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Joystiq Interview: Epic's Cliff Bleszinski

To help promote the MTV2 special on Gears of War airing tonight, Microsoft was facilitating some quick phone interviews with the game's lead designer, Cliff Bleszinski (aka CliffyB). We got his thoughts on the game's reception at E3, the ongoing console wars, his application of the "mom test," and thoughts on episodic content (hint: he digs it).

I wanted to congratulate you on the success of Gears of War at E3. In a year without a lot of standout titles, Gears of War was the talk of the show. That said, why wasn't it playable on the show floor?

We wanted it to be playable with the versus multiplayer. Thing is, the show floor -- to me -- is a clusterfuck. It is an absolute trainwreck of noise, and boobs, and sweat, and swag, and there is no worse venue to pick up a game and start to play than the show floor of E3. Taking people away from the show floor and putting them into the little theater is a much better experience and that's what we wanted to do with the versus multiplayer.

Our gift and our curse with Gears is we're doing something slightly different: you're not out there looking out the barrel of the gun the entire time; shooting enemies that die in two shots; running and gunning like every other game. You have to take cover. You have enemies that take more than two shots to take out, and they're smart, and they take cover, and flank you. Learning that in E3 is not the proper venue to do that, which is why we chose to go with hands-on versus multiplayer because it was a bit more accessible. Now when a person buys the game and sits down in their living room and they go through the tutorial and go through the proper steps to learn how to play the game, they'll dig it. We're really feeling they'll get what we're going for. But presenting that at E3 would have been a mistake.

[The exclusive Gears of War demo room]

You didn't worry that you'd be doing yourself a disservice by limiting access to the game?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression and I would rather people's first impression playing the game hands-on be outside of the insanity that is the show floor of E3.

Did you have a chance to play the Wii while you were at E3?

I did not and I wanted to. I've been reserving judgment on it completely until I get hands on time with it and I just want to, just control it. My schedule was so jam-packed that there was no way I'd be able to hang out in line like that and I'm not that well connected with Nintendo to be able to skip through the line like Robin Williams is.

Epic's gotten a lot of flak for comments made about the Revolution for being graphically inferior. After E3, the consensus was that the first person control could be great. Although you haven't had a chance to play it, do you know if Epic's planning anything?

We're currently talking with Nintendo. It's not really my department to pontificate on other people's system and comments that the wonderful Mark Rein will make occasionally to upset the fans. Again, I reserve judgment of the Wii until I get hands on with it. I was very judgmental about the DS until I actually got to play hands-on with it and I love Trauma Center and stuff like that.

You know what, Nintendo is zigging while everyone else is zagging and they'll be just fine for it. I give them props for doing something different. My advice to anybody developing a first person shooter for the Revolution is: even though you have a new way to control and make a new FPS you still need a cool, compelling FPS underneath that. [Control] is only one of five things that you need. Give us a Half-Life 2 with those controls and I'll be first in line to buy it.

How about the PS3? Did you get any hands-on time with that?

To be honest, I spent more time on God of War 2 than the PS3.  I played a bit of Resistance and couldn't get into Warhawk 'cause the line was too long. But, you know it's all about Riiiiiidge Raaaaaacer [laughs]. Sony's in a position where they have what I think will be a great system ...

[technical difficulties, call resumes]

... Bottom line is there's just a huge war going on right now and I'm perfectly happy to be standing in the middle of it grinning like a little kid. This is what I've always wanted to do. I get to work with amazing people and make a cool fricking IP in 2006. It's great.

[Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima playing Gears of War at E3]

Based on what you know, and what Epic knows as a middleware developer, can you think of anything in particular, specifically, that you would do differently if you were making Gears of War on the PlayStation 3?

I like the whole tilt controller. I think we could do some cool stuff there. Possibly do some integration with the PSP. And, to be honest, that's all I can think of right now. I haven't put a lot of thought into it. I've been so nose-deep in Gears on the 360.

Graphically do you feel there's anything you've been unable to do on the 360 that the PS3 might enable you to?

I think we're at the point where technologically ... I have what I call the "mom test." Take a game that's on 360 and on PS3, can your mom tell the difference in graphic quality? If she can't, is there that much of a difference?

How about episodic content, downloadable content? Is that something you're planning to exploit on 360?

I'm not really wiling to comment on it but I will tell you the whole concept thrills me. And the fact that Microsoft has this umbilical cord hooked into all the gamers with Live and they recognize that it's its own station of television, of music, of entertainment, and they're branding it successfully, I'm completely thrilled about that. I'd love to have a gamer that comes out in one-hour increments. I think what Ritual's doing with SiN is really exciting and I think more people need to do this. Pay a couple bucks for en episode to end with a cliffhanger moment and you have the Lost version for videogames.

Because of middleware package you develop and use, Epic's always said they can make better games with less people, quicker. How long do you think we see something like either a sequel to Gears of War or the next big AAA title that you'll be working on?

I think we need to pace it out, honestly. This is just me talking -- this isn't the official Microsoft or Epic stance -- but I think a lot of properties are hurt by having a version that comes out every year. Let me just wait a year and a half or two years between games, please. Let me miss it a little bit. There's something to be said for that.

Even a year and a half or two years is a pretty short development cycle for a lot of next-gen games. You think that's possible?

I think once we ship Gears, if we wanted to ship Gears 2 in a year and a half we could, absolutely. That's why Unreal Tournament came together so quickly. We started with Unreal itself and then we did Unreal Tournament in nine months. Once you have that base for everything, painting over it with a new coat of paint and putting in new stuff is so much easier than starting from scratch.

Thanks for talking with us and good luck with the show tonight. I look forward to seeing it.

I haven't even seen it. Wish me luck.

[Images from Flickr 1, 2]

(Update: corrected two typing mistakes, sosumi)

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