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Interview: Cliff Bleszinski

Cliff Bleszinski is best known for his work on the Gears of War and Unreal franchises, but now he is also spending some of his time on People Can Fly's Bulletstorm. And as always he has lots to say...

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Our Norwegian correspondent Kristina Soltvedt Wiik travelled to Cary, North Carolina to take a peak at Bulletstorm, and she had a conversation with the always interesting Cliff "the game designer formally known as Cliffy B" Bleszinski.

How are things? Are you excited to finally get to talk about Bulletstorm?

I really like your hat! I'm feeling great and it's great to finally be able to speak openly about this game. We are very excited to present players with a new experience, and show them what we have been working on.

Cliff Bleszinski and interviewer Kristina Soltvedt Wiik

After working on a downloadable title like Shadow Complex. What do you feel is more rewarding to work on big titles like Gears of War and Bulletstorm, or smaller downloadable titles?

That's a good question. Downloadable games is a great little bubble now, where you can take a lot of chances, not just with the games, but also with downloadable expansions. When you make a big triple A title, where a lot of money is used to get it on the store shelves, you are forced to minimise the risks, unless you are completely crazy. But when you are creating a great downloadable title, like say PB Winterbottom, that I really enjoyed, much more so than Brain in fact, then you can try things that people haven't seen before.

The same thing goes for independent games festivals. Interns and recent graduates can create things others never would have, since we are not willing to take the same risks. The same goes for DLC in my opinion. For example things are going very well for Borderlands, and they have great little DLC packs, that have little in common with the main game. You can make something out of a small DLC pack that you normally wouldn't be able to do in the main game, and that in turn gives the game its own unique appeal.

Do you feel pressured into developing action titles? Would you rather do something else?

I would rather just make Japanese RPG:s... just kidding.

I almost believed you...

Action is something we are good at at Epic, it's in our DNA, it's something we know. I have talked a lot of RPG elements, and that is something we are going to see more of in the future in my opinion. Exploration is also good to mix things up with, but in the near future most of what I work on will be focused on action elements. You won't see me make an RTS or a some kind of turn based adventure. I won't be making Heavy Rain.

Are you enjoying Heavy Rain?

Yes, it really grows on me. But, even if I feel it's a really good game, I don't think they have done enough to avoid the "uncanny valley" problems. The children in the game are some of the most hideous I have seen. Ever. But the game has really grabbed me, and the scene early on where you are at the shopping mall trying to find your kid is very effective. And the tension they create at times, is really cool. I haven't gotten that far into it, just a couple of hours, but I'm sold on it.

You talked about implementing other elements in your games, such as exploration. Is that something we will see in Bulletstorm?

There is going to be some of that. When a game is turned up to 10, that is when it's on 10 the entire way, you start to tune out. If a person shouts or bangs 24/7 it loses its meaning and effect. So there will definitely be parts that set the mood and slow down the pace. But we certainly intend to create areas in the game that rewards that player to step away from the obvious path, and we are working with Adrian (Chmielarz, creative director) to give room to the little things, where for example you can kick in a locked door and find little items and such. And generally just to break things up little, where exploration is one of the means to achieve this. It makes the world into a cool place, where you can't wait to see what's around the corner.


With so many creative ways to slay your enemies, have you decided whether you are going to teach the player how to do them, or will it be up to the player to explore the possibilities?

We are still working on it, and I don't think we have shared our plans yet. But if you look at the achievements for example, we are fans of games where you can see how to get certain achievements, as it encourages the player experiment with crazy things. The classic achievements where the description is secret, leaves the player in the dark, and makes them think "fuck this!". So we really want to have a list of all the cool skill shots you can perform.

What's your favourite thing in the game right now?

I really love the diversity of action they have included in the game. You can just kick away the enemy, reel him back in, and find out all the creative ways in which you can kill him. And in order to motivate the player to perform these kills, apart from the fact that it looks cool, he is rewarded points he can then use to unlock new cool stuff. On top of that, I appreciate the fact, that Bulletstorm is the next true evolution of what we started with Unreal Tournament, with double kills and headshots and all of that. Other games have had it of sorts, but this game takes it to new levels with the reward system and the versatility. You can combine things so you get a real cat and mouse scenario.


What in your opinion differs between first person shooter and third person shooters with regards to how the player relates to the story and the universe?

This is interesting. When you have a hero in a first person game, you are forced to have the character speak more for the player to get an idea of who he is, since you can see him in front of you. Damage indication is another thing, since you can't see the character buckle when he gets hit and that sort of thing. There are many nuances to consider when it comes to first and third person.

If you look at games like Gears and Bulletstorm, a lot has to do with having a real environment you can touch. In Gears it comes to getting into cover and cutting down the enemy with your Lancer. Bulletstorm uses a similar method where you toy with your enemy, the way a cat does with a mouse. It's all about being able to see the effect of what you are doing in the world around, instead of just shooting a guy and watching him fall. It's about nuances. Bulletstorm was originally planned to be a third person shooter, but we thought "hey, it would just be Gears in space", so we kept it in first person, and created other ways to create chaos and fun in the game. You decide yourself what you want to do with your game. But usually it stinks to sit in cover in first person perspective.


Will there be a multiplayer component?

We are not ready to talk about that yet, but I can tell that there will something in that direction. It's about making the player keep the game in his machine. You want to keep them from selling it or trading it in.

Lastly, what does Cliff Bleszinski do in his spare time?

At the moment I'm into decorating my home. I was possibly inspired by the renovation we are doing at Epic right. I'm in a tile phase at the moment, where more or less everything that has to do with tiles is cool.


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