David Jaffe, Kratos’ father, Twisted Metals and other great Triple-A PlayStation talks about himself in a unique interview in Italy, in which to discover his travels in the industry and his new goals and opinions!
A quick question for you readers: do you know Kratos? That Greek divinity ready to do anything to make war against the Olympian gods and claim a justice that he considers unequivocal? Today we have the honor to introduce you to its creator, the mind who gave birth to one of the most important PlayStation icons of past generations, ready to walk new paths in the world of Double-A together with Movie Games, here the news, David Jaffe !
A few hours after the announcement of the new games from the development house and publishing house, which you can find here, we have the opportunity to enter the history of the video game and talk about the creation of great works that have redefined the culture of the medium. In fact, between nerdy quotes, daily madness and love for the new frontiers of horror, the great creative PlayStation talked about many ideas and productions, as well as hopes crossing the past, present and future. So welcome to a trip that we have the honor to present to you! Before starting, you can find here the italian version of this interview.
Before we start with the first question, we thank David Jaffe and Movie Games for this wonderful opportunity. So, for those followers who don’t know you, who is David Jaffe, and what is Movie Games?
Who is David Jaffe? Interesting question. Most people know me from being the game director of God of War, the first one in 2005, the lead designer, one of the co-writers. I worked on God of War 2, I did the Twisted Metal series as a co-creator of that franchise. And then I did a bunch of other games for PlayStation. I have been at Sony as a designer/director for about 16, 17 years.
And then I was at two companies I co-founded. So I have done a lot of video games in the triple-A space. Obviously, they’ve all been PlayStation games. And then the last couple of years, after my last game Drawn to Death–which was a really bad critical and commercial failure, even though I still love the game very much–I was like, yeah, let me take a break. I really got excited about streaming and doing this kind of live call-in talk shows about games with gamers, making more videos on YouTube, and things like that. And for the last three years, I’ve really just pivoted to be focused on that and absolutely having a blast. So I would say that’s probably who I am career-wise.
I discovered Movie Games when I was game streaming and I found one of their games called Lust from Beyond. It looked like a horror adventure meets an X-rated adults-only rated porno game. I thought that it looked like it could be really fun to stream, and that it was going to be really dumb, but in a fun way. And it surprised the heck out of me because it was absolutely high-quality gameplay. Very interesting story, really creepy. I think that thanks to the whole blend of eroticism and this really demented Lovecraftian cult, the whole game had this fascinating but disturbing flavor.
I loved this game, I started talking online about it, and the Movie Games guys reached out to me. They said, hey, maybe we could do some work together. What I really love about Movie Games is that it reminds me of the early days in the PS1/PS2 era, when there were brilliant games being made up and down the budgetary spectrum. But with Movie Games, they have tucked into this AA space, which used to be the AAA space back in the day when I started. This is fun for me, because it allows us to do things that are still commercial, but at the same time, it has the freedom because the budgets are not so crazy. We can explore much more interesting ideas and take more chances than I think most developers feel comfortable taking.
The world of videogame development is multifaceted, with stories to tell and unique experiences. What was your path in this field and how did you come to develop for Santa Monica Studio?
I started as a tester at a company called Sony Imagesoft. This was before PlayStation even existed, back in ‘92, and I had gotten out of college. I had gone to college wanting to learn how to make movies and be a filmmaker. I moved to L.A. and I was starting to make inroads into that career, but I wasn’t making any real money yet. And I needed a job.
I had always loved video games. Growing up, we had a console before the Atari, I forgot the name of it. And then we had the Atari 2600, the Apple IIE and the ColecoVision, then the Nintendo. I’ve never lived without games. I was a total arcade rat as well, back in the late 70s and 80s. I love this stuff. And I noticed, oh, there’s a company in town, Sony Imagesoft, that makes games. They made games based on a bunch of Sony movies, like Cliffhanger, Last Action Hero, Spielberg’s Hook. I had heard about this job that game companies had called tester. I remember the day: I sent my resume out to be a clerk in a dentist office, and I sent my resume out for this job at Sony. Sony called me back and the dentist’s office didn’t.
I had assumed if I had worked at the dentist office, I would have just gone home every night and kept working on trying to break into the movies. But in this case, I started working at Sony very quickly. I realized that games were starting to change and we can start using them to tell stories, let people step into the shoes of the actual stars, and live the adventures. I realised I can apply a lot of my love of film and understanding of storytelling to my love of video games. That was really the start.
From there we did Mickey Mania, Twisted Metal and God of War. Somewhere along those lines, around 2000, Sony said: “hey, do you want to head up the creative department of a new studio that we’re going to have in Santa Monica?” And so I was the creative director, working with the head of the studio, head of production, head of art. The four of us really founded that studio in Santa Monica. We built it around a number of tenants, the key one being that we wanted to make sure creative and production were separate but equal, and that the producer couldn’t come in to put their foot down and say, “no, it’s going to be this”. The designer director also could not come in and say, “we’re going to keep extending and adding things”.
We really created this kind of relationship between production producers and designers. The designers are the creative ones, the producers are the ones that figure out how to get things done. And it really created a great relationship system that is in effect till this day at Sony across a number of studios. Before that you had a lot of cases where the producer of the title really was the lord over everything. That’s a really hard job to be in because there’s a massive conflict of interest where you’ve got, depending on what side of the fence that individual leans on, a producer who is caring more about shipping on time and looking good in the eyes of the budget folks, or you’ve got directors who’d love to ship on time, but they have their grand vision so they don’t really give a fuck. “We’re going to make this the way I want to make it.”
At Santa Monica, we were one of the pioneering studios that said: “I think we can make that better and in doing so, make better products”. When I was there and later, they’ve been one of the premier video game development studios in the world. I think we were on to something.
Kratos was my desire to create. We started with Greek mythology. I knew I wanted to do an action-adventure game that was inspired by movies like Clash of the Titans, Ray Harryhausen, and things like that. I wanted to make a game that felt like Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the player got to go on this big grand adventure. But as we started looking for our main character in terms of visual stylings and whatnot, we very quickly realised that using traditional Greek and even Roman garb and costuming, we wouldn’t be able to create a very memorable character. He would look more like a generic soldier you see in Greek myths or a movie about ancient Greece.
We just couldn’t really give him identification. And as much as I love the Greek myths, this stuff is still kind of geeky. So we decided to make a character that can counter that, even though he’s an asshole in terms of his aggressiveness and animalistic nature. We thought, if we made a character that had more in common with the Hulk or Wolverine, with that sense of animal aggression, we figured that we could balance out the nerdiness of Greek mythology. People would come to it just because they enjoyed the violence, the energy and aggression, and the rawness of playing that character. That was our conceptual inspiration.
Visually, I remember, we must have spent over a year on him. Thousands of drawings were created and thousands of ideas were tossed around. And ultimately, what we found, was the more we removed armor, helmets and accoutrement from this character, the more animalistic he looked. He looked more driven, focused, angry and aggressive, and he had this sense of animalistic nature that we wanted the player to be able to experience. It really came to a head when I was watching a movie with my wife at the time. American History X, where Ed Norton at the beginning of the movie is this white supremacist, neo-Nazi skinhead guy. And in the movie, obviously, he goes through this arc and changes, becoming a decent human. But when he is the Nazi character, he’s super buff. He’s totally bald. He’s a terrible character in the sense that he’s a horrible human being.
I was very taken with that idea of rage and power on screen, shown in the performance from Ed Norton. I went back to Charlie Wynn, who was our lead art director and character creator, an amazing genius guy in the movie industry, who now went on to create a bunch of stuff for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I talked to him, and it didn’t take him too long. Charlie came back from lunch with a drawing on a napkin and he’s like, “what about this?” I said, “oh, my God, that’s amazing”. It was this raw dude wearing a sort of warrior battle skirt thing. And then other things came in in time. The white skin came from the fact that I saw Charlie drawing, and he puts a primer on his art before he colors it. I didn’t realize that was a technique. I just thought he was drawing white skin. I said, “dude, that looks awesome,” he answered, “oh, no, no, I’m not finished. I’m going to give him more of a tannish skin”. I was like, “no, this totally makes him pop”.
We wrote the story of his family and his ashes around that. With Joe Wright, one of our great designers, we were looking for ways for the player to be able to pick out Kratos when the camera was pulled back away from the player. We were looking at the PlayStation 2 version of Shinobi from Sega, and the main character had this big, long, flowing, red scarf, and that ended up really catching your eye and allowing you to stay focused on your character amid all this chaos. Joe said we could do that, but maybe with chains that he’s swinging around and hitting enemies with.
What is really fascinating, is that very organic character creation process where the story came out of art, and gameplay came out of the need to see the character better. And the art went back in and designed the Blades of Chaos. It was a very neat ping pong match, or a five-way ping pong match, between design, performance, concept art, animation and programming that really kind of burst in the sky. That’s how we came up with Kratos.
In relation to the new reboot of the franchise, considering the future release of a sequel focused on Ragnarok, what are your thoughts about the evolution of the character you created? Would you have developed in a different way his character following the previous trilogy?
I think looking at Ragnarok has been really fascinating. First at God of War 2018, and then Ragnarok, if that’s what they end up calling it. I didn’t play it for a very long time. I just wasn’t interested. A lot of people thought I was upset about it but I never was. I’ve heard other creators talk about why they don’t necessarily go watch a sequel of a movie they directed. They say it’s basically like going out to dinner with your ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. It just felt a little weird. But eventually, I was like, OK, I want to play it. I played it in December of last year, and I just loved it. I thought it was phenomenal.
If you look at the sales of the last God of War, it was a good game and a lot of people liked it. But it was clear that the formula, both mechanically and conceptually, was getting old. We were probably starting to see diminishing returns. Something had to be done. The idea that Corey Borlaug had was to not just change it because it needed a refresh. The refresh actually was a statement on the characters’ growth and the growth of the medium. Not through mechanics, which I still feel is very unfortunate, but with all the other supporting structure, like great performances by actors, great cut scenes and things like that. The medium has matured with storytelling and empathy. Creating a medium I thought was a neat thing that Corey did, and he pulled it off brilliantly.
What would I have developed differently? I’ve come to realize recently that when I was making triple-A games, they were triple-A at the time. But if I were to make God of War today, the same way I made it but with new technology, I don’t think Sony first-party would be interested in publishing it. I had this window of the late 90s to early 2010 where the stuff that I really vibed with was triple-A. But now the stuff I vibe with, which is the same, would probably be looked at as sort of double-A. It would be considered exploitation. It’s over the top. It’s violent. It’s much more like something you might see from Roger Corman or even Troma films. But at the time, that was the cream of the crop.
I like the direction Corey’s taking it in. But if I were to do the new God of War, I wouldn’t say I would have taken it in that direction. It’s wonderful and noble to tell a story about a character maturing and growing and whatnot. But I also think there’s nobility in continuing, no matter how much you’ve matured and how old you’ve gotten, to never lose sight and touch with that kid inside you. Whether that’s the little kid who’s into monsters or whether that’s the teenager that’s into really cool gore and sex and all this kind of stuff, I think that’s just as noble. And I’ve never really been interested in creating things that aren’t living in that space.
4GameHz has always been committed to the issue involving violence in videogames, moving between virtual worlds and the real ones. What are your opinions about the correlation between videogames and violence?
The obvious thing to do is cite the fact that most studies have shown there is no correlation between video games and violence. But you can always find a study, unfortunately, to talk about the things that you believe in and which support your view. But I do think, though, we haven’t really seen any evidence that video games create killers. The first horror movie I saw was Jaws when I was five. I saw it in the theater. I saw the Freddy Krueger movies, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface. I love that stuff, and I’m not a violent guy, right? I’ve only been in two fights in my life. And those were fights that I will say I won. I was standing up for someone, and I was standing up for myself.
Games certainly haven’t made me violent. I’ve never really seen a strong correlation that suggests if you play violent games, they will make you go out and actually do those things. There may very well be a connection, that the people who go out and do awful things in the real world are drawn to violent video games. But that seems more likely than the fact that these mild-mannered folks come to games and suddenly they just lose their minds. I think it is the job of people who put out entertainment to be responsible. I like gore and I like violence, and I would hate to not be able to express those ideas. I think they’re cool and fun. Some people would argue, and they’re probably right. But some people would argue that it’s also cathartic and healthy to look at those things and face those things, even though you’re not really doing it consciously.
There’s a group of monks, I know it’s Buddhism but I forgot where they’re from, where they will literally go up to this slab, up in the mountains. When someone dies, they put their body there and they just let it decay. They will go up there and they will meditate looking at the body and concentrating on it to give them a sense of mortality and learning to be more comfortable with the fact that we’re all going to die. This is what the body does and this is how it dies and decays. And I do think there is some argument to be made that says there’s value in getting a little bit more comfortable with the idea of death and chaos.
Ultimately, what I would say is I still think we have to be responsible. It doesn’t mean we can’t make totally exploitative stuff. In America, video games are protected under the First Amendment. So you can’t really censor those things, and I wouldn’t want them to be censored. Still, if there is data that comes out to say conclusively that when someone is predisposed to losing his or her mind and violent video games will push you over the edge, I think that’s an important thing to consider.
I would say it would be great if we could have some kind of oversight or an ability to say, OK, well, let’s not allow them to be exposed to it. So I think we need to be responsible. But so far, I haven’t really ever seen any stats that prove it. What’s happening in games is not so much the violence, but the sex. Developers are pushing back and saying, we don’t want to just make sexy women characters anymore. We want to try to make characters that are feminine but realistic. They’re not pinup girls. And a lot of gamers don’t like that. But I think the reason for this big push for diversity in games is not because there’s some kind of woke agenda but it’s because, at least in certain parts of the world, we have gotten more aware and tuned in to the misogyny, the homophobia, the racism, the anti-Semitism, the anti-Muslim sentiment.
We’ve known it was there, but it’s become much more amplified, certainly in America, over the last couple of years. A lot of people have known forever, but a lot of us are just waking up to it in a big way. It’s not that we’re following some agenda. You know, we put out these products and they affect people and culture, and let’s try not to be assholes. Let’s try not to make people feel bad and contribute to the misogyny, racism and all of that. I don’t think all games are doing that, and all games don’t need to do that, but there are a number of games that are starting to become more diverse and care more about their audiences, and want to be more kind to their customers. I think that’s a wonderful thing. It really comes down to being responsible with this great gift a lot of us who get to work in games have been given.
Recently, your move to Movie Games has caused a big uproar. Considering the indie nature of the company, what impressed you about your new team?
I wasn’t aware moving to Movie Games caused an uproar. What impressed me about them, as I said earlier, was that they’re doing the kind of games that really appeal to me. It’s the conceptual ideas in the games like Fire Commander, War Hospital, Lust from Beyond. I don’t think you would see those coming out of Sony or Xbox first-party or big triple-A third-party developers. I like cool ideas. I like neat settings. I like high concept stuff and the double-A spaces where that really gets to thrive. Movie Games in a lot of ways feels like coming home in that we’re going to get to work on a bunch of those together. So I would say that’s the best thing for me. That was the most attractive thing to me when they reached out and said, hey, what do you think about doing this with us? I was like, you guys make stuff that I’m vibing with right now and I always have been vibing with. Let’s see if we can make it happen. And we did.
I’ve been really quite thrilled with the whole process so far. I’m learning about some of the new games coming down the line at Movie Games and I’m like, this one’s cool, that one’s cool. This new one I’m just getting to know, Winter Survival Simulator, where you’re trapped in the wilderness and it’s freezing, that’s cool. We’ve seen that before, but now you’re also starting to go insane. And these creepy animals are starting to appear, missing their skin. It’s almost like Annihilation, that Natalie Portman movie. Like, what the hell is that bear?
It doesn’t mean there are no fresh ideas happening in indie games and big triple-A games, but the budgets are so big on the triple-A games that you really have to be a lot more careful about your concepts, whereas here we get to play a lot more and have more freedom. I would much rather have freedom than the top of the line production value, which you can only get if you’re spending upwards of over 180 million dollars for one game. That’s my take, and that’s why I was very excited to get the offer to join these fine folks at Movie Games.
Movie Games has shown itself particulary with the creation of cinematographic videogames very original about the themes. Will your contribution continue in this direction or are you thinking about some changing of plans?
I’m one person among a number of people on the creative board of Movie Games. It’s not like I’ve come in and it’s going to become the David Jaffe company. I’m not interested in that. They’re not interested in that and they don’t need that. But they’ve shown me some very original themes. That’s why I joined, because that’s what I want to work on. That’s what excites me.
I’ve never played a game like War Hospital. I love that idea. I know it’s not like M*A*S*H, it’s not a comedy. But I grew up loving this sitcom, which was all set in hospitals on the actual battlefield of the Korean War. The idea of a video game that allows you to go into these really unique situations and scenarios is what makes video games so fun.
I’m playing a game right now from Romero Games, from John and Brenda Romero, called Empire of Sin. It’s a wonderful strategy turn-based combat game that lets you be a gangster in the 1920s’, 30s’ Chicago. Chicago of that time is really cool for a guy like me who’s 50. I don’t necessarily think that it has the appeal it did back when a movie like The Untouchables was out. So again, that’s the kind of stuff I find myself playing lately, even though I love playing the big triple-A stuff. I’m playing Returnal right now, which I love. There’s just something about fresh ideas and themes that really gets me excited about the industry, both as a gamer and a creator. That’s one of the main reasons I joined.
Twisted Metal wasn’t a project that had been greenlit. When you’re asking about the reasons it collapsed, one of them is that I don’t own the rights to Twisted Metal. Sony does, and they are making a TV series out of it. I’ve had some conversations with the team which is making it, Will Arnett’s company and the guys who worked on Zombieland and Deadpool. It can be really great. It sounds like there is some really interesting potential there. The franchise within the halls of Sony may still be alive and well, and maybe that will lead to new games. But right now, it seems pretty clear that most of Sony’s output is these big triple-A, 180+ million dollar, if you can believe, cinematic experiences.
It doesn’t mean that’s all they’re making, of course. They put out Sackboy: A Big Adventure, which was great. They put out the Demon Souls remake. Returnal doesn’t fall into that. But they’re not doing as much of the kitchen sink method of genre as they did back in the day. Twisted Metal was primarily a hit in America and only a couple of other countries. You would need to make it competitive and you’d be taking a big risk on a franchise that has a big, passionate group of fans.
We’ve been seeing diminishing returns on Twisted Metal Black, even though our reviews were great. But we haven’t been as financially successful with that series since Twisted Metal 4. Actually, Twisted Metal 3 was probably the peak and then it just started going down. I think it’s a franchise that needs reinvention.
If you’re going to spend the kind of money to make it triple-A, then you probably need to thematically shift some things to the point that it may not resemble the Twisted Metal the hardcore fans love. If somebody, if Movie Games, came to me and said, we’ll do a Twisted-Metal-like game, but we’re not going to spend crazy money on it, but we do think there’s an audience for it, I would agree. I’d say, yeah, let’s make a great online car combat game. Maybe even go to Sony and say, hey, can we make a Twisted Metal game and we’ll co-publish it, I think that can be really lucrative and successful.
But I don’t think you could see it coming out unless Sony creates a smaller boutique publishing group within PlayStation that does some less expensive titles. That’s why you’re not seeing it. But it wasn’t like it was a greenlit project that collapsed. Somebody just asked me. I get asked all the time, probably five or six times a week, “where’s the new Twisted Metal?” And my answer is, “I’d love to see new Twisted Metal, whether I’m involved with it or not. But it’s really not my call, you know.” So I think Sony would need to have some new initiatives regarding the kind of games they greenlight in order to see that come to life, in my opinion.
What are your thoughts about Lust from Beyond, the current flagship game of Movie Games, and about their future games such as War Hospital and Fire Commander?
Like I said earlier, I loved Lust from Beyond. I don’t finish a lot of games. I played tons, and most games wear out their welcome. I actually played through it, I loved it, and I finished it. One of the things I loved about it is that it kept surprising me. The story kept twisting and turning. New locations were being added. Characters that seem like they betrayed you, became allies. And then they became something more. The story just kept unfolding.
It was also weird. I love horror. But horror, especially in games, has become very cliche and tropey. Everything’s based on Kojima’s P.T. demo, and that’s cool and all, but ultimately, after a while, it’s not scary. There’s nothing I had never really seen before. I know erotic horror is a thing. It’s a subgenre of horror, but it’s never been a subgenre I’ve exposed myself to or really thought about. There’s something about really freaky sexuality. It’s not bad but just very outside of the norm. Not just sexuality, but there was a sexual aspect to it, there was a deviant aspect to it. A snuff film aspect to it. It was embracing these taboo subjects and there were weird things that made you a little uncomfortable at times.
Mixing that sensation with horror was really potent alchemy. I love it because it’s pushing buttons, and I love having my buttons pushed by games and movies. But like I said, I’m 50. I consume tons of entertainment media and it takes something really unique to make me sit up and take notice. I can appreciate a lot of things, but it’s more “oh, I appreciate that game”. But Lust from Beyond made me genuinely enjoy being in that world because it was so unsettling. I’m a big fan of that game.
I like The Beast Inside. I like what they’re doing there with their horror stuff. And obviously, we’re not done yet with Fire Commander and War Hospital. But thematically, I love both of those, too. I think one great thing about video games is they really do let you explore not just that sort of fantastic worlds like you would see, whether it’s Ratched & Clank, or Returnal, or Gears of War. They let you do these things which you’re probably not going to do in real life. But they’re real. And sure, you’re not really a doctor at a war hospital. You’re not really fighting fires. But there’s still something fun about getting to play pretend in the world of video games.
I was playing that mud genre, the game where you’re driving trucks through mud, delivering stuff. I had never played any of those, and gamepass just dropped one called SnowRunner. I figured, screw it, I’ll give it a shot. And man, I tweeted out that I have never felt so manly in my goddamn life as I have playing SnowRunner. I’m not a truck guy. I don’t do well with trailers and bad weather driving. If it’s raining too hard, I’m just staying home, you know? It’s a really cool thing to step into. These scenarios are not just fantastic, but relatable enough that this could happen to you, and you actually get to role-play that. So I’m a fan and I can’t wait to see what is coming out next from Movie Games.
Before moving on to the final question, we would like to share our best wishes to David Jaffe for this new experience. So, when will we get to know more about the projects you are working on? Do you think the next E3 will be a useful occasion for this kind of presentations?
I would love to tell you what I’m working on next, but honestly, I just started working with the Movie Games guys, and I don’t know yet what has been made public. I don’t yet know how my involvement will look like for every project. I’ve been having a couple of really good conversations with the Lust from Beyond team about what those folks may be doing next. But again, I’m not looking to make their game my game. I definitely vibe with what they’re about as a studio, and I think we will be collaborating together on something that makes a lot of sense. But it’s not my place to reveal what those projects are. I’m looking forward to talking about them. We just had a really great meeting last week. We have another meeting coming up.
In general, I’m excited about E3. I do a lot of streaming now. I love streaming, I do it multiple times a week. And it’s not just streaming games. Most of my stuff is like a talk show with video game people. And I love watching E3 with the streaming audience and debating and talking about all the new stuff. So I’m excited about this coming up week because we’re going to see a lot of new stuff. So I’m jazz, man. Absolutely.
But how it pertains to Movie Games? I think it’s OK for me to tell you there will be a presence from Movie Games at E3 in some form. But what that is, you’ll just have to stay tuned. I appreciate you doing this interview and having the interest to reach out to me. And hopefully, I gave you some answers that will make your readers interested and entertained. Thanks a lot, y’all.