Discussing the promotion of a new Gears of War game, he describes the process as like "firing bullets" from a belt filled with slugs of hype, ramping up the buck-shots to ultimately convince someone to part with their hard earned cash. For Gears of War 3, this means highlighting what is claimed to be the biggest single-player campaign Epic has ever created, along with extensive co-operative and competitive multiplayer modes. But equally, Bleszinski understands that endearing a studio and its games to the public is sometimes about honesty being the best policy.
After its release in 2008, the online Versus component of Gears of War 2 was beset with matchmaking issues, meaning many players were left enduring long waits to find matches online. Bleszinski expressed his hope to be able to put a copy of Gears of War 3 in his Xbox 360 on the release day and "actually find someone online".
Gears of War 3 multiplayer map Courtyard
He added: "The worst thing about the Gears 2 launch was going online and seeing that little circle spinning. I was like, 'This is bad'. I think the series will progress and grow, but it was limited by that, because other games came in and said, 'Hey we work', and people were like, 'Alright'."
Bleszinski refers to Gears of War 3 as a game he wants people to "marry, not date", an aim which is almost wholly dependent on getting the online game right. He has even gone on the record as saying that the future of the franchise and indeed Epic Games "depends on it". Gears of War 2 sold very well and garnered critical acclaim, but Bleszinski knows that the multiplayer problems held it back from its true potential. He also accepts that the decision to shun an online beta for the game was a mistake.
"Gears 2 did very well for us but at the same time it could have been even better if the online had been consistent and worked well," he said. "I am perfectly willing to admit when we make mistakes and when I am wrong. In the same way, I have said in the past that betas and demos are wrong for games, because then gamers have the initial taste of it. I think now that for some games a beta doesn't make sense, but with an online game when you are expecting gamers to play for thousands of hours, I think a beta makes huge sense."
Gears of War 3 multiplayer map Trenches
Initially, Epic was not going to run a beta for Gears 3, but the studio wisely changed its stance and launched a public trial of the game's competitive Versus multiplayer. According to recently-released statistics, the multiplayer beta attracted 1.29 million users from over 145 countries in its four-week run up to May 15. The players completed more than 11m matches, racked up 927,000 kills, fired almost 23 billion bullets and performed more than 131m executions. But for Bleszinski, the real value of the beta was in getting the chance to iron out any problems before Gears of War 3 hits the shops.
"At the start of the beta we had some issues with servers and so on, but I would much rather have had that now than on [Gears 3 release date] September 20, because if people have paid $60 for something, we have to deliver a polished product," he said. "It was up and down with the servers in the first couple of weeks, but we got a handle on them and people had a great experience online. You need a rock solid day one, or people are not only going to move on to other games, but they are also going to move on to social networks, viral videos or whatever. We live in an incredibly distracted world right now. Getting people's attention is hard enough, but keeping them glued is even harder."
Like many people, Bleszinski is "addicted" to Twitter, mostly because the micro-blogging website gives him the chance to engage with the fan community and deal with problems more quickly. He claims to read every single comment posted about Gears of War, which has "ruined quite a few of [his] dinners" as he leaves halfway through the meal to sort out a misquoted PR story or some other mini crisis.
"But it's also about doing fun stuff," he added. "Like getting the fans to shave the Crimson Omen into their chest hair and things like that; that's awesome, right? Engage with them, treat them with respect but occasionally play with them and toy with them so they will enjoy it even more."
Gears of War 3 multiplayer map Overpass
Feedback from the Gears 3 beta has proved encouraging for Bleszinski, particularly in the balance of the weapons. Previously, Gears of War online was considered to be completely biased towards 'Gnasher' shotgun players, with Lancer rifles viewed as woefully underpowered. However, users in the beta complained that all weapons were overpowered, which Bleszinski said is a "good problem to have" for an online shooter.
"It means that people are going online, they are fighting matches, they are having a good connection and they are taking each other out and they are being taken out," he said. "There are also minor things that we are looking at, regarding some tweaks with the Retro Lancer and the sawn-off, but overall it's not just a shotgun game anymore, which makes me very happy. It was never meant to be a shotgun game. The majority of complaints are from people who are used to running over people with the Gnasher. But, you know what, change is here and embrace or die, guys."
Changing any game, however, is a difficult balance between safeguarding the hardcore fanbase, while also introducing much-needed new ideas and features. Bleszinski said that it's about finding the "sweet spot", and that means using fan feedback, videos posted on YouTube from the beta and the studio's considerable experience to strike the right balance. Doing this is essential, said Bleszinski, because otherwise another game will come in and win the battle for consumers' cash.
Gears of War 3 multiplayer map Checkout
In May, Activision confirmed the worst-kept secret in the video game industry that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will be released this November. The first-person shooter series has grown into a goliath, multi-billion dollar franchise over the years mostly on the back of its all conquering online multiplayer, and that is likely to continue with Modern Warfare 3.
While Gears of War, as a third-person rather than first-person shooter, is not a direct competitor to Call of Duty, it's clear that any online game must fear the long shadow of a new Modern Warfare title. Bleszinski, like pretty much everyone at Epic, is a huge fan of Call of Duty. He said that he will "pick up the next game and play the s**t out of it"; but he also stressed that Gears of War is "third-person and has monsters", making it halfway between Call of Duty and Halo.
"I am glad that we are not a game that is set in the Middle East where you have iron sights and are fighting terror. They got that, but we will be over here doing our stuff," he said. "We will use the mechanics of long-time rewards and medals, but we don't want to do kill streaks or perks because we are not that game, we are not going to do something just because someone else does it. You have to look at what a Gears player wants and look at what makes sense for them. We know that people enjoy executions, so we have introduced rewards for doing more executions and I think it all balances out pretty well."
Gears of War 3 multiplayer map Thrashball
One area that Gears of War has really excelled in multiplayer is with Horde mode, which has become synonymous with co-op matches involving the survival of wave after wave of computer-controlled enemies. The third game introduces Horde 2.0, designed as an evolution of the mode featuring new fortifications, bigger bosses and even more ways to dispatch the Locust. But revamping such a beloved multiplayer mode must surely have been a daunting challenge, no?
"Gears of War 2, for a lot of people, was Horde," said Bleszinski. "They digest the campaign in two or three days, they had issues with the multiplayer due to connection issues or whatever, or the choices we had made, and hopefully that will be resolved due to the beta or whatever, but Horde is the one that is a no-brainer that we must not screw up. Hopefully, we have done a pretty good job on it."
He added: "Good game design requires good telegraphing. It goes back to Quake 1, when the guy holds up his arms and shoots lightening. It's about getting out of the way. If you get hit by the lightning, you blame yourself; you don't blame the game designers. So the Boom Shot has some lights on the tip, the One Shot (sniper rifle) has a laser on the sight and if you get hit, well, you should have seen it coming!"
Gears of War 3 will be released exclusively on Xbox 360 on September 20 worldwide.
More Gears of War 3 coverage:
> Gears of War 3: Horde 2.0 preview
> Gears of War 3: Rod Fergusson on Horde 2.0
> Gears of War 3 interview: Lee Perry on gameplay and enemies
> Gears of War 3 hardware revealed - E3 2011
> Gears of War 3 sets Xbox pre-order record
Watch the Gears of War 3 Campaign Champions League trailer below: