Personalities in Gaming: Cliff Bleszinski

The gaming industry is filled with braggadocious, nerdy, and emotional artists. Cliff Bleszinski is all of this and more. A braggadocious, self confessed nerd, Cliff Bleszinski is one of the formative figures that is responsible for modern gaming as we known it. Known by many gamers simply by his old nickname “CliffyB”, Cliff Bleszinski is an artist whose canvas is code and whose brush is emotion.

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Bleszinski grew up as a self described “angsty” teen, living out his problem through his pursuit of designing games. Today, a mid-40’s CliffyB still remembers and comments on his journey through life as filled with personal highs and lows, all while working to design and produce games. These two parts of life seem to follow CliffyB in whatever he does: emotion, and game design.

Cliff’s father died when he was 15. Cliff met this tragedy with what would become his go-to response to life’s joy’s and griefs - by designing a game. At the age of 15 Cliffy sold his first game, Palace of Deceit, for $20 to a teacher in high school. Teaching himself using visual basic, Cliff eventually began working as a professional game designer in 1992 at Epic Games.

In 1994 Bleszinski gained renown at Epic for his work on Jazz Jackrabbit. With a plot based on a reimagining of Aesop’s fables and in a sci-fi setting with a super hero Jackrabbit, the game was unique in both scope and theme.  The side scrolling platform adventure game was Epic games best seller at the time, and launched CliffyB to the forefront of game development.

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For 20 years Cliff worked for Epic Games, and his efforts still have a lasting impact on contemporary game design. His work with the Unreal Engine and Unreal Tournament provided the format for later generations of first-person shooters such as Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. Later, his work in the Gears of War series would revolutionize the third-person shooter, and the franchise would go on to make $1 billion in sales from 2007-2014.[1] Throughout his time at Epic Games Cliff had the opportunity to shape the game design world. However, for all the joys that accompanied life as an Epic Games employee, Cliff wasn’t in charge.

Working at Epic was originally exciting, and a fast paced environment. Cliff’s lifestyle was also fast paced and over the top. During one interview with the New Yorker, which took place in his Ferrari, Cliff said that “One of my jobs in life, is to make this look a little cooler.”[2] Beyond being responsible for some of the most formative games in the first-person and third-person shooter genre, Cliff Bleszinski is also a keen observer of the games industry landscape. In 2013 Bleszinski noted the storm of free-to-play and online only available games, signalling the death of the disc based product:

You cannot have game and marketing budgets this high while also having used and rental games existing. The numbers do NOT work people. The visual fidelity and feature sets we expect from games now come with sky high costs. Assassin's Creed games are made by thousands of devs. Newsflash. This is why you’re seeing free to play and microtransactions everywhere. The disc based day one $60 model is crumbling. If you can afford high speed internet and you can’t get it where you live direct your rage at who is responsible for pipe blocking you.[3]

The work that had helped him cope with the death of his father at 15, the work that provided for his first car and apartment, the work that had made him an icon in his professional field, the work that had been with him through a first marriage and divorce, was now something that CliffyB was “done with”.[4]

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In 2012, CliffyB walked away from Epic games, and retired from game design. 20 years after first joining Epic as a young artist living in his mom's house, CliffyB was disgruntled, disillusioned, and by his own description "burned out". The excitement, enjoyment, and art of creatively building something from nothing was gone. Cliff described a recurring theme at Epic Games in his later years:

"It was a combination of gamers feeling jaded, as well as working with some very talented people who were also very jaded," I could pitch the most amazing idea to anybody back when I was at Epic toward the end, and they'd be like 'I don't buy it,'"

While retired, Cliff focused on his new marriage and enjoying life away from the troubles and trials of making games. Before long, though, he decided to come out of retirement and begin making games again, though not as a game design contributor, but as the one calling the shots. Bleszinski opened his own game design studio called Boss Key Productions and has been working since 2014 on a game called Lawbreakers, which Cliff promises will offer gamers a mix of classic and new experiences in a low gravity environment.

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Moving from the creative design process to ownership and production has been a noted change in Cliff’s work since coming out of retirement to launch his own studio. The stress related with ownership is different than that of creative content:

The thing this time was a new business partner with Nexon, a whole new studio, I'm the primary owner and CEO - it's not Tim Sweeney's and Mark Rein's gig anymore. I'm feeling good right now - it's getting a solid response - but beforehand it was like holy crap, heavy is the head that wears the crown. This studio did in fact give me my first grey hairs.[5]

Cliff Bleszinski is a paradigmatic example of all the stereotypes surrounding gamers from born in the 70s and 80s. He is quick thinking, foul mouthed, and passionate. His business sense has been honed by competition in a fierce market that only remembers the most recent of success. His professional and personal life is riddled with relationships, both good and bad, that have combined in Cliff to become both a sarcastic cynic and a creative mind.  

You can follow Cliff Bleszinski on twitter @therealcliffyb.

 

 

[1] “Microsoft Acquires 'Gears of War' From Epic, Assigns Next Game To Black Tusk Studios” by Daniel Nye Griffiths. 1/27/2014. Statistics retreaved from report available at URL: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnyegriffiths/2014/01/27/microsoft-acquires-gears-of-war-from-epic-assigns-next-game-to-black-tusk-studios/#5814292228e2

[2] The Grammar of Fun CliffyB and the world of the video game. By Tom Bissel. 11/3/2008. Accessed via web:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/11/03/the-grammar-of-fun

[3] “Cliffy B: Numbers Don’t Work to Allow Used Games, Disc Based Day one $60 Model is Crumbling” by Sebastian Moss 6/12/2013. Accessed online at: http://www.playstationlifestyle.net/2013/06/12/cliffy-b-disc-based-day-one-60-model-is-crumbling-numbers-dont-work-to-allow-used-games/#5C2JuB94WmupaBHO.99

[4] Interview with IGN “Gears of War and Lawbreakers Creator Cliff Bleszinski - IGN Unfiltered 07” accessed via youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpIgeachN_Y

[5] “The big Cliff Bleszinski interview 'I've had a very polarising personality in the 25 years I've been doing this” By Martin Robinson. 11/08/2017. Accessed via web http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-08-11-the-big-cliff-bleszinski-interview

Gamer Motivations: Community

By Michael Mendis

This is part three of a three-part series on gamer motivations.  Click here to read part 1 on escapism, and here to read part 2 on challenge.

In the past two articles in this series, we’ve talked about how people play games in order to tap into their innate desire to create, explore, and utilize their talents and abilities.  Today I’d like to take a look at another gamer motivation that once again finds its origin in our nature as image-bearers of God: a desire for community.

God himself is an embodiment of community; the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – live together in perfect union and harmony.  When God made mankind, he decreed very quickly that it was not good for one man to be alone, and so God created another human to give the first one company.  We are hardwired for community, foremost with our creator, but also with one another; our human relationships take many forms (professional, family, friendships), but at the core of all of them is a desire to share our lives with other people and grow close to each other.

Gamers are no exception; for many people, games are a way to bond with others.  There are a variety of ways that gamers do these things, so let’s examine a few of them in some detail.

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Perhaps most obvious way of building community through gaming is by playing games with other people.  If you talk to gamers my age or a little older, you’ll likely hear many stories of people in their youth sitting in front of the TV at home with siblings, neighbors, or other friends their age and playing video games together, passing off the controller so that everyone gets a chance to play (or hogging the controller if they were in a particularly selfish mood).  These gamers will also likely recall times when they and their friends carried their game consoles or computers to a friend’s house, linked them all together, and held LAN (Local Area Network) parties.  Arcades were once a common element of gaming culture, where groups of people would gather to play games together, but even today, long after arcades have faded from the gaming scene, you can still find people gathering together to compete in fighting game tournaments across the world, including EVO, a massive annual tournament held in Las Vegas.

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As technology has advanced over the years, online gaming has transformed how we play video games with others, for better and worse.  The great part about it is that we can now connect with people from all over the world, which lets us find online matches quickly.  We can also find communities of people online who are eager to talk about their gaming experiences with others, and in some cases, share their online IDs so that they can team up with friends they’ve met on the web.

The unfortunate aspect of online gaming is that the cover of anonymity it provides is often misused.  Since you often do not know the people you are playing with and cannot see their faces, it is all too easy for people to denigrate their fellow players without fear of any significant repercussion.  Game companies have worked hard to try to figure out how to combat this, using various reporting systems and algorithms to weed out the toxic players from the rest, but it remains an ongoing problem.  Female gamers in particular face a lot of discrimination from their male counterparts, leading many to mute their microphones or avoid multiplayer games altogether.

Even in the realm of single-player video games, community still exists.  Gamers who spend most of their gaming time delving into solo experiences often seek out other gamers on forums like Neogaf and Reddit in order to share their passion for gaming.  Some of the most thought-provoking and insightful games on the market are single-player games with deep story and character development, and these games help drive countless online discussions amongst the people who play them.

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The world of board gaming is inherently very social, as the vast majority of board/card games are played face-to-face with people you know.  Families, church members, and other groups of friends spend time playing games together, whether those games be simple party games like Apples to Apples, or more complex games such as Settlers of Catan or Dominion.  A group of people playing through a campaign in Dungeons and Dragons will meet together on a regular basis to raid dungeons, complete quests, and vanquish mighty foes (in my own personal experience, D&D is one of the best games for meeting and building relationships with people, as it requires you to interact with the people in your group for hours at a time, cooperating with one another to complete objectives).  And while most board games are played in person, the advent of the internet has expanded the board gaming scene, as there are now programs you can use which allow you to play virtual board games with people online; we’ve already been using virtual board games as a part of our ministry at Gospel & Gaming in order to connect people and expand our community.

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Community.  Escapism.  Challenge.  These are just a few of the reasons why people play games, but understanding these motivations helps us understand people in the gaming community, and perhaps gives us a little more insight into ourselves as well.  My prayer is that these articles will equip you to better love the gamers that God puts into your life, that the Kingdom may be expanded ever more into this largely unreached people group.

First Impressions: Dungeons & Dragons

By Ben Kieffer

As I began to stumble into dungeons and marvel at the dragons, I spent 5 hours trying to make a character on my own. I knew there was a great depth and variety; as a beginner I wanted a character that was not too complex, and ideally easy for me to understand and utilize.

I set out to read about the types of characters in the Player handbook, but when I was about 5 pages into the first description with all of the attributes, advantages, and added abilities depending on level attained, I gave up. I resolved to find a dwarf fighter that could work without too much complication. For whatever reason a dwarf fighter seemed to make the most sense because I’m not that tall and in my mind the goal is to fight the dragons or whatever type of villain I’d come across.

After the grueling hours of looking over the handbook and searching for tips online I asked my friend/Dungeon Master for help. I would soon relearn the lesson I had learned and forgotten so many times: NEVER underestimate the variety of material that the gaming community produces. My Dungeon Master quickly found a base model dwarf fighter pre-made. PRE-MADE!! It was exactly what I was looking for! But was just one turn beyond my grasp (if only I had dark vision).

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Once the character was ready I joined the group for the first night of adventure in the collective imagination. I introduced myself with the first cool potentially dwarf sounding name I could think of: “Wolfgang.” I was met with laughs and one of my new comrades asked if my character’s last name was Hasselhoff. So, I obliged, not sure if I needed a last name, but sure that I wanted to be on the good side of the people I’d be adventuring with.

It took me a while to understand that there was a planning phase and acting (or fighting) phase. I was ready to take my battle axe at anything that moved, but spent a lot of the first few turns just following people around and agreeing with their assertions.

The ghoulish zombie things in the village quickly became an issue and that is where the game came alive for me. I found great pleasure in describing how I would lift my battle axe up over my head, swinging it down in an arc and aiming to sever the left knee of the zombie ghoul from its already stinking leg. Then, with the roll of a die, I would find out if my efforts were effective and the bad guy was playing hopscotch, or if I rolled a two and for some reason, with all my vivid description, my axe took an inexplicable turn for the ground near his foot, leaving me (a small, yet strong dwarf) axe in the ground looking up at the thing and wishing I could have rolled a 19.

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I soon learned that my action was just one in a string of the actions of my teammates. I also found that not all of them wanted to be called my teammates and share my virtual orange slices and juice boxes after the round. For a moment, I thought “well this guy’s kind of a jerk and isn’t in the spirit of the game.” But then I realized he was just playing his character, and his character was really cool and didn’t like oranges.

It was pretty easy for me to do the planning stages because as a dwarf; I generally went along with the group and was ready to fight when necessary. It turned out to my advantage to be a player that was kind of predictable to the group and reliable in that I would just keep swinging just keep swinging at anything that bothered us. It didn’t hurt that as a dwarf fighter I had some numerical help in getting critical hits with the dice.

After the weekly adventures came to a close I reflected on how amazing it was to have the various online services that handle the game play, the conversations, the rule book, everything. But I did come away thinking it would have been fun to do in person, to see the facial expressions of each player as they make their moves and describe their actions. However, being in different geographical places made this impossible.

If I had the opportunity to play again, I would probably go along with the group, then rush headlong into the night, forgetting the dark vision, axe in hand, ready to swing for the knees of anyone who wants to mess with my friends, because I am Wolfgang Hasselhoff the dwarf fighter.