Gearheads Interview: Cliff Bleszinski Post Gears Release

Recently, my brother Cliff made an appearance on the Gearheads Friday Night FragFest. As a follow-up to that, he decided to check in here for an exclusive interview. This is the second time Cliff has stopped by Gearheads, but it’s the first time since the game was actually released.

Without further ado, here is the Gearheads interview with Gears of War lead designer Cliff Bleszinski:

Gearheads of War: First of all, I want to congratulate you on an incredible experience that has your older brother completely and totally addicted. If you wind up making my wife leave me because of my addiction to chainsawing friends online, you can forget my thoughtful Christmas gifts from here on out.

Cliff Bleszinski: That’s fine, I’ll just make sure I take you to some clubs to find you a new wife.

Gearheads: Very funny. Were you surprised at how well it’s been received, both critically and commercially? I’m sure you probably know it’s the fastest-selling new IP in gaming ever.

Cliff: The initial splash of sales is merely a testament to how we were able to stoke the coals of the hype machine by selectively showing cool sequences from the game, releasing the right footage, and not drowning the internet in screenshots. We carefully selected what we let everyone see as we did not want to spoil the entire experience. The fact that the game has continued to sell well is the biggest surprise for me. It means that people love the game and the universe and are playing it a ton on Live.

Gearheads: There have been several stories online claiming that while Gears is a great game, it hasn’t really been a “system seller”, instead just selling to the existing install base. Do you think that it’s been a system seller?

Cliff: One title does not a console war win. Sony’s Playstation2 won the last round by having GTAIII, Twisted Metal Black, Final Fantasy, and Metal Gear Solid 2 all hitting to make the console a no brainer. Gears is the start of that push for the 360 which is continuing with titles like Crackdown, Mass Effect, Forza2 and, of course, Halo 3. A console manufacturer needs to break down a consumer with not only features but with exclusivity so that the consumer finally says “Damn it, now I have to buy a (whatever.)”

Gearheads: As we all know, not everything is perfect, not even Bleszinskis. Are there elements of Gears that you look back at now and wish that you could’ve changed or been improved?

Cliff: I would have loved for more screen time for Anya and Jack. Both characters are near and dear to my heart. In a world that’s filled with heinous creatures, imposing architecture and super buff and badass soldiers it’s important to have room for something that’s pretty and something that’s cutesy. Otherwise we wind up bathed in a sea of manliness. As badass as “The 300″ was we still had the exotic, artsy shots of the Oracle and beautiful naked women to balance out the ripped warriors yelling and cutting each other’s heads off.

Gearheads: Do you ever wonder what you could’ve done with the game if you’d had six more months?

Cliff: Reduced the distance on grenade tagging upon shipping, perhaps?

Gearheads: You guys talked a lot about how even though you were known for multiplayer games because of the UT franchise that you were really going to focus on the campaign aspect of this game, but it appears like the legs that Gears of War has is in multiplayer. People are still gathering to frag each other five months later. Are you surprised at how the multiplayer is sustaining Gears despite the fact that you guys said that the most attention would be paid to the single player and co-op campaign?

Cliff: People hear about a game through hype and marketing. Then they come for the single player and the graphics and ultimately they stick around for the gameplay and multiplayer. This experience is closest to a Friday night where a group of friends to go see a film that opens up and then go to discuss what they just saw at the bar or coffee shop afterwards. The viewing is like the single player campaign, the banter after is shared social experience – the multiplayer. For the genre in which we operate I believe you need the triple threat of great single player, co-op, and versus in order to have the initial sales numbers followed through with excellent longer term sell through.

Gearheads: The co-op campaign is truly drop in and drop out and works very seamlessly. A lot of people I’ve talked to seemed to enjoy playing the campaign more co-op than anything. Did you believe that was going to be a result from including such an immersive co-op element?

Cliff: We always knew that buddying up with a friend to tear through a cinematic campaign was going to be immensely satisfying. Make a fun, compelling roller coaster ride and naturally people are going to want to share that ride with a friend! There’s a huge delta right now between a hardcore and a casual gamer and co-op is the best way to bridge that gap.

Gearheads: Is the aim when creating a game and a universe like this to only give a tiny little portion of time in the overall storyline and allowing people to imagine how both the history and the future play out? In other words, it’s probably not realistic to expect to get much more than a sliver of Marcus Fenix’s story even if you were to add 10-15 more cut scenes.

Cliff: We simply didn’t want to start with the space shot of Sera while giving 10 minutes of history on the planet and Marcus’ background. Those users that want that information will ultimately seek it in the ancillary materials; in the art books, in the online marketing campaigns, etc… When I buy a videogame I want to cut right to the chase and start playing. Fill in the details later. Don’t force your exposition on me, let me build my own interest and ultimately seek out more data on the world.

Gearheads: Do you guys think you did an adequate job of getting the player emotionally invested in the story?

Cliff: Players jumped when Wretches lept at them, cringed when shot at, and laughed at squadmate banter. They beat the game, felt pleasantly exhausted, and then proceeded to team up to play co-op or battle it out in versus. Therefore, we got the players emotionally invested in the universe and the experience. Players want to know more about these guys and their backgrounds. That’s what I call a good problem to have! Sure, we can always do better in the future, but I think we did a pretty good job.

Gearheads: Are you guys working on getting some of the glitches in the game fixed with the next update? Things like the roadie run exploding chainsaw and some of the ways guys are getting out of MP maps.

Cliff: We’re continuing to enhance the online Gears experience not only with fixes but also with future downloadable content.

Gearheads: Any chance you can give the Gearheads any estimation on when we might see some more new content and/or hints on what that new content might contain?

Cliff: Cool Stuff Soon.

Gearheads: What’s your favorite moment in the campaign of the game and why?

Cliff: I love the ending sequence on the train when the music begins to build into a full crescendo as Reavers are circling around me, the train flies into the tunnel, and I’m able to eventually wield a chaingun against my foes. In many ways the game is the excited pitch of an ADD affected man child and this moment is one of those in which that vision culminates.

Gearheads: How about your favorite act of the campaign and why?

Cliff: Act one is still my favorite because of the cover gameplay. It’s packed with great moments and lots of solid shooting action.

Gearheads: What’s your feeling on weapon balance in the multiplayer of Gears? I, for one, think the shotty is overpowered, but then again I’m a huge Lancer/chainsaw fan. I’ve heard everything from the chainsaw is too inconsistent to grenade tagging is for noobs.

Cliff: There’s nothing wrong with some moves in a game being for “noobs.” It’s like having superweapons in an Unreal Tournament style of game; they allow even the simplest players to occasionally get a kill. Players quickly forget that, at any given point in their gaming career they were noobs. When I go on the forums and read up the consensus is that the Sniper Rifle is too strong… or that Pistol Melee is… or that the chainsaw is “cheap.” Generally speaking the more distributed complaints there are about weapon strengths the more balanced a game ultimately is. Players are going to complain because, hey, dying sucks. If they all complain about different weapons killing them then you might have a good balance in your game.

Gearheads: How quickly do you think other games will actually catch up to the visual masterpiece that Gears represents? I mean this is the first game where people were almost universally saying it’s the best looking game they’ve ever seen.

Cliff: Other studios are more than welcome to license our technology which enabled us to help rapidly prototype and create such great visuals.

Gearheads: I know you guys haven’t said anything about whether or not there will be a sequel, but do you think you can push the 360 so you can get even more detail and beauty out of it for whatever projects you happen to work on down the road?

Cliff: Yes we can.

Gearheads: Does it make you laugh that so many news organizations want to “break” the story that a sequel is coming out so badly that they’ll even go to extremes of basically misquoting you to try and be the first to have that story?

Cliff: I don’t find it funny at all. It causes me considerable grief actually. “News organizations” should stick to reporting the news, not making it up.

Gearheads: What is your favorite multiplayer map and why?

Cliff: I love (Fuel) Depot. There’s a front but that front can flanked and broken with a little bit of extra work.

Gearheads: Do you have a least favorite map and if so, why?

Cliff: I’m not a big fan of Ravendown because of its size. Still, having a map that is all out action and cuts right to the chase makes some users happy.

Gearheads: What is your weapon of choice in multiplayer if you can hand pick it at the beginning of the match?

Cliff: I’ll always have a soft spot for the Torquebow. It’s my love of Rambo 3 that drives this.

Gearheads: Is Gears the game you’ve always wanted to make or is there some pie-in-the-sky project you’ve always wanted to do?

Cliff: Gears is the game that I ultimately wanted to build.

Gearheads: Has Gears given you a sense of satisfaction or is it driving you to make you next game that much better?

Cliff: As a creative I’m never happy. If I find myself happy then it’s time to retire.

Gearheads: Finally, I just wanted to thank you on behalf of all of the Gearheads for making a game that’s allowed us to form a lot of new friendships and develop a great community of intelligent gamers. We’ll love to have you visit us during Friday Night FragFest again sometime soon. And maybe your brother can finally play with and against you.

Cliff: Yeah but he’ll have to practice. He doesn’t seem to take cover that often.

Gearheads: I don’t think the hundreds of chainsaw kills “he” has gotten during FFF would agree with you. Thanks so much for your time.

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