By John Gaudiosi
RALEIGH, NC—While Cliff Bleszinski is still mum on anything regarding Gears of War 2, the lead designer of the game franchise that has sold over 4 million copies on Xbox 360 was more than happy to discuss the new PC version of the game. Bleszinski was the centerpiece of attention at Epic Games plush digs in Cary, NC—which is just down the road from my home and is part of the Raleigh/Durham Triangle area. Microsoft and Epic hosted a small group of journalists to offer hands-on time with the five new single-player levels of the campaign game as well as new multiplayer offerings for the online game.
After driving to lunch around the corner at Bentley's in his new red convertible Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder (the rest of us took a shuttle bus), Bleszinski took some time away from checking out journalists' reactions to playing the new PC version of Gears of War to discuss the impact the game has had on the shooter genre."My Google alerts say it all," said Bleszinski, who has a Google alert set for Gears of War. "I keep getting previews for new games that read, 'It's Gears of War meets Tomb Raider.' I love Gears as a game and if other people want to make games that are kind of like Gears, that's fine by me. I love games that have epic, single-player campaigns, co-op play and great multiplayer. Gears was ultimately the product of making the game that we wanted to play. I think the innovation of Gears came out of a whole collection of little things. It was the sum of its parts and I think that's what people are latching on to."
With the record-breaking launch of Halo 3, a game that analysts predict will top 4 million units sold in the U.S. alone by the end of October, Bleszinski doesn't look at Bungie's franchise as competition.
"I think other than the fact that Gears and Halo are sci-fi shooters that have some co-op and multiplayer, in a lot of ways it's an apples and oranges type of comparison," said Bleszinski. "Halo is so much about larger scale battles. Bungie creates these giant bathtubs where all of these vehicles stir around and enemies spawn in this giant mixture of combat, whereas Gears is a far more intimate experience in terms of the combat distance to the enemies and the way that we pace the game out. Our art styles are tremendously different and are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum."
Bleszinski thinks there's very much room for more than two big blockbuster sci-fi games on the platform, in general. He said he posted a picture of himself with Master Chief on his MySpace page last month and told readers to go check out Halo 3.
"I've been getting comments from kids like, "Why do you want people to play Halo 3?," said Bleszinski. "The more people playing sci-fi shooters, the better. It's a win-win for everybody. People who play Halo 3, as different as it is from Gears, there's a chance they might check out Gears, and vice versa."
When it comes to selling the new PC version of Gears of War, Bleszinski wants as many people as possible who played the 360 version of Gears to go play the PC version. He said that in addition to the new content, the editor is a huge thing that he thinks people are going to want to get their hands on. Epic is shipping the Unreal Editor, which are the very same tools they used to build the game, with the PC version of Gears.
"People who have played the hell out of the 360 version and have beaten it on Insane and have played through all of the maps have something that they can check out and experience and go behind-the-scenes and become amateur game makers," said Bleszinski.
Back in the day, Bleszinski said he had to buy a copy of Visual Basic to code games. He wishes he had something like Unreal Editor to help him develop his skills.
"I was a shitty programmer and an even worse artist, but I somehow managed to code and stumble my way through... like painting my own pictures to make my own game, because I was that hungry and I wanted to make my own games that badly," said Bleszinski. "Today, there are a lot of great colleges that have great game development programs and many of them use Unreal Engine. They assemble these fire team cabals of students to put their own games and mods together, which I think is a great way to teach people the development process not only from the tools and technology process, but also from the social interaction and team-based dynamic of game development and the reasonable trade-offs that are always involved in development."
Bleszinski said that any time somebody asks him how to get into the games business he tells them to pick up a copy of Gears PC or Unreal Tournament III and use the Unreal Editor. The best thing to do is to pick one thing and do it better than anyone else, whether that's making amazing levels or figuring out how to build a 3D character and import it, or figuring out how to modify Unreal Script and become a programmer. He said aspiring game makers should pick a discipline and stick with it and if he or she has some talent, they will get a job. There are a half-dozen employees at Epic Games that came from the mod community.
"These are guys that I had been corresponding with since they were 16 years old," said Bleszinski. "They'd just got their drivers licenses and instead of being teenagers and going out chasing girls they were wanting to be in the business and now they have great jobs and are making a living developing games. Some of these guys I've had mentoring relationships with for seven or eight years, where I'd download a map and check it out because I thought it was cool and e-mail the designer and give him tips. This would lead to putting them on contract or purchasing their maps and eventually some of them would come on board on a trial basis and eventually they'd end up with a job here. It's this wonderful, organic cycle that you don't often see in the world of entertainment."