Every medium has its polarizing superstars, those household names who rise above the static for us to love, loathe and dissect into teeny little pieces. In TV, Charlie Sheen's our current slice of blood-rare filet mignon -- he's had us talking about the pros and cons of WINNING and a self-destructive lifestyle for months now. Music gives us Gaga and Justin Bieber, while sports serves up a sobbing LeBron and Michael Vick, among a rotating cast of thugs and malcontents.
In video games, there are fewer such stars, but the one who's been burning especially bright of late is Cliff Bleszinksi -- more commonly known as CliffyB, the design director at Epic Games, the makes of the Gears of War series. Not since former id Software> god John Romero told us all to suck it down in the mid-1990s have we had such an outsized personality to contemplate. The difference, of course, is that Bleszinski generally delivers the goods, and has -- so far, anyway -- avoided any Daikatana-sized career pratfalls
At last week's annual Game Developer's Conference, Bleszinksi spoke to a packed hall about the concept of the "power creative" -- the individual in the game design process who stands up and make a name for him or herself, then uses that force of personality to do even greater things. Game development may be a team effort, but the ones who stand out have an opportunity to impact every piece of the process
In more than one sense, the man has a good point. In other entertainment mediums, there's no shortage at all of people who can make projects happen on the strength of their names alone. Steven Spielberg could do a hand puppet remake of Les Miserables starring Sly Stallone and Miley Cyrus if he really wanted to. He'd be sacrificing a ton of credibility in the process, but he could do it. Maybe we'd even buy tickets.
On the other hand, CliffyB's Spidey-esque advice to his colleagues would ring a lot less hollow if it wasn't coming directly on the heels of the release of Epic Games' Bulletstorm, a first-person shooter whose defining features are skill-shots with, um, questionable names ("gang bang," "rear entry" and ""gag reflex") and more profanity than a conversation between Sheen and Howard Stern. Is Bulletstorm funny in a juvenile, Fox News-baiting kind of way? Sure, I suppose -- if you're part of the crowd that still laughs uproariously at crotch-jamming jokes in Adam Sandler flicks and thinks the parade of stand-up comics on Comedy Central represents the height of American wit.
Bulletstorm is the very definition of a game that pushes buttons for no other reason than because it can. That doesn't mean it's a bad game -- quite the contrary, and there's plenty of room for strategic shooters like this in gamers' disc drives. But you'd be hard pressed to say that Bulletstorm advanced the shooter genre or the discussion of what games are capable of achieving. If you're a power creative, shouldn't you occasionally aim for Schindler's List rather than Grown Ups?
Bleszinki's still a young gun in the gaming industry -- the third entry in the Gears of War series hits later this year, giving us another opportunity to see if he and his team are using their powers for good or mediocrity. He's clearly well aware of the power his own outsized personality already affords him. At one point in his GDC presentation, he boasted, "If I got fired, I could find another sweet gig tomorrow."
Sounds an awful lot like Sheen, doesn't he? That's power creative for you.