If you consider yourself a person remotely interested in game development and the creative process behind your favourite games, you will not want to miss one. David Jaffe, creator of the hit God of War and Twisted Metal franchises, sits down with us for a very frank and honest discussion on the gaming medium. Jaffe tells-all on his career, his future projects, Twisted Metal on PS3, thoughts on the creative process, predications on the fate of Nintendo's Wii U, and so much more. Enjoy!
GU: I've always found it fascinating that while you're known for triple-A titles - the God of Wars and the Twisted Metals of the world - you frequently muse about the smaller, independent and often downloadable side of game development.
When you look at where PlayStation Network is today and compare it to where it was when you worked in that space, do you think a game like Calling All Cars was a bit ahead of its time? Is something like Double Fine's recent downloadable model what you had envisioned doing?
David: No. I think Call All Cars had a couple of other problems... but I don't think I'd want to be doing what Double Fine is doing - where every six months it's a new, small game. I've been really fortunate in my career that I've been able to sort of trapeze from one thing that I'm really excited about onto something else. I've had those opportunities come my way - you build some of them but you also get lucky.
I mean, we're standing by all of these old arcade machines that I grew up with as a child - Space Invaders, Centipede, 1942, Rush 'N Attack for god sakes. I feel like I've gone back in time to Alabama, 1981. I grew up with these mechanics-driven games, and came off God of War, which was mechanics obviously, but it was also very story heavy and character heavy, and very scripted in a lot of ways. So as a designer, I was very interested in doing a mechanics-based game, something that kind of reminded me of the arcade. The goal [for Call All Cars], was to do that type of game.
Now I'm coming off Twisted Metal, which we've been on for about three years. It's a relatively expensive project in the scope of things - certainly not the biggest expensive game ever made, but it's a pretty expensive game.
I'm also talking to Eat Sleep Play and Sony about some really cool, big things next, but I'm still on the other end kicking around some ideas, saying 'Hey, I'd love to do a self-financed, indie-type thing'. Not an art project. I don't care about being an artist, but there's something I want to express. I guess that's artistic, but I also want it to be entertaining, engaging and commercial.
So it's less about wanting a company that does [indie] type of work, and more about working with people that allow me and them to make things that we're all interested in at the time. For me, I never get locked into a genre or scope of game, I just go from game to game based on where I'm at in my life and what interests me.
With Calling All Cars, if it came out today it would do better because the install base is bigger and there are more people who are used to using PSN, but a lot of [the game's problems] were that thematically it wasn't right. It was a cartoony game, and the system was $599 at the time - people who buy at $599 aren't looking for little kiddy games. The mechanics didn't match the gameplay, because the mechanics weren't kiddy. It wasn't something a five year-old could easily play, because it was meant to be deeper. So... we messed up with the theme - it should've been more appealing to traditional gamers - and the game just wasn't finished.
I have such respect for people who make these smaller games now. Iteration is everything in games, and we were coming at [Calling All Cars] from a console mindset, where you've got two to three years to iterate. When you're making small, low-budget games, you don't have the luxury financially to 'find' the game. So by the time we released Calling All Cars it was ready, but honestly, we probably should've let it cook for another six months.
The way I look at Calling All Cars is that it's like a great piece of bubble gum. It's really sweet, got great flavor, but after one or two plays you're done with it and it loses that flavor until go back a month later and it's fun again. There's no longevity to it and there's no value to it for the $9.99 we charged. I think if we would've had more time, we would've had the awareness to make the game deeper, add a team mode, add eight more weapons, and really address the things that were lacking.
A lot of people still tell me they loved the game, and I'm proud of it, but we didn't have the experience to know how to adjust our iteration schedule. Whereas now, if we were to make a small game like that, we would rush through to get to the game stage and then we would just iterate. We just didn't know.
That's a long fucking answer...
GU: [Laughs] No, that's great. There's a lot of good insights there.
So... for you it's not so much about the scope of game as it is about the studio environment and creative control?
David: You mean in terms of what I want to do next?
GU: That and the side of you that favors the smaller-scale side of development.
David: My next project and decision will be mainly based on my gut. You know the kind of games I make, I'm not out there making beautiful, evocative, emotional things like Flower or Journey, but I do come from the same place. What I mean is checking in with my spirit, checking in with my gut. What do I feel like I need to do at that time? I'm 40, I turned 40 last month so it's even more pressing. What do I want to do with my time on this planet? Every time an opportunity comes up to make a game, it's about checking in and figuring out where you want to spend your energy, because it's very finite.
Right now I have two roads in front of me. One is a really exciting opportunity with Eat Sleep Play and Sony. The other is doing this self-financed, balls hanging in the wind, taking my own money and seeing where the chips fall. They both really excite me like crazy, and I don't know which one it will be. After the show, after we wrap up Twisted Metal, I gotta go 'Okay, what do you want your life to be about next?'. That's how I'll figure it out.