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Cliffy, take a long walk off of one

Video Games | Friday, February 15th, 2008 | 9 years, 7 months ago

Epic (née Megagames) superstar level designer (!?) Cliff Bleszinski (gesundheit!), aka CliffyB, laments to Gamasutra about the poor sales of his (proclaimed) acclaimed Xbox hit, Gears of War. Says Bleszinski:

“I think people would rather make a game that sells 4.5 million copies than a million and Gears is at 4.5 million right now on the 360.”

Such commendable objectivity. Let’s look at the facts behind this blanket statement.

  • Gears of War was released on PC, at full price, one year after the Xbox360 premiere.
  • Thousands complained about the game’s inexplicably high system requirements.
  • Needless integration with Windows Live requires you to create an account and be logged in to save your single player game.
  • You’re stuck with console-style continue points and can’t save anywhere.

Not only does Cliffy assume that no PC gamer owns an Xbox 360, the game is crippled with needless online integration and obviously overlooks many of the PC platform’s strengths. As is the case with all console ports the game looks dated on PC and does not warrant the full price of admission.

Epic is recoiling from unimpressive holiday sales, but this comes as little surprise on the PC side. Their two major offerings last quarter were the ageing Gears of War as well as the universally snubbed Unreal Tournament 3. The reasons for the failure of the latter title are quite obvious to me:

  • Epic’s insistence to synchronize its launch with Valve’s Orange Box and EA’s Crysis.
  • The game is marginally different from Unreal Tournament 2004.
  • The mod scene for UT2k4 is huge, so starting over with a blank slate is mundane.

And Gears of War?

  • Very awkward WASD controls.
  • The level design is sub par – every map is a square with debris.
  • You fight baddies called “wrenches” (Get it? Gears? Wrenches? Neither do I.) and the rest of the writing resorts to sub-Stallone gravelly machismo.
  • A more apt name would have been “Run and Hide” since that’s all you ever do.

Reality aside, Cliffy’s assertions of the PC market being in “disarray” are unfounded. These fraudulent allegations combined with his sloppy port of Gears proves he wouldn’t know a personal computer if it slapped him on the rump.

“I think the PC is just in disarray,” he stated. “What’s driving the PC right now is Sims-type games and World of WarCraft and a lot of stuff that’s in a Web-based interface. You just click on it and play it. That’s the direction PC is evolving into so for me, the PC is kind of the secondary part of what we’re doing.”

His examples are way out of left field and he ignores not only the enormous variety of the PC market that can’t be found anywhere else, but also the phenomenal titles on the horizon (Spore, Conan and Warhammer Online, the Sam and Max series, Postal 3, Fallout 3, Starcraft 2, to name a piddling few).

What irks me most of all is Cliffy’s dismissal of the platform that made Epic the company it is. Longtime fans of the company will remember Epic Megagames as a marginally above average purveyor of shareware PC titles sporting charismatic protagonists like Jazz Jackrabbit and Jill of the Jungle. These were games whose first few levels were free and continued play warranted incremental payments for subsequent stages. Even their later, more polished titles kept the grassroots image by employing, for example, MOD music legend CC Catch (Kenny Chou) to score the awesome robot fighting game One Must Fall 2097. This company was the very definition of humility and the goodwill and support of the PC gaming community bolstered it into the powerhouse it is today.

So bye bye, Cliffy. Go seek out your fortune in the wild, untamed mainstream. Leave the most powerful gaming platform in your wake as you squeeze the last ounce out of yesterday’s technology. Obviously you know your company better than those of us who spent our childhood playing the likes of Kiloblaster and Dare to Dream on Windows 3.1. Your army of Xbots sweats with prepubescent anticipation, calling your name in their collective prepubescent tenor, itching to wrap their monkey mitts around the most imprecise controllers on Earth to nudge and fidget their way through your next square room full of boxy debris. Count me out.

cliffy1.jpg

What is love? Cliffy, don’t hurt me!

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2 Comments

  1. I love stumbling on stuff like this.

    First of all: the characters to whom you refer in GoW are “wretches”, not “wrenches”. I’ve no idea why they’re called such, but it isn’t some cheap attempt to stick to a metaphor.

    In regards to the rest of your rant: I grew up with classic EM games as well, sir. I know what a good gaming experience is, and a good gaming experience is NOT having to shell out $1200 – $2000 over the course of a couple of years just to keep a system up to spec. Console games have to work with the system, especially in XBox’s case, where Microsoft strictly watches over frame rates and won’t license a stuttery game. As a result, the games pull back on the graphics a little.

    Usually.

    Epic’s games (and most games I see based on the Unreal Engine, such as Mass Effect for example) are beyond amazing in terms of visuals. Even Xbox’s glorychild, Halo, looks sad in comparison to the crisp textures, excellent animations, and smooth play.

    I could go on and on about how obviously biased you are against the 360 and everything that stands for it, but there’s no point. You sir, are a douchebag. Clam up.

    ….That felt good.

    Comment by Arcane — December 3, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  2. I’m not really a douchebag – I just used a douchbaggy tone while writing this article. I still think Cliffy is a weenie and I’m hardly the only person to shrug off GoW. It’s just a very consoley game in that it’s a weak premise of predictable beefy machismo wrapped around one simple game mechanic (running and hiding) which is repeated ad nauseum. My biggest disappointment is that Cliffy has designed some great levels in his day but that skill is not evident anywhere in GoW – either you’re in an arena strewn with perfectly parallel 4-foot hiding spots, or you’re in a hallway on the way to the next arena. Halo is the same way. Adequate games loved by people who don’t know how superior the alternatives are.

    These qualities are the embodiment of the console experience – shallow and simplified. Consoles are just PCs that are limited to basic functionalities, like a Tamagotchi or travel-sized Etch-a-Sketch. These qualities are present in the cheaply mass-produced and quickly-outdated hardware, the control mechanisms of the gamepad versus a mouse and keyboard, and the unstoppable glut of cookie cutter games that have no problem passing Microsoft’s world renowned high watermark for consistent quality.

    With few exceptions, console games are consolation games – games for the lowest common denominator who like pressing the win button. PC gaming has as low a price entry point as the cheapest console and can scale as high as you wish it to. Backward compatibility on PC is unrivalled by consoles. Bar none, the PC has always been the best platform for games, and there’s hundreds of millions of them in people’s homes all over the world. That’s why it’s been consistently successful for 3 decades.

    If you want to settle for the Swansons microwave dinner of gaming then Xbox is absolutely the right way to go. When you are ready for gaming to become a hobby instead of a distraction, when you want to play the best versions of the best games, that’s when you upgrade to PC. If you like gaming you play on Xbox, but if you love gaming you play on PC.

    P.s., the Unreal 3 engine makes everything look like it’s covered in shiny goo.

    Comment by brian — December 3, 2008 @ 9:59 pm

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