Eat Sleep Play’s Scott Campbell and David Jaffe talk shop on the next generation of deliciously demented car combat in Twisted Metal.
EGM: It’s been quite a while since you guys have done a new console version of Twisted Metal. After a decade-long absence, obviously, you guys at Eat Sleep Play have been doing your own thing. What made you decide to get back into the franchise?
Scott Campbell: Well, I think we’ve always felt it’s a franchise that needed the PS3. And we started work on it about five or six months after we opened Eat Sleep Play. The opportunity came, and we jumped on it, but it wasn’t intended to be the huge game that it’s become. And when I say “huge,” it’s all relative, but it started off as a multiplayer PSN title. About medium-sized—similar to something like Warhawk in scope—and we were making good progress, good headway on that, and Sony was really excited for us to put a single-player component into it. So, that’s when things started turning into a huge development effort.
EGM: So, how excited were you guys when Sony got behind the title and decided to crank it up and let you guys do a full-blown project?
David Jaffe: At the time when we started, I was personally coming at it from a place of not really wanting to get back into the world of story games. I was really all about just loving play mechanics and gameplay. So, honestly, I didn’t want anything to get in the way of us being 100 percent focused on this. I wanted this Twisted Metal to be kind of like when you hear about Blizzard teams making a new StarCraft or something, where it’s just an obsessive, never-ending tuning marathon of just tweaking and tuning everything until it’s just balanced perfectly. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that focus. So, I understood when Sony came to us and said it, but it wasn’t like, “Yeah, we’ve been waiting to make this single-player,” because it really did start for us as a desire to make a statement about what we value in the splitscreen local—as well as online multiplayer—space. So it wasn’t where we thought we were headed, but we started talking about the stories and the worlds and the bosses and these characters in this world, and it’s really kind of like going back to a high-school reunion. As creepy and as twisted as it sounds—and I don’t know if Scott would agree—but these are friends of mine. I look at Sweet Tooth and Calypso and the Preacher, and I love these characters. So, at first, I wasn’t like, “Yeah, this is going to be great! Let’s go back and tell a story in this universe,” but once we started it, it’s really been a blast, and I think these are the best Twisted Metal stories—and this will be the best Twisted Metal campaign—I think we’ve ever made.
EGM: What are some of the games out there that you guys would consider contemporaries, and what’s it like trying to really up the ante in that genre? Obviously, there aren’t many games of this ilk that are out there. You could say Wipeout on PSN, but that’s a totally different thing than being in an arena-based game.
Jaffe: Well, let’s put it this way: I was in a meeting yesterday with one of Sony’s designers and one of our producers here at Eat Sleep Play, and these guys are pretty hardcore online shooter players. And I’d consider myself a fan of online shooters, but wouldn’t call myself a hardcore fan. I played Brink and Black Ops; I play everything, but I’m not one of these guys that lives and dies by the latest online shooter, as I’m just as likely to be playing a single-player action-adventure as I am an online shooter or an indie game like Journey. And sitting in a meeting with these guys, it felt very much like when I was having conversations on God of War with hardcore fighting guys, and you want to take 50 percent of their experience and passion and put it into the game, but the other 50 percent, you need to make your own. I think Scott and I are in sync on this: We’re not interesting in just making a traditional online shooter. The reason we even wanted to do it is we wanted to make an online shooter that appealed to the kind of stuff we liked and the kind of stuff we’re not seeing in that market. So, it really is that balance when you ask who are our contemporaries. I’d absolutely look at shooters like Gears of War or Killzone 3. But I’d also look at Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart’s battle mode and Street Fighter IV—and even. to an extent, Advance Wars. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we were just doing Call of Duty meets Twisted Metal, as much as we love Call of Duty.
EGM: I know you guys have been really busy with that over the last few months, but how did you guys know where to put the emphasis? If you got things coming in everywhere from fighting games, casual games, Mario Kart, traditional shooters, how do all these things work together in concert, and how are those going to work in setting this Twisted Metal apart?
Jaffe: Well, when we had the hardcore shooter guys in the meeting yesterday, we were talking about the Nuke mode in the game. We have lots of free-for-all modes and team modes that are much simpler, but with Nuke, they’re going “Jaffe, 90 percent of the players are just going to get in and be lone wolf and free-for-all and not give a s*** about your objectives.” And I’m like, “I don’t care.” I get that is what a lot of players are going to do, but I don’t care. My goal—and I don’t mean this in a megalomaniacal kind of way—but I didn’t come to this f***ing planet to make someone else’s game. I get that’s what the other games do, but that’s already out there. And if only 10 percent of the users actually play Nuke and join clans and play with their buddies in party systems, and they get on the headsets and they have the experience that we’re hoping they have, then that’s a f***ing win to me!
EGM: That’s a real problem in the game industry in general—everybody’s always chasing everybody else’s tail. But, what’s it like to be afforded the opportunity to take some risks and what are some of the ways that you’re seeing it pay off in the game that’s there? How are you balancing what players expect with trying new things?
Campbell: Well, if someone wants the support role, they can do it. But they can also take that same vehicle and play a pretty offensive role in the Twisted Metal style of gameplay. But to get to the point where we’re at now, that mode took a lot of different directions. There’s been so much different tweaking and trying out different rulesets, but once we set into that, it’s taken the better part of a couple years just to find what the sweet spot is. And all of the different sports—the big three of baseball, football, and basketball—there’s a lot of inspiration that you can gain from them, and that’s proven gameplay that’s been around forever, and it’s nice to have those references.
EGM: I follow your Twitter feed, I see all the comments just in terms of everything you’re thinking about with the game and you’re pretty open with that stuff. It’s been a while since you really revisited this universe, and it seems to me like you’ve got a lot riding on this thing, and you want people to love it—but, by the same token, you’re just not sure how it’s going to go over. Would you say that’s a bad read, or is that accurate?
Jaffe: It’s a relatively accurate read. I think what I’m trying to put out there via the press and Twitter with this issue is that we’re extremely proud of the game and what we’re making, and we know that it’s going to connect with an audience that we really feel is going to love it as much as we do. So, I definitely hope the sense of pride and passion for what we’re doing just comes through. But, yeah, I agree. I don’t want to be one of those guys that’s out there that’s just full of s**. I think readers can see through that, and my whole part of doing Twitter and as much press as I do is that I really want to share the experience in the most authentic way possible. Because I think there’s so much damaging bulls** that comes from entertainment PR from behind the scenes that isn’t really true. For me, yeah, I want to share the insecurities of that. Scott will or won’t speak to them, but I know not everyone’s willing to talk about the negative aspects of it. Yeah, you stay up late at night and worry if this won’t hit, or you want Sony to make their money back because they’ve made such a great investment of faith in you and the team, and you look at the market and look at when was the last time a title that hasn’t fit into the cookie-cutter definition of what gamers currently “want” has done really well. Absolutely, those insecurities exist, and I think it’d be disrespectful to the people who follow my Twitter account to just lie about that. I imagine Scott has a few insecurities, too.
It’s also been interesting to watch the generational differences, because I’m 40. Scott’s a little older, and we have some guys who are a little older than both of us and some new guys—a lot of new blood coming in—that’s younger. And I push back on some of their expectations of what a game should be. It’s been really interesting and frustrating to sort of have to pay respect to that on one hand while also kind of wanting to go “F*** no. I don’t give a s*** if that’s what your generation was brought up to think that’s what a game needs to be. I don’t want any part of it.”
EGM: But all these young guys have all these ideas, and the old guys are set in their ways. How has it been for you guys growing the team, as Eat Sleep Play has been a smaller shop up to this point?
Campbell: Yeah, I mean, we beefed up for the single-player component and then added some for the multiplayer component, but it’s all been organic growth. I’ve been there and done that with the rapid growth, and it changes the culture. But what’s really interesting is that Twisted Metal’s been around so long that everyone just seems to have a preconceived idea of just what it is and how they should make it better. I think that’s been one of the things that, like David pointed out with the younger guys, that are playing all these high -nd shooter games. They want to go there, but they kind of just kitchen-sink it with just the best of these other games that they really like. They can throw down some pretty persuasive rationale or e-mails or what have you, and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from them, but I think, finally, everyone’s gotten dialed in to what it is that we want.
EGM: Obviously, the play mechanics play a big part in the game, and you know that in terms of the differences between each Twisted Metal game—all to way to Black, which seemed to be an evolution of the first two—where does this new game fit into the legacy of the Twisted Metal series?
Campbell: Well from the versions you just described, I think Twisted Metal 2 plays a big role, since that seemed to be the first time that we really hit the formula of balancing the car combat with the driving. And we made a very conscious effort on that one, through level design, to make sure the player is fighting the driving mechanics. And, at least for me, all of them seemed to play some sort of role, and even the ones that did things bad, where we wanted to make sure we didn’t do them badly again—or, like with Twisted Metal Black, which was too, too hard. That’s something we’re trying to be conscious of, and that’s one of the hardest things, because a lot of us get good at the game, and so we think it has to be a challenge for us, and the scale starts to slide in the wrong direction. Then there’s the whole pick-up-and-play friendliness, whereas Black had so much speed and weapons and noise that came through that it just was a real frantic and chaotic experience. So, we’re trying to clear all that out so that your battles and the shots that you take are more deliberate than just button-mashing your way through it and moving on.
EGM: Earlier, you talked about the characters that are near and dear to your heart. So, when are we going to see Kratos hopping behind a Warmobile as a secret character?
Jaffe: I don’t think anytime soon, honestly. I think you get to a point where there are good cameos, and Sony’s done a really good job with Kratos. I ran into [Mortal Kombat creator] Ed Boon at E3 last year, and he’d mentioned they were talking about Kratos in Mortal Kombat, and I said that was a match made in heaven. It was just too perfect. And even the Soul Calibur one on the PSP was a really good decision. Even though I really enjoyed playing as Darth Vader in Soul Calibur IV, there’s a point where it feels genuine and soulful and correct, and a point where it feels like this was a good business decision—and nothing’s wrong with a good business decision. I mean, if you’re going to make a business decision, it might as well be a good one, but there definitely was a sense of business opportunity trumping respect for the property, and I think Twisted Metal is something where the only reason to do it would be to do it because we think we could sell some Kratos DLC, but it just doesn’t seem respectful for the franchise. And the reality is that Sweet Tooth is similar to Kratos, and they probably share 80 percent of their DNA anyway, even if you look at the color scheme of the red and the white faces. They’re very similar characters. But I think it’s more respectful of each universe not to shove a square peg into a round hole. If someone came to me and asked, I’d say that I don’t think it’s a good fit.
EGM: So, finally, speaking of Sweet Tooth, there’s a lot of purists that are very pissed off about the whole “transforming Sweet Tooth” thing. What’s your take on that?
Jaffe: I don’t know why there are purists going crazy over it. We transformed him in Black into a robot and people went apes*** crazy. Here’s what happened: We were showing Iron Maiden, a f***ing awesome boss—she’s a giant flying robot, and we wanted to highlight Sweet Tooth’s abilities. He happens to be able to transform into a robot. He happens to be able to fly. And the message that got sent to some people was that we were making Transformers. And a lot of people thought that every car could transform, and every car could fly, and everything is a giant robot. I totally regret that now; I wish we would’ve gotten in front of that message, but none of us saw that was the message we were sending.
The only car that is a robot is Sweet Tooth. The only car that can transform and fly is Sweet Tooth. Totally respectful of the fighting-game influences, every character and every vehicle has their own pros and cons, their own special abilities. It just so happens that the one we showed for that video is Sweet Tooth, who can transform and fight another giant robot. So, unfortunately, it did send the message that this is Twisted Metal meets Transformers and that’s absolutely not what this game is.