God of Metal: An Interview With David Jaffe Part 1

While C&G Monthly has an extensive interview with David Jaffe available in the issue now out in stores, the actual length and breadth of the interview went on for far longer. Longer than is reasonable to put in a magazine, unless you want the entire issue devoted to one man. However, thanks to the miracle of the internet, that entire, uncut interview now appears here, in three parts. In this first portion, Jaffe talks about a subject near and dear to the hearts of gamers, namely what’s happening with the new Twisted Metal game recently announced at E3.  

On The New Game

C & G Monthly: Aside from the obvious financial attraction of an established franchise, what were some of the other motivations for deciding to revisit Twisted Metal? Technology? Fan demands?


David Jaffe: It was new technology, but it wasn’t. I think whenever you do a successful game and you get to see it progress onto new hardware, you begin realize… like when we first had the idea for Twisted Metal in 1994… you have these visions in your mind that are absolutely spectacular, that rival something you’d see in a 250 million dollar summer action movie. And obviously we were on the PS1, and we couldn’t really do that. We couldn’t realize the fantasy, and we’ll never realize the fantasy, even if it were on Playstation 20. It’s always better in your head.

But every iteration of hardware you get closer and closer to that fantasy. And I think a lot of it was, “Okay, a Twisted Metal on Playstation 3 will allow us to take it a step closer.” We’ll be able to have moving battles in freeway traffic, we’ll be able to finally introduce helicopters and semi-trucks and motorcycles and sports cars… and really come closer to delivering on living in the world of Autoduel and Mad Max and car combat… all those classic, strapping-a-machine-gun-on-a-car fantasies that a lot of… well, certainly I had those when I was junior high school student, and continue to have them up till this day.

CGM: So what’s the PS3 bringing to the table that previous hardware couldn’t? Is it just larger scale? TMX_SELECTS_010

DJ: I think the main thing is more moving parts. More interactivity. More AI, so you can have fodder traffic that you can battle on roads. You can slide behind a gasoline tanker truck and let him take the missile instead of you and it blows up spectacularly. Bigger levels, online out of the box… I know we experimented with Twisted Metal and the network adapter right at the beginning of the adapter’s lifetime, but it didn’t have substantial penetration at the time. Now we’re able to build the game as an online experience—even though we do have single-player—from the ground up, and design modes and levels around the fact that we’re going to have 16 players online whereas before we always knew it would never be more than two.

I’ve always said I’m not one of these innovative designers. I wasn’t like “Look, look! With the Playstation 3 we can do some really obscure, weird, cool…” To me, we have an image in our heads based on some amazing concept art that we commissioned for Twisted Metal back in the day, and every time Sony is kind enough to allow us to step up to the plate and do another Twisted Metal, we just want to get closer to that vision. And if you ask me this when we make one on the Playstation 4, you’re probably going to get pretty much the same answer, because it really is about taking a step towards that vision.

CGM: In the past, you’ve talked about the social experience of playing Twisted Metal in the same room with another person, but now there’s an online component. Is that taking more priority over the local experience?

DJ: No, no, no, local is extremely important to us. Our online is great, we have great online code in terms of a lot of cool modes and no doubt that’s where a large chunk of our time is going. But split-screen has always been the bread and butter of Twisted Metal, and we are absolutely working to make that bigger and better than we’ve done before. It’s two to four players, we’re trying to get more modes in than just death match, we’re looking to get in some split-screen stat tracking as well. So if you and your brother are playing or you and your dad…

We just felt so good when we announced this game, and even before, we heard so many people, just a lot of people, come up to us and say “I grew up with the first Twisted Metal, and I played it with my dad or my brother..” and wow, that’s just so cool knowing that you were involved in helping people make those memories. And so for us, it’s like, “Let’s take that to the next level in terms of local. And let’s try to have stats that track.” So that over the course of a year, you can actually get a sense of how many you’ve won and how many your dad’s won, and how many kills you’ve gotten versus what your brother’s gotten. I havent’ seen a lot of games that do that kind of local stat tracking. So I’m excited about that, I’m excited about giving people new modes, I’m excited about the four-player split-screen.

I’m excited about all the team-based weapons we talked about at E3, from the helicopter to the tow truck to a number of other vehicles we haven’t announced that are really designed to promote team play. That’s going to be strong in online, but it’s going to be as, if not stronger in split-screen where you can really strategize and plan things out while you’re sitting next to each other. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun; if I’m playing four-player split-screen and I’m shooting at you, and your buddy on your team comes over, and lifts out of the fire zone in a helicopter, I’ll be like “Dude, f**k you!” and I’ll be trying to shoot the helicopter down carrying you and your buddy… and we’re all sharing that experience in the same room… it’s gonna’ be a blast.

CGM: So what’s the design philosophy behind the game, what are you hoping players experience?

DJ: I want to make… smart action, I guess. There’s two, I guess the first is online camaraderie. A lot of it has to do with the hit points of the cars, the team design built into the weapons. I’ve always been one of these guys that says “I love the promise of online first person shooters, but I’ve never really liked a lot of them.” Because there’s a lot of death. And the death happens quick. And unless you get really good at it, you get into this really boring pace. Like I’ll spawn and I’ll get across the level, I get in a few shots, someone kills me, and then I gotta’ go back and just do it again. I would say 40% of my time is spent dying and getting back into the fight, versus actually forming a relationship with the people I’m playing with online. And so I really do want to try and build relationships.

TMX_SELECTS_013I was watching at E3 and saw a guy fighting… I think it was the tow truck. And they got into a scrap, and they chased each other around the level for a good couple of minutes. The guy in the tow truck was trying to find the health and the other guy was trying to finish him off before he got healthy… and suddenly there was that moment. They were sharing a moment online without knowing each other. And I love that about Twisted Metal; the chases, the fight for a power up, the fight for a prime location… and I want to bring that to online, because I don’t see that in a lot of online games.

So that’s probably the main thing I want. And then I want to bring in some team-based modes that have a lot of places to go. I know there’s a lot team-based games that are out there already, but I just really like the idea of a clan getting online, and there’s a lot of ways to strategize. There’s a lot of tactics, there’s a lot of areas on the map, and a lot of weapons that players can… even before players get into the level, they can plan for, and if we’re successful, that planning is really gonna’ pay off, and players can get together before hand and kind of lay out their strategy, and they’re gonna’ dominate. I just love that, that the game is deep enough to contain that kind of spirit.

Or at least I hope it is. I mean, the game’s not done yet, but that’s what we’re shooting for.

CGM: And for the veterans of the series? Will there be anything in there for them in the way of nods, references or familiar mechanics from the series’ history?

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DJ: Well, we’re still sticking to the core gameplay and controls. We went to E3 and for a long time, we were thinking, “Well, we’re gonna’ end up using modern driving controls, where the gas is on the shoulder button, and what not.” And it really doesn’t work for Twisted Metal. Twisted Metal is as much a shooter as it is a driving game. So from the moment of being able to pick up the controller and feeling home, to certain weapons, kind of the bread and butter weapons of the series like the fire missile, the power missile, the napalm, to the characters…y’know, Sweet Tooth is back, Doll Face is back, Calypso is back running the contest in the story.. the twisted, dark, demented story. The spirit and heart beat of Twisted Metal is still very much the same. It’s just been upgraded and improved. So from a gameplay, story and thematic standpoint, it is still very much Twisted Metal.

Although, at the very beginning, I toyed with the idea of absolutely revamping the whole theme for the PS3 version. I still love the concept that we had for it, and I still want to do that one day. But for a number of reasons, mainly because it took us so long to get our game up and running that there were a lot of people going, “This isn’t working.” And everyone felt more comfortable falling back on what we knew worked, which was the classic Twisted Metal world. That’s how we ended up back where we were, but I think, for a while there it was going to be something that was… I wouldn’t say unrecognizable, but it would definitely be the same thematic shift we made from Twisted Metal II to Twisted Metal: Black. We were going to do another shift like that going to the PS3, but because it was taking us so long to get it up and running, we fell back on what we knew and Sony was comfortable with that. We were like “Let’s just get the technology in the game running and then we can play with themes, if we’re fortunate enough down the road to do a sequel.”

CGM: So it’s still about people fighting to get their wish granted by Calypso, then.

DJ: Yeah, the meeting I was just in, we’re actually working on the stories for that. It’s still Calypso holding his contest. He still surveys all from his opulent penthouse above the city, and whoever wins the contest gets an audience with him, and gets to ask for whatever it is that they desire.

CGM: And for gamers that are completely new to the series, are there considerations being made for the newbie experience?

DJ: Yes and no. Yes, from the standpoint of we’re always trying to make the game more pick-up-and-play, more user friendly. And we’re doing a lot more in terms of situational awareness with radar and where the hits are coming from, kind of taking a lot of first person shooter cues. We experimented in the beginning with kind of a traditional shooter load out, where you pick one or two weapons and go into the battle with those weapons. But it just ended up being a different kind of game, and not the game we wanted to make, and so… there are concessions, but honestly it’s still got a little bit of a learning curve. Not in the same way that Demon’s Souls has a learning curve, but y’know… a lot of buttons are used, you gotta’ learn the maps, and it’s certainly not as easy to jump into as, say, a mainstream first-person shooter.

It’s not so obscure that I think it’s going to turn people off from the core fantasy, but from a control standpoint, is pretty traditional Twisted Metal. And physics as well. Every time we make a Twisted Metal game, we’re like “Y’know, everyone always saying we love the game, but do realistic physics like Gran Turismo, or even arcade-y realistic physics like Split Second. But what ends up happening is every, and I mean every time, it’s like we never learn. Every single time we make one of these games, we start there, we make the turning radius a lot more realistic, we made the acceleration a lot more realistic, and lo and behold… within three months of making the game, we’re right back to the traditional Twisted Metal. Because real car combat… so much of it is about lining up your shot, and if you race by someone and flip a 180 in order to get your missile shot and you miss, and you wanna’ chase ‘em… flipping that 180 brings you down to about zero miles per hour. And then you slowly ramp back up from zero to 120 and by the time you do that, it’s really kind of slow and by the time you get back to your enemy, and you flip the 180 to shoot ‘em again, and you’re back to zero miles an hour. [The final physics] ends up being this visual presentation of, “These are cars,” but in a lot of ways it almost feels more like they’re very nimble human characters. Some people just can’t get their head around that, some people say “It just doesn’t drive enough like a car,” but for us, that’s what makes Twisted Metal play really well, the very arcade-y physics, the very nimble physics. And so I would say that’s also making a return in this new iteration.

CGM: A lot of fans often cite Twisted Metal II as the height of the series. Did that inform your design decisions for this newest version? TM_STILLS_001

DJ: Oh yeah, absolutely. I went from Twisted Metal II to Twisted Metal: Black. So with the exception of a very brief tour of duty on a port that we did of Twisted Metal: Head-On—I wasn’t involved in the PSP version of that game—that really was my jump. From TM2 to TM Black and I haven’t done another one since. And when I got into Black—and I think you see this in God of War—I was in this phase in my career where I was into story, and world building and character building. And on TM2, I was really into game design. Pure nuts and bolts game design, and I think it shows in the game. In Black I think it shows that we really allowed ourselves to get into the storytelling and the characters and even though I think we made a really great game, we didn’t put the same kind of spit and polish and obsession on the nuts and bolts gameplay. And that’s where Scott Campbell who is co-directing this game was at the time as well. We were putting that obsession into the world. I think a lot of people loved the world of Twisted Metal: Black, and for that I’m grateful, but I think the gameplay suffered a bit.

This new one… well, after God of War we did a game that wasn’t all that successful, it did okay, which was Calling All Cars, but it really was us dipping out toes back into the world of pure nuts and bolts game design. And that’s where Scott and I are still very much excited at being in. I think with this one, whether it works or not, we’ll see, but you’re definitely going to see a return to making a Twisted Metal game where gameplay comes first, where balance comes first. Where our passion and our obsession and not being able to sleep at night comes more from coming up with a cool level design or mechanic than it does from, “Ooh, here’s a really cool ending for the Preacher character.”

We look at it this way. If we don’t steal the crown back for the best car combat game, from TM2 with this game, we simply aren’t capable of doing it. For whatever kind of reason, if we got lucky with the knobs we turned on TM2, or it was just a certain time for gaming where that was when it was meant to be the best… because this one represents probably the best game design that we’ve done.

I was so thrilled when we did a behind the scenes version for the press of our “nuke mode,” and the guys at GiantBomb filmed it and put it online. And it was such a wonderful feeling to have people watch that online, and comment that they really seemed to appreciate and get the balance and the design and the strategies that could come out of the design. And so yeah, for me, this is going to be the best Twisted Metal we’ve ever made, no doubt.

CGM: Those are some fighting words right there.

DJ: [Laughs] I think that’s the call, or it could also suck, oh who the f**k knows!