Editor’s note: John Gaudiosi, an internationally published reviewer and reporter about the video games industry, writes the Gaming Guru blog for WRAL.com.
CARY – Cliff Bleszinski, one of the "rock stars" of the videogame industry, is the lead designer of “Gears of War” at Epic Games. He’s known to millions around the world as “Cliffy B” and he took some time to talk about what he’s playing today, the future of PC games and why there’s not officially a “Gears of War 2” coming in this exclusive interview.
What are your thoughts on the state of the videogame industry today. Epic Games is one of the few independent game developers out there making hit games.
We enjoy being independent. If you look at the business right now it’s become very polarized where it’s either AAA blockbuster entertainment franchises or its casual games. It’s either go big or go home and the gray area in between is drying up. Make a puzzle game or make a blockbuster like Grand Theft Auto or Gears or Halo. It’s a scary time because the more money involved and the more risky it is, people get nervous and some believe innovation can be stifled. I definitely think we need innovation in the business. You see the Independent Game Festivals gaining steam and the mod communities are going strong, as well. At the same time, I don’t think game designers have mastered the craft that they have to work with in terms of the shooter controls having a certain amount of aim help or good checkpoints in a shooter. These are all like game design 101 things that I don’t think a lot of games have started to master yet. We need to innovate but also to master the techniques we have as designers to entertain players.
What are you playing for fun these days?
I beat Bioshock, which I loved except for the whole bee thing. As much as I think Bioshock is the game of the year, I don’t think people want to shoot bees at anyone in a game. I can freeze a dude, and then shatter him with my wrench, which is cool. I can set them on fire, that’s cool. But bees? I’m killing a Big Daddy with bees? He’s in a dive suit that sustains him hundreds of feet under water and bees are killing him? I don’t buy it. Other than that, Bioshock doing well in the marketplace shows that there’s a certain percentage of shooter gamers that are ready to evolve past just straight-up shooting things. The game added some RPG offerings and explored what you can do with a passive narrative. Hook-line-and-sinker I just love Bioshock. Now I’m tearing through Halo 3 and it’s fucking great Halo, man. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What are your thoughts on linear shooters like Bioshock versus the more open world games like GTA?
Bioshock was a very linear game, it just hid it well. If Bioshock was a completely open-ended game like System Shock 2, where you could explore the entire base, it would be really intimidating. You’d get to that one log and it told you to go back to the power station and you had to remember where it was and backtrack. I had enough things to worry about in Bioshock with my weapons and potions and hacking and Big Daddies that if they want to lead me along to the next objective with an arrow, I’m okay with that. Players often want to know where to go and what to do. They want to know where the princess is to go save her. There’s a lot of wiggle room there with the Grand Theft Autos and Spider-Man games where you have cities that you can go anywhere and do anything, but for Bioshock I’m glad it was linear.
What was it like being able to revisit the first Gears of War game with this new PC iteration before moving on to Gears of War 2?
For the record, we haven’t announced anything about any possible follow-up to Gears. I don’t see why we’d make a sequel to a game that’s sold over 4 million copies, that would be crazy. It’s been kind of nice to go back and revisit Gears and do it on PC. It allowed us to explain more about what the whole train was about and little bits of the story and we got the damn Brumback in there. We also explored the keyboard and mouse controls and took the paradigm we established and put it on there. It was a great design exercise to do that and see how that translated and make sure that the game still stayed true to its core, which was important to us.
How do you fine-tune a PC game like Gears?
We’re continuing to master what we think is a good sense of pacing for a videogame. With Gears PC and the new chapters, as we’re doing walkthroughs of levels, I tend to be very easily distracted and if I start thinking about picking up milk and eggs on the way home, that’s a bad sign for the level because it means it’s not compelling enough. Or if I start tuning out because there’s too much action. It’s this gentle give-and-take of combat encounters versus exploration versus narrative and how you pace that out. We, as a company, are getting really good at figuring out what good pacing is, and checkpoint placement and difficulty balance and we’ll only get better at it.
When you look at sales figures, consoles like Xbox 360 and Wii are dominating the sales charts. Where do you see the future of PC games?
I don’t think the PC is every going to die because you have a device that was fundamentally built for work and people will ultimately find a way to f–k off on it. You get a phone for conference calling and suddenly there are games for it. It was largely fractured when you had these embedded video cards which sucked and people could download all kinds of crap and download their machines to a halt and things like that. People have to do something besides downloading porn and hanging out on FaceBook all day long. If they want to fire up a cool shooter game, then we’ll be there for them.