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David Jaffe and the Language of Interactivity

February 13, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

Though he's recently announced he's planning to leave Eat Sleep Play, developer of the new Twisted Metal game -- due this week for the PlayStation 3 -- David Jaffe has poured his creative energies into the project and will continue to support it through launch before establishing his new studio in San Diego.

It's clear from talking to him that this game represents his current vision of what's possible in the medium. Strange that an update of a 1995 game -- complete with a scary clown that drives a killer ice cream truck -- could do that. Or maybe not, as Jaffe explains below.

Interactivity, he says, is the core of what makes the medium tick, and all of that storytelling that's shoehorned in, well, that doesn't have much to do with what video games are really capable of, or should be used for.

"A lot of people say, 'Do another story game like God of War,' and I would love to, but at that point, I'm like, 'I'll just write a book,'" Jaffe says below, in an interview entirely dedicated to his thoughts on interactivity and the true power of the gaming medium.

You had the big success of God of War, you took some time off, you worked on [cancelled PSP game] Heartland for a while, but you lost inspiration. Then you moved to [PSN game] Calling All Cars, and then Twisted Metal. What was important to you that you learned over the last several years?

DJ: Well, it's a big, big lesson. I got a better understanding of the language of games, and what makes games special, and what makes the medium special.

And just because I've learned that lesson doesn't mean I feel I'm good at it, or great at it, or even average at it yet, but I think that after going through God of War, there was a realization for me as a designer, and a player, that it wasn't speaking to the medium as respectfully, powerfully, and intentionally as I think I would want to speak to the medium.

And a lot of people hear me say that, and they heard my DICE talk, and they think what I meant was I want to go off and make iOS abstract Tetris games that are just pure abstraction. And it's not that. I still very much believe in IP. I believe in context -- both the commercial value of context and what it does to the user.

I think the biggest thing I learned is I don't want to try to make movies through games. I want to try to make experiences that speak respectfully and powerfully, using the language of interactivity. You hear a lot of people talk about the "language of cinema," and there is a language of interactivity, and there's a necessity to understanding interactivity.

And I think with CDs, the advent of CDs for game storage, and then high end graphics and voice actors and all this -- cutscenes -- games kind of got off on a bit of a wrong track that was very appealing, but it wasn't necessarily the only track we should have got off on. And I think that's what the lesson taught me. I want to get really good at the other track, and I don't want to try and make a cinematic game. I want to try and make a great game, if that makes sense at all.

So the obvious question to that is, how does Twisted Metal fit into that philosophy? Because it seems like a throwback, in certain ways.

DJ: No, it's not. It is, and it's not. The way I think of Twisted Metal is, it's kind of the shallow end of the pool and the deep end of the pool. The shallow end of the pool is where I think a lot of people would look at it and say it's a throwback, because at its first initial glance, it's old school. You're blowing stuff up, it's chaotic, it's fast.

Obviously with PS3 and new technology, we've been able to take that core fantasy and express the surface level a lot better. And obviously we've thrown in internet out of the box, blah blah blah, necessary and fun.

But for us, starting with Twisted 2 and going into Black, some of it was intentional, some of it was accidental. Watching us as players, and watching the fan base that was small but very vocal and passionate, we really did begin to realize that what made the game special was the multiplayer -- tactical, strategic, meaty, nutritious gameplay.

In this new one, we have built so much more depth into this game that we know a lot of people aren't going to pick up on it... You know, that's our fault. Everyone that doesn't pick up on it, that's a failure on our part. But we do think that more people than ever will pick up on the fact that there's a lot of depth here. It's depth that happens at 200 miles an hour, but it's not just the surface of blowing shit up, it's fun for a couple days, and you're done. It's tactical, it's strategic.

It's not chess. We're not that presumptuous. It's a fighting game. It's a shooter. It's meant to engage your brain in trying to make really cool choices about what weapon you use when, what sidearm you couple with your car. What enemy you're fighting determines what weapon and what tactic you want to use, and what mode you're playing, and what level.

And I can and will, if you're interested, go into it all... I can talk your ear off about the nuance and the depth of every single weapon having multiple functions, but it really is a surface throwback that's intended to express itself through technology, to express that fantasy better than ever before. But at its heart, it's a reflection of what we in love games so much today, which is basically trying to create a game that speaks the language of games, which is super deep and interactive.

Every year I do this, Sid Meier's quote of "a game as a series of interesting choices" becomes more and more of a mantra to me, and more and more of a just brilliant, brilliant quote to me, because this game really reflects the best we've been able to do once we understood that that's what really a game is, to engage the brain more than anything else. That's what we're trying to do with this.


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Comments


Josh Larson
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"I can understand your point about diving into pure game mechanics and that being the point of the medium. That makes sense to me."



I'm afraid it makes very little sense to me, and I'm not sure that's the point Jaffe is making. The game part of videogames is just a structure for meaning, like story is a structure for meaning. Surely structures that you *insert* into some medium are not the "point" of the medium, right? Please tell me I'm not alone in this basic, logical conclusion.



In most cases, you insert an act-based story structure into theatre, but that doesn't mean story is the "point" of theatre. You can find stories in all sorts of media.



And you can find games in all sorts of media.



That would suggest any "point" of a medium lies outside of both games and stories. Seems obvious to me...

Jeremy Alessi
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"The game part of videogames is just a structure for meaning, like story is a structure for meaning."



Actually, the game part is a structure for decisions, not meaning. The meaning of those decisions can then be reflected by the story. The point is that the story should reflect the player's decisions not dictate them.

Michael DeFazio
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This is Mr. Jaffe's best explanation of his "gameplay before story" message to date. I get the sense that previously Mr. Jaffe had gotten frustrated that his message was not getting through (The panel with Todd Howard and Ken Levine comes to mind...awkward). Kudos to Mr. Nutt for an interesting interview.



Agree with him or not, it is always interesting to have a person take a stand on a very polarizing issue to hear discussions and rebuttals from both sides.



My interpretation of Mr. Jaffe's stance is that games are about interactivity (that is what defines them as a medium and games apart from other medium.) Movies, paintings, books, comics, plays, music... and most other mediums we have historically viewed as "art" have always been observational (not interactive) in nature.



Observational media stimulates certain parts of the brain and can allow a wide range of emotions to be communicated and "felt/experienced" in the audience. (utilizing the human beings unique ability for empathy).



Interactive media has historically been great at stimulating the "problem solving","decision making", and "motor skills" part of the brain. (think chess, 100 meter dash, go).



Each type of media is unique and great in it's own way. If we as authors intend on communicating a narrative todescribes the human experience, perhaps the best medium to do so is through an observational type of medium.

Joshua Darlington
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From an evolution of behavior perspective storytelling is a way to communicate information about problems. Games are a way to abstract and play with problems. Thus both behaviors occupy complimentary space.



Rigid borders between the procedural and declarative media area may allow for quick categorization. However, superficial delineation sacrifices a huge amount of gradient territory that can be explored. The full surface area of cinema is not in contact with the full surface area of video game design.

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Steven An
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LOL lemme translate: "Games" can be so many different types of things, all of which are potentially cool. There's no need to adhere to strict categories or set strict guidelines. If you like it, it's good (to you and anyone else who likes it).

Nathaniel Marlow
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Joshua's comment is a bit on the obtuse side, but I can't agree more.

Ramon Carroll
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Yeah, a little unecessarily worded, but I agree 100%.

Michael DeFazio
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Understand what you are driving at... "We shouldn't make artificial classifications for media simply for the sake of doing so (this can limit what the potential of a media)".



This first sentence however "From an evolution of behavior perspective storytelling is a way to communicate information about problems" seems to be very limited on what the purpose of storytelling is...(isn't this a limited and "quick categorization?" of what stories are).



Most stories are not told to communicate information about problems, some are to tell history, some are to explain morality, but all of these things are moot unless the story itself is entertaining. (I would argue the best stories illicit a sense of empathy which communicates the human condition, emotions, conflict, etc.)



There are ways to illicit emotions and describe the human condition in games that we haven't explored. I think Mr. Jaffe (agree with him or not) believes that we (as the video game industry) have put an exorbitant amount of time and energy trying to infuse narratives into games, and we haven't really innovated much in the last decade or so. (Has our ability to communicate a narrative in games really improved in the last 10-15 years?)



Alternatively, if you look at advancements in interactivity, there have been huge advancements (touch screens, motion controls, voice recognition, MMOs...) in the last 10-15 years.



I agree with your premise (Games don't have to be about any one person's view of what a games "purpose"... they don't need to be rigidly defined.) We will find more interesting ways to communicate narrative as the medium evolves, in addition we have a vast area of unexplored interactivity to explore, and we shouldn't overlook this area for the sake of trying to ONLY communicate a narrative.

Joshua Darlington
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Michael DeFazio: "From an evolution of behavior perspective storytelling is a way to communicate information about problems" seems to be very limited on what the purpose of storytelling is...



Yes, it's a schematic description from an pseudo evolutionary biology perspective. One of the leading evolution of language theorists suggests that wild animals have selection pressure to keep their vocalizations very basic. Domestic animals have less selection pressure and expand their vocalization into more complex patterns.



Your story purposes can be interpreted within the form described in my schematic. Stories about morality would fall into communicating information about social cognition problems. Such problems would be very important/interesting to humans (where sorting out social ambiguities is high up in cognitive hierarchy).

Joshua Darlington
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"We shouldn't make artificial classifications for media simply for the sake of doing so."



I see reduction (this or that classifications) as being valuable for quick decisions, which is important for marketing in physical retail space. A physical object can only exist in on bin.

Ramon Carroll
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What Jaffe described in Twisted Metal is no more complex or tactical than combat situations in many of today’s (or yesterday’s) games…

Roger Tober
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If story weren't important it wouldn't be there. This is just one guy's rant and nothing more. It's kind of like the Sim's guy who went into a dead end on it. You don't hear much from him anymore. We added story because games got boring without it. They didn't start that way. Now we've sort of compromised on small interlocking story pieces and a larger overall narrative. Personally, I get sick of all the go-for tasks that have replaced an overall story, but you need something, otherwise you are batting sticks together or whatever. Sometimes you just wish these people would shut up and write games if they get that much tunnel vision. Games have to be "x" or they're not games. Crap.

Luis Guimaraes
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"We added story because games got boring without it."



If it fails too, then add Achievements and Trophies, I'm pretty sure it won't remain boring after that. Or maybe one shouldn't be making videogames despite what his Game Design instructor might have told him.



Story is a plus, gameplay is a need.

Roger Tober
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"He never said once that games shouldn't feature a story."



Article:Interactivity, he says, is the core of what makes the medium tick, and all of that storytelling that's shoehorned in.



"Story is a plus, gameplay is a need. "



If it's a good game, story and gameplay are wedded. You couldn't separate them because one couldn't be understood without the other. The only game I play that doesn't have a story is Free Cell, and that's about the level games are without a story. Fun, but it doesn't really pull me in emotionally.

Roger Tober
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"What sucks about a story is that once you heard it, it's game over. Great gameplay is timeless. "



It's the story game that people remember for a long time. Game play gets trashed by the next toy, because that's all it is, a toy.



Those emotions you are talking about are base emotions. It's not love, greed, betrayal, compassion, or any of the things that make a higher story. Those emotions are like taking a roller coaster ride. That's not story. The reason a story is needed is because those things are too shallow. They don't engage us at an intellectual level. You can only play in a sand box for so long, which is aptly named btw.



As far as you only play it once. I haven't played one of these games all the way through in ages because they don't have a decent story. So one time through seems like quite a bit.

Roger Tober
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"However, some people really do not care about gameplay mechanics and only want a cinematic experience and a good story. And that's just fine. "



That's my point. Game play centered games are one option only. I don't want to get trapped into that. I like story games, and I like a few game play centered games if they are done well and aren't too long and repetitive. Yes, I can make my own somewhat basic story with them, but it's coloring book creativity and I would rather have lower participation in a more engaging story than be given some crayolas and paint between the lines and put my "masterpiece" on the hard drive refrigerator. That's why I make games, because playing most of them doesn't allow enough creativity. I don't need that level, some do. It's like playing guitar hero or playing the guitar. I play the guitar, and I enjoy hearing a master play the guitar. I don't need that particular go-between. Some people that lack enough skill and creativity, need that, but I think they will always also enjoy a master ply his trade, like Bioshock or something. There's gameplay there, but the story is paramount and the game play revolves around it. The player doesn't create it, he discovers it.

Personally, I think when I play a game where I don't decide what the character will look like when I start, I will know that games have matured. Dress me up Barbie will be in the past, or in children's games, where they belong.

Ramon Carroll
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There is room for both types of games, Christian. The market and its consumers have proven that. You may be one of those "purists" that swear to never buy a story driven game, but you're in the minority. I enjoy both open-ended games where the mechanics drive an open-ended story, and games where the gameplay mechanics are driven and informed by the story. Most people love a game with a good story and are willing to shell out the cash play it.



When you can recognize that there are various reasons for playing games, then you will be better off.

Luis Guimaraes
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@Roger



Bioshock is an exemple of immersive videogame-way narrative, with the exceptions being the introductory cutscene, the encounter with Andrew Ryan and the multiple ending scenes.



You said it: "The player doesn't create it, he discovers it". Watching or being told is passive, exploring and discovering is interactive. It's the difference of listening to a conversation and having a conversation.



"Language of Interactivity" means it's intended to communicate, which includes telling stories. The goal is not cutting off communication, but getting rid of the interpreters.

Roger Tober
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"You said it: "The player doesn't create it, he discovers it". Watching or being told is passive, exploring and discovering is interactive. It's the difference of listening to a conversation and having a conversation."



On that level, I agree, but I don't think Jaffe is really saying that from his story has to be shoe-horned in statement. Any game has to be interactive, whether it's a story game or an open sandbox game. I don't mind reading narrative, but it better be good and short. I'm not reading a book, I'm playing a game. Which, btw, is another peeve of mine with sandbox games that give you this boring book to read with some of the most atrocious writing imaginable.

Ramon Carroll
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@ Christian



"I guess that I could consider to some degree a purist, but I play and buy mostly every game. Appreciate, study them... "



And so do many people who are not purists.

Bob Johnson
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@Roger



You are starting to sound like a guy that doesn't like story in games especially with your last post.



When I talk about story in games I am mostly referring to cutscenes or long background narrative drivel from npcs whether it is in text or voiced.



I find the two to be just as annoying and non-needed. Seems you aren't far from that.



That being said I couldn't get into Bioshock. I loved the atmosphere. But the gameplay didn't hook me. Just seemed like another hallway shooter. I didn't have the patience to go through the gameplay in order to get to the story. But I wished that I could watch a movie based on the world or at least skip the gameplay sequences when they held little appeal.



That is why, for me, there is almost always a disconnection between the narrative and gameplay.



I have liked fps games that give you story nuggets or background info on tapes or in computers through their world. But that wore off for me after I got a few under my belt.



It wasn't new anymore.



I don't mind something like Half Life 2. Little more human because of their lip synching and in game presentation. Also fairly concise if I remember correctly. Still i don't think I can tell you what happened story wise. I can recall many of the gameplay sequences however. And the overall look and feel of the world and game.



My interest did fall off with the episodes. Story wasn't enough. Gameplay wasn't as fresh.

Ramon Carroll
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**double post**

Gerald Belman
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He seems kind of on the douchy side of things. What with all the "games can't tell stories as well as books" crapola. They are just two different ways of doing things. One is not necessarily better or worse than the other.



Games are the ultimate choose your own adventure book.



Go left or right?



Go left:

You fall through a trap door and are sucked into a worlpool. end.



Go Right:

You marry the ogre queen. end.

Joshua Darlington
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Stories are a way to structure memories so they can be communicated. When people pull things out of long term memory, they pass through part of human agency that introduces plasticity. This is why fiction, and post modern forms of fiction like non-linearity and surrealism make sense. Memory is nonlinear. Dreams are memory consolidations. Plasticity in communicating memories allows for emphasis, reformulation, tall tales and etc. Understanding these qualities opens up many options for exploiting story in game play.



Cut scenes can be very powerful tools with many applications. One application that's exciting is their use as placeholders for game engine capabilities that don't exist yet. In general, game avatars are not as expressive as mimes, silent film comedians, acrobats, puppets, or regular people. Chatbot NPCs do not have complex motivations generated by emulating several hundred brain structures working in parallel (millions of heuristics, deep semantic webs etc). NPC Chatbots don't even have convincing reduced natural language speech synthesis. As computational drama gradually becomes more sophisticated, many placeholder cut scenes will be replaced with interactive content.

Avinash Maddi
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I totally get what Jaffe is trying to tell , "Cut-scenes are not game mechanic"..Games can be used to tell story but by using game mechanics not by using non interactive scene which kills the whole point of video games. when ever designer chooses Cut-scenes over mechanic he failed to do justice over the medium he is working in.

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Josh Foreman
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I largely agree with Jaffe, and I'm happy that he reiterated that he's not trying to tell others how they HAVE to do things. He's expressing his opinion and actually be much more humble about it than most of the detractors here are making him out to be.


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