Skip to main content

Interview: Cliff Bleszinski on games, guns and Gears of War 3

Image used with permission by copyright holder

With sales of over 15 million games worldwide, an endless array of licensed merchandise, and a rock solid base of diehard fans, the Gears of War franchise has made its mark on the gaming industry. Now gamers are about to embark on the final adventure in the Gears of War trilogy come September 20. Cliff Bleszinski, one of the key creatives behind the franchise, has taken on great responsibility at Epic Games over the years. The design director dishes on the best way to get involved in the game industry, why game development has ruined his movie-watching experience, and how the Lancer made history in this exclusive interview.

What are some of the skill sets required to become a design director, and how did your own background prepare you for this role?

The skill set that I personally have is one that involves a lifetime of growing up with G.I. Joe, Transformers and sugar cereal. I played a heck of a lot of games growing up, and I had my share of hanging outside and doing normal kids stuff like playing “kick the can” and setting fires as a little troublemaker. Ultimately from there, I think writing skills and communication skills are very important. English classes, drama, architectural classes, CAD design, things like that. Ultimately, nobody really just lands in a position of designer. You start somewhere else. A lot of designers start as environment creators, or they start off as programmers first, and they evolve in that position because they know the tricks of the trade, so development team members just can’t blow smoke and confuse them. I’ve been in the trenches. I know that these kinds of things are doable, and I know how to push for them, and I know the process, and I have earned respect from years of development. So for those looking to get into the business, pick your craft, and kick and scream and claw until you get to that position that you ultimately want.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The path that a lot of people go through is testing. Why is that a good way “in” to game development?

A good way a lot of people use to get in the industry is testing, which is a ground-level job. In theory it sounds like a lot of fun. You just get to hang out and play games all day long, but in reality it’s a ton of work. Those guys really work their butts off in order to ship games and make sure that we have high-quality standards when the product comes out. Ultimately, if you land in test, you can evolve into an associate producer position, or if you prove you have design skills, maybe you can start crafting environments and sneak your way into the development team. But you’re there in the middle of it all, and you’re gaining experience through personal interactions, as well as through a certain amount of creative osmosis.

How important is being good at games for doing your job as design director?

Just to be good at videogames doesn’t necessarily mean that this will translate through to being a good designer. If you’re a person who loves food, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good chef. Just because you like to drive fast cars doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be an engineer to build engines. It’s not a one-to-one kind of translation. One thing is knowing what the hardcore gamer wants, but also being able to step back and remove yourself to see how the average person would see a puzzle or see a gameplay situation. The key is to balance between a person who doesn’t even play games with a hardcore gamer. Those are the skills that are often underrated for this position.

How has your job impacted how you play games for fun in your spare time?

Being a gamer designer has in many ways ruined the experience of playing videogames, because I can’t play one without having a notepad next to my coffee table. I’m writing up notes on what I love and what I hate, and what I’d do differently and things like that. It’s just in my blood now, and even to some extent with the interactions I’ve had with Hollywood and film. I’m studying how things are shot, and dialogue, and pacing, and acting, and everything, when I watch a movie or TV show. It’s like once you start working in the creative business; it can spoil it a little bit for you.

Cliff-Bleszinski-gears-of-war-lancerOne thing everyone thinks about with Gears of War is the Lancer weapon. Where did that idea come from?

Creatively, this process is a very iterative one, where everyone is adding ideas and you’re molding something together. The one thing that I will take claim for is the whole chainsaw bayonet thing, which I wanted to personally see in the videogame since 1998. I had an old game design back in the day where it was basically a circular saw that was attached to an AK47 design. Back then, we were working on the Unreal Tournament games, and that weapon never fit in. Finally, when we were crafting Gears as a new property in this new world, it was like, “Guys, I have to see a chainsaw bayonet,” and they were like, “Oh, that sounds kind of weird.” I’m like, “Come on, it’s a chainsaw and a gun,” and the art director at the time worked with the concept artist and came up with something cool. Ultimately, years later, we have what I hope and believe is one of the most iconic weapons in videogame history.

What are the challenges when it comes to making sequels?

Sequels are a very tricky business, because in many instances you are competing with the people’s nostalgia and their love of the first game, which in their mind was completely perfect and flawless…which is never the case. As the creative, all you see are the flaws in the last game, and what you didn’t get right, and the things you would change and tweak. So ultimately when you create a sequel, you’re kind of fighting against that kind of perception. But ultimately if you put in enough amazing cool new features, you remain true to the spirit of the original, and you get the support of the publisher, you can have a breakout hit. As a designer though, you have to know when to give people what they want creatively — more explosions, more awesome action, and a better story that’s even better written than the previous one.

How do you see the games industry evolving?

I think videogames are at a very interesting point right now where you have multiple factions. There’s the hardcore crowd playing Gears, Call of Duty, and Halo-type games, but then you also have your super casual moms playing Wii Sports and Wii Fit. People are very much afraid of that from the development side, like there’s not going to be any more hardcore games. But I believe there’s room for everything. There’s room for Disney movies. There’s room for movies like 300 and The Dark Knight. And the same can be said for games. The market is expanding, but it doesn’t mean that certain segments are drying up.

Make sure to check out our Gears of War 3 Review

Editors' Recommendations

John Gaudiosi
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for over 25 years, dating back to his work for The Washington Post while in…
Everything announced at The Game Awards 2022
A mech carrying things overlooks a destroyed world in Armored Core 6's reveal trailer.

The Game Awards has rolled around once again, awarding developers who made some of the year’s best games and unveiling a bunch of new trailers and game announcements. Geoff Keighley’s annual event is equal parts award show and video game showcase, and The Game Awards 2022 was no different.
Games like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Final Fantasy XVI, and Tekken 8 made appearances, while Death Stranding 2 and Armored Core VI were revealed for the first time. There were a ton of game reveals to take in, so here's a roundup of every announcement from The Game Awards 2022.
THE GAME AWARDS 2022: Official 4K Livestream: Thursday, December 8 (7:30p ET/4:30p PT/12:30a GMT)
Hades II announced by Supergiant Games
Hades II - Reveal Trailer
Supergiant Games, the developer behind 2020's critically acclaimed Hades, revealed its next game will be a sequel to Hades. We got a look at some beautiful animation and roguelike gameplay starring the Princess of the Underworld, and we learned that the game, officially titled Hades II, will enter early access next year.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is out on March 17
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor - Official Reveal Trailer
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor got an awesome and intense trailer at the Game Awards 2022, and voice actor Cameron Monaghan came out afterward to hype up the game further. The game is launching on March 17, 2023. 
Hideo Kojima unveils Death Stranding 2
DEATH STRANDING 2(Working Title)- TGA 2022 Teaser Trailer
It wouldn’t be a Geoff Keighley show without an appearance from Hideo Kojima, and thankfully Kojima had more to promote than a podcast this time around. We got the first trailer for the Death Stranding 2, a working title currently stylized as DS2, from Kojima Productions. This first teaser trailer is just as vague as Death Stranding's were, as it features Lea Seydoux's character traveling with al baby before talking with Norman Reedus' Sam.
Horizon Forbidden West will get an expansion set in LA next April
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores | Announce Trailer
Like The Frozen Wilds for Horizon Zero Dawn, Burning Shores is a massive expansion for this year's Horizon Forbidden West. The cinematic reveal trailer shows Aloy flying around a volcanic Los Angeles archipelago before a giant creature in the Hollywood sign attacks her. Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores will launch on April 19, 2023.
New The Super Mario Bros. Movie clip stars a ton of Toads
The Super Mario Bros. Movie | “Mushroom Kingdom” | Official Movie Clip
Keegan Michael-Key showed up during The Game Awards to show off a new clip from The Super Mario Bros. Movie. After joking about whether Toad has a hat or just a head, he showed off a clip of Mario walking through the Mushroom Kingdom amid ton of multicolored Toads. It's our longest uncut look at footage of this animated feature yet and it does a great job highlighting Illumination's interpretation of Mario's world. The Super Mario Bros. Movie comes to theaters on April 7. 
Crash Team Rumble announced by Activision
Crash Team Rumble - Official Announcement Trailer | The Game Awards 2022
After two years of leaks and rumors regarding a new Crash Bandicoot multiplayer game, Activision finally revealed Crash Team Rumble at The Game Awards. Crash Bandicoot literally crashed the show to unveil the 4v4 multiplayer action game where players must shoot and jump around stages as classic Crash Bandicoot characters. Crash Team Rumble launches in 2023.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon coming from FromSoftware
ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON アナウンスメントトレーラー【The Game Awards 2022】
Hot off the heels of Elden Ring, FromSoftware was ready to tease its next game. "Feed the Fire. Let the Last Cinders Burn," the trailer says before it becomes clear that it's a new Armored Core game. We then see a lot of cinematic mech action that looks unlike anything FromSoftware has made in the last decade.  Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon will launch in 2023 for PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. 
Final Fantasy XVI Revenge trailer gives us our best look at the game yet
Final Fantasy 16 - Revenge Trailer | The Game Awards 2022
Final Fantasy XVI Executive Producer Naoki Yoshida revealed a new Final Fantasy XVI trailer titled Revenge at The Game Awards. This showing gave us a deeper look at the story and themes of revenge that run throughout the whole game. We saw more of the Eikons that players will fight against and some new bits of exploration and combat gameplay. To cap things off, Square Enix confirmed that Final Fantasy XVI would be released for PS5 on June 22, 2023.
Everything else

BioShock creator Ken Levine finally revealed his first title at Ghost Story Games: Judas.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, an isometric action-adventure game, was announced by PlatinumGames and launches on March 17, 2023.
Nintendo showed off a sizzle reel of its announced 2023 games.
Ghostbusters: Rise of the Ghost Lord got a trailer. 
Destiny 2's Lightfall expansion got a new gameplay trailer.
Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League got a new trailer revealing that an evil Batman is in the game, meaning that it will feature the late Kevin Conroy's final performance. It will be released on May 26, 2023.
Party Animals' trailer showed off its various playable animals, the outfits they can wear, and the stages they fight on. 
The Last of Us Part 1 comes to PC on March 3, 2023.
Celeste follow-up Earthblade was announced and launches in 2024.
Dune Awakening got an in-engine trailer.
Forspoken is getting a demo on PS5.
Genshin Impact got a trailer teasing an upcoming character.
Ascendant Studios and EA Original revealed Immortals of Aveum.
Tekken 8 got a new trailer revealing lots of new fighters.
Nightingale got a new trailer.
An Xbox Game Pass trailer highlighted games available on the subscription service, as well as ones coming in 2023.
Colossal Cave's full 3D reimagining from Sierra Online founders Ken and Roberta Williams will be released on January 19, 2023.
Baldur's Gate 3 will finally leave early access and release in August 2023.
Airship Syndicate and Digital Extremes announced a fantasy online action RPG called Wayfinder, which will get a beta next week. 
Fire Emblem: Engage got a new trailer confirming that a DLC starring Three Houses characters and more will launch throughout 2023.
Sky got a trailer highlighting an upcoming in-game concert.
Diablo IV's June 6, 2023, release date was confirmed after a musical performance from Halsey and a new trailer.
Amazon Games will publish Bandai Namco Studios' anime-style MMORPG Blue Protocol for PC and current-gen consoles in 2023.
Remnant II, a sequel to the sleeper hit multiplayer shooter Remnant: From the Ashes, was announced.
Transformers: Reactivate was announced with a cinematic teaser trailer. 
Company of Heroes 3 got a live-action trailer
Meta Quest game Behemoth VR was revealed with a cinematic trailer. 
Don't Nod and Focus Entertainment announced action RPG Banishers: Ghost of a New Eden.
Warhammer 40K: Space Marine II received a new gameplay trailer.
Meet Your Maker's April 4, 2023 release date was confirmed in a cinematic trailer.
A gameplay overview trailer for Blood Bowl III was shown off.
The next-gen update for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was highlighted in a launch trailer. 
We got a first look at The Lords of the Fallen gameplay.
Epic Games and 505 Games announced Crime Boss: Rockay City, a first-person heist game game starring Michael Madsen and Kim Bassinger, Damion Poitier, Danny Trejo, Danny Glover, Michael Rooker, Vanilla Ice, and Chuck Norris. It will launch on March 28, 2023.
The first raid for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II received its debut trailer.
The Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion got a new trailer that reveals Idris Elba is in the game. 
Rocket League: Frosty Fest begins December 14.
Wild Hearts got a new trailer unveiling some of the giant new Kemono that players will fight.

Read more
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor release date pops up on Steam ahead of Game Awards
Cal Kestis with BD-1 droid on his shoulder.

The release date of the highly anticipated Star Wars game Star Wars Jedi: Survivor leaked on the game's official Steam page.
A Steam Page for Star Wars Jedi: Survivor went live with this release date information on Monday morning, seemingly ahead of a heavily rumored appearance at The Game Awards. The store page description reveals more details about Star Wars Jedi: Survivor as well as its Deluxe Edition, which contains cosmetics that make protagonist Cal Kestis look like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and the pre-order bonus with a costume, Lightsaber, and Blaster based on Obi-Wan. 

The "About This Game" section also provides more details on the game. Narratively, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor's Steam page explains that "Cal is driven to make a stand during the galaxy’s darkest times -- but how far is he willing to go to protect himself, his crew, and the legacy of the Jedi Order?" On the gameplay side of things, new Force abilities, Lightsaber fighting styles, and enemies to take down are teased. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor looks like it will be a galaxy-trotting adventure like its predecessor the description hints that there will be lots of planets to explore and that they'll be bigger and have more secrets than the ones in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
EA and Respawn Entertainment have been relatively quiet regarding Star Wars Jedi: Survivor since announcing the game in May, so it's exciting to get a lot of new information about the game like its sooner-than-expected release date. If the rumors are true, this may have deflated the hype from one of The Game Awards 2022's big reveals.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor will be released for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on March 15, 2023.

Read more
The 10 best video games of 2022
Video game characters stand in front of text that says The 10 Best Video Games of 2022.

This year's game of the year conversation was over before it could even begin. That’s not because 2022 wasn’t an exceptional year filled with left-field surprises. It’s simply that players were already anticipating what the year’s two biggest games would be: God of War Ragnarok and Elden Ring. Though those two games were indeed two of 2022’s most dominant AAA titles, the “foregone conclusion” attitude ultimately did this year a disservice.

As people anticipated the ensuing war between those two giants, much smaller projects like Vampire Survivors and Immortality were pushing the idea of what a modern game looks like. Nintendo was raising the bar for family games with its strongest lineup since the Switch’s launch in 2017, while lesser-celebrated platforms like mobile and VR delivered some of the year’s most memorable moments. Sure, Elden Ring and God of War Ragnarok’s dominance was inevitable, but they were far from the only games worth discussing in 2022.

Read more