Editor’s note: This is the third of a multi-part series from WRAL Tech Wire about the Triangle’s videogame industry and what to expect in 2011.

CARY, N.C. – Cliff Bleszinski is the closest thing the video game industry has today to a rock star. He drives a Lamborghini, he announces new games on late night talk shows, and he’s flooded by fans seeking autographs at shows like Comic-Con.

This year is shaping up to be “epic” for the most visible face of the Cary-based independent game studio. Epic has a brand new shooter franchise in ”Bulletstorm” launching for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this week and they have “Gears of War 3” hitting store shelves this fall, as well as a robust Unreal Engine 3 technology business.

((Read about the Gears launch date and game details here.)

Bleszinski took some time to talk about Epic’s new franchise in this exclusive interview.

Bulletstorm has been making headlines recently. Explain what this game is all about?

Bulletstorm is an over-the-top first person shooter that we developed with the developers at People Can Fly. They’re a Polish-based studio who’s tremendously talented, and known for their kind of crazy, insane style of games that they’ve built like Painkiller. Bulletstorm is best described as the Burnout (Electronic Arts’ arcade racing franchise) of shooters, with a little bit of Duke Nuke ‘Em, and a little bit of (Joss Whedon’s) Firefly/Serenity thrown into the mix. We think it’s a game that allows you to essentially have a “symphony of violence.” Your weapons and your abilities are the tools in your orchestra with which to accomplish this.

How does one create a “symphony of violence” in this game? What’s the gameplay like?

Some of the tools that you actually have in your inventory are body moves, where you have the ability to kick your enemies. In most games, you just kind of do an elbow, or you hit them over the head with your gun. Your big boot in this game sends enemies flying away from you. You can also slide into an enemy and then kick them and send them up, as well. Players can combine that with what is known as the Energy Leash or Whip, throw it out, grab them and pull them towards you, and then kick them away. Start mixing that in with unique weapons such as the Flail Gun, which is essentially two grenades that are attached with a chain in the middle. You can throw that out, wrap a guy up, immobilize him temporarily, kick him into his buddies, pull him over into a giant cactus, and explode them all. Then you have this kind of reign of death that come about. All this is tied together through a scoring system that encourages you to kill with skill. Kill a guy in an interesting way, get 50 points. Kill five guys, get that many more points. Use that to get upgrades for your abilities, and for your weapons.

Everyone knows the Gears soldiers from your other big franchise. Who will players be controlling in Bulletstorm?

Bulletstorm is about two main characters. The first guy’s named Grayson Hunt, and his friend Ishi. They start off as members of this Dead Echo Squad. They’re very, very elite assassins. Ultimately, there’s a betrayal at the start of the game when they think that they were doing the right thing, and it turns out to be the wrong thing. They disobey orders, they wind up getting kicked out of the service, and then they’re off in the edge of space at the beginning of the game as these kind of drunken, debaucherous space pirates.

What’s the set-up for the action in this game, which takes place on the alien world of Stygia?

One day when Grayson and Ishi are having a bender, and they’re hanging out playing cards, they run into the main general who screwed them over at the beginning of the game. He’s in his prize ship, the Ulysses, which is huge. You’re on your tiny, itty-bitty ship. In a drunken rage, Grayson decides to hit a button and try and ram the giant ship, which causes both ships to tumble down to a very, very hazardous alien planet that’s not only filled with flesh-eating gangs, and feral, horrible people, but also a mutant plant life that’s trying to consume you. The goal is to get off the planet alive, and potentially intact.

How does Bulletstorm take advantage of the latest Unreal Engine 3 technology?

Bulletstorm uses the latest version of the Unreal engine. We provide content and code drops to People Can Fly, as well as our licensees on a regular basis. When I see something come in, like for instance, we got these amazing God Beams that are incredibly impressive — the way kinda light comes through the trees. I went to Tanya (Jessen), who’s our producer on our side for Bulletstorm. I was like, “Tanya, we need to have these in the game.” That’s one feature that made it into the game. We work hand-in-hand with PCF sending our engineers and our artists over to Pullen to make sure that they know how to use the latest tools, so that they can get the most out of the engine to provide an incredibly good-looking, and fast-running game.

Can you address how Bulletstorm separates itself from what people are used to with Gears of War?

Bulletstorm is a kind of game that really puts the fun back in a first-person shooter. That’s not to say other shooters aren’t fun. What Bulletstorm does, it does with a little bit of tongue-and-cheek. It has a wink and a smile towards the player. It’s not the most serious game, and it fully embraces that. Gears is the kind of game that has its crazy, over-the-top elements with curb stomps, and chainsaws, and monsters. Gears tries to make a point about war, and loss, and redemption, whereas Bulletstorm is just about pure, over-the-top fun and action.

What did working with Marvel writer Rick Remender bring to this over-the-top Bulletstorm action?

Rick’s a very successful Marvel comic writer. He brings this really zany, over-the-top, pulpy style of writing to the project. I think it really comes through when you play the game and you hear some of the crazy lines of dialogue that come out, as well as the sensibilities that would happen with flesh-eating mutant gangs, and giant cacti, and plant life.

When you’re designing a game, can you address how you are focusing both on the mainstream gamer, as well as the more hardcore?

As the industry continues to grow and evolve, we want to make sure that we hit as wide of an audience as possible. When you look at Bulletstorm, it is a first-person shooter. It’s Mature rated. It’s very fun, and over-the-top. At the same time, we as developers want everybody to try our games provided, of course, they’re old enough to play a Mature game. We’re going to continue to try and make “Easy” level (of gameplay) even easier. That’s the same for all Epic games. Whereas the harder difficulty levels will absolutely make the palms sweat of the most hardened gamer.

Part One in series: Epic’s president talks about the state of the industry in the Triangle.

Part Two: Designing Bulletstorm – with a woman’s point of view included.

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