Cliff Bleszinski is the co-founder and CEO of Boss Key Productions. He was a lead game designer at Epic Games for 20 years until he left in October 2012.
Early Games to Unreal (1991-1998)
Although he is best known for his work on intense, graphically impressive shooters, Bleszinski made his first non-commercial game at age 11. His first commercial game was made at age 17: an independently developed point-and-click adventure game called The Palace of Deceit: Dragon's Plight. Bleszinski created the game while he was a student at Bonita High School in La Verne, California, and released it in 1991 via his own company, Game Syndicate Productions. He also sent a copy of the game to Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games (then known as Epic MegaGames). Sweeney was impressed with the game and brought Bleszinski onboard at Epic. Bleszinski's next game, Dare to Dream, also a point-and-click adventure, was released by Epic in 1993.
One of Epic's first multi-person projects brought Bleszinski's talents to bear on Jazz Jackrabbit, a very successful 1994 PC platformer, and its 1998 sequel, Jazz Jackrabbit 2, which was noteworthy at the time for offering players a robust level editor, called the Jazz Creation Station.
It was with his involvement in designing the first-person shooter Unreal, though, that Bleszinski began the work for which he is best known today. Unreal grew out of an idea by fellow Epic designer James Schmalz, and was by far the most ambitious project Epic had ever undertaken. Bleszinski felt that it was crucial to Epic that Unreal be a success, stating, "Up until that point, we had made some pretty cool little platform games and pinball games, but no one really took us very seriously." Unreal's development was protracted and difficult.
From the concept in late 1994 to release in May 1998, Epic threw all of its talent and money at Unreal, and it paid off: the result was a tremendously successful first-person shooter. The game had a huge impact on the expectations people had for graphics in PC games, as it broke new ground with regard to color (introducing 16-bit or "real" color environments) and various visual effects, including light bloom. John Carmack of rival id Software, which had previously dominated the first-person shooter market with Doom, Doom II and Quake, praised the graphical innovations of Unreal, saying, "I doubt any important game will be designed with 8-bit color in mind from now on. Unreal has done an important thing in pushing toward direct color, and this gives the artists a lot more freedom." Unreal was also widely praised for its AI and the ease of its edit tools.
Unreal to Gears (1998-2008)
In addition to his work on Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament 2004, Bleszinski served as lead designer on the Xbox 360 shooter Gears of War. Gears evolved out of the development of what was going to be a game called Unreal Warfare. As Bleszinski explained in a speech at GDC 2007 entitled "Designing Gears of War: Iteration Wins," the game started out as another first-person shooter in the Unreal universe. Over time, however, influenced by the cover mechanic in Namco's 2003 game kill.switch and the third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective of Resident Evil 4, Unreal Warfare became the game known as Gears of War. Not unlike how the Unreal series raised the standards for graphics in PC games, Gears of War was widely considered the most visually impressive console game to date upon its release in November of 2006. The game, propelled by strong reviews, a massive, Microsoft-supported marketing campaign, and a strong showing by Bleszinski himself at Microsoft's E3 press conference earlier that year, was a tremendous success. A PC version with an added section, and, in true Epic form, a level editor, was released in November of 2007
The game's sequel was released in November of 2008 for the Xbox 360. In an interview with The Escapist, Bleszinski summed up his approach to the design of Gears of War 2 by saying, "Once you establish the core loop of the game, the classic 'what you're doing for 30 seconds over and over again,' you need to then switch it up…And what that's pushed for is a game that, while it may not be very heavily scripted in some ways, also moment to moment has things happening one thing after another. Always something bursting through the door, always something chasing you, always a new creature being introduced, new weapons, new dialogue ... there's always something happening that you can latch onto as the proverbial water cooler moment."
Boss Key Productions
Bleszinski co-founded Boss Key in 2014 with developer Arjan Brussee, a former colleague from the Jazz Jackrabbit days of Epic Games. The studio put out Lawbreakers, which Bleszinski directed, in 2017 to middling reviews and mediocre sales.
Design Style, Trademarks, Influences
"I think there's room for, essentially, art-house games in this business, and little independent games that push the envelope in their own unique direction. But we at Epic, we are in the business of blockbusters, and we are going to continue to attempt to make multi-million-selling phenomena, because that's what we do."
The shooters Bleszinski works on frequently feature innovative weapons. In Unreal, for instance, each weapon offered an alternate mode of fire, including the 8-Ball Launcher, a combination rocket/grenade launcher which could fire up to six grenades or rockets at once. And in Gears of War, the chainsaw bayonet was introduced, allowing players to use their rifle to saw nearby enemies to pieces.
Bleszinski, whose work on the Jazz Jackrabbit games was heavily influenced by console platform games such as the Super Mario Bros. series, has cited platform game innovator Shigeru Miyamoto as a source of inspiration, praising him during an acceptance speech at the 2007 Game Developers Choice Awards. In an interview the following day, Bleszinski said, "Shigeru Miyamoto is why I do what I do; from being a boy and saving up my paper route money to be able to purchase Zelda and Mario and all those games. To be in that company and to be in that position is an honorable position and it's kind of like living the dream, so to speak."
Bleszinski lives in Raleigh, NC. (Epic Games is based in nearby Cary, NC.) He has been widely referred to as Cliffy B., but has since retired this moniker, saying that it's "time to grow up a bit.". He has since stated, in a comment on Kotaku, that he now wants to be called "Dude Huge". Bleszinski also has a personal website at www.cliffyb.com, where he has shared thoughts on games, movies, food, and music, as well as offered some tips to people seeking work in the gaming business.
His official twitter is @therealcliffyb where he posts almost daily regarding everything and anything.
- “The dimensions of video game characters, even when they're scanned from real people, are beefed up with exaggerated proportions in games like Def Jam: Fight for NY to give them more pop.”
- "Is it so wrong that I expect a game to save automatically for me these days?"
- "We continue to make the games we wanna play. We only use violence if we think it serves a gameplay purpose."
- " I dress in a T-shirt and jeans every day when I go to work. When I go to conventions I like to dress up. Sue me."
- "Everyone knows Game Development is about making the coolest game possible, right? What they seldom fail to mention is that you have to do this with limited resources, limited time, and a team of often very opinionated folks."
- "If you look at a  controller right now it looks like an alien spaceship"
- "After playing Gears 2, you might wanna consider being a vegetarian."
- “The Halo deal was an interesting model because it allowed the game creators to have control over their IP instead of just allowing Hollywood to do God-knows-what with it. The process of taking a game to the big screen is not an easy one. Things do have to be changed for film.”
- “We're going to continue to see games turned into movies."
- His first claim to fame was when he was featured on the first ever Nintendo Power magazine for having an extremely high score in Super Mario Bros [close to 10 million].
- Designed his first game at age 11.
Cliff´s top 10 games ever
In an article posted on November 23rd 2009 Cliff reveals his top 10 games of all time. The full article with motivations can be found here.
10. Golden Eye / Halo
8. Grand Theft Auto III
7. Tetris Attack / Pokémon Puzzle League
6. Legend of Zelda - A Link to the past
5. Super Metroid
3. Super Bomberman
1. Half-Life 2