It's hard to believe, but the man gamers know as Cliffy B. has been making games for 20 years. When he was 16, Cliff Bleszinski put together his first commercially available adventure title, and moved onward and upward from there, landing at Epic Games right out of high school. If you're not familiar (in which case, you may be in the wrong place), his tenure at Epic is best known for the Unreal FPS series and serving as design director on the ongoing Microsoft-exclusive Gears of War trilogy, which reaches its end (or so we assume) this September.
With the Gears 3 multiplayer beta going on now—at least for those who pre-ordered the game or bought Epic/People Can Fly's Bulletstorm earlier this year—and the title racking up record-breaking pre-order numbers, it was the the perfect time for us to sit down with CB4 (we just made that up) to talk spin-offs, hip-hop, and why Drake isn't gonna be in Gears 3 after all. Oh, and how Master Chief very nearly became a playable character. Yeah, that's right.
Interview by Kevin L. Clark
For the final installment of the Gears series, you've added characters from Karen Traviss' novels—how will they fit into the game for those who haven't picked up the novels or read the comics?
Cliff Bleszinski: Karen really got the franchise and when we came around to writing the third game it was easy to pick her as she’s a natural fit. The goal is to make sure that no one has to read the novels or pick up the comics in order to understand the game. There's a subgenre within this installment.
We always aim to represent every race and sex within the game. From characters like Carlos [Santiago] to Bernie—who is an older field character who's incredibly resilient—every race and gender, no matter who you are, will have a character that represents you in this game. Anya [Stroud] is narrating at the beginning of the game and fills in the gaps for the gamers so that when Bernie shows up you'll see the scene a certain way. But if you read the books, you'll have an appreciation about what lies beneath the surface. It's about the merging of different mediums.
What elements of pop culture most inspire your creative process?
In many ways, I'm a child of the ’80s. I was raised on movies like Predator, Robocop, and even goofy ones like Cobra with Sylvester Stallone or the ones starring Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. I think those types of things represent a time, an era when people just loved that sort of mindless action. If you take a look at a film today like The Expendables—people love that. Gears represents a modern-day feel of that sort of nostalgic time.
How has hip-hop influenced the way you piece a game together? You have stars like Drake and Ice-T voicing the game…
Drake is no longer a part of Gears 3, actually, due to scheduling issues. Michael B. Jordan (Wallace from The Wire) is now voicing the character of Jace Stratton. As far as the question you asked, I'm not really sure if hip-hop’s influenced the game in a literal way. I can tell you that over the course of my career that I've always been a hip-hop fan. I listened to the hair metal bands back in the day and when we moved to Southern Cali, my brother handed me an O.G. tape [Ice-T's O.G. Original Gangster]. After that, I got heavily into Ice-T and I've been hooked ever since.
The thing is that hip-hop has this attitude where it's aggressive and it comes off as if it doesn't care. I remember hearing my older brother saying that he could do it, but he didn't, so what now? [Laughs.] You never find out until you dig into the culture how hard the lyric writing is or how important cadence has to be in order to be a dope MC. How that translates to game development? I’m not sure, but I'd say that hip-hop maybe helps with pacing at a subliminal level.
Did Lil Wayne inspire the "Beast mode" in Gears 3?
Lil' Wayne is the beast! He didn't inspire the mode in the game, but if he's willing to voice a character we can try to fit him in, no doubt! I remember going to Los Angeles and on the way there we flew over Riker's and I told some friends, "Hey, that's where Weezy is!" The guy is just a crazy entertainer! Tattooed like hell and is just insanely talented.
What do you see as the goal of a game trilogy?
The goal of any good game trilogy is to establish a new IP, build upon the success with a sequel, and deliver a polished third installment so it stands strong like its own version of Lord of the Rings. That's what we're hoping to accomplish with the Gears 3 beta that came out this week on Xbox LIVE. The thing about creating these sorts of properties is that fans get to test what works and what doesn't work in the online space. By having a beta we can roll out different maps in real time and polish the game to where the fans can really love the finished product.
Will there be a chance that the Santiago Brothers (Dominic and Carlos) could get their own game to flesh out the events of what happened before E-Day?
The idea of a prequel has been kicked around. We'd love to do it, but whether or not it focuses on those characters, specifically, I don't know. Personally, I like our cast to be kind of like the United Nations of gaming with our characters. We want black, white, all of that—sincerely a diverse cast. So they'd have to be part of the bigger picture, as much as I love Dom and Carlos.
Is there any chance we could see Master Chief or Commander Shepard join Marcus Fenix fighting Locust in a Heroes Pack DLC?
I'll let you in on a secret. I actually approached Microsoft on getting Master Chief into the game, but those guys are kind of squeamish. One of Halo’s successes is that it’s a soft M [rating]. Gears pushes it further. I’m creatively comfortable with that, though it can limit what you do. If you had to break it down, I'd say that Gears is like Mortal Kombat and Halo is like Street Fighter. [Laughs.]
But if we were to get Master Chief, we'd get his model, put him in a COG suit, make it blow up, and do some test animation work. We'd have to see what his head looks like being blown to smithereens or how his arm would look getting sawed off. Then we'd package up the test footage, put it on YouTube, and let the fans get a kick out of it because everything is meta these days. That’s why Gears is packed with Easter eggs. That’s the kind of metagame we have to think about in a post-Red Dead Redemption world.
How did the idea come about to let fans vote on whether Clayton Carmine would live or die?
I think the voting contest was actually Rod’s [executive producer Rod Fergusson] idea. It came about through us wanting to just engage the online community. We started up the group on Facebook and got them all involved. Our aim was, and still is, for the gaming community to see us as people instead of just as developers.
Any chance we can find out his fate a little early?
I can tell you for a fact that I personally want that bastard to die…but you have to go through the campaign to find out what happens. There's a funny story about the voice casting of Carmine's character. We built him like a badass, so we tried to have the actor sound all tough. Throughout the whole thing it just didn't work, so we had him voice the character the same way he did in the previous games, which worked perfectly. The combination of this muscular soldier with this squeaky voice shouting badass taunts just made him funnier than ever.