Cliff Bleszinski (Credit: Getty Images)There aren't a lot of celebrity game developers. The profession, by and large, isn't one that lends itself to the limelight. But Cliff Bleszinski has been a rare exception to that rule.
Camera-friendly, highly energetic and never at a loss for words, the design director for such titles as Gears of War and the Unreal franchise was a natural on talk shows like Jimmy Fallon. Yesterday, though, he shocked the industry by announcing plans to leave Epic Games, his video game home for the past 20 years.
Bleszinski hasn't announced his future plans, though they almost certainly will involve game development. For now, he says, he's ready for a rest.
"I've been doing this since I was a teenager, and outside of my sabbatical last year, I have been going non-stop," he wrote in a farewell note to colleagues. "I literally grew up in this business, as [Epic President] Mike likes to say. And now that I'm grown up, it's time for a much needed break."
Bleszinski first rose to fame in 1994 with Jazz Jackrabbit. He was just 19 at the time, but the game's sci-fi take on the venerable Tortoise and the Hare story captured people's imagination. Contrary to popular belief, though, that wasn't his first game.
That honor goes to The Palace Of Deceit: Dragon's Plight -- a long-forgotten adventure game where the player helps a dragon escape a dungeon and carry out revenge against the kingdom that imprisoned him.
It wasn't long before the man once known as CliffyB was putting his stamp on the influential first-person Unreal franchise and developing the concept for Gears of War, which has made more than $1 billion life to date.
It's Bleszinski's personality that has always endeared him to countless gamers -- and aggravated just as many. He famously attended industry events wearing outfits ranging from pimp suits to a bunny outfit. Four years ago, he put that oversized persona behind him, saying it was time to "time to grow up a bit."
While he recharges his batteries, expect the industry to buzz about where and when he will return. Bleszinski is not only a voice for the industry, he's also one of its most talented creative forces -- and the thought of him leaving permanently is something few want to contemplate.
"Cliff has been my friend and business associate for the past 20 years and, while it is sad to see him move on from Epic, I know that everyone here has benefitted greatly from his passion for gaming and the depth of his expertise and experience," said Mark Rein, vice president of Epic. "I'll miss watching his star shine from such a close vantage point but I'll still look forward to watching his continued success."