Continuing our chat with the iconic game designer...
GU: Especially working on big-budget games, because you're committing several years of your life to any given project.
David: That's right. Absolutely. I'm in the process of digesting all of those lessons.
A lot of people will say, 'You came off God of War, you could have done anything, why did you go back to Twisted Metal?'. Well, we had done Call All Cars and it didn't do well. It made its money back so it wasn't a failure, and with the exception of a couple reviews, it got 8s and 9s. It wasn't the world's best game, but it wasn't a piece of shit. I still have fans to will come up to me maybe five times a day in places like [E3] and tell me they really loved the game. The story I always tell, because it means so much to me, is that I had a guy write to me and say, 'My buddy and I, who is getting chemotherapy for cancer, play this all of the time splitscreen and it makes him so happy'. That kind of thing means the world to me.
So why did I do Calling All Cars and Twisted Metal after God of War? I think it was a sense of 'Wow! God of War made a lot of money for [Sony]', and it made good money for [Santa Monica Studios] but none of us got rich on the team. We weren't driving Ferrari's. Sony didn't owe us that and none of us were upset about it, but there was an awareness of 'Shit. If you're going to put this much of your soul and spirit in, you need to put yourself in a business climate where you can benefit first creativity, but if there is a hit, you can enjoy the financial rewards of success.'.
I made decisions after I left Sony more based on that than on making a game. If I was just thinking about the game, I would've pushed back against members of the team on Calling All Cars. It originally started as an X-rated - still cartoony but it was body, it was sexual - title, because I thought it would appeal to gamers who had just bought a PS3 and would be unique. I respected that some members of the team found that offensive, but what I should've done was either push back in the interests of the project or put the game on hold until Scott [Campbell], the team and I had found an equally appealing theme that wasn't offensive.
I put chasing the deal and the money ahead of the purity of the creative process and it shows in the result. Now I'm getting to a place where I'm trying to find a better balance, and getting into a situation where the money is there if the game is good, but it's not the main goal. You're not doing pure creative work without any upside, while everyone else makes a lot of money and you just get a nice bonus check and a pat on the head. It's a constant, evolving process of learning for me.
You didn't expect an interview this long did you?
GU: Well... no, but it's fantastic.
So knowing all these lessons on where you want to be creatively, financially and in the a business sense, where does your work on Twisted Metal PS3 fit into that?
David: Basically... Calling All Cars comes out, it didn't tank but it wasn't a hit. I had come off God of War - which was a hit both financially and creatively - and Scott had come off Twisted Metal: Head On - not a Game of the Year, but was successful financially. We thought, 'Hey, we both like having hits... Fuck! This sucks not having a hit'. So we decided to do a Twisted Metal, because fans had been asking for it for a long, long time.
I regret... I'm ashamed of the way we greenlit Twisted Metal. I'm ashamed that I didn't stick to my guns more and say, 'Yeah, we got knocked down [with Calling All Cars] and it wasn't a hit, but we still want to do something original like that. Let's wipe your bloody noses and get back in the fight'. I am ashamed that I didn't have the balls to continue and instead said, 'Well, we know we can have a hit with Twisted Metal, so let's make a great game with that'.
We started Twisted Metal as a PSN game and it wasn't love as first sight. But what ended up happening, as we started developing it we realized after about a week that we still genuinely loved it. We think there's a lot more here that we had just forgotten about, because we were away from it for so long. The gaming gods were smiling on us and said. 'We know you didn't get into this with the purest of artistic intentions, but we're going to remind of how much you still love this universe and have to offer it'.
So it actually worked out really well. Now I look at Twisted Metal as a passion project, but it did not start out that way. It started as a business decision, that looking back I regret. I don't regret making Twisted Metal, I regret that it started out of a place of fear and not pure creative respect for the game process. Sometimes things work out, but I still always have that feeling of 'Jaffe man, you should've...' Well, that's you how you learn. I heard a great quote from Jay-Z, who said 'I don't know how you can learn from success, you can only learn from failure'. So I'll never down it again.
GU: That's really interesting. I've love to talk to you a couple years down the road, once you get perspective on everything that's happening now.