One of the 166,345 (!) followers on Twitter of Epic Games Design Director Cliff Bleszinski captured Wednesday’s news best:

“I am at a loss for words. The 20 year streak is over.”

In a shock to videogamers worldwide who have bought millions of games built around the creative genius of Bleszinski, or “Cliffy B,” is leaving Cary-based Epic Games.

The news – spread virtually instantly via Twitter and Epic’s forums – triggered a tsunami of reaction.

“Wow, Cliffy B’ is trending worldwide,” Bleszinski tweeted. “Thanks for all the love guys! Means the world.”

The wizard widely hailed across the industry for leading Epic’s efforts to build such massive sellers as “Gears of War” and “Unreal Tournament” disclosed his departure from Epic on Wednesday.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager, and outside of my sabbatical last year, I have been going non-stop. I literally grew up in this business, as Mike [Capps, Epic’s president] likes to say.

“And now that I’m grown up, it’s time for a much needed break,” Bleszinski wrote in a note shared with his Epic co-workers.

“I will miss the projects, the playtests, the debates, and most importantly, the people.

“Epic only hires the best of the best, and it has been a joy working with each and every one of you on a daily basis, whether you were hired weeks ago or decades ago.

“I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with a variety of disciplines, from code to art to marketing and PR – it’s been one big, rewarding learning experience.

“I’m confident that each project that is being built, whether at Epic, Chair, PCF [People Can Fly], or Impossible will be top notch and will please gamers and critics alike.”

Epic’s Reaction

Epic posted a blog at its website informing the gaming world about Bleszinski’s decision.

“Today we are saying farewell with warm regards to Cliff Bleszinski, who is departing as Epic’s design director to chart the next stage of his career,” Epic said.

“During the past two decades, Cliff has helped shape many successful games that have captured the imaginations of millions of players around the world. We are grateful for his influence on Epic’s legacy, from the wild adventures ‘Jazz Jackrabbit’ to the visceral combat of “Gears of War.”

Epic included two notes of praise from Epic’s founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Sweeney as well as Capps.

 ”In 20 wonderful years with Epic, Cliff Bleszinski has grown into a true design luminary, and his contributions to the ‘Unreal’ and ‘Gears’ series have helped shape the game industry into what it is today,” Sweeney said. “Cliff leaves Epic with our gratitude for his many contributions, and our wishes for continued success in the next chapter of his life!”

Added Capps: “In my 10 years of working with Cliff, his passion for creating video games of the highest quality has been unflinching. We are grateful for all of his hard work, and remain committed to making our fans happy and to always raising the bar in everything we do at Epic.”

Mark Rein, a co-founder of Epic and its vice president, added:

“Cliff has been my friend and business associate for the past 20 years and, while it is sad to see him move on from Epic, I know that everyone here has benefitted greatly from his passion for gaming and the depth of his expertise and experience. I’ll miss watching his star shine from such a close vantage point but I’ll still look forward to watching his continued success.”

From The Skinny

Here’s a tip of the cap from The Skinny to Cliff. Judges in WRAL Tech Wire’s first “Full Steam Ahead” awards named Bleszinski one of the winners, citing his creative inventiveness. Each winner received an engineer’s cap.

Cliff attended the event – and with pride doffed the cap.

Good luck, Cliff. God’s speed.

[EPIC ARCHIVE: Check out 10 years stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]