Cliff Bleszinski

On this date in 1975, video game mastermind Cliff Bleszinski, aka CliffyB, was born to Karyn and Walt Bleszinski and grew up in Andover, Mass. He would go around the house impersonating “Saturday Night Live” characters, and in sixth grade successfully auditioned at his mother’s behest as Michael Darling in a local production of “Peter Pan.”

A self-described “drama geek” in high school, he played Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” and was a lead in productions of “Rumors” and “Ten Little Indians.” He would later say drama was his second love after video games. He garnered mention in the first issue of Nintendo Power magazine when he was 13 for earning a high score of just 50 points under 10 million on Super Mario Bros. At 15, he came in second at the Nintendo World Championships.

Bleszinski started his own company, Game Syndicate Productions, as a teen with the Palace of Deceit game in 1991. His father, a Polaroid engineer, had died the previous year of a heart attack when Bleszinski was 15. The loss was one of two unsettling events in his early life. The other was being molested at about that same time by a man he met in an online chat room. “I was perfect prey for him,” he wrote in his memoir “Control Freak” (2022): “All these years later I still struggle with what happened: Was I that naive?”

His mother moved him and his two brothers with her to California. Joining Epic Games in 1992, he had his first major career success co-developing Jazz Jackrabbit, which became Epic’s best-selling game. Further design milestones came with the Unreal game in 1998 that spawned a franchise and the Gears of War series launched in 2006.

Bleszinski left Epic in 2012 and co-founded Boss Key Productions in 2014 in Raleigh, N.C. The company closed in 2018 after some financial flops. He married professional gamer Lauren Berggren in 2012. “My greatest triumph would have to be finding and eventually marrying my amazing wife. I still have no idea how I landed her.” (Reddit forum, Sept. 14, 2012)

His relationship with his mother, now deceased, was fraught at times after the death of his father, he wrote in “Control Freak.” She was prone to ignore him, and when he bought her a car after getting his first big payout, she told him “Shaq bought his mom a house,” referring to NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. Bleszinki’s net worth was estimated at $16 million as of this writing in 2024.

He could also be outspoken about his lack of religious beliefs. “OK look, religion gives a lot of dumb people purpose in life. It builds communities. I get it. But history has shown, time and time again, that it is misused for misery and profit. All usually built on ‘what happens when you die?’ Spoiler: NOTHING.” (X, formerly Twitter, May 29, 2023) Ten years before that, therealcliffyb tweeted “And I’m not Jewish. I’m an Atheist.” He has over 200,000 followers on X.

After Boss Key shuttered, Bleszinski opened two restaurants in Raleigh and returned to theater, co-producing Anaïs Mitchell’s musical “Hadestown,” which opened on Broadway in 2019 and won eight Tony Awards. He subsequently invested in the 2019 Broadway revival of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”

He made his comics debut in 2023 with “Scrapper” in collaboration with Alex De Campi and Sandy Jarrell. The sci-fi series focused on a dog who rebels against the controlling forces of a post-apocalyptic city.

PHOTO: Bleszinski at Game Developers Conference 2016 in San Francisco; GDC photo under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation