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What if Cliff Ran the World?

May 11, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

If the game industry were high school, Cliff Bleszinski would be the popular kid. The design director at Gears of War studio Epic Games understands the importance of maintaining a public image and getting his name known, which can rub some people the wrong way -- but it's hard to deny that he's good at what he does. Gears of War was the "true" beginning of next-gen, not only in terms of visuals and technical excellence, but also tightness and expansiveness of design.

Bleszinski has a strong sense of game design. He grew up playing Zelda and Mario, and has incorporated the lessons he learned from those games far better than the Japanese game industry is currently able to. We started by discussing the changing game landscape, and the interview quickly turned to how Bleszinski might alter a number of game franchises and genres. It was fascinating to hear his thoughts unravel as they did not stem from a desire to criticize other peoples' work, but rather from a clear, informed enthusiasm for video games and design.

You grew up on Japanese games, as did many of us, and now you're one of the more respected designers of blockbuster video games in the Western world. At GDC, Keiji Inafune was talking about how he feels Japan has lost the drive to win, and that's why the West has essentially taken over the traditional game industry. I just wonder what it's going to take for them to get back there?

Cliff Bleszinski: One of the things I've wondered about, I always do my doomsday scenario -- if [Epic Games CEO] Tim Sweeney wakes up tomorrow and goes, "Man, Cliff you're really an idiot. You're fired; get out of here," what would I do? And hopefully there will be multiple options because, you know, I'm a pretty good game designer.

But I've also recognized the value of putting your face out there, building my own brand as a person as well as surrounding myself with brilliant people to make great games, right? One of the options I've thought of was what if I left Epic right now, and became a consultant to help Japanese developers make games that are more Western-friendly -- not only from an IP perspective, but also from the game mechanics and features perspective. I could seriously have a very healthy consulting gig doing that, right?

The Epic team and I have made what is, in many ways, one of the most definitive Western games, as far as Gears being the "dude-bro" game, and the perception of that, as well as the online feature set, and the co-op, and cover, and even the narrative, and things like that. But we can always do better with it, of course.

And so my advice to Japan is that in a disc-based market right now, you cannot [ignore multiplayer]. I'm not saying tack multiplayer onto every game. But for instance, Shadows of the Damned, that was a wonderfully crazy adventure, the dialogue had me laughing out loud, just even the key-door systems in there; it was a beautifully crazy game with really fun gameplay, but no multiplayer co-op experience in there. I'm not saying tack on a versus mode; there's a billion different ways you can do some sort of "players interacting with other players" mode.

For instance there's Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. That's ironically one of the most innovative games with what we call "mingle player" that has had those kinds of blending and blurring of single player and multiplayer -- and it came from Japan! So clearly some of the developers over there get that, because that game is going to continue to inspire a lot of Western developers to figure ways that you can have connected elements in campaign games, and have more of a blended experience.

I would've loved it in Skyrim if my fiancee could have left a treasure in a chest in my house while she was playing, Animal Crossing-style. You know, Fable with the orbs in the world, that's where we're all going, right?

And if you're going to make a third-person shooter... the fact that Vanquish didn't have a multiplayer suite was a crime. That IP, it was pretty good as far as being Western, the gameplay was great, and the vibe... I've often said on record that if Gears is the kind of Wild, Wild West coal train chugging along, then Vanquish is the Japanese bullet train, with style and everything. There is absolutely no reason I shouldn't have been zipping around, doing the mega slides, diving up in the air in an arena with other players.

And whatever reason they had... The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I'm sure the development team got together and was like, "Well, we probably shouldn't do multiplayer because of the budget," or the time, but at the end of the day you have an amazing product that was [handicapped] by the fact that it was seen by many gamers as a campaign rental or a used game, and not the $60, day one, gotta have it game.

So that's my initial, just-off-the cuff advice that I would give, because I love all things Japan. Growing up I realized everything I loved was derived from Japan, from Transformers to Nintendo to Force Five, Mazinger and Voltron, and all of it. So I don't want those games to go away.


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Comments


Luis Guimaraes
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"The other mechanic I want to do -- that somebody can feel free to steal, because I'm never going to get around to doing it -- is make a game in which it's first-person and you're being stalked by giant scary creatures, and you can turn invisible, but the only way to turn invisible is to close your eyes. And then you're trying to play this Metal Gear-ish stealth game around these creatures, and you hear the alert state, at which point you close your eyes and you just have to then listen."

I've been designing this for the entire last week, not exactly that, but using "At The Mountains of Madness" as one the the sources of inspiration it's still close.

It's just an experiment actually.

Cary Chichester
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I instantly thought of Amnesia: The Dark Descent when he mentioned this. Admittedly I haven't yet finished the game because I'm a scared child. The way that looking at things lowers your sanity forces you to not look at them, so when you're hiding and praying the boogeyman doesn't find, you're just forced to listen to the sounds of him slowly making his way towards you until you can't take it anymore so you decide to peek around the corner and OH GOD HE'S RIGHT NEXT TO ME!

I should really finish that, but I'm still too scared just thinking about it :(

Tynan Sylvester
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I thought of Amnesia as well. The act of turning off the lamp is akin to closing eyes, since it reduces your visibility as well as that of everything else.

Luis Guimaraes
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Amnesia does an amazing job at blending thematic with game-play to achieve the horror effect. This concept from Bleszinski is a good point of start and analysis on how to achieve horror with mechanics, correctly marrying it with the project's theme.

The surreal idea of "closing your eyes to become invisible from giant creatures" sounds like a good fit for a dark-toned fairy tale, something in the mood of Pan's Labyrinth, with the overall feel of The Village, with the blind girl stalked by creatures we never know if they're real, fake, or just a product of her own imagination tricking her other four senses.

Closing your eyes is already a symbolic way to avoid facing the product of fear, but still keeping it unresolved, as a way of pretend it's not there, specially when it's your own mind tricking you and there actually isn't anything in there.

That would surely make for a good experience, specially the point about having to move around blindly while being chased, trying to go far enough not seeing anything, and being forced to blink every time you lose your sense of location.

Terry Matthes
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"At The Mountains of Madness" Is that the Lovecraft story where he climbs that mountain with the other guy and when they get to the top there are (literally) unspeakable horrors?

Luis Guimaraes
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@Terry Matthes

Yes, exactly that one.

Steven Christian
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@Cary: I too had problems finishing Amnesia, but I've recently forced myself to start a new play-through and this time I'm taking notes.

Even the way it takes a few seconds after moving into darkness for your eyes to adjust is brilliant.

Or when the invisible water monster is slowly splashing along and you associate the speed and regular timing of the splashing steps, and then when you have to cross the water the splashing intensifies (becoming louder and faster), and you go into panic mode trying to escape. It sounds like it's right on your heels but it's not like you can turn around to look..

Also the way it auto-saves. But it never tells you when it saves so you aren't sure how much progress you will lose if you die, increasing the level of uncertainty and anxiety.

I could go on but I'll simply say that this game is a combination of some truly inspired ideas.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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Hehe, thats cool, With my dev team we've actually been working on something that is what I feel an enhancement of Cliff's idea (hopefully) for quite some time now, this makes me eager to pursue it faster!

We will see if it works well. Very tempted to tell but I want to develop it further before I say too much ;)

Taure Anthony
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Always a good read with Cliff. Note: I will say Clocktower's antaganist is a small dwarf guy with big scissors, not a big guy.

Roger Klado
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edit: oOoOof! big wall o' text...
( just does not seem close to bein that long while typing? weird )

The short version:

I love the sound of the blind game... ( well thought out language of the gameplay to build such a game and the realization of as much would be really awesome for the visually impaired as well! )

For such gameplay...

Why not leverage all the haptic "touchy feely research" and the biofeedback neural devices could bring alot of cool possibilities. Since Jung used a psycho galvanometer himself in his word association research... ( Besides his Archetypes making him the father of the boss figh, u would then also be able to recognize him as the father of the mind game controller! )

In which case, a designer with an advanced understanding of psychology as well as talented visually impaired creatives might have a lot to offer to the future of such gameplay?

Yasuhiro Noguchi
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Great interview. Love Cliffy's approach to game design.

FWIW, Kenji Eno did audio-driven gameplay mechanics in the 90's on the Saturn and Dreamcast.

Although it wasn't a commercial success, his "Real Sound" adventure game "Kaze no Regret" was really unique, even to this day. I doubt a game like this would be made at any publisher in this day and age.

Christian Nutt
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Not to mention that Enemy Zero had some really interesting ideas with invisible horror. That's a really cool game. It's a shame that Eno's re-entry into games with WiiWare didn't seem to pan out in the long run to something more substantive.

Joel Nystrom
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"because there's less of an emphasis on auteurship and directors" - Actually, not in Japan. That's something they often do right.

David Navarro
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"Gears of War was the "true" beginning of next-gen, not only in terms of visuals and technical excellence, but also tightness and expansiveness of design."

I do not understand this statement. What do "tightness" and "expansiveness" of design (whatever they are supposed to mean, and assuming they aren't mutually exclusive) have to do with hardware generations? There have been tight and expansive designs throughout the entire history of games.

And as far as visuals go, I'd say the "next gen" started with TES IV: Oblivion.

Nicholas Gatewood
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"Why don't I have an augmented reality version of Fatal Frame for the Vita"
I'm pretty sure Nintendo owns the franchise rights while Team Ninja has development rights, or something like that. Either way, I doubt we'll ever see it on the Vita, though this game project idea did kinda surface on the 3DS as that crappy Spirit Camera game(whatever it was called).

It's so interesting that this article covers some of Cliff's thoughts about what he'd do if he left Epic... months before he actually did it. Heck, he even referenced what he'd do with Resident Evil in this article, he recently tweeted a message to Capcom asking for a chance with the RE franchise. Pretty awesome foreshadowing, it's definitely interesting to see that he really has been thinking about it for quite a while.


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