That’s what I thought I might be doing on September 27th, but due to some insane circumstances “my” interview with Bleszinski was only “mine” in the sense that I wrote the questions for an off-camera producer to ask. They were questions I was intended by G4 to be asking myself, but hear me now as I tell the tale of insanity that is the Cliff Bleszinski interview I’ve been chasing since March.
Like I said in the G4 piece, I covered Bleszinski’s keynote for GDC, which is where I decided I wanted to take him up on the offer to do a more personal interview. Bleszinski and Ken Levine are the two closest things we have to rock stars in Western video game development, and the unfortunate thing about rock stars is that they’re fake. Rock star personas are created by artists and producers to sell records. To be clear, in the case of Bleszinski and Levine the analogy is really only appropriate for both of them together if it’s in reference to the amount of attention that they get.
Taken separately, I’ve never felt like Levine puts anything for the camera. Our off the record conversations aren’t much different than our on record discussions, except maybe he swears a little more off the record. The “rock star” persona around Levine of “the smartest man in video games” has mostly been a construction of the video game press, because it’s a pretty obvious angle to take, and so my goal when I profiled Levine for The Escapist last year was to try and cut through that media construction.
Bleszinski, however, has historically put on a show for the press and everyone else. The rock star analogy is therefore much more apt without the need to slap any caveats on it. And while I researched my questions for this interview, and watched the old footage of him from five years ago with the insane outfits and the crazy hair and all the rest, I said to myself “Bullshit. That’s not Cliff Bleszinski.”
Hence when Bleszinski dropped that bait in the water at GDC, he piqued my interest, and I waited for an opportunity. Dana Cowley, Epic’s senior PR maven, was pretty happy with my Karen Traviss interview, so I figured I’d found my springboard into an interview with Bleszinski, and as G4 has been a very good outlet for me, I pitched my angle to my editor over there. I’d have to go over my email trail to see how that conversation began and developed, but on Tuesday, Sept. 27th, around 7:00 p.m., I received an email from said editor saying that this had come together extremely quickly, and asking if I could fly down to Epic Games on Thursday to do a profile interview with Cliff Bleszinski.
I had to go to my Uncle’s funeral in New Jersey on Thursday.
We agreed that I would research and write the questions for the on-camera interview, and then write a profile piece that would work around the video. That left me with a ridiculously-small amount of time to do research, and I was still composing questions in the car on the way down to Jersey for my Uncle’s wake on Wednesday, netbook propped on my knees and searching the web on my iPhone. I did the best I could, and hopefully between the questions and the written accompaniment helped provide a profile that the audience will enjoy.
I only wish I’d been able to conduct the interview myself, reading the questions precisely as written, and following-up where the opportunity presented itself. Because this was being done for video, even if I were there in person I’m not sure I would have been able to get the interview I still want with Bleszinski, which is a truly personal conversation. Video pieces like these are all about chopping up the footage and editing, not presenting a coherent dialogue:
I received copies of the raw footage, just Bleszinski shot against a green screen, so that I could pull quotes and otherwise compose the accompanying, written piece, and that raw footage was SO much more interesting to me than what showed up in the video feature.
Watching Bleszinski try not to crack up as the production assistant (or whoever) failed to mark the takes properly with the slate, and the producer said “Take seven, eight, nine” in reference to that single take was hilarious. For the record, that’s not a criticism, either. I wouldn’t have been fastidious with my slate for a shoot like this, either. No need.
Watching Bleszinski stop himself in the middle of a sentence because he didn’t like the way it was coming out, pausing to “gestate” the question (his words), and then taking another run at the question again was fascinating. He did this because he was shooting video and therefore needed to produce succinct nuggets of answers for editing (Bleszinski is clearly a pro at this), but watching this process really made it hit home why most developers WANT public relations folks standing between them and the press. Talking to the press must be a colossal pain in the ass!
I also found myself thinking “No wonder we have so few rock stars in video games.” Bleszinski likes to talk about designers getting up on stage and introducing their games themselves, but the two designers who are best known for doing so, Bleszinski and Levine, have theater backgrounds, so of course they’re comfortable in front of the camera. Bleszinski talks about this all the time in interviews, how most game developers are the kinds of guys who sat in their basement writing code while everyone else went out to party. I don’t know enough developers to feel entirely comfortable assenting to that stereotype, but the few developers I know (and most of the game journos) ARE delightfully nerdy/geeky. So maybe Bleszinski’s correct, in which case I never expect there to be more than a handful of game developers or designers who ever become public faces for the industry like he and Levine have.
Watching Bleszinski try to crack jokes with the G4 film crew, and then seeing the uncertainty in his eyes when there was no overt reaction from them, was also fascinating. Even with all his practice at this, Bleszinski still looked a little unsure of himself. Those moments of uncertainty were very true and sympathetic moments. I hope I get to spend some time with Bleszinski in person someday, off the record and not on the clock as a journo, because this idea of him being an arrogant douche, like some gamers throw at him, seems like complete and utter bullshit.