Cliff Bleszinski has been a friend for many years and I’ve really enjoyed watching his career take off like a skyrocket. He’s the real deal, he’s paid his dues and worked his way to the top. He’s helped video games become a part of mainstream entertainment, thanks in part to his hits like Gears of War. Epic Games’ design director, one of the key creatives behind that bestselling franchise, talks about his start in gaming, the ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3 technology, and the new opportunities that exist for aspiring game designers today.
This exclusive interview for dperry.com was done by John Gaudiosi of GamerLive.tv.
How did you get involved in videogames?
When I was six years old, I saw Space Invaders on my friend’s Atari 2600 video game system, and I was completely captivated by the whole idea of just being able to manipulate the images on a television screen. And growing up I just wanted to make my own game. I had all these kinds of universes and characters and weapons and locations brewing around inside my head and I wanted to just figure out a way to get into the business. Long story short, my parents got me an old Apple computer, and I started programming in BASIC programming language. I built my own first video game there and then. I eventually got an IBM compatible PC and started building games there and kept making them myself and doing the American dream of putting them in Ziploc baggies and selling them out of my parent’s house.
So how did you get from there to Epic?
Back in the day there was this scene called the Shareware scene and it was the very early days of the Internet, where people would basically create a video game for free. If you like it, you’d buy the other two games. This was a big thing in the early ’90s. Epic Games back then started that way. That’s kind of how they made a name for themselves. I downloaded and checked out one of Tim Sweeney’s original titles, Jill of the Jungle, and I was really impressed with the production quality and the marketing effort behind it. I decided I wanted to partner up with these guys and have them do my next game, so I sent them a copy of it. They thought it was cool and the rest is basically history.
Can you tell us what that first game?
Back in the day when I first got started I wasn’t a very good programmer and I wasn’t a very good artist, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I wanted to make action games, shooters and platform games like Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, but I wasn’t quite good enough at code to do it. So I decided instead to make a slower-paced adventure type game, more of a detective mystery type game. It was called Palace of Deceit, in which you’re a little baby dragon trying to escape from an evil wizard’s castle and I did that in 1991 and was selling that out of my mom’s house when I was living in California.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to get involved in games today?
If a person wants to get involved in games they should check out the Unreal Development Kit. First off get it. Second, figure out what you’re good at and start working on that and find other people online through this big beautiful connection that we have called the Internet. You can find an artist on a 3D forum. You can find a designer on some board game forum and get everybody together, put a small development team together and get cranking.
What would you have done if this technology was available when you were an aspiring game maker?
If this opportunity were available to me back when I was a teenager, I would have downloaded it immediately. I would not have left my house for months on end and I would have started creating my own world. I would have started building my own environments. I would even have gotten placeholder characters and things like that until I found somebody to put things in. I would have made something tangible that is an interactive space, and I would have burst into the industry somehow by any means necessary.
How does Unreal Development Kit make creating games easier for people who want to get in the game industry today?
The fact that we’ve released Unreal Development Kit for free online, it’s cracked everything wide open in regards to amateur development and mod makers and people who want to get in the business, college students. You very, very rarely see this kind of opportunity where you have a professionally tested tool that has shipped hit games that have sold millions upon millions of copies that you can just download and start messing around with immediately. I can tell you right now that the engine is used so much in the business that if you’re a person who has Unreal Engine skills, that would be a plus on your resume. The fact that it’s more accessible than ever will facilitate creativity and will create more cool independent games and it will help people get jobs.
Why do you think Unreal Engine 3 has become so popular in the video game industry today?
The key to making better games in this day and age, in which development costs continue to rise, is to work smarter, not harder. And we at Epic have had a good amount of success with that technology by making tools that facilitate game development and allow for what we call rapid iteration. You can make all your mistakes to figure what is in front, so you can find the fun. It’s like panning for gold. The way that we also integrate that into our technology is by having very visual and very easy-to-understand tools. The Kismet scripting language for example, Unreal Script, in and of itself is a very high-level simple video game scripting language. Matinee, Unreal’s movie-making tool, allows those who are far more creative to have access to very, very powerful technology tools without having to spend their time fiddling with zeros and ones.