Will the real Cliffy B please stand up? Oh. He just did.
9th Mar 2011 | 15:31
We all know Cliffy B.
He's a vainglorious motormouth who thinks "dick-tits" is the greatest contribution ever made to the English language. He's an unyieldingly cocksure self-publicist, whose combination of artificial ire and scent for contrariness makes him a fanboys' worst nightmare. And he's always, always great for a quote. Even if he didn't actually say it.
But do you know Cliff Bleszinski?
Because take Dude Huge away from his expletive-filled Twitter profile and journalists who revel in his most impudent mutterings (hi Cliff!); gift him an audience of his peers and professional acolytes, and something strange transpires. He becomes very difficult not to admire. Dick-tits and all.
At his GDC presentation last week, I was expecting the usual preening from Bleszinski - a bit of "Bulletstorm kicks ass" here, a coy-but-obviously-targeted smidgen of "those guys just can't compete" there. And, of course, plenty of shameless Gears 3 promotion.
And yet what came to pass was a real surprise: a considered, discerning, fervid plea for less prominent indie developers to ascend in a new-age marketing economy which has the big boys on the back foot.
Bleszinki's talk included a stinging, impassioned attack on publishers who look on virtuoso games creators as plastic mould production machines, an irritated dismissal of "games as art" refuseniks - and not a little humility.
Yes. You read that correctly. Cliffy B has a 'modest' setting. Nothing will ever be the same again.
My expectations for a headline-grabbing barnstormer were fluffed early on, when Bleszinski qualified that anything he said shouldn't be quoted as "EA or Microsoft or [Epic cohort] Tim Sweeney". Time to settle in and absorb the scandal.
But then something odd happened. It emerged that Bleszinski's underscoring of the need for accurate attribution wasn't because he was proffering tabloid gold, but because he was about to gift us something very rarely seen: a glimmer of vulnerability.
Whilst lecturing the audience - packed to the rafters with engrossed self-employed developers - to "make your product personal", Bleszinski gave more away about himself than anyone could have foreseen.
After highlighting his flaws as a designer - admitting he relies on Epic's comparatively contemplative Rod Fergusson to "shrink my head" and say "dude, you just can't have 15,000 guns" - Bleszinski referenced the role that individual angst and tragedy had played on his most cherished work.
"I was actually going through a very tough time when we were doing the first Gears - I was going through a divorce," he admitted. "It was very difficult personally. But somehow through that some kind of creative magic came out."
Bleszinski then soberly recalled his teenage years, when the death of his father hit hard - before noting the impact a similar experience had on fellow Epic devs Fergusson and Lee Perry. The room fell silent, but Bleszinski sidestepped public emotion for a more salient professional point: "There's a reason Marcus has daddy issues."
We always knew Bleszinski had balls. But here was a designer with authenticity and, perhaps most shocking of all, heart.
It wasn't the last time Bleszinski's formative years were referenced - nor the last time he chose to show soul over hoopla. Encouraging developers to mix with more professional departments than just those hunched over C++, Bleszinski harked back to the gestation of his own 'chameleon' tendencies:
"When I was in High School, my problem was that I was never cool enough for the cool kids," he said. "I didn't want to go and get f*cked up after prom. But I wasn't geeky enough for the geeks, either: I didn't want to go into the basement and play D&D. Somehow that's become a very important asset."
The rest of the afternoon provided a cavalcade of gold dust for any young designer aiming for industry stardom. Bleszinski continually referenced the upshot of becoming a 'power creative' - listing Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and J.K Rowling as enviable auteurs who can "call the shots" in their respective mediums.
He warned designers, artists and coders to "assess yourself and know your weaknesses" and to not to blithely accept the tradition of game-makers cutting contact with marketeers. "This is your baby," he asserted. "You need to have a vested interest in how it's represented. You need to take care of it."
Blezskinski also pulled back the curtain on the downsides of being a headline-grabbing creative, wall-mounting an online jibe that labelled him as the "world's biggest douchebag" - and trying hard not to wince as one lashed out at the "moron who lies for money". He struggled to hide his fraternal protectiveness for colleague and Bulletstorm producer Tanya Jessen, whom he assured us attracted far uglier vitriol.
Throughout, Bleszinski's love for his indie game brethren was obvious - as was his genuine belief that anyone, with the right talent and energy, can become the next Epic. After his talk, he spent a full 15 minutes fielding questions from his peers, most of them packed with as much praise for the designer's career as his presentation.
Okay, so it wasn't all Edge-worthy stuff. He quoted Van Halen as a fine example of team harmony and cited both He-Man and Predator as points of inspiration. In a less ego-free moment, he referenced "Cliff-isms", whilst "guns that shoot goo" was given as an impromptu leftfield design idea.
None of this stopped him gaining by far the longest round of applause I witnessed over the entirety of GDC, however. One self-employed dev observed in the lobby afterwards that the crowd looked "more like the Indie Games Summit than the Indie Games Summit itself".
But the take-home goodies from the talk didn't end at community spirited pointers. Bleszinski had shrewdly and candidly unpeeled the layers of Cliffy B the brand; that calculated, touchpaper-lighting "douchebag" who many rabid gamers love to hate.
Why would anybody, one might question, want to put themselves in such an angry firing line?
"I would prefer to be loved or hated than ignored," said Bleszinski. "This is an insurance policy. If [I was sacked] tomorrow, I could probably go to a lot of studios and get a job or a deal or a really sweet gig. People know who the hell I am, because I wasn't afraid to put myself out there."
Around four hours after his erudite, scholarly talk, Bleszinski began raucously joking on Twitter about how he had "butthurt" a group of fanboys with yet another jovial, inflammatory public comment.
We all know Cliffy B. But no-one, it seems, knows him anywhere near as well as Cliff Bleszinski.
[Watch a full video of Cliff Bleszinski's GDC 2011 talk, 'The Rise Of The Power Creative' via Gamespot below]