GDC 2012: Cliffy B Loves Musicals, Learned Marketing From a Pimp in “Miss Saigon”

“I’m a real emotional guy. I cry in Les Mis.” This admission, by outspoken game designer Cliff Bleszinski, comes as something as a surprise. Speaking during “Forgotten Tales Remembered,” a panel which asked big names like Sid Meier, John Romero, and Will Wright to discuss the classic games that had the biggest influence on their careers, the Gears of War creator was waxing rhapsodic about Legend of Zelda when the conversation suddenly took a turn down Broadway.

Bleszinski remembers being impressed by Zelda’s striking gold cartridge, which taught him an early lesson in the value of marketing. The rest of Cliffy B’s marketing know-how, however, comes from his love of Miss Saigon.

The musical, a re-telling of the classic opera Madame Butterfly, is set in a brothel during the Vietnam war. Each night the owner/pimp, a character known as The Engineer, chooses one prostitute to be “Miss Saigon,” and raffles her off to the assembled G.I.’s at an increased price. This system apparently had a profound effect on Bleszinski, who can hardly complain in the future if he is ever accused of “whoring” his games out.

Other highlights from the panel:

  • Will Wright
    • Forgotten Tale Remembered: Pinball Construction Set (1983)
    • Notable for its creative gameplay, emphasis on system design, and graphical UI.
  • Sid Meier
    • Forgotten Tale Remembered: Seven Cities of Gold (1984)
    • Notable for diverse, open-world gameplay, randomly generated maps that streamed off the disc, and its historical setting.
    • Big influence on Meier’s games.
    • Despite the rudimentary graphics, the game was still powerful. As Meier explained: “It’s not about what you can show on the screen, it’s about what you can cause to happen in a player’s imagination. The gamer’s imagination is the most powerful tool.”
    • The ability in certain gameplay sequences to “Amaze the Natives” convinced Meier that he was a Conquistador. “As game designers, we have incredibly dangerous powers.”
  • John Romero
    • (Forgotten) Tale Remembered: Pac-Man (1980)
    • After a brief foray through gaming history, Romero (and his flowing locks) explained how Pac-Man changed games by offering color, cutscenes, characters (in the different ghosts), and gameplay that didn’t involve either driving or shooting.
    • Claimed that he could beat the first three screens without looking at them, at the height of his teenage powers.
  • Q&A
    • Wright: Thinks whimsical, funny play encourages players to explore more and take more risks. The Sims also solved hard design challenges and approached them with humor.
    • Bleszinski: Thinks someone should make a “Homeless Simulator” game. Didn’t elaborate on how that would work.
    • Meier: “We’re in danger of being self-referential as an industry.” Encouraged designers to draw on diverse experiences when designing, not just other games.
    • Romero: Burnished his credentials as the creator of multiplayer deathmatches.

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