GDC 06: Jaffe speaks of his God

God of War designer avoided development obstacles through tenacity, fearlessness, and advice from Christina Aguilera.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--One of the top names frequently mentioned on the game-designing scene these days is Sony's David Jaffe. His most recent creation, God of War for the PlayStation 2, has won several year-end awards and was considered one of the top games for 2005. He is currently one of the creative directors at Sony's Santa Monica studios, and previously worked on the Twisted Metal franchise.

Jaffe spoke with Oddworld Inhabitants founder Lorne Lanning about the rigors of game development, the chasm between the creatives and programmers, and how he was prepared to get fired for his vision.

Though the initial format was supposed to be Lanning getting Jaffe's perspective on game development, the talk quickly took the form of two of the industry's stubbornly creative figures having a friendly chat. Lorne opened up the talk by asking Jaffe what the "juice" was that sparked the idea for God of War.

After scouring the audience for reps from his company to see how loose his reins could be, the outspoken Jaffe noticed one of his bosses, vice president of product development Shuhei Yoshida. After uttering an expletive, he decided to choose his words a bit carefully.

"I've always felt like an outsider among designers, because I don't like games designers... Adventure 2600, that's my Seven Cities of Gold," said Jaffe. "I think when you talk about inspirations for God of War, it comes from a real desire to work on what I felt would be my ultimate action adventure game." He then mentioned how Clash of the Titans and Raiders of the Lost Ark were obvious influences.

Like Raiders, God of War dipped back into an almost long-lost genre and sought to bring back what made its influences great and improve on them.

Lanning summed up his feelings on the game. "I felt that God of War was taking something that people didn't necessarily think was going to be dead on target for the market for this period in time, [God of War] was a little bit retro," said Lanning. "From the outside it seems like you said, 'Wait a minute, we haven't yet fully exploited [the action adventure genre].' That's what we looked at with the side-scroller [and Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee]."

Jaffe explained that he has issues with the industry, but that Sony has a genuine interest in pushing the envelope, and that's why he's been with the company for 13 years. He then pointed out Sony's EyeToy and Shadow of the Colossus as examples of Sony's innovation, the latter having been the big winner at the GDC awards show the night before, while God of War won none. The talk then drifted into an entertaining discussion about the importance of awards.

"We lost everything last night," Jaffe reflected.

"I've never won one of these damn awards," Lanning jokingly griped, which was followed by uproarious laughter from those in attendance.

"It sucks to lose every...single...award you're up for," Jaffe said. "It hurts!"

"When you hear people say that it's great just to be nominated, do you believe it?" asked Lanning.

Jaffe then got more serious and claimed he wouldn't have changed anything about God of War, even if it meant that his mantle would be full with shiny statuettes.

"I could have won the GDC award if I had just done this, that, or the other, but that's not why I did it. [Winning] would have been cool, but..."

"...It still sucks," Lanning said, which was met with more chuckles with the crowd.

"It still sucks," Jaffe laughed.

Even though God of War was shut out at the GDC awards, it cleaned up at the AIS awards in Vegas earlier this year. However, putting such a successful game into the hands of gamers wasn't easy.

Jaffe told the story almost all frustrated developers wanted to hear. God of War was almost shot down before it got started. Jaffe proposed the game to Yoshida, who simply said, "There's nothing innovative here." After pleading with him to the game a chance, Yoshida bent, and the project continued.

He then talked about how the game was almost canceled countless times, with a buggy build of God of War being presented alongside well-polished versions of Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter and Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank.

"We would show our little game [at marketing meetings], and it would crash, it would look like crap, and [the game's hero] Kratos was this very Rasta-looking guy with dreadlocks, and it looked just terrible. I was expecting my boss to tell me, 'You know, it's time for a new Twisted Metal.' But they kept it going," he recalled.

He then passed on his lesson learned to the aspiring developers in the audience. "Just because it's not working now doesn't mean that it won't eventually work. There's a real magical art to knowing when to pull the plug and when to keep it on life support."

Lorne turned the spotlight to Yoshida, and asked why he kept the project going when he was unsure of its success.

"When the concept was first presented, I was skeptical," said Yoshida, from his seat in the third row. "Then I saw the camera control, and I thought this team might have something." He forgot about the game for a few months, and the next time he saw it, the combo system was in place and the character control was tweaked. It was then that he felt comfortable.

Jaffe later discussed how his creative process can sometimes cause turmoil on the team, specifically with the programmers. He admitted that he wasn't the most well-liked person at Sony, and that the more regimented team members thought he didn't know what he was doing.

"The reality is that I don't know what I'm doing, I'm going through the creative process. Don't be afraid of the chaos, it's your friend... You have to let it go nuts a little bit."

With all the dissention and potential mutinies that went on in the production of GOW, Lanning asked Jaffe what helped him get through it emotionally, and the answer was surprising.

"I would be [spin-cycling] and there's this song that Christina Aguilera sings, and I would be thinking of [lead programmer] Tim [Moss] the whole time, because it's like a '[expletive] you' song," Jaffe admitted without shame. After quickly discussing the rivalry between Aguilera and Britney Spears, he continued, "So I would sit in spin class and I got Tim on my mind and would think, '[expletive] you, man, I'm going to make this work.'"

Fortunately, the tension was limited just to the job. "Outside of the office, Tim and I got along really well," Jaffe said, and later remarked that Moss is the best in the business at what he does. The two game designers later noted that it seems that the games mired in turmoil are the ones that are always the most successful.

When asked whether he ever thought of giving up altogether, Jaffe firmly said, "Always. This game has taught me more about tenacity and sticking to it than anything in my life. I never want to do it again, but I never realized the power that existed in tenacity until I did this game."

Jaffe admitted that he wasn't scared of getting fired for sticking to his core vision. "As a creative, you need to be willing to walk away. I got to that point."

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74 comments
Toadster17
Toadster17

kpsikill, God of War managed to give its audience the satisfaction that Castlevania: LoI and Devil May Cry never could. It's not only visually pleasing, but the combat is solid and the game incorporates very creative environmental elements instead of the standard "find the switch/key item" game play. Either you played the wrong game or you haven't played enough games to make a decent comparison.

jaefrmbk2k
jaefrmbk2k

I red the articul. so many wurds tho. i almost quit. but then i thought "what would David Jaffe do" and i decided to hang in there. i'm glad i did. thanks David Jaffe :)

BajenVaNamnet
BajenVaNamnet

Nice! Overall, God of War is one of the best games I own. Simply fantastic!

chex81
chex81

a talented, but extremely cocky developer

TerrALtheIBLE
TerrALtheIBLE

I am a programmer and I can very simply say that generally speaking programmers do not invent game mechanics. We are told what to make by creative types or software architect types. Programmers are mired in the gritty details of turning the ideas into code.

thatguytony
thatguytony

A little reality check for Mister_Crowley, without Jaffe telling the programmers what to do and what he wanted there would have been no game. That is like giving all the credit to the special effects team in a movie like "Lord of the Rings." Sure what they did was impressive and a intregal part of the experience, but without the idea man there would be no film to put effects in to begin with. Everyone involved is important, but this was a "Game Developers Conference", wasn't it? God of War was Jaffe's baby from day one, and without his ideas and direction all the programmers in the world wouldn't have created that great game. Hence why people want to hear what he has to say.

Allard_Rocker
Allard_Rocker

wat a dumb, Ninja Gaiden developer is the coolest of them

IAmWho2Day
IAmWho2Day

Interesting **** about the Aguilera song,haha.

Skelitor
Skelitor

David Jaffe is COOOOOOLLL!!!!

REGAMER-X
REGAMER-X

Jaffe RULES, GoW is was just great and can't wait for GoW II..but 07..god..

Davv111
Davv111

First GoW had very good graphics.

Mister_Crowley
Mister_Crowley

I agree with the people who mentionned the lack of credit for the programmers. The concept behind the game and the story itself are very clich

gaiden1024
gaiden1024

Wow , interesting look at what these guys do and how much stress it puts on them. The Christina bit got me a bit , but at least he kept going with the work and was still exercising even when the stress got to him , sounds like the only healthy thing to do

Achilles438
Achilles438

man thats a long article, but it sounds like he is rebelling against the people who pay him.

robinnwa
robinnwa

Just mentioning these two (Aguilera and Britney Spears) woman makes me want to gag, Bought the guide and not the game; too bloody for me, but it looked fun to play; so I won

Mechfiend619
Mechfiend619

Advice from Christina Aguilera..... that is just crap

SephirothSyZtem
SephirothSyZtem

it really pisses me off that god of war 2 isnt going to the ps3. thats just trash. we need some new air man!!! next gen! so if he lossed at gdc then thats his problem. he can stuff it.

tuff_gong92
tuff_gong92

This shows that David Jaffe is what this industry needs.

Kfoss
Kfoss

Aguilera?...INSPIRATION!!!....NOOOthat just painted a mind picture of a sissy..GOW...and of all the SONGS!!! i think im going to go cower in a corner some where...

jerico6
jerico6

Dave Jaffe just rocks. This story just proves it.

boo_dat
boo_dat

Stop wetting yourselves! It's a fun videogame, let's leave it at that!

jonnyjd
jonnyjd

GoW was a great game and I thought it should have done better at GDC but then again, I haven't played SOTC either so I can't really compare them yet. Guess I gotta go rent it.

soulknight63133
soulknight63133

But sooner or later, I believe David is gonna have to go independent. He won this round with Sony, but that may not always be the case in the future.

Hellisunreal
Hellisunreal

This guy's gonna be makin some great games...

soulknight63133
soulknight63133

I would love to see David Jaffe and Tomonobu Itagaki-san (Team Ninja) get together and do a game together. Unfortunately, they are so much alike they would strangle each other before one the "greatest games ever created" ever released.....lol.

hush404
hush404

Hmm, good read, I enjoyed it.

Carpe_Noctum
Carpe_Noctum

Ya, next. The game was good but all the machanics were already there. Props to the bare-boob part as it seems that takes more of a stand than spliting a head in half in todays world. Great game, building on "Clash of the Titans", not so much.

hammoam344
hammoam344

What? Christina, Britney and spinning gave us God of War? What do we get with Korn, Metallica and rugby? Knitting or the Apocalypse?

Heathcliff
Heathcliff

That the most successful games are always mired in turmoil is certainly true. Reading about Jaffe's trials and tribulations to get God of War done reminds me of that other great game of 2005. We all know RE4 went through three versions before the final one, and even changed directors in the process.

fistfull_of_me
fistfull_of_me

i've never played this game, but all this talk of award winning and what not has made me want to at least hire it out

Chedda925
Chedda925

I didn't read the article but I can tell form GOW that GOWII is going to be even better, they are the future of gaming.

PiMacleod_basic
PiMacleod_basic

K1LLSWITCH is right. Jaffe deserves the honors, despite all the work his 'team' put forward. WIthout Jaffe, the team would've just put out 'par'....but with Jaffe (aka- 'Creative Direction'), they made a beautiful composition. I've only played the GoW demo, and I haven't played a TM game since part 2, but I know what's good. And GoW is just that....and probably a bit more.

K1LLSWITCH
K1LLSWITCH

I believe you answered your own question. George Lucas was the one that directed /written and created Star Wars. So he should deserve all the credit. As for the other people, thats their job. To make movies. Yes the other people should get some credit, but Jaffe was the one that created the game. Without him there wouldn't of been a God of War. I hear what your saying. But the other people should come to expect that this is someone else's game, not mine. If I had a boss like Jaffe, I'd be more passionate about my job too. Rock Jaffe!!!

wackoss
wackoss

Isn't he just the director/creative mind? Why don't the programmers get any credit? Sure Jaffe may have had the idea but the programmers made it work - like the ease of pulling combos? He seems full of himself. "He then talked about how the game was almost canceled countless times, with a buggy build of God of War being presented alongside well-polished versions of Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter and Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank. " He could have thanked his programming team but he blows right pass it. It's like having a great movie with a great cast and great director but the director hogs all the spotlight.

Wavtu
Wavtu

Kudos to Jaffe for making the game HE wanted to make, not the game everybody else wanted him to make. If more people made games they wanted to make and were as passionate about it as him, we would have a lot more innovation, a lot more fun, and a lot better games instead of drowning in sequel after sequel of the same old stuff. Also, just for the record, I played GoW, and it was awesome. One of my favorite games of the last year.

M0AB
M0AB

I can't stand this guy. He reminds me of an annoying kid that will say anything to get attention. I apparently don't see what everyone else does with GOW (not a fan), but man did I love TMB. I wish they'd do a sequel to that.

gamepunk86
gamepunk86

never played gow except a demo. im gonna get it though no doubt i just don't have the money nor the time. it was an awesome demo though

Flame_of_Nova
Flame_of_Nova

This man is out of his damn mind. I like him a lot and I have yet to play any of his games.

sam20vt
sam20vt

amazing individual creates brilliant game, we need more of him.

kremytu17
kremytu17

Jaffe's two games on the PS2, 'Twisted Metal: Black' and 'God of War,' are simply put: amazing games.Hopefully he'll work on sequels to those games, but if not, it doesn't matter. Any game he creates or helps to create will be incredible.

Jdaman01
Jdaman01

"Anyway I'm suprised by Jaffe's comment, and the fact that he was adviced by Christina Aguilera, whom I prefer better than Britney because her voice is amazing, and that she's a latina like me." Yeah I was there, Jaffe said that Pop music is just his type of music. As for the Britney and Christina thing, he said that he likes some of Britney's earlier work. I talked to him after, he is a pretty cool guy. I mean he kind of wears his heart/mind on his sleeve but it is great to see the passion. And he really really hated Tim. Out of work he said they were friends, but in Santa Monica they always butted heads.

gibb1
gibb1

great game he developed...he can do better, and i hope so.