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DICE Feature: 'The Search For Perfection: David Jaffe Goes To War'

February 10, 2006
 

Introduction

“I'd like to thank Phil Harrison for allowing me in this venue to be able to announce the price and launch date of the PS3,” opened Sony Computer Entertainment’s David Jaffe’s speech, “Chasing Perfection: The Making of God of War", on the opening day of the 2006 DICE Summit in Las Vegas. “No, I'm kidding, you're right. But wouldn't that be sweet?”

As promised, Jaffe’s speech centered specifically around the making of the PlayStation 2 game he designed for Sony, God of War, which would go on to win seven awards at the Interactive Achievement Awards later that night. God of War was a rare opportunity for a game designer, in that Jaffe was given nearly complete creative control to create a game of his own design, on his terms, with a substantial budget. And, oddly enough, it was the second time he’d had this opportunity; the first being an odd footnote in videogame history.





David Jaffe at DICE 2006

Depression, Dark Guns

“I had come off of Twisted Metal 2, which was a big critical and sales hit, and they said, ‘What do you want to make next?’” recalled Jaffe. “It was called Dark Guns, it was a project designed out of fear and anxiety, in the sense of, how do I keep the fan base that we've made?”

“Everything about that game came from negativity, and after four years they pulled the plug,” he continued. “And I'm glad they did. I remember when that game was cancelled I realized, that was a huge opportunity and I blew it. No one gets that opportunity, and I wasted it. So after I did another Twisted Metal game my boss came to me and asked again, ‘What do you want to make next?’ And it was really for me a chance to do it right.”

Jaffe said that for God of War, he dug deep into himself and vowed that unlike Dark Guns, the game would be made out of passion, not fear, and that it would be a game that he himself, as a game player, would want to play.

“It drove the team nuts,” he said. “It drove me nuts. So I wanted to talk about a couple of things that have stayed with me and I've learned from making that game, and share that with you to sort of entertain you, and maybe we'll find common ground on things we agree on.”

The design of God of War, said Jaffe, “couldn’t have been an easier game to make. There’s nothing I could have done to make this experience better for the team.” Jaffe said that his inspiration for God of War came from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first movie in the Indiana Jones trilogy. “Raiders was the movie I saw as a kid that made me want to do creative stuff with my life,” he said. “I wanted to make a game that made players feel like I felt when I was 10, watching Raiders.”

“I didn't want to make a game that put you in the shoes of Indiana Jones,” he clarified, “I wanted to put you in the shoes of the 10-year-old kid watching Indiana Jones. You look at something like Zelda, and I think it puts you in the shoes of the adventurer. Which is both good and bad. You have to go around and travel and talk to people and figure things out, like a real adventurer would probably have to do, and I wanted God of War not to feel like that.”

Moving Things Forward

God of War is designed – intentionally, Jaffe says – to be simplistic and forward-moving, with a control scheme nowhere near as deep or complicated as its peers and competitors. “We had to create so much content to keep the gamer engaged,” said Jaffe. “God of War is not innovative or unique, and that's intentional. Our system was so shallow that it forced the team to constantly create new content to trapeze the player from one area of interest to the next. And I know a lot of times they went into the producer’s office and said, ‘Jaffe doesn't know what he's doing,’ but I do. I understand modular game design, and the value of that, but I was feeling that if we didn't step outside those boundaries, at least for me, I was going to get bored. I don't think I want to be in the industry if all we're doing is the same stuff over and over. And I think that's where a lot of problems with the game came from.”

Modular game design, Jaffe seemed to suggest, is this industry’s enemy, suggesting that game design should incorporate creative minds along with craftsmen – i.e., artists, writers, and directors. “You could not make a game without the amazingly talented craftspeople,” he said, “but we don't have many creative directors.”

“I love the mass market, I believe in all of that, but you have to kind of wonder what would happen if they had the creative sensibilities of the guys who made Ico, or Tim Schafer. You have to wonder what would happen if those creative sensibilities were merged with soulless but still fun products that do well, could we find a middle ground?”

“Or maybe it's all bullshit,” Jaffe conceded. “I have days where I feel that games really can be something else, I have moments in games where I generally feel that these things can be the next great entertainment medium, and then other days I say you know what, it is like the porn business.”


A little more David Jaffe.

On IP, Industry Motivators

“So much of ourselves were put into this property,” said Jaffe, speaking himself as well as the rest of the God of War team. “It's fair for Sony to own this, but as I get older, and now that I achieve this success personally and with my team, I kind of wonder if we’re going to work this hard…there's a sense of kind of being exploited. And not by Sony. I've got no qualms with Sony, I think it's an industry problem.”

“I do wonder about the three or four creative and key people who really give that game its life and vitality, how can they be expected to sort of continue down that road time after time after time without emerging form it with significant financial payoff. When you're younger it's okay, you just want to make the game, but once you've done that, what's the motivator? I don't know what the solution is. To be perfectly honest, I'd rather work for Sony who believes in the medium and never having a payday, versus forming a company and making games for kids to buy for fifty dollars. It's just something I've been thinking about.”

“I don't want to run a company. I like the creative work, I like worrying about gameplay and mechanics and character and story. I'm passionate and grateful. If I start a company, I'm dealing with milestones, money, meetings, HR, insurance and all that stuff. Why would I want to do that? I'm stubborn, I feel this industry should eventually grow to this point – I should be able to make a good living bringing what I have to offer, whatever that may be in their eyes, and make a real living out of that. I think it's a realistic expectation, and I'm hoping the industry will go that way.”

_____________________________________________________

[Photo credits - AIAS.]


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