David Jaffe is known for many things. He was the lead creator of “God of War.” Among gamers, he’s famous for that. He is outspoken and curses more in his interviews than most game designers. That’s one of his calling cards.
But does the world truly appreciate Jaffe’s mastery of analogies and comparisons? In an interview with GameFile last week, Jaffe peppered his discussion of “Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition” — which may or may not include the work of six game developers who died in a plane crash — with a smattering of comparisons you typically just don’t hear from a game developer trying to get people excited about his game.
“The George Bush of Video Games”
Before “God of War,” Jaffe made his name making “Twisted Metal” games. The point of the PlayStation series was simple: to have a multiplayer game featuring cars armed with guns and missiles. “It’s loud,” Jaffe told GameFile. “It’s obnoxious. It’s violent. There’s not a lot of subtlety to it.” It hasn’t gone over well with non-Americans, selling the bulk of the series’ 8 million copies in the U.S. and, according to Jaffe, befuddling non-Americans at Sony who don’t really get it. “It crashes and burns everywhere it goes outside of America,” Jaffe said. “It’s the George Bush of video games.”
“The ‘Full House’ of Video Games”
The “Twisted Metal” series is popular. It’s popular enough to have spawned nine games, including this new one, which combines the content of a PSP “Twisted Metal” released in 2005 along with so-called “Lost Levels” and a lot of bonus content. The bonus material includes a section that lets players walk around on foot in a sort of prison/ virtual museum as “Twisted Metal” antihero Sweet Tooth, an angry clown who drives a heavily armed ice cream truck. The bonus material also includes a documentary about the history of the series. In that video, as he did in the interview, Jaffe admits that the popular “Twisted Metal” isn’t discussed by, well, just about anyone. “It’s like we’ve never really been, for the most part, a critics’-darling title,” he told GameFile. “In terms of just the respect the title got, it almost felt to me like sort of the ‘Full House’ of video games. Tons of people watched it, but nobody likes to really talk about watching it.”
“The ‘Scorpion King’ of Video Games”
Jaffe used to work for Sony, but a year ago he started his own company with longtime business associate Scott Campbell. They call the new company Eat Sleep Play. In the documentary, Jaffe and Campbell talk about some of the respect their previous “Twisted Metal” games didn’t get. Ken Kutaragi, the man credited with inventing the PlayStation, is cited as asking when the graphics of a near-final version of the first “Twisted Metal” were going to be swapped out for some “real graphics.” Jaffe read an interview with the makers of the “Metroid Prime” series, who admitted to being chastened by Nintendo’s top game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, when he caught wind that they were making a “Twisted Metal” game.
Jaffe doesn’t mind too much. He told GameFile that one of the series’ best qualities is that it’s scrappy. “It’s kind of like an also-ran,” he said. “It’s a good B title from the standpoint that it’s not a great game. I think it’s a great game for people who love it, but it’s one of those things where if you look at a title like ‘Gran Turismo,’ that’s sort of the big summer $200 million action movie. And ‘Twisted Metal’ is more like the really fun movie that comes out in the spring before the really big movies hit. It’s ‘The Scorpion King.’ These are really bizarre analogies, but I’m just trying to express kind of all the other things in media that feel the same to me about it.” (He also said the series is for people who like ’70s rock-album covers, like the ones for Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell or any Styx album.)
“The Video Game Version of … Marvel Comics”
Jaffe worked on the four Lost Levels that are included among the bonus content of the new PS2 game. He’s especially proud of the suburbs level, which allows players to face their armed vehicles off in front of a movie theater, in a school gymnasium and elsewhere in an otherwise quiet little town. He thinks the level is one of the finest “Twisted Metal” levels he ever created. He likes things that just happen in it when people play it, like when a player is “sitting on top of a roof for a pizza place and lobbing missiles at a guy who’s taking the back road to pick up health and getting him with a homing missile before he gets to them.”
These four levels were, in a rougher form, developed for an aborted version of “Twisted Metal” that had been slated for release a few years ago. But a text intro to the Lost Levels in the new game claims that six of the developers working on that planned sequel were killed in a plane crash, that two years after their death a note signed by them was delivered to Sony headquarters, asking for the levels to be released to the public and, well, here they are. True? It’s a new story that hasn’t been reported in the gaming press before. Jaffe is cagey, saying, “Certainly we have to embellish for drama and entertainment. But there’s a very large nugget of that that is absolutely real.” Was there really a crash and people who lost their lives? He won’t say. He’s building lore and mystique.
Regardless, these levels didn’t make themselves. Jaffe helped put them together. In fact, when they were presented to him, they were the result of an unusual creative process. Campbell had asked his team to create cool art. The team did and then Jaffe eventually worked on turning the cool art, which was laid out just to look good, into something that was fun to play. With the art coming first, it resembled the way “Spider-Man” and “Fantastic Four” comics were created in the ’60s. “This is sort of the video game version of the way they used to write Marvel comics. And yeah, I loved this.”
“B-Level Michael Bay”
Minimal respect? Check. Emphasis on cool explosions? Check? Lack of deep meaning? Sure. Jaffe doesn’t just know where “Twisted Metal” stands, but he has a firm sense of how he’d like his own star to shine. He’s no young, hungry designer anymore. That’s what his pals like Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen from ThatGameCompany are. They’re the brainy whiz-kids spouting bright theories while he’s the lowbrow veteran. Santiago is his counterpoint. “Between her and Jenova, who I always call Jehovah, these guys are out of [the University of Southern California] and the total cutting edge of game theories and all this stuff and they’ve got all these great nominations for ‘Flow,’ and I’m sitting here: ‘Look at my ice cream truck with the missiles.’ ”
He’s not embarrassed by his style or his rep. “I just like to make good entertainment,” he said. “If somebody one day said, ‘He came close to being a B-level Michael Bay of video games,’ I would be thrilled with that. I don’t need to be any more than that. As long as we’re entertaining people and they’re getting value for their money, I’m really happy.”
“Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition” launches this week for the PlayStation 2 for $20.
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