Interview: David Jaffe on Twisted Metal, E3 and ... lying to us

Just before E3 2010, we asked Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe to confirm that he wasn't working on a new entry in the long-dormant car combat franchise, per a series of messages he released via Twitter. And confirm that he did. Unfortunately for us -- though perhaps not for gamers -- it turns out that his words to us were actually part of a larger plan of "misdirection," as he told us in an interview one day after last week's big reveal.

Aside from our initial harassment about what he told us in the past, we spoke with him about what he wants out of E3, what he's most excited about in his forthcoming game, the current trend of series reboots in the game industry, and what else is going on at Eat Sleep Play (the studio he co-heads with Scott Campbell) -- among many other things. And though we were initially hurt by his "misdirection," the fact that he was a perfect gentleman during the interview helped to mend those wounds. Continue after the break for our conversation.
David Jaffe: So at the end of the day for me, the issue is really just E3 ... because like I said I'd been coming to E3 since the very first one.

Joystiq: Sure.

And they used to be about surprises. And it used to be you'd come and you didn't know what you were going to find on the show floor and that was a big part of the fun and you walk from booth to booth and you just discover stuff.


And the last, I don't know, four or five years everything gets either announced or leaked before and I was just like ... Sony called about four months ago and said, "Let's make Twisted a surprise and let's close the show with it." I was like, "Hell yeah! Let's do that." But it kind of necessitated being kind of sneaky about it. To me giving fans an actual genuine E3 surprise was more valuable to me than sort of being totally honest when people ask me questions.

"Totally honest" is one way to put it.

And people say to me, "Well, you could have said no comment." I'm like, "No comment is the same as saying ... it's what people say when they don't want to answer you." The other issue too is, I got to be honest with you, I've had such shit taken out of context with the press. Not you. I have no beef ...

But you know, you get kinda taken out of context enough ... I don't have animosity with the press, but it's more like, "You know what, guys? I don't owe you shit. I owe the gamers shit. I owe them entertainment." And to me whether it's my blog or whether it's our games that we make or whether it's working with Sony to have a great press conference, you know, we're slaves to the gamers. And I love the press. I read Joystiq every day.

I play games too, I promise.

No, no, no. But I'm saying but you have a job just like I do. And your job is to be as truthful as you can to your audience and my job is to be as entertaining as I can to my audience. And so ultimately when it came down to that issue it was about ... I felt bad about it honestly because I was so appreciative of the fact that you actually reached out and said, "Hey. Is this true?" But we were three months into that surprise at that point and a no comment would have just been like, "Oh, Jaffe. He's going to be there with Twisted Metal."

So how long has Eat Sleep Play been developing Twisted Metal?

I think on and off when we started Eat Sleep Play we were laying some groundwork for online and stuff while we were also doing the port of Twisted Metal: Head-On for PS2. That was just kind of to get our company running. And then so full production probably about 18 months. We're going to be out sometime in 2011. We're not exactly sure yet.

And you said a little while ago on Twitter that it was a lot easier working on an established franchise than something brand new. Is that to say you're feeling like this Twisted Metal is an entirely new experience?

Well, that Twitter was an intentional misdirection to get people to think I was working on something else and not Twisted Metal. Every game is a new game. Every game has its challenges and so the new Twisted, until we got out of that truck yesterday and started showing the game and then showed the nuke level, we were nervous. I was on the back of that truck ... I don't hyperventilate, but I was really having to kind of take a deep breath because you don't know if there's going to be even fans anymore because the industry since the last full console Twisted Metal, which was 2001, a lot has changed. We did Twisted Metal Black in 2001 and about three months later GTA hit. And since GTA came out, the idea of being in a car in a level, there's a lot of brand new expectations about what that means. So we didn't know 'til yesterday if there were going to be enough fans who cared that we had sort of stayed true to aspects of the vision but still in a lot of the modes reinvented it and stuff. So right now we're walking around thrilled that we still have people who respond to what we're doing. We may never reach the heights we did with the old school Twisted Metals, but we're making the people who love those kinda games happy it seems and we're happy about that.

What do you see as competition now? When you guys last released a Twisted Metal, there were a lot more of the car combat games. There was more of a genre there. And it seems that isn't there now.

Well, the last Twisted Metal was 2001. The only thing in the market that even was hanging out with us was Vigilante 8. And I don't even think Vigilante 8, they had a Dreamcast game and I don't think they even had a PS2 game [Vigilante 8 was available for PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64, and GameBoy Color -ed.]. You know, the car combat genre is funny -- we did focus tests at the beginning of this to see if fans want another one. And everybody was like, "Yeah, car combat's dead, car combat's dead, car combat's dead." But then Twisted Metal would come up and it was like, "Oh, well except Twisted Metal." So it was kinda like, we never really fought in that space. It was never like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, or Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. It was just kinda us and Vigilante 8 every now and then. But they never, they were successful and we were successful.

But there was never a sense that we were taking market share from each other. I think there's a contingency of people who get the drama and fun of putting cars on guns and flame throwers and missile launchers. And look, I love that stuff. For me, they made a remake of Death Race. I couldn't wait to watch. It wasn't a great movie but I just love the fantasy of that. The auto dual games from back when I was a kid. The kind of, it's funny because we never do well in Europe, but it's so European. If you look at some of the graphic novels from the 80s. Post-apocalyptic stuff. And that's what really inspires a lot of Twisted Metal. And there are fans that love it but we've never, I don‚'t think we've ever been, we‚'ve always been kind of like that, kind of been scrappy and we‚'ve had our fans and been real profitable. But it's never had the kind of respect of like, Modern Warfare. Even when we were at our heights. We never got the awards and stuff. But for Twisted, we always felt good about that. 'Cuz it always feels like, Twisted feels like a bar band to us. Or a garage band that has a lot of heart and soul. And we're real loyal to our fans. We may never be The Beatles, but we don't really want to be The Beatles with this game.

And, as far as the game's title, it's just Twisted Metal.


So I'm wondering if this is more of a reboot situation.

Yeah, I mean, I think so. Somebody was saying it's like, "Wow, this E3 it's like Twisted Metal, Medal of Honor, Mortal Kombat. Everybody's kinda dropping the subtitles. A lot of it is just because it feels long in the tooth if you have it.

But a lot of it is also that we haven't had a Twisted Metal in a long time. And the reality is, you know, there‚'s a lot of people who, 2001, you know, it's 10 years ago, for the most part. And so there's a lot of people who might have been eight at the time who are now old enough to play a Twisted Metal game. And so it's just made sense to kind of give it a title that indicated it was a continuing aspect of the series, versus going "Okay, we're kinda restarting this." And then there is a new philosophy behind it. Online, we're still doing stories and really cool stories and characters.

There is a single-player campaign in that sense?

It's all in there, yeah. I'm totally going nuts right now trying to work on those stories. It's driving me up the fucking wall.

Is that the kind of situation where the previous games' stories plays into this one?

Well, there are threads that run through every Twisted Metal game. But there isn't a consistent story. It's kind of like, every time there's a new Twisted Metal, it's kind of brand new. You know Sweet Tooth may have died in one story and now he's back in the other. It isn't like this long running, Doctor Who epic. Every Twisted Metal kinda reboots the story. But the core idea of this guy named Calypso who's very powerful -- he may be other-worldly and grants you one wish -- who runs this car contest. That stays. And how we play with that story every time changes. But yeah, that's in there. But it's new because the online in terms of a lot of new modes. The "Nuke" mode has me really, really, really excited.

Though I would never be as presumptuous to say, "I hate saying class-based play because there are class-based play games, that are so well beyond what we're doing. Because we're doing other things too. We‚'re making you go 150 miles per hour, you have to drive a car, you‚'ve got all these crazy weapons. We've got that we're already dealing with. But there is a mentality of class-based play. Mentality of more tactics in the actual game mode of a game like Nuke.

"It's a reboot in that we're really trying to figure out 'How do we do multiplayer in the way that we like, which is multi-player online that feels more like trash-talking camaraderie that you had on the sofa with your buddy playing split-screen?'"

Even in Team Deathmatch, the fact that you now can have a helicopter that you can pick up your buddy with who's about to die. And if your team only has one life left, you can extract him and bring him to the health semi. And the health semi's like in Knight Rider or Spy Hunter. You have to chase it down and go into the back and get help. There's just that kind of designing weapons and designing modes, that really, is an attempt to promote, not just team play, but also split-screen play online. We are supporting split-screen play online. But that's not just what I'm saying. I'm talking about a mentality. Back in the day when you would sit, in the PS1 era, or 16-bit era, and you sit on the couch with your buddy, there was more of a camaraderie.

And I don't see that translating that well to online. Whether it's because a lot of the guys you find were strangers, but I also think in the design itself. Things in the design could be done to foster that sense of community.

One good example is that we've upped the hit points on the cars, right? So in a game like Modern Warfare or the new Medal of Honor, or Killzone. Four or five hits -- you're dead. And I hate that. I fucking hate it as a player. I hate stepping out of a bunker and getting shot in the head. It just kills my pace right? Twisted Metal we've got like 150 hit points. So, depending on the weapons, you can get hit anywhere from like, four, which is rare, but four hits to death, up to like 40 hits. And so we can get in a relationship online even if we don't know each other. Where I see you racing for that health semi, and we can have a two or three minute chase, through the city. Where we have our own little moment.

And to me, it really is about "How do we make design decisions that create those moments that hearken back to sitting on the couch with your buddy playing split screen?" And so to me that's really when you say is it a reboot -- it's a long answer [laughs] -- but it's a reboot in that we're really trying to figure out "How do we do multiplayer in the way that we like, which is multi-player online that feels more like trash-talking camaraderie that you had on the sofa with your buddy playing split-screen, if that makes sense.

In terms of the actual Twisted Metal IP, that's Sony-owned?

Yes, yes.

So you folks are available to make games for other consoles?


Is that something you guys would be interested in pursuing at all, maybe not with Twisted Metal, but in general?

Well we couldn't with Twisted Metal. Honestly, we're not actively looking to do anything with anyone but Sony. It doesn't mean that we haven't had interesting offers and it doesn't mean we don't have publishers that we'd be like "Oh my god! We'd love to get our hands on that IP!" But the reality is that everything is about relationships. We have such great support and Sony Santa Monica is such a great team to work with and we know the players and we know the people. It allows us to get more focused, not on getting to know a whole new set of politics or people, it lets us focus on the game. Right now it's a really good fit and frankly we're honored they want to work with us, and as long as they'll have us, we'll always work with Sony if they'll let us.

And size-wise, is Eat Sleep Play a one-game studio?

One-game studio, we're about 37 people, pretty small compared to most [studios].

How would you characterize the evolution of Twisted Metal as far as the changes you've spoken about? I don't know if there was a great reception to Twisted Metal Black. Maybe it was a different kind of reception, it was a different game compared to previous Twisted Metals, it was definitely darker for lack of a better word. So how have things changed?

Well if you look at Black and look at God of War, I was in a phase where I said that I want to tell stories and create characters. In Black, most of my love went for the world; the world, the stories. How do we create a universe that for me has an aesthetic that is appealing. The gameplay was fine, we got great reviews, we still have fans who love the choices we made in that game. But I think the gameplay suffered a little bit. I am very proud with God of War and the whole series, but if you strip out a lot of the storytelling and set pieces and one-off moments, intentionally so, it is a relatively simple mechanics system. That's why it was such a hard game to make -- because at every corner you turn we had to throw something new at you, because the mechanics weren't strong enough to stand alone.

It wasn't like Civilization that the core mechanics are so great that it doesn't matter. So, now with the new Twisted Metal, we're going back to focusing on game mechanics. Even though Calling All Cars wasn't the success that we wanted, I think that it reflected a shift in my thinking, at least for now. I am starting to want to go back to story games, but from where I have been for a while, I've been wanting to get better at pure play. So, the new Twisted Metal really reflects that desire where Scott Campbell (who also is the co-director), that we're trying to get back to what were we doing so well when people talk about TM2 being the pinnacle of the series so far, which is insane, it's 1996. We gotta get that back and get the crown back on this one. So that's really where it has evolved. It has gone back to gameplay front and center, [rather than] in Black where a lot of our resources got stretched into storytelling and it didn't go in our game plans as much as it should have.

I know you folks worked on a port for Twisted Metal: Head-On.

Right, Incognito made Head-On for the PSP and then when I came on board, our first official game was the port.

So, do you have any interest in pushing Twisted Metal to PSP?

I think, right now we don't because we are a one-game studio and we just don't have the time. If we're going to make one Twisted Metal, we'd rather put it on the big console at the moment, because it's more fun to play on a huge TV online rather than just you. But you know, that may be in the cards, but it's not planned for right now.

Would you ever plan on working on any downloadable titles again? You didn't seem to react favorably. I've heard some less than wonderful things come out of you about it.

What do you mean?

You seemed to not be so happy about how certain people received [Calling All Cars].

Well, it was a learning experience. I don't think it was the world's best game, and there was a lot of lessons from that. But I still love the downloadable market -- I love the downloadable space. So yeah, I'd like to do some stuff in there. But I'm a big believer that the games are just way too expensive. I think games are too long -- not all games ... I'm not suggesting that Bethesda should start making four-hour games. There is a wonderful place for those games and they should never go away. But I do think there is a place for shorter games that don't cost as much money. I don't mean small arcade games, I mean narrative-based story telling games. I'd love to try to explore that, that would be awesome.

Alright, anything else in particular that you want our readers to know about Eat Sleep Play, about Twisted Metal, about David Jaffe?

I think Joystiq knows way to much about David Jaffe and his temper [laughs].

Can we squash any ridiculous beef that there may have been?

I remember actually saying, because you guys have a podcast, and I remember going "Yeah, I'll come on the podcast" because it sounded like people thought I was really pissed at Joystiq. They ran one story that I thought ... I am so okay if somebody says, "Jaffe, that game sucks, I don't like that game, I'm going to give it a 1 out of 10, fuck you." Totally down with that. It's more of misquoting, taking things out of context intentionally, to get people to click on the story. Now, to the point that they do it on purpose. They do it because A: they know ... I don't get baited anymore, but I used to kind of respond, and that would get them even more hits. Now, I'm kinda done with that.

There was a story that ran that kinda felt like that, and it's kinda like, you know ... I'm a relatively nice guy, pretty fucking nice guy actually, and, I would not treat someone that way. It feels like if you can't write stories and seek out stories in the industry that are compelling enough in their own to get users to click on, then maybe you're not very fucking good at your job and maybe you should do something else. And so that I still have a, very clearly, issue with. Because it has burned me a lot of times, there are people out there who genuinely have issue with me, for things that I never did or never said. People still to this day think I hate used games, and think I think used games and rental games should go away. When I made it clear from the beginning, I have an issue with the business model. I don't have an issue with gamers getting the best deal they can, unless it's piracy.

Of course.

So you know, whatever, whatever.

Thanks for your time for the interview.

Yeah, of course. I'm glad we cleared up the lie thing.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.