Who Wants Cliff Bleszinski?

Cliff Bleszinski has defined modern gaming with the cover mechanic, and his games have popularized the use of the now ubiquitous Unreal engine. Now, he’s as free as a bird, hobnobbing with every major development studio he can get in to, potentially looking for a new place to call home.

Fans are giddy with excitement over the possibilities, but has anyone stopped to ask, “Who would really want him?”

One of the companies Bleszinski visited first was Double Fine, currently developing the Double Fine Adventure after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Trips to Naughty Dog, Irrational Games, Valve, and Respawn Entertainment followed, and fans were teased with tweets every step of the way. By making the stops public knowledge, Bleszinski has kept his fans engaged and interested throughout an otherwise boring course of events.

While his strengths may be obvious, there are problems with marrying Bleszinski with any of these companies, the biggest of which simply boils down to personality. Each company already has a figurehead, or someone to be “the face.” It would be a difficult position for any company to have two such individuals, and any good PR person would tell you – point blank – to avoid that scenario.

Tim Schafer, Amy Hennig, and Ken Levine have all been the public face of their companies for longer than most people realize, and whatever Bleszinski does next, he won’t be able to just “take a back seat.” He’s a personality as well as a focal point, and it could create confusion to have two such people as public leads at any company.

Not only are these individuals the public faces of these companies, but in many instances they’re the creative leads as well. It would be difficult to argue that Brutal Legend isn’t born of Tim Schafer’s imagination, or that Bioshock wasn’t a fiction penned by Ken Levine, and adding another intensely creative individual like Bleszinski might only fracture these narratives and leave the game feeling disjointed.

Another problem is fan perception. It’s exciting to think about what a game like Left 4 Dead could be with Bleszinski’s input, but in all likelihood it wouldn’t be the best use of his talents. As already argued, adding his touch to worlds that players already love would be like asking Paul McCartney to front KISS – the compromises that would have to be made creatively would likely have a negative impact on the final product.

One of the more interesting notes from Bleszinski wasn’t a tease of a studio visit, but a public offer to Capcom to “fix Resident Evil.” Whether or not he meant it in jest, several sites sought to legitimize the offer by featuring the tweet as a news item.

Would Capcom really let him take the reigns? They could certainly do worse – Bleszinski’s status as a celebrity tends to overshadow the fact that he’s a gifted game designer. From Jazz Jackrabbit to Gears of War, and even including his work with the oft overlooked Bulletstorm, his track record in design can’t be overstated.

While it would seem that Cliff Bleszinski could walk in the door anywhere and start work immediately on any project he wanted to, his best move would be to work independently, avoiding entanglement with any major studio. He’s hinted that he would have liked to have done things differently in the Gears of War series, and games that he’d produce independently certainly wouldn’t be subject to those kinds of restrictions.

It’s become increasingly popular for designers and developers to leave the confines of AAA development for the risky – but rewarding – waters of independence; the results are usually interesting if nothing else. Bleszinski’s certainly got the capital to pull it off, and with an industry in flux it would be the perfect time to make that kind of move.

He’s got the tools, he’s got the talent – now let’s see if he’s got the guts.