Interviews with Cliff Bleszinski are always entertaining.
The one time I interviewed Mr Chmielarz was actually just as entertaining and perhaps a little more hilarious.
So what happens when you get the two of them together in a room to talk Bulletstorm? Hilarity and madness ensues.
Find out what the pair had to say regarding the game's demo, its reception thus far, their favourite one-liners from the game and even their thoughts on Pulp Fiction.
Don't miss this one, it's a treat!
With 2011 being possibly one of the biggest years for Epic, with Gears of War 3 and Bulletstorm, there seems to be quite a lot of pressure on Bulletstorm to deliver. What's the overall mood within the team at this point?
Cliff Bleszinski: Cautiously optimistic. If you'd have asked me before the demo came out, I would have said terrified. This is the thing; whenever you make games or work with partners who make games – Adrian has this world and these characters and he works with Rick (Remender) to bring it to life – and you're asked, do the skill shots need reiterating, and you're like, “I don't know!” But then it gets polished and fun and cool, then people on the forums start getting excited, although ten percent of people hate it, because ten percent of people hate everything.
Then the guys at Chair Entertainment come to us and say, “We wanna do an RPG with swords and do it on iPhone!” and we're like, “Maybe...” Then it comes out and it's the top grossing iPhone app, so at the end of the day, you get a good sense of the market and what will do well, but you have to trust your gut and go with what you think is cool, as well as the people you partner with. Otherwise, what do you really have to stand on? You can't just sit there and go, “Traditionally this genre for the last 20 years has had a really good yield in stock,” because then you just get a game that's made by the numbers that winds up becoming mediocre that nobody loves, and is just kind of “Meh”.
I mean, it's a huge question, right? But hopefully this year is going to be a really big year for us. We've been working on this for the last few years, really building up to it, so we're really looking forward to getting everybody's comments on it on a regular basis like a crackhead on Twitter.
Talking of Twitter, you were tweeting how you thought a lot of people might not 'get' the Bulletstorm demo. Were you really worried about that as a team before the demo came out?
CB: Like I said, before the demo came out, I wasn't really sure, right? Because I was playing it in the test lab with everybody and playing Anarchy mode, and it was changing the way we played. But it's so hard to re-train a player to play, especially with a genre they're so used to. With Gears, when you came out of level 1, we had to beat you over the head with a metal bat and say, “No! Get in cover, or you will die!” It was the same thing when the stealth genre came about and I think it's the same thing trying to teach players to play with regard to the skill shot system. Getting 10 points for killing a guy, I mean you're let down by that.
Adrian Chmielarz: It's ten-thousand different things, so I'll go back to Twitter for a second. Before the demo, we saw signs, right? Like at E3, people were standing in queue two or three times just to replay the demo and there were the internal reviews, but then you never know really, you just never know. Nobody knows anything in this business at the end of the day, so the demo was nerve-wracking, but the response has been totally outstanding.
But my favourite tweets are not from people who... Yeah, I love the fact that the guy who is number 1 on the leaderboards has already played for 56 hours of the three-minute demo. That's really awesome. But the tweets I love the most are the guys who are like, “Bulletstorm is shit, but I'm going to download the demo, because there's nothing else.” Then, in the second tweet: “As I expected, I didn't like it, but I'll give it another go.” An hour later: “Hmm, I'm warming up.” Then two hours later: “IN YOUR FACE! I just beat you score!” to a friend. Then they become believers, converted.
CB: The first time you have sushi, a lot of Americans are like, “Raw fish?! Where ah'm frum ah call that bait!” But then you eat it, and it's like, “That's not bad.” Then you're spending way too much money on awesome sushi, because you're addicted to it. It's like a cycle, I guess.
AC: But - going back to the 10 points (for killing a guy) - the reason why players start digging in, and why they have problems initially, is exactly because they approach Bulletstorm as a normal shooter, where the whole point is to kill the enemy as quickly as possible. So, they keep playing it like every other shooter, which is by repetition, like every other shooter. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it's just the mechanics. They're there, you're here and you wait for the guy to pop out and you kill that guy, then wait for another guy.
You don't really run around the battlefield, in a first-person shooter, so they kill a guy, they see '+10' and they are disappointed, as this has never happened before. You kill a guy in a first-person shooter and you should be happy, but you're not happy, because you had different plans for this guy. A headshot maybe, or set him on fire before that to get more points and be better than your friends.
CB: It's so awesome to give them 10. It's like I was saying before, you didn't give them zero. It's like giving somebody a really shitty tip. It's more insulting than nothing.
Were you worried that the demo was too short? Like you say, it is only a three-minute demo. Usually people like a 15-20 minute demo, to get a good feel for the game, or was the aim to get people to keep on replaying it?
AC: That was the goal, but if you offer everybody a million dollars and some people will be extremely happy about this, some people will say you're a fucker because you didn't give them two, some people will just say you've ruined the world's economy, so had we done say, 30 minutes of single-player, then people will bitch about the fact that it's not multiplayer, because they wanted to test out how the multiplayer works.
You can never win this war, so we just hope that when you finish the demo – and the first time it's not three minutes, it might be like 6-10 minutes and the guys from Giant Bomb took half-an-hour – what happens is you see the score, you see the points on the leaderboard and you see maybe two out of three stars. It's a very simple thing to make you think, “OK OK. I'll try to fight for three stars and see what happens,” and they start discovering things. We've had a surprisingly low number of people that haven't decided to play a second time around, so from that point of view, it was actually more successful than I thought.
CB: I think that's good. It's a demo, it should end when they're having fun and that serves the interest of what the demo is for. It finishes too soon, so that you walk away from it for the evening and you come back and think, that little moment was fun and I want to feel that again. You go back in and play, and before you know it you're watching the leaderboards and you've been playing for 56 hours or whatever. Always quit the game when they're having the most fun and that way they're not sick of it, so the next time you say, “Let's play dodgeball!” And you say, “Yeah, I love dodgeball,” as opposed to, “No, we played that for 40 hours last time.”
AC: It's two different things. Some people played it only once because they already knew they wanted Bulletstorm and just played for confirmation that yes, this it, it's over the top and I'm loving it, so I don't need to play anymore. Then there are people – and this was one of my favourite tweets actually - “My hands are typing, my eyes are reading reviews, but in my head I'm running scenarios on how to kill for more points in Bulletstorm.” That was a pretty cool tweet actually.
What's actually the maximum score you can get on the demo, or is there no maximum?
AC: That's the beautiful thing: I don't know. We have no idea, because we have no control over that. In the YouTube videos I'm seeing trick shots and stuff people are doing that we had never anticipated, and that was the idea behind Bulletstorm, to lose control of the system, which is terrifying and the testers hate us, but that's a really big win for us. When I watch these videos and go, “Wow, I didn't know you could do that! That's amazing!”, that makes me a very happy man. So, there is no limit.
CB: That's the funny thing about the demo too, is that there's only three guns. When you look at the full game with the full set of guns and the different Echoes, the grade suddenly becomes crazy, so it could take people years to figure out how to get maximum scores on all of those.
Is it hard to craft a story around all the high score mechanics and the whole testosterone-fuelled language and script?
CB: With the right creatives and the right writer, anything's possible. Look at movies like Adaptation or Buried, where you've got 90-minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a fucking box. So when you have the DNA of People Can Fly working with Epic and the lunacy of some of the moves you can do and the skill shots, then have Rick come in with his sense of humour, but then a certain amount of heart and if you explain the fiction of the skill shots and the leash just enough – not too much, not too little – so the player is like, “OK, it's greeting me: (General) Sarrano is an evil bastard and it all gels as one full unit, right?” If one thing is off, it doesn't work, but I think we've hit a really good sweet spot.
AC: It was sort of like a risk versus reward thing, where you risk a lot to gain a lot and we went for that big reward. I agree with you completely that with the right people it can work. Imagine talking about Pulp Fiction and trying to sell it to somebody. So, I have Samuel L. Jackson in the car with John Travolta as a gangster and they will be talking about a Big Mac, and this will be the most iconic scene in modern cinema history. Erm... OK, really? But then they pulled it off and it's the same thing. I think what really makes it work is exactly the writing, and you have a story of revenge, of redemption and it begins fairly seriously, but then on the other hand, you shoot people in the balls, so how do you merge the two? And it's the writing and the dialogue that in my opinion makes it work.
CB: In Pulp Fiction, you have these two guys having this mundane conversation that somehow becomes engaging because of the writing and the actors, then later on, Ving Rhames is being raped in a basement and you have Christopher Walken talking about a watch he hid up his ass, so it's the full spectrum and it's all in the execution as everything is.
AC: It's all execution, always, you know? If you go beyond Bulletstorm, I for example believed that there were genres that would never work, people believed that cowboy games would never work, because a lot of them were out there and none were particularly successful. But there you go! Red Dead Redemption – do it right and you have over 8 million or whatever units sold. So, it is always about the execution.
Do you have a favourite one-liner from the game? We were playing it earlier and a few that stood out were “fungal rim-job,” “pus-dicks” and “son of a dick”...
AC: That's the thing about Remender's writing, because actually, if you counted all of the four-letter words in the game, the number will not be as high as you think and it's actually less than in most mature rated games, but he makes it so beautiful. He twists the words and makes them all so much more memorable and I do think that “fungal ring job” does resonate with me. Actually, Sarrano is the biggest cocksucker in the game, but in my opinion, he has the best lines.
CB: You know the one that really stuck with me is more of an exchange when you first meet Trishka and she says, “I will shoot your dicks off and I will kill your dick,” and it's the first time that Grayson has been really caught off-guard, meeting this girl for the first time. This is not just some bimbo, and so he's like, “I'll... kill.. your dick...” and his delivery is just perfect.
AC: Yeah! What does that even mean?! It's funny that you mention that part, because we had a lead designer for the gameplay – he's a guy from the UK – and he came on-board in the middle of the project and he immediately became involved with gameplay aspects, but all he knew about the game was “dick tits” and stuff like that, so wasn't really sure about the story. He came running to me one day, really excited and said, “I just played the bit where you meet Trishka for the first time and now I can see that the story will be really fun,” and that was the first moment where he was really convinced that this could work.
Did you ever think that it might be a little too strong for some people?
AC: Hence the option to turn it off.
CB: But we knew going into this that when you see the tone of the game, there would always be a certain percentage of people that just really hated it and would be really upset by it, and in this world of people being distracted by message boards and hype being defined by how many comments there are on a website article about it, I'm OK with that. There's always going to be one person who jumps in and goes, “What are you guys talking about?! This is retarded!” But then everyone else will be like, “You don't get it! This is awesome!” We'd rather have it largely loved and slightly hated than have people be indifferent about it, right?
Bulletstorm started out as a third-person shooter and made the transition to first-person. Do you think it fits better now as an FPS and how did you get from being third-person to first-person?
AC: Blame me basically. What I love about third-person, is being able to see your character on the screen all the time, and that's something really, really cool. Then I played three first-person games in a row and they were actually quite bad, but I realised...
AC: (Laughs)…I realised...
CB: Excellent dodge, sir.
AC: ...I realised that I was deeply immersed in the world, and I realised that if this is going to be a game that's going to be about this internal struggle – you're fighting against enemies, but in Echoes especially, you're really fighting more against yourself and your skills: whether you can pull it off – and I thought it's going to be a more visceral and immersive experience if we switch to first-person, so that's how it was born.
Bulletstorm is scheduled for a February 22nd and February 25th release in North America and Europe respectively.