Luke Lohr creator and host of Xbox Expansion Podcast has created a safe space for people around the gaming industry. Developers, game directors, heads of production, content creators, and most recently the legendary Cliff Bleszinski have made their way to XEP. The way Luke approaches all of his interviews is with such legitimate intrigue and enthusiasm. Now someone as recognizable as CliffyB you would think there is not much else to learn more about. But, Luke got Cliff to talk about his use of cocoa butter and upcoming standup comedy debut.
From Jazz Jackrabbit To Scrapper
All jokes aside in the early part of the interview, the variations of Cliff Bleszinski’s name are brought up. His works go back to Jazz Jackrabbit (my introduction to his work) through Gears of War to more recent comics and plays. And he has had a few variations of his name so, Luke then asks “…But I’m curious Cliff which best suits you now?” Cliff responds with “On my social media accounts, what I do is remind people of my past as I try and like kind of slingshot into my future and what’s going on now.” He goes by Clifford now as he brings up that he is almost 50 years old now. So early in the interview, this stuck out a lot to me. This man has decades of work and helped create memories for countless people. Along the journey and growth, his name somewhat evolved with him
“As a creative you just want to know that you’ve affected people in some way, but if the money if the money can hit money is good money never mattered to me more than during the fall of my first marriage.”CliffyB On His Relationship With Money
CliffyB And Money
He goes on to talk about money and how it’s important to make enough to be comfortable but don’t be greedy like Jeff Bezos. It is cool to see how human and down-to-earth Cliff is especially for someone who is an artist who created some of the most memorable games out there. He then starts going into how fathers and the loss of them was a big theme in Gears of War. And how that series was way more than a “dude-bro shooter” the emotional moments around Marcus and his father. Hell, even the heart-wrenching story of Dom and Maria (if you know you know).
Then it pivots on the heels of loss into the inspiration of his superhero dog comic book series “Scrapper.” And how it is inspired by the loss of his Australian Shepherd “…he was my divorce dog my gears one dog….” Scrapper is created to fill the badass Batman-esque gap in the super pet comic world. The thought of what the Paw Patrol generation of kids will enjoy when they get older is brought up.
The Hero’s Journey
Luke then asks about Marcus Fenix’s “hero’s journey” and how much of that mirrors Cliff’s life. Going from Jazz Jackrabbit to Broadway. Cliff goes on to talk about why he left Epic and created Boss Key Productions which led to Lawbreakers.
“…If you’re not on the front page of Twitch you’re dead…”Cliff Bleszinski
CliffyB The CEO
He brings up that he wasn’t the best CEO because he was too friendly with employees. While discussing the downfall of Boss Key Production he mentions how he has no desire to be a CEO ever again. He goes on to say, “I care too much.”
“Understanding people that aren’t necessarily the same as you is really an important life lesson.”Cliff Bleszinski
Cliff’s humility and humanity shine through in this conversation, and Luke does an excellent job of digging in and asking probing questions to spark discussion. So, after making it plain that he is not seeking any form of leadership position. The subject returns to games and Clifford’s desire to return to creation. Scrapper is used as an example, and the cost of developing games today appears to be an issue for him. He describes seeing Spider-Man, all of the elements, and drawing distance of New York City in the game. When he sees all of the features and advancements in game technology, all he notices is the expense of production.
“…If it was just Legendary we could have made it happen…”Cliff Discussing Gears of War Movie Issues
The interview switches back to Gears of War but as Luke says it “Transmedia” version of it. The Gears franchise is made for TV and movie but we still have not had it come to life yet. Clifford goes on to talk about how in the beginning when working with Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, they wanted to make a PG-13 version of the movie. Naturally, Clifford said, “Screw you guys.” But the point that stood out is there are apparently plans to make Gears of War into a Netflix series according to Clifford. He thinks that Hollywood is in a similar phase at the height of comic book movies but now with video games. Bringing up the success of the Mario movie and The Last of Us HBO show.
Cliff On Working With Gears Again
“Phil Spencer has my phone number you know he follows me on Twitter” in response to people on the social media app asking him to come back and fix the Gears franchise. He tells Luke that he gets no updates on anything around Gears of War. And is basically on the outside when it comes to information like us. But if Phil Spencer head of Xbox were to call he would answer. Clifford then goes on to say before the news of Epic selling the Gears of War IP to Microsoft was public, Phil Spencer called him personally to let him know.
“There’s a term I use “establishing character shot” you know you can tell the character of a person by their actions you know. And that just showed me that Phil was a stand-up guy and then I was thinking can I get some money off this.”Clifford Bleszinski
He goes on to say that there is a little bit of heart that is missing from Gears of War 4 and 5. And how he thinks the choice situation at the end of Gears 5 is dumb. “You know a death in a gears game should count, it should matter, it should make people cry.” The shining light in this moment though is that he wouldn’t mind for someone from Xbox to reach out to him so that he can give his two cents on the next entry. According to him, it would be a good PR move for the Gears community knowing he was part of the next title and I agree.
“…Nostalgia is the most powerful drug ever…”
When discussing the idea of the Marcus Fenix Collection. I did not catch a clear answer about the state of a Marcus Fenix collection but did note that there were points in the Gears of War remaster Clifford was not happy about. Now obviously to those who have played the first Gears of War, it leaned heavier into horror. He goes on to say “I have firsthand knowledge that uh, that’s one of the things that Phil Spencer Said to Rod Ferguson. Is that they wanted to get more of the horror stuff back into it (Gears of War).” He goes on to explain how Gears of War was always pitched as Resident Evil mixed with Kill Switch. But he was directed to take Gears of War 2 as a full-on Michael Bay war title.
Luke then goes on to ask, “CliffyB, Cliff, Clifford would CliffyB be proud of who you are now? Because there were a lot of demons you fought internally and to see who you are now would he be proud of himself?” Clifford goes on to say, “I would hope so, more importantly, I would hope that my father would be proud of me.”
There are about 12 more minutes of conversation that are worth listening to but I want to stop here. Seeing someone who has hit some of the highest points in this industry be so grounded and very human is refreshing. Clifford Bleszinski has his hands currently in comics with Scrapper and a few other business ventures so follow him on Twitter to stay current. But if you made it this far make sure to support Luke Lohr and the Xbox Expansion Podcast. This interview is phenomenal but he has more work worth diving into.