If you know video games, you know David Jaffe.
The man who helped bring us now-legendary names like Twisted Metal and God of War has seen the industry change and evolve over the years, and he has changed a little, too. Gaming has changed drastically since he first started working in the industry back in the early '90s, so we wanted to get his opinions on these changes, along with his comments on emerging technology like virtual reality.
The result is quintessentially Jaffe; i.e., never mincing words, always straightforward, and about as candid as you can be. It's precisely the sort of interview we love to provide GaG readers with, because uncensored, brutal honesty is the cornerstone of the site, yes? ;) So, without further ado and promotion, here's our chat with David, as we cover everything from the intelligence - and corresponding passion - of gamers to his personal gaming habits to his new project, Drawn to Death.
GaG: Since the time when you first started in the industry, what has changed most in your approach to game development?
Dave: “You know, I think when I first started I really thought games were the next great storytelling medium. I thought that, as an industry, we were going to head in the movie direction. But after being in the industry for a while, I clearly fell out of love with the idea of games as a storytelling medium. The more I worked on making games, the more I realized what made games of all types – console, mobile, PC, etc. – so much fun, and what always got me engaged and passionate. At the same time, the analytical part of my brain gets very much excited when I can work with teams and overcome obstacles and solve problems.
Our games are getting more and more expensive and the subject matter these days can be all sorts of things, and we can take lots of chances. But I think the big thing that has changed for me, overall, is that I discovered the one thing that makes a great game is great game mechanics. I’m just not into the idea of interactive stories anymore; I thought they’d be the new generation, that games would represent the evolution of the new storyteller. But I just don’t feel that way anymore.”
GaG: In general, do you think gamers have become easier or harder to please over the years? And do you think many of them are somewhat entitled?
Dave: “I don’t think they’re really any different. One thing is that gamers by their nature tend to be smart people. I’m not talking about casual gamers who play games on their phone (though I’m sure there are smart people among them as well), but those really into console and PC games are very smart individuals. And I believe that smart people, more often than not, have strong opinions. It’s just that now we have lots of easy ways to share those strong views with the world; the Internet has come along to help us share like crazy.
But I also think that as more people start to play games, they bring expectations with them, and they’re not as willing to forgive certain things. Today, gamers just aren’t willing to deal with bad frame rate and textures and stuff like that, and they’ll say, ‘I’m not dealing with a game that bores me in the first ten minutes.’ So no, I don’t think they’ve become more hostile; we just have different gamers now, and older gamers have the chance to vent. It’s just easier to communicate those strong opinions. Also, because gamers tend to post online more than the average person, you just see it more, too.”
GaG: What’s your biggest pet peeve about the development process?
Dave: “Well, I’ve been so fortunate and lucky to work with great people, and everyone who supports our stuff from a creative and marketing standpoint. I don’t really have any pet peeves except to say…maybe I wish things weren’t so fucking hard. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard before; back then, you’d have one programmer and one artist trying to cram a product onto an Atari 2600 cartridge and they had their own kind of ‘hard.’ But now, it’s just the scope of games that makes things hard. It’s managing a large number of people with any project; they don’t always play nice with each other, and one little thing can cause the project to break down. Everyone has different abilities and personalities and there’s just a lot of things that can go wrong.
But you know, it’s supposed to be hard. ‘laughs’”
GaG: What do you think of virtual reality and would you like to make a game for it someday?
Dave: “Oh, I would love to. I love, fucking LOVE VR. I’m a huge fan of ‘Ready, Player One’ (Spielberg is making it into his next film), for instance, and I tried Google Cardboard recently and loved it. I played a little with Oculus Rift and liked that, too, but with Google Cardboard, I just got so fantastically immersed. I remember the night I got it home; I downloaded this D&D-like cathedral environment. It wasn’t a game, it was just like this medieval D&D setting where you wandered through the floors of this amazing castle. I just stood in my bedroom literally going, ‘wow, wow, oh my God,’ because I had traveled to this fantasy world and I was actually there! I’m just a massive fan.
I’ve played two other VR games; one was called The London Heist and that blew me away because it was a controlled, linear experience. I also played called Rush of Blood, which was like a rail shooter but I didn’t like it as much because it didn’t feel quite as immersive. With London Heist, there was nothing that stops you or reduces that immersion; you really feel like you’re there. The idea is that when you ‘gamify’ VR, you have to present the player with challenges and obstacles that sucks them in, so if we do something with VR, we want to make a product that lasts the gamer a long time. We don’t just want to do it to make a game for virtual reality, you know?
But anyway, yes, I would make a VR game in a heart-fucking-beat. As for actually working on one, we’ve been talking about it and kicking around some ideas.”
GaG: On a personal level, do you find yourself playing games as often as when you were younger? More or less?
Dave: “Yeah, I still play games plenty. I just played Firewatch (even though I just got stuck in it) but these days, I like to play games to free my brain. Like during lunch at work or something like that, when I can sit down with something like Hearthstone and strategy games. When I go home I try to have a block of time but it’s hard to do with kids. I’m only just getting around to playing Dragon Age: Inquisition and I still play a lot of 3DS stuff, too; I fucking love some of those games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
I’ve always been a comic book/video game/movie guy, so I don’t think the ratio of games has played at all, but I do think the genres I play have changed.”
GaG: What are some of your most anticipated upcoming games?
Dave: “I’m excited about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, even if I don’t go totally nuts for it. But it’ll be a definite showcase for PlayStation 4 and I’m jazzed for that, and I’m definitely excited for the VR stuff that’s coming. I know a new Deus Ex is coming but while the first one ranks as one of my favorite games of all time, I just didn’t care for the ones after that. But I’m interested in Overwatch and there are plenty of games [that are already out] that I still want to play. For example, I’m a huge Metal Gear Solid fan and I haven’t gotten the chance to play the new one (The Phantom Pain).
I’ll add that there’s this trend of ‘bigger is better’ right now and it’s just so uninteresting to me. I’m not anti-open-world but I think they hit the sweet spot a while ago, with games on N64 like Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie; there was this great blend of adventuring and platforming and puzzles. Now, a lot of these games are just so huge and there’s not much in them, sometimes just a bunch of boring fetch quests and things like that. They all start to feel the same. Like I want to build a fucking settlement in Fallout? I think so many games have become formulaic in this way, so everything is just a big action/adventure game and that’s it. I’m just fucking bored of it. I mean, the teams that make these games should be super proud of their work but fuck it, I don’t want to go on another quest to collect something else.
GaG: So, what’s your new project?
Dave: “We’re doing Drawn to Death, a third-person multiplayer shooter that’s actually set inside a high school kid’s notebook. We’re testing it out now and if it’s not out in another four months, something has gone very, very wrong. This will be available only on PlayStation 4 and if I was going to describe it, I’d say it’s a cross between Super Smash Bros. and Quake. We wanted to make a shooter/brawler hybrid, so it’s not like your traditional shooter and it’s trying to be a little smarter. Kind of like chess rather than checkers, if checkers was Call of Duty. Individual characters have a lot more unique abilities; we’re trying to make a more mentally engaging shooter that’s filled with great moment-to-moment interactions.”
Thanks much to Dave for taking the time to chat, and I can't wait to try out Drawn to Death. As a long-time gamer, and of a similar age to Jaffe, I still remember sitting down to play Twisted Metal 2 co-op with a friend for long, rainy afternoons, so I know first-hand his dedication to the gamer experience. If his new project offers even half as much entertainment as I've received from his previous work, I'll be one happy camper. ;)
For updates, feel free to follow the progress of the game at the developer's website, the wonderfully-named Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency, check out the game's official site, and get more of David's comments on Twitter.