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Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski Gets Unreal

Cliff Bleszinski, the company’s design director, is at the heart of Epic’s new game development. John Gaudiosi caught up with him before he went on to host the 2012 Game Developers Choice Awards.

John Gaudiosi

John Gaudiosi

By John Gaudiosi

Epic Games put on quite a show at this year’s Game Developers Conference. Every day, designers and publishers checked out the technology behind the new Unreal Engine 4 game development framework. Meanwhile, journalists watched demos of games powered by Unreal Engine 3, including the new Infinity Blade: Dungeons and the pumped-up version of Mortal Kombat. Not to mention that some of the most popular games at GDC 2012 were running on Unreal Engine 3, including Hawken, the free-to-play PC shooter, and TERA, the massively multiplayer online action fantasy game.

Cliff Bleszinski, the company’s design director, is at the heart of Epic’s new game development. I caught up with him before he went on to host the 2012 Game Developers Choice Awards.

John Gaudiosi: Can you explain what it is that you are doing now that you’re involved in so many different projects at Epic?

Cliff Bleszinski: I’m trying to maintain productivity while having my fingers in many different pies. As a person who’s slightly ADD, that can be tricky at times. Thankfully, I have a good management staff to help keep me focused.

What I do the majority of the time is I bust out work on Fortnite. I have a lot of meetings, but I also try and make time for free play. So if Donald Mustard -- the co-founder and creative director at ChAIR Entertainment, Epic Games’ award-winning studio -- comes to town with a new Infinity Blade idea or proposal, I can make time to see his stuff as well. And hopefully sprinkle a little bit of that fun magic on top of it.

J.G.: What excites you about the game industry today?

C.B.: The fact that if you’re a 17-year-old kid right now and you have an Internet connection and you’re somewhat dev-savvy, you can go get something like Unreal Development Kit and you could be the next overnight sensation if you are smart and play your cards right. Now, with a fully connected Internet and developers checking out indie games and the Independent Games Festival going on next door, the chance for visibility is higher than ever. I always say the brass ring is there, and it’s up to you as a young gamer to seize it.

J.G.: Speaking of the Independent Games Festival, what opportunities does it offer to developers?

C.B.: There’s actually a real-world instance where a game, which years ago was called Narbacular Drop, got picked up by Valve. I think Kim Swift, now chief creative officer at Airtight Games, was one of the developers. That game ultimately evolved into Portal, which of course is now the beloved global sensation that we all adore.

I’m going to be there Tweeting about games that I think are cool. I’m going to be spreading the word to my 150,000 followers, and maybe somebody else who’s a developer is over there talking to his followers. This is such an organic world where the good stuff can rise up more than ever and the bad stuff sinks away. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago. You had to really fight, kick and claw your way to the top of the heap back then.

J.G.: What role does the Unreal Development Kit play in this new gaming ecosystem?

C.B.: Well, UDK is the toolset for a young developer to really get cracking. I’ve told many people before that if I could go back in time and have UDK when I was 17, I would have killed for it. One thing Tim Sweeney (the founder of Epic Games) realized very, very early on is that by empowering creatives who may not necessarily be that tech-savvy, he can get a lot of great results and also have developers be more efficient. That’s something that’s carried out through Unreal technology all the way through Unreal Engine 4.

John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv and a game columnist for Reuters and RhMinions.com. He is a frequent contributor to Digital Innovation Gazette.