Carie: Hello. My guest today is Cliff Bleszinski. He's a computer games designer. Once regarded as a bunch of geeks unfit for real work, the gaming community now represents a multi-billion dollar business. So where are they going next? Cliff Bleszinski, welcome to the interview.
Cliff Bleszinski: It's great to be here.
Carie: Now, Cliff, your most famous game is “Gears of War” in which the hero, Marcus Fenix, and other fighters try to save the human inhabitants of a fictional planet from an enemy army of monsters called the Locust Hoard. Is that a fair summary?
Cliff: It is. It's … people sometimes get hung up on the 1)franchise and they're asking, “Is this Earth?” and it's “No, it's its own planet.” It's a, you know, one could say in a distant 2)galaxy, you know, a long, long time away, right, and we've created kind of our own very enjoyable, very fun but also very 3)visceral experience, and it's…it's done very well for us, and we're currently working on the third chapter in the series, which should be quite over the top and enjoyable.
Carie: Tell us about when you were a child in the days before remote control. Did you already have a sense of where you were going?
Cliff: Very good there. You calculated my age very well, because I was in fact raised without a remote control initially. It was, you had the 4)crank on the television with the traditional kind of turn it, which my mother would yell at me for turning it too fast because, of course, we as children wanted to channel-surf, we wanted to interact, but…. I remember, I was—Gawd it must have been one of my earliest memories—I was about six or seven years old, and we had this one neighbour in the neighbourhood who, their house wasn't very nice but they were very good at spoiling the kids and having lots of random that you really didn't need, like a 5)pinball machine in the basement, and things like that. And they were the first ones on the block to get an Atari 2600, which of course was one of the first video game 6)consoles—not the first, but one of the early ones—with a nice kind of 7)walnut finish on it to fit in with those lovely 80s home electronics. And we were in their basement and they fired up Space Invaders, which of course was one of the earliest games where you're defending Earth against invaders and 8)whatnot, and the second I saw that controller moving and the fact that they were actually manipulating the screen, I was hooked. I was, like, this somehow on some sort of primal level, knew that this would be the future and that this was where I wanted to be. And years later (I) got a Nintendo entertainment system and fought my parents to make sure that I could have a computer and I had actually put together my first video game at the age of, I believe, 11 on my Apple computer.
Carie: That's amazing to have your sense of 9)vocation from this visit to the neighbours, age six.
Cliff: It was kind of that moment, right? And I think the biggest challenge that anybody ever has in life is figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. I guess I was dumb enough or lucky enough to take the risks and work hard enough to sit there and say, at a young age, that's where this is going to go and I've had people ask me; they're, like, “Did you expect Gears to be this big?” and I'm, like, “Absolutely!” and they're, like, “Did you expect you to be able to do all this and to go this far?” and I'm, like, “I'm not done yet, like, this is all part of the plan, and have a lot more work ahead of us. ” But it's…I love games, I love film and I want to continue to drive it all forward.
Carie: And, you know, in the past obviously before video games then Hollywood was the 10)capital of American film-making. And do you think that these disciplines that you're describing and the way they are brought together in the gaming profession is almost challenging Hollywood's 11)supremacy?
Cliff: Well, there was a 12)stat that came out several years ago that said that video games make more money than film, which was actually very incorrect and somehow wound up sticking with a lot of people. What had happened was the video game industry's numbers, of however many billions of dollars, that is right now, actually beat Hollywood box office, and I believe it was just domestic box office. So they weren't accounting for the fact that Hollywood, of course, is international box office, they have DVD and blue ray sales, they have HBO aftermarket things like that, and they… Hollywood's very good at selling you a product multiple times. At the same time the industry's continuing to grow and I think Hollywood's really taken notice. You've seeing more films that are video game adaptations, you're seeing more video game influence in movies, where you go and see the last Wolverine film and it feels like a kind of a giant Mortal Combat experience. And you're, like, “Okay, what's going on?” and what's happening is that the directors, who are in Hollywood, have played video games or are familiar with them. They know their target audience understands video games. I mean if you look at what Zack Snider's doing with that upcoming film, “Sucker Punch”, which is the one where it's, like, four or five girls trapped in an insane 13)asylum and they use all these fantasy sequences to escape then evolve giant Samurais with Gatling guns and dragons and World War I bi-planes and things like that, that in many ways looks like a video game 14)trailer, which speaks to this current generation.
Carie: And do you want to be a games designer forever or you can [sic] imagine going and doing something slightly more 15)serene and 16)tranquil?
Cliff: My position at Epic is one that I'm not only being a game designer but also working at a high level where I am able to work on multiple projects and kind of sprinkle a little bit of that fun dust and a little bit of that magic on the various things. I love this industry and I like seeing it grow, when I personally see myself as an advocate for this industry, so that people may see what I'm doing and the fun I'm having and might want to do it. I have people respond to my Twitter all the time and say, “Wow, you're living the life. I want to be like you when I grow up”, and it's such a rush to see that; it's so fun. And I could see myself doing this for a very long time, but at some point retiring at a very nice beach with a lot of comic books and some beers.
Carie: That is a good point to end on. Thanks so much for joining us.
Cliff: Thanks for having me.