The PAX Prime 2011 Keynote was delivered by Twisted Metal and God of War's David Jaffe. Hundreds of fans, myself included, lined up outside the Paramount Theater to hear what Jaffe had to say. Which actually wasn't, "Surprise! There's a copy of Twisted Metal under your chairs!"
David Jaffe started the keynote with a flashback to his days at USC. He didn't have the grades to get into film school but somehow he ended up with the keys to different rooms on campus. One day he used that power to sit in the front row of a speech from Jeffrey Katzenberg This was the same day he wrote the memo that inspired the memo that got Tom Cruise fired in Jerry Maguire. The leaked document detailed how Hollywood needed to change, slamming the current climate of the industry.
People always ask Jaffe "How do I get in?" "How do I get where you are?" These were the questions 19-year-old Jaffe was sitting there asking. Katzenberg answered, "These people don't need a roadmap from you. They're going to make it and they're going to find a way to do it." That moment solidified the path Jaffe always knew he would be on. "I deserved it, not because I was arrogant, but because why not me?"
He went on to detail his climb through the gaming ranks beginning as a game tester. From there he moved up to production assistant. While at Sony he played with blocks, toys and other objects to conceptualize 3D levels. Jaffe wanted to deviate from the 2D sprite run and jumps that filled the shelves. One day a higher level producer asked, "Why do you think you're the one who gets to design games?" David replied, "Who else is going to?" He felt compelled to create. He credits, "the voice" that drove him to create.
"God of War was the flavor of the year." Things were looking good for Jaffe. CAA had let them use their box seats to popular sport games. "If they're listening, I'm still interested in those." But despite the success something changed. The creativity had gone. He wondered where did it go? Where was that drive he'd had since he was a child?
Jaffe began working on his next big game, which was his mistake. "You don't go after "the next big thing." You go after your passion." Heartland, an FPS, was the next game on his docket. With World of War music in the background, Jaffe began planning the game, but it didn't feel right. As production was ramping up for Warhawk he began to lose team members. "The Voice" had left him, he didn't fight to keep his team.
In recent years Jaffe felt like games weren't speaking to him anymore. Red Dead, Mass Effect, LA Noire, these games just didn't move him. "Journalists, please don't write I don't like these games." This began to scare him, "my first thought was this means I'm old." Jaffe began to worry his days of being relevant in the gaming industry. "When you go to Taco Bell and the guy recognizes you, that's cool. I like that. I didn't want to lose that." This was The Voice being pushed away. "The Voice was like, I'm gonna hang out with Ken Levine because you're not listening"
Jaffe became really angry at Sony for three reasons:
- Jaffe had built Sony Santa Monica. He picked out the building, he picked out the tiles in the bathroom. When he left Sony he felt like he lost a family, like he was no longer welcomed there. "That was simmer angry though."
- Then David Jaffe got sued. Someone sued him claiming Jaffe and Sony had stolen their material for God of War. The judge determined the case didn't have merit. They appealed. A second judge sided with Jaffe and Sony again. Sony fought to clear his name, and they didn't want to just settle out of court. Jaffe was grateful but this didn't change his anger. He was angry his name was called out. He didn't get rich off of God of War. He didn't own God of War. The idea that he could have lost and been branded an IP thief, a criminal, terrified him. But more than that he was terrified his kids wouldn't have a dad they could be proud of, that they had a dad who was capable of something like that.
- Jaffe's life went on. Eventually, Jaffe had a pitch lined up with Sony. The Voice was back and it told him not to go the meeting because he wasn't ready. He ignored The Voice and went. Sony made it clear they were willing to work with him again but Jaffe wanted an incubation deal. During this period, just Jaffe would experiment with concepts for a few months before moving toward a game. Sony didn't agree with this deal and this kept him mad. This is the day he woke up and asked, "Where did The Voice go?"
The process of getting The Voice back began with "Around the Corner," a movie from the 1930s. No one from the movie is alive still and yet that creation resonated with him. Later he went to pick up a game and asked himself, "What are the chances this game will resonate with me in a month, let alone a year." And The Voice answered, "Great gameplay travels." That kept repeating in his head, "it was like Field of Dreams, or Rainman." That's when Jaffe realized he wasn't old, he didn't lose his connection to games. He loved gameplay. Jaffe was ready to take The Voice away from Ken Levine.
Jaffe was ready to tell us about getting his voice back when the audio went out. Thankfully Jaffe didn't have to yell long before he it began working. "Where was I? It's not dementia, the microphone went off." A member of the crowd yelled something that got him back on track. He started talking about The Jeffrey Katzenberg method of getting things done. If they throw you out the front door, you go in the back door. They kick you out of the back door, you go through the basement. They kick you out of the basement, you go through the window. And you never take it personally. Jaffe interpreted that as he couldn't let the anger and fear of losing his security at Sony Santa Monica keep him from making games. He realized that even if he could go back, he wouldn't change a thing. The anger began to go away.
The Voice was back.
For PAX goers, Jaffe urged gamers, "I hope you find a game that connects with you." And when you do, find the team that made that and tell them. And that's how David Jaffe got his groove back.