When you think of Gears of War, generally one face comes to mind, and it’s not Marcus Phoenix but rather the game’s lead designer, Cliff Bleszinski (Cliffy B). While some other game designers are publicly associated with the games they make, Cliffy has become very present in the public eye as the guy behind Gears. We are now seeing the same kind of figure emerge at Ubisoft in the form of Jade Raymond, who oversaw the production of Assassin’s Creed. In other mediums of entertainment it’s not uncommon to see the creator associated with their work. In books, an author is obviously connected with their work because they are the sole creative force behind their art form. In film the director is also normally associated with the movies they make, since the images we see all originate from their vision.
So can the same thing apply to videogames? In a way, it’s a little harder because so many people are intimately involved with their creation and are generally there from beginning to end. While there are designers and lead designers, videogames are so complex that they involve a tremendous amount of effort and involvement from people across many departments. However the most important factor that separates literature and film from games is that they are passive entertainment, where as a videogame is a piece of software that the user interacts with, and is constantly changing. After looking at games this way, it’s hard to imagine the same kind of creative hierarchy existing in a development team.
It could be said that people like Cliff Bleszinski exist more for the purpose of the marketing campaign rather than the actual development of the game, and instead act more as spokespersons. The benefit is that by doing this, more people may be ready to accept games as an art form instead of some sort of technological machinery churned out by faceless drones in a factory. This could be why so many critics are sceptical about qualifying games as an art form, because unlike books and film, there is not usually present human persona behind a videogame. So by having an artist present, game publishers may be able to have their games seen as art.
This a very noble prospect but there are some problems with the way the industry goes about creating this human component, and all you have to do is look at who’s in the spotlight. First, both Cliffy and Jade have television experience, Jade used to appear regularly on the Electric Playground and Cliffy has hosted G-Phoria awards in the past. So both of these individuals already have experience with public speaking. But if these personalities are spending so much time giving interviews and speaking at trade shows, when are they hard at work on the game that apparently they are the driving creative force behind?
Another issue is the fact that Jade and Cliffy aren’t exactly representative of the population of the games industry. In one corner we have a built tattooed guy wearing brand name shirts, and in the other a very attractive woman. My point is not meant to stereotype the figure of the game developer, but what are the odds that the people mostly shown to be the brains behind the games are attractive and charismatic.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Cliffy and Jade definitely are just two models cast as game developers. Cliffy has had years of experience working on the Unreal Games and Jade has a degree in computer science and previously worked as a programmer for Sony. But it has only been recently that these two individuals have started to appear on your set so often. In Jade’s case, it could even be more inappropriate to call Assassin’s Creed her baby when she plays the role of producer and probably isn’t in the trenches as often as the design team. Ubisoft has not directly referred to Jade the one that breathed life in to AC, but she is definitely being represented that way, and is seen as such by the public.
During the time leading up to Gears of War’s release, Cliffy was giving interviews all over the place in print and on TV, so it seems he was able to get out of the office during crunch time. If you look at all his interviews and addresses it becomes clear that he always gives the same basic pitch about what the philosophy was behind the design of the game. The same has happened with Jade Raymond, who spoke at Microsoft’s press conference at E3 2007 and didn’t really give out any information that we had never heard. Instead it felt more like the Price is Right and one of Barker’s beauties was standing beside a new Dodge Caravan waving to everyone.
So it is obvious that the industry in North America is starting to give some of their designers face time, but are we really speaking to the people behind the game themselves? It’s always nice to see people get recognized for their work and the industry definitely needs it to appear as a legitimate art form and not as some robotic toy company that the naysayers believe it to be. However, there are designers out there that don’t do it for the fame and glory.
Prior to BioShock’s release, the lead designer Ken Levine appeared on the OXM Podcast and was asked if he thought designers should get more credit and exposure for their work. He replied by saying he really didn’t care how much exposure he received but instead wanted people to play the game for themselves rather than listen to him jabber on. Some people don’t wish to constantly run down stages screaming their creation’s name out and would rather just have the work speak for itself, which is really the mark of a true artist.