of me and Gamer Gal’s Gamer section directors cut… hmmm yeah, I’ll say that sounds cool enough for this article. We talk about some cool things like the 3Ds, PC gaming, Bulletstorm, Gears of War 3 and the importance of a good producer in game development.

Check out the interview on the jump

So hows working at Epic?

You know there this song by this group called LMFAO it’s called “Yes”, The hook is the chorus goes “Everyday I see my dream,” over and over again. It kinda feels like that. I mean, we as a studio have changed somewhat. I’ve been working with these guys since I was 17 years old and we have had our challenges over the years as far as our successes, things have been bumpy. You know back in the day we did Unreal Tournament on PS2 which did well for us, but wasn’t the break out hit that we have for Gears and Gears 2. We have grown as a studio, we have a beautiful new building, and we are hiring up and trying new things to still trying to be a business but still maintain that culture that makes it feel like it’s a place people want to work at. It’s a delicate balance

What is it like working as a game company in the South East? Particularly in the Carolinas.

Our studio is kinda a novelty for the area, the is certainly technology companies in the area, and there is entertainment up in Wilmington. We are kinda at the half way point between technology and entertainment. People come up and say “Uh at Epic, I heard you have a slide in your building and there are cool cars in the parking lot and you guys drive scooters down the hallway” and we are like yea… it’s fun and it’s cool and we have toys in our office because we are big children. But you know, North Carolina work for us just as much as it’s against us but people get hung up on the idea that west coast is the place to be. When they come out here they realize this place is growing and has a ton to offer, cost of living can’t be beat, everyone is chill, traffic isn’t really bad,and crime is hardly on the radar. The Schools are excellent, medical care is great, it’s just a good place to set up shop.

Your Middleware [Unreal 3] is by far the most popular middleware engine in modern gaming today, So much so that the average gamers are familiar with it by name. Why do you think it was such a huge success?

Better tools, I’ve read about engines that have text file editors for creators to have to script enemies, and I’m like really? We are dealing with very visual people, how can we teach a man to fish. We have tools to help creatives rapidly prototype. I mean in game development, you are failing a lot and often very early on so we try to ease that and with our better tools, we want people to focus on making the better game cheaper and faster.

And what about expanding your engine to other platform, like for iPhone, 3DS, PSP and Wii?

At E3 we had some samples of our tech running on mobile, that’s something we are interested in and dabbling, but any future things that are going to happen with that remain to be announced. But it’s hard to ignore the success of the mobile.

And what about the 3DS?

I think its awesome, it’s like a portable diorama in your hands. While we love what Nintendo does, and we all grew up on there games and are big fans, from a positioning standpoint for us, you are unlike to see us doing anything for the 3DS any time soon, but you never know.

Going into Gears of War, Epic made it clear they wanted to make Gears of War 2 a “Bigger, Better, More Badass” game. What are your design goals for Gears of War 3?

Not only did we achieve that, I burned out the phrase entirely throughout the course of the press campaign so we are not going to really mention it with Gears 3. I can tell you without a doubt this will be the best looking, fun, most polished and feature rich Gears game. Everything just pops and looks great with the lighting, the feedback of shooting your eniemies and monsters, the crazy new weapons, the emotional highs and lows, it’s a heck of a product.

Horde mode was a huge success, and some pretty big name games have even emulated and put their own twist on it, What is new for the mode to make sure Gears stays on top?

We aren’t talking about Horde mode yet, we are saving it, when you hyping the game over a 2 year cycle, we got to hold to some stuff, what I can tell you is it’s going to be fun

The new Beast Mode also looks really cool, will we only be fighting COG bots could we also see the option to have player controlled COGs vs player controlled Locus?

They will be bots,we aren’t going down that path of player controlled. But the cool thing with this modes is while with Gears vs, which we will be talking more about next month or two, everyone loves to kill their friends but at the same time Gears is also huge coop, you look at the 4 player coop going against overwhelming odds. Now it would be a disservice to call Beast mode a reverse Horde mode or a vs 4 because it really is not. You are in a situation where you are class based and all these different roles play differently which turned out to be a far amount of work than you would have thought. When you play the ticker you get a different camera angle and control scheme than if you were to play a something else. There is a lot of great overlaps that happen in this class based mode, essentially Destroy All Humans

Talking about the campaign, What is Marcus and company up to now?

Its been about 18 months after the events of Gears 2. There is a message from Marcus Fenix’s dad, that he is alive and being held somewhere against his will and we start to see Marcus get haunted by that. But his dad is trying to lead him to where there might be a solution on what is going on the planet as far as not the Locus but this new infection from the emulsion causing these new lambent locus with these nasty testicles popping out of them that explode on death. Making the locus these completely crazed creatures now essentially creating a 3rd fight and the locus are no longer at the top of the food chain

Epic has really pushed the record on breaking various character barriers in the Gears Series, Dom is a Hispanic solder (something we don’t really see in games) in Gears 1, Tai was a particularly interesting Samoan/Native American (I’m not really sure which) character in Gears 2. Moving into Gears 3 we have a female in the cast! What is the driving force to create such diversity of characters, Is it something you would like to see more of in other games in general.

We are equal opportunity killers here at epic games. I mean, as much as people joke about Cole Train being an African American stereotype which we take note of that here and he has a moment in Gears 3 where you see his heart and soul come through. Dom was crafted largely because we have seen so many Hispanic characters in video games that felt like Speedy Gonzales [Funny Speedy impersonation] like just a really bad taco bell chiwawa. We cast Carlos who is hispanic, and we told him to have a little accent but not to go crazy with it because its just so in your face non white characters being written by white people and you have to be very careful with that. So now we got Jace, another African American character from the comic books with a kind of softness to that kind of texture of the ethnicity of our characters. Of course now we have Anya who has suited up and picked up a gun and got out of the desk job. We have Sam who kicks butt with the rest of them, we wanted to depict out women as attractive but not 13 year old boy half naked combat attractive thing and take the gender seriously because we see that gears has a lot of female fans and treat the gender with respect, and to be fair the locus can rip off their arms and beat them to death with it as well

What is the status on Carbine?

Save Carbine is still in the lead, Which dismays me because want the bastard dead and I will do everything I can to make sue we continue the tradition of killing Carbine

Moving on to BulletStorm (one of the games I am especially excited for) what was the idea, its brilliant

We did a lot with People Can Fly, we went back and forth for about a year at PCF and it was this kind of Gears game on some kind of Quake 2 looking metal world and we were like wait what?? It wasn’t a situation where “You are PCF we work with you and you make game about guy kicking in drunken space pirate because I Cliff want to see that!” No, one thing I have learned over the years is that work with creative people, have a lot of back and forth and own opinion about things, but generally speaking don’t mess with it too much, make sure you have the appropriate producer who can help keep things on track but let Rick write his crazy writing about purple ass holes and stuff like that, let Adrian design an insane giant plant monster boss and this crazy kick slide gameplay that is so fundamentally fun. Thats one thing that they have nailed with that game. People are going to be surprised on how funny it is. We are just laughing our asses of in the single player play through

I love the idea of “killing with style” and the skill shot medals, It almost reminds me of a Unreal Tournament meets Halo meets MadWorld meets burnout. How in the world did you guys come up with such an awesome idea?

Everyone working on it was saying we have this whole system where gamers generally go for the path of least resistance when taking on enemies, they kill them as quickly and effectively as possible they don’t always care about doing executions just because its cool, they might do it once then they are done. In Gears 3 we are trying to figure out ways to reward players who execute, we have all kinds of little tricks up our sleeve. But with Bulletstorm, the game is fundamentally built on doing these crazy kills and you need to fundamentally reward them with it. Which brings you money, call the player out when he does cool stuff, take the double kill system we invented at Epic and take it to the next level and kick it up 5 notches so much that it becomes the core of the game. The player unlocks skill shots that then lead to new weapons to do more skill shots. If you look at the matrix of skill shots and the ability to do it, its huge! They say a cat plays with the mouse before it dies, in Bulletstorm, you are the cat and the mutants and gang members are your mice.

Will you expand it with more post launch and sneak some new stuff in?

They have a lot of ideas on how to extend all that once the game ship, but we haven’t announced anything yet.

Last year, Epic moved Unreal Tournament 3 for the PC completely over to Steam, Call Of Duty MW2 launched doing the same thing. How has it been working on the Steam platform and is it something Epic will continue to do for it’s future titles?

Its not my department, I have a lot of respect for Valve and what they do, Portal 2 looks great, Gabe is cool, they have a lot of talented people working there. If you look at PC games right now, its all about Facebook Games, Steam Games, and Blizzard.

Recently the NPD announced that nearly half of all PC game sales today take place as legal downloads, is that a good or bad thing?

Thats good to hear, I was worried you know, someone on twitter said and I quoted that Scott Pilgrim was the movie for this generation, the problem is that no one from this generation pay for anything. I mean I’m sitting here watching my 15 year old nephew on his laptop as he is playing a game, using YouTube as a music player, and I was like “Wow, I wonder if the artist are aware of this”

Ok, and a lot of people have been saying consoles will replace PCs since well the Playstation 2… Will this ever happen, or can we count on the PC being here to stay?

PC is on the up swing again, You have to be careful on the subject, because PC gamers are a very dedicated bunch and they will eviscerate you if you are not very nice to them. Understandably since they are very dedicated to what they do. The Market is going to get more fragmented before it consolidates more, Everything from mobile and social games, Kinect, Playstation Move, they are creating a lot of submarkets and a few people are going to clean up and a lot of people are going to implode unfortunately.

Is there anything else you would like to add about Gears of War, BulletStorm, or anything awesome in general?

There are 3 faces of Bulletstorm there are the screenshots where people are like, that looks hot, its cool… then they see video of the game oh this looks really cool. Then people play it and are like “I get it” get your hands on it if you can at one of these conventions where it’s playable because you will totally understand it the moment you touch it.

Thank you and I appreciate every one’s time!