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Games Forecast 2003

Advance word on the most promising new releases of the year

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''UNREAL II'' DESIGNER CLIFF BLESZINSKI PROVES WHY HE'S THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS

His hair color is blue -- or green or red -- depending on what day it is. ''People say, 'What kind of job lets you have red hair and drive a Dodge Viper?''' says 27-year-old Cliff Bleszinski. The answer: hipster executive producer for videogame ''Unreal II: The Awakening.'' Cliffy B., as he's known to peers, is the kind of guy screenwriters tail for character studies, which is exactly what Zak Penn did last summer while writing ''John Doe,'' a sci-fi film starring Wesley Snipes. Yet Bleszinski, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., isn't planning on going Hollywood anytime soon: In L.A. driving a Viper and top of your field don't mix.

Bleszinski will likely remain preeminent with the new ''Unreal,'' one of the twitchiest actioners yet. What makes the entire series more significant than the average alien splatterfest is that anyone can crack open the engine and use its parts to build other games, like the PC hit ''Deus Ex.'' The platform is also the basis of animation technology used by Steven Spielberg to map out shots for ''A.I. Artificial Intelligence.'' And what makes ''Unreal II'' cooler still is a sophisticated camera and editing suite called Matinee. Says Bleszinski: ''The next Tarantino in his garage could be using it to make his own little movie.'' (February)

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