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Cliff Bleszinski on Doom Co-Creator John Romero: 'I Saw Him as My Enemy'

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Video game industry veteran Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski has admitted he had an intense rivalry with id Software co-founder and Doom co-creator John Romero in the 1990s when he was working at Epic Games.

Speaking to IGN, Bleszinski said that, as the co-designer of Unreal, he was "gunning to try and defeat" id Software's Quake and its lead designer and director Romero.

"I saw Romero as my enemy," he said. "He was dating Stevie Case at the time, who's in Playboy and whatnot, and I was like, 'I'm going to take that guy down'. It goes back to, again, the whole, I had nothing and I wanted it, you had everything and you flaunted it. So we were gunning to try and defeat [Quake]."

"I saw Romero as my enemy. He was dating Stevie Case at the time, who's in Playboy and whatnot, and I was like, 'I'm going to take that guy down'.

He continued: "Romero was one of the first rockstar game designers and I looked at his playbook and I tried to emulate it as much as possible. He had his signature long hair, he has his painted nails, 'It's rock and roll, mate,' and then I was doing the whole blonde hair, the red hair, changing my looks up a lot because [of] being a pop culture nut."

Bleszinski said Epic utilized the concept of "counter programming" at the time, where they'd consider what id Software was doing, then do the opposite to one-up them and appeal to a different audience.

"Yes, we were making a multiplayer first person shooter, but we wanted to have bright colours, not make it kind of dark and dreary," he said. "Same thing with the first Unreal. Unreal had the bright coloured lighting, it had sky castles, it had all these beautiful environments, whereas Quake was deep, dark, Trent Resner fuelled, Cthulhu dungeons."

Though he's now good friends with Romero, Bleszinski admitted he went too far with some elements of the rivalry. Romero founded Ion Storm after leaving id Software in 1996, but the studio didn't have much success and shut down in 2005.

"It really is a classic Hollywood kind of story, rooting for Romero to fall," Bleszinski said. "I wound up recruiting a whole bunch of really, really talented people at Epic Games [when Ion Storm shut down], but it's one of those things that, in hindsight, it was really dickish to have the schadenfreude of seeing somebody else's studio fail.

"Then, again, the matrix God was sending me another signal, like, 'well now your studio's going to fail. You're going to see how it f**king feels'," he added.

Bleszinski co-founded Boss Key Productions in 2014 and the studio began work on Lawbreakers, a PC arena shooter intended to rival Overwatch. Though he again deployed his "counter programming" strategy in an attempt to take down Blizzard's game, Lawbreakers did not take off and Boss Key Productions shut down in 2018.

Romero, on the other hand, is currently creating a new first person shooter in (ironically) Unreal Engine 5, and is also developing Sigil 2 (which will run on Doom 2’s engine) at his studio Romero Games.

Ryan Dinsdale is an IGN freelancer. He'll talk about The Witcher all day.

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