David Jaffe on listening to voices

PAX Prime 2011: Twisted Metal director shares his experiences with trusting his instincts and how he got back on the right path after losing his way.


Who was there: Eat Sleep Play cofounder and Twisted Metal director David Jaffe delivered the PAX Prime 2011 keynote address.

David Jaffe talks about losing his voice during the 2011 PAX keynote address.
David Jaffe talks about losing his voice during the 2011 PAX keynote address.

What he talked about: Jaffe wasted no time launching into his hour-long keynote address, notably beginning with the word "And." He started off by describing a teenage experience when he attended a talk given by Jeffery Katzenberg, who was at that time leading The Walt Disney Company's motion-picture division. (He now heads up Dreamworks Animation.) Katzenberg had that day released an infamous memo that sparked a firestorm in Hollywood over the way films were made (and inspired Tom Cruise's equally ranting missive in Jerry Maguire).

Jaffe said that as part of that presentation, Katzenberg was asked by an audience member how he should break into the industry. Katzenberg responded along the lines of, "It doesn't matter what the advice is because those who are sitting in the audience that have a calling to create entertainment will find a way. They don't need a road map, and they'll make it any way they can."

This sentiment solidified Jaffe's path as a creator of entertainment, and it also affirmed the sentiment that his parents had instilled in him that he deserved to pursue his passion. He carried this lesson with him when he began working as a game tester at Sony.

Jaffe said that after he joined Sony, he was quickly promoted out of the testing department to a role as assistant producer. During his lunch breaks, he said he and a friend would set up shop in a conference room and build 3D levels out of Lego blocks. At the time, this design process was quite out of the ordinary, and others in the company would speak to him of it as if he should be embarrassed.

However, he found this mentality perplexing, as nearly everyone in the company was still producing 2D-style games that all grew out of the Super Mario Bros. tradition. However, he described these experiments with 3D level design as following his inner voice that told him it was the right thing to do. At one point, he said a senior-level Sony employee approached him and asked why he felt like he had the right to design games. Jaffe responded that it wasn't because he felt he was the best; rather, he simply could, and he was following his passion to do so.

If Jaffe hadn't listened to his voice, God of War might never have existed as it is known today.
If Jaffe hadn't listened to his voice, God of War might never have existed as it is known today.

Jaffe then related an experience he had at Sony Santa Monica, when shortly before God of War was officially announced, there was talk of a major change in direction for the game. A producer he admired recommended that the game go more in the direction of Capcom's Devil May Cry series, saying the project as it currently was simply wasn't coming together. However, Jaffe again listened to his inner voice, which helped him push through the doubt and criticism.

The voice turned out to be correct, and God of War began a massive hit franchise for Sony on the PlayStation 2. However, after God of War became huge, Jaffe said that he gradually began to lose touch with his inner voice, and upon reflection, he realized it was for a number of reasons.

The first reason was that he found the voice didn't like it when things were disingenuously being done in its name. After God of War shipped, Jaffe said he went on an extended vacation. When he returned, he began gearing up for his next big thing, which was called Heartland. He described the game as Red Dawn meets Saving Private Ryan, and Jaffe said that he wanted it to serve as a political allegory while also achieving "the Holy Grail of game design," which is to make players cry upon completion for the right reasons.

The problem with this game, Jaffe said, was that he was making it in order to chase after the next big thing, instead of following his passion. The game was eventually given the green light, but it didn't take long for members of the team to be reassigned to work on Sony's reboot of the Warhawk franchise. Jaffe said that if he were honestly in love with Heartland, he would have never let this happen to his team.

After that project collapsed, Jaffe founded Eat Sleep Play and began showing off Calling All Cars. Indie games such as Braid and The Path were gaining acclaim on the small scale, while titles such as Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption, and Heavy Rain were dominating AAA development. None of these projects appealed to Jaffe, though, and he began to feel like games in general simply weren't touching him. That's when the fear set in, as Jaffe began to feel that because he was getting on in years, he had lost touch with the pulse of the industry.

When Calling All Cars didn't meet with overwhelming success, Jaffe began to question if he'd lost touch.
When Calling All Cars didn't meet with overwhelming success, Jaffe began to question if he'd lost touch.

Jaffe said that at about this time, he was also dealing with some serious anger issues, which also greatly interfered with his ability to tap into his inner voice. The anger arose from a number of different sources. First, he said that he was angry with Sony due to a perceived alienation on his part.

He felt that he had essentially helped build Sony Santa Monica into one of the preeminent game development studios in the world, going so far as picking out the floor tile in the bathroom and selecting the building space. However, after he left that studio, he felt like an outsider, or like the football star that goes back to his old high school several years down the road. Things had changed, and he felt like he had been completely forgotten.

The second source of anger stemmed from getting sued. While skirting details for legal reasons, Jaffe said that Sony and he personally were hit with a lawsuit that boiled down to a claim that they had plagiarized God of War. And while this suit was eventually tossed out, he said it left him bitter for a number of reasons. First, being named on the suit was galling, in that a record of his involvement will be permanently maintained, fallacious as it may be.

What's more, he said that had the suit not been thrown out before heading to court, they very well may have lost due to some personal bias on the jury panel. If they would have lost, he said he'd be marked with a scarlet letter and that work would have been impossible to erase. What's worse, he said, would have been the effect on his kids and the seed of doubt that the suit would have planted in his children's minds that he would be capable of committing an act of plagiarism.

As one last source of anger during this period, Jaffe pointed to a meeting he had with a number of Sony executives over some future PlayStation Network projects that would be produced by Eat Sleep Play. The pitch meeting, as it were, didn't result in the outcome that he wanted, in that while Sony left the door open for him to meet again, the executives didn't outright accept his proposal or offer him an incubation deal to further refine the ideas. Yes, Calling All Cars wasn't a huge success, he said, but it made its money back, and especially given the turmoil over the lawsuit, he felt Sony owed him.

All three of these factors culminated in Jaffe being exceptionally angry, which he said completely disassociated him from his guiding voice.

But then, the recovery occurred. Jaffe said that the return of his voice came while watching The Shop Around the Corner, which was made in 1940 and stars Jimmy Stewart. While watching that film, he said that it occurred to him that everyone involved in the making of this film is now dead. Still, the picture remained relevant and engrossing to him despite being some 70 years old.

This message was hammered home a few days later, when he went to a midnight launch at GameStop. As he was pulling up, he said that he recalled wondering to himself how long the game he's about to buy will resonate, if it will still touch people the way The Shop Around the Corner touched him so long after its creation. At that point, his voice returned, telling him "Great gameplay travels." From there, his mind went to classic games such as Tetris, Ms. Pac-Man, Halo, the original Deus Ex, and others, and it occurred to him that the reason he'd lost touch with the industry was that it had shifted its emphasis away from gameplay and toward set pieces, cutscenes, and other ancillary pursuits. It's gameplay that Jaffe sees as his calling, and that realization prompted him to refocus his efforts on creating great gameplay.

With Twisted Metal, Jaffe feels he's regained his voice.
With Twisted Metal, Jaffe feels he's regained his voice.

What also helped him regain his voice was the reception that Twisted Metal received at its debut during the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo through present day. This reception helped him get back in touch with the idea that there are people out there who understand his voice and the types of entertainment he's attempting to create. He said that he realizes Twisted Metal won't reach the same level of success as Battlefield 3 or Uncharted 3, but there's still a large contingent of people out there who have responded to what he's trying to do, and that's been very affirming to his voice.

Katzenberg also helped, or rather The Katzenberg Method helped Jaffe reawaken his voice. This method, which Jaffe described as, "If they throw you out the front door, you go in the back door. If they throw you out of the back door, you go in the basement. If you get thrown out of the basement, you go in the window. And you never take any of this personally." The mentality underlines the power of tenacity, he said, and it also made him realize that life is short, so it's important to not waste it being angry.

Quote: "Your life is going by so quick, the only thing you can do is the thing you have to do."--David Jaffe

Takeaway: With Twisted Metal, Jaffe believes that he's working from a place where he's being honest to the voice that he built his career on. What's more, he believes he's surrounded himself with people who share his voice and creative outlook, and he believes it will be reflected in the final product.

For more from Jaffe's keynote address, the entire presentation is currently available in streaming video.

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Avatar image for XBLACKXVIPERX

he created Kratos hes got my respected vote :)

Avatar image for conkerton

Im not sure what this article was all about, but what I do know is 3-5 of the voices in my head still say Twisted Metal will be a fun game to play.

Avatar image for junglist101

The man created one of the most epic games of all times and my most favorite game series. I would love to shake his hand and thank him for the opportunity to have played those games.

Avatar image for Twiztid-Maddox

@xHOJUx He didn't just make Calling All Cars, he made the Twisted Metal franchise and the God Of War series... Give the man more credit!

Avatar image for ultimameteora

I hear voices in my head they talk to me they understand

Avatar image for Megavideogamer

In a way the proplem with the videogame industry is that it has literary has become an industry. David Jaffe is very wise although.. Twisted Metal PS3 has been delayed until 2012. Glad David Jaffe is still creating games.

Avatar image for helldew

+ massive respect points here. im working on becoming a game developer right now and one thing is for sure is that you cant ever let stupid things drive you from your passion. honestly the man has at least some good sense and is a positive influence to the industry. keep going Jaffe do what you need to do.

Avatar image for Vitor_Icewall

Jaffe is awesome! GAMEPLAY!!!! Can´t wait for the new Twisted Metal!

Avatar image for 19Gam3NErD91

"Your life is going by so quick, the only thing you can do is the thing you have to do." now that's what i call a great life quote!

Avatar image for FallenOneX

Thumbs down my original comment all you want, I stick by it. The written word doesn't always accurately portray what was said, and how it was said.

Avatar image for koorkoor

That's cute... now where the hell is GOW4?

Avatar image for GlaciusXL

Jaffe is awesome. I love his blunt and zero BS approach. Agree with him or not, he was up there and spoke from the heart. He didn't memorize a speech or read some garbage off of a teleprompter. He gave HIS story and told it naturally. He didn't drop F bombs to seem edgy like so many games do now when they force it to sound tough. Nor did he sensor himself. He just talked the way he talks. I think if more people were as honest about who they are and were as passionate about what they do, we would have a lot less garbage clogging up the mainstream. We would have more unique ideas. We would have more games, music, and movies that the creator really felt needed to be made for reasons other than "because they'll buy it." This is why you see the real creative stuff coming from independent game and film makers. And some of the best music is **** you've never heard of. There are a lot of great creators out there that only care about quality and creating what they feel needs to be made. Jaffe is one and the other that comes to mind is Fumito Ueda (creator of ICO and SotC) The Last Guardian and Twisted Metal are the reasons I'll HAVE to get a PS3. And look, they just dropped the price. Excellent.

Avatar image for nemesis4x

David Jaffe is a genius, if only he made multiplatform games :(

Avatar image for zidan4000

this man LOVES his game he talks about it like a man who talks proudly about his son , THAT is how game developers should be , enthusiastic and crazy about their games, and the most important thing is that they have to enjoy their job as game developers in order for them to deliver quality games , naught dog comes to mind with their uncharted game they also love it.

Avatar image for the_requiem

@xHOJUx: I think it may have to do with fact that unlike games you mentioned, the games he created were out and out his creations. As in, maybe in Batman AA and ME2 decisions were more team oriented than individual oriented. I am not sure if am making myself clear enough, but hope you get the point. There must be a reason why people think of Peter Molyneux [sp??] when Fable is mentioned, not LionHead Studios, while it is other way around for, say, Mass Effect 2 and Bioware.

Avatar image for ThePurpleBubble

And with this article, I have gained an immense amount of respect for David Jaffe... I wasn't planning on getting Twisted Metal, to be honest... But now I might have to.

Avatar image for lewishim666

@grungeman91 I agree and I just might have to do he same thing.

Avatar image for grungeman91

David Jaffe has one of the most brilliant minds in the history of gaming, I'll probably pick it up as a gift so I can challenge my girlfriend to a little car-combat on Valentines Day.

Avatar image for lewishim666

I can't wait for Twisted Metal. I've been a fan since the first. But the way this sounds, judging by the way he is talking about how he started 3d modeling, the first twisted metal was only made because it was easy to model the environments and he only went back to this new twisted metal because he lost his inner voice and twisted metal is familiar territory. This story has me scared about just how good this new twisted metal will be. The first 2 and black were great so hopefully he hasn't lost his touch. But seriously if he has dealt with his anger issues i'm not sure if this will be brutal enough for me. Because obviously the original twisted metal was a creative outlet for is own twisted and angry personality. This almost feels like he's apologizing ahead of time for this one. Again I am a huge fan though so I hope that this is good.

Avatar image for Jarltheafro

@FatNHappy So Jesus created hell now? what the...

Avatar image for DP1130

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for FallenOneX

I think i'm going to watch the video of this presentation. After reading the article, Jaffe sounds like an eccentric douche that thought he was God's gift to gaming until he got his ass handed to him on a silver platter.

Avatar image for Ryan_Som

Hey, FatNHappy: You know how I know there's no afterlife? Because some other random guy in a book said there wasn't. See how easy that is?

Avatar image for shahroz47

@xHOJUx He didn't say he should be a name in the industry or that you should care about him. He just followed his passion and sharing his experience. To his credit, He made the Twisted Metal series which was awesome and then the first God of War so he had yet to fail. It only went downhill when Sony dropped the Heartland project. So I can see why feels the way he feels. He isn't the best game developer but he is inspiring.

Avatar image for Frame_Dragger

@Diophage: *looks at your avatar* *I would have thought you see bats... bats, and lizards... :)

Avatar image for Frame_Dragger

Listen to the voices when they tell you about DRM and the like, take them into account about game content, but don't be distracted and produce a product that was essentially made by committee... that's never good.

Avatar image for deactivated-597bb01c846a2

Voices? Pshhh... David has it easy. He doesn't see dead people, like I do.

Avatar image for Thing1232

Jaffe ftw!

Avatar image for Rocker6

When I read the headline,I though this was story about some guy falling to insanity.

Avatar image for xHOJUx

All of this "voice" talk makes him sound like a crazy person. I don't get why he think he should be a name in the industry, there are tons of people that have made great games that I don't know by name, and Dave Jaffe has only made one good game. For instance I can't name the guy who lead development on Mass Effect 2 or Batman AA, so why should I care about the guy who made Calling All Cars finding his voice?

Avatar image for aaronm90

What an excellent keynote address...

Avatar image for Adenosine

I agree a lot with this guy. Life is very short and we don't know if there is in fact an afterlife or even reincarnation. I almost gave up on my dream of being a game developer after lots of nasty things happened in life that pushed me away from the game industry and was forced to take different jobs. A few weeks ago, I just really felt unhappy and I knew that I really wouldn't be happy with any other job aside from the one that I had since childhood, and that's making games. Right now, I'm reviewing the things I learned in college over a decade ago and I'm also studying 3d modelling, c# programming, even drawing/sculpting (because you need references when you want to make 3d models), as well as recreating classic games starting from text based games to 2d games, and finally 3d games, covering every game genre. If I want to be a great game developer, I'll have to learn from the most basic of games and their systems, and as a practice of innovation, improve or change them. I hope to be able to make games someday that people will have fun with, and I'm never going to let anything stop me from this dream anymore.

Avatar image for gix47

twisted metal has to be awesome..its made with love!

Avatar image for flazzle

I wish there were of these type of articles. Jaffe is one developer I truly respect because he has sincerity and conviction.