"God of War" and "Twisted Metal" creator David Jaffe didn't grow up a rap guy. But now he's listening to a lot of it, especially the more aggressive stuff of the 90s.
Consider it emotional research for Jaffe's next game at his studio Eat Sleep Play. Late last week he told me that "Come Sail Away" from Styx was his unlikely soundtrack of inspiration for "God of War." Now he's on an N.W.A and Public Enemy bender.
I joked that that must mean he was asked to help out on the new "Saint's Row."
Completely wrong, he said.
Instead, he caught me by surprise by delivering an unusual theory about how video games should relate to music (hint: he says "NBA Street" gets it very, very wrong). In the process, he talked about why "Shadow of the Colossus" didn't make him cry, what game developers could learn from Martin Scorsese, and --because it's what must happen at least once a day in any true gamer's life in 2008 -- we chatted some "Endless Ocean."
How do you give gamers the feeling of a rap song without putting a rap song in a game? Read on for one of my favorite chats with a game developer so far this year.
The following is part of an hour-long phone conversation I had with Jaffe last week. He was talking from his home office in San Diego. He had just finished making a lot of unusual analogies about his studio's new "Twisted Metal: Head On: Extra Twisted Edition" for PS2. We were then talking about his experience in therapy. And then this came up...
David Jaffe: I was on the Gamespot show a while back and I was telling them how much -- they think it's a joke -- I listened ad nauseum to come sail away from Styx while designing "God of War" because there was something to that song that really spoke to the game. Nobody who played "God of War" thinks of Styx I'm sure. Now the music I'm listening to.. I'm going to post on my blog because it's kind of interesting what really moves you when you're designing or writing or whatever.
Multiplayer: And can you tell me what the soundtrack for your inspiration is right now?
Jaffe: A lot of the stuff I've been listening to constantly. I've been listening to "Straight Outta Compton." "He Got Game" by Public Enemy. I've been listening to "Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J. A lot of 90s rap is really what's on my play=list whenever I sit down to design this stuff. A little bit of Tupac. I've never been a Tupac guy. I've never been a rap guy. But this is the sort of stuff that's motivating me to design right now.
Multiplayer: I guess they called you to make "Saint's Row 3" and you just had to start playing that music. Right?
Jaffe: See the funny think about it is it's not one to one.
"It's not 'You listen to hip-hop music' [means] 'you make a hip-hop game."
That's what I hate, by the way, is when I get a game and clearly the producer of the game, the director of the game has put their favorite song in that. If it's a racing game, 'here's what I like to drive fast to so I assume everybody else would too.' It's not the correlation is not one to one. It's not 'You listen to hip-hop music' [means] 'you make a hip-hop game.' It's got nothing to do with that. It has to do with, at least for me, what is the underlying message of a lot of that hip-hop I'm talking about. Which is aggression you know, which is energy. That's the kind of stuff that I hope comes through in the game. In fact I sent an e-mail to Scott [Campbell] and Kellan [Hatch] on the team and I said, "How can we get this game to play in a way that makes the player in game feel the way you feel when you listen to some of this aggressive, hardcore -- not that this is hardcore for a lot of people, but for me it is given that I come from Phil Collins -- how do we get the game to play and feel the way they feel when they hear some of this music?"
"How can we get this game to play in a way that makes the player in game feel the way you feel when you listen to some of this aggressive, hardcore [rap]?"
And it's not about oh well let's just put the music over it. And it's not about... EA did this, what was their hoops game, the "Street" thing… they had a lot of MTV video post effects and they're taking it literally. And you have to find a way to apply that emotion you get when you hear the music and apply that to how you feel when you press the buttons or twirl the stick or whatever you're doing with the controller. I'm not saying I've figured it out, but that's what I want to do.
Multiplayer: It's really interesting hearing you saying that. I did a post yesterday that was about unusual music selections in games. I was playing "Endless Ocean." Have you heard of it? It's basically a scuba-diving simulator for the Wii.
Jaffe: Yeah, I saw a demo of it online but I haven't played it yet.
Multiplayer: It's all this really mellow diving underwater looking at fish kind of stuff. There's no real competitive gameplay whatsoever, nothing goal-oriented. And it's all like this new age music that I wouldn't listen to in any other context. But it all gives you this mellow feeling that is the exactly what you want when you're scuba-diving underwater looking at whales. And there's a bit where you hear this church song 'Amazing Grace'
Multiplayer: So I wrote about that I'm hearing Church music in my video games, which I've never heard before. And it totally fits. Because it's completely evokes a mood that has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. Because it's a Christian song and it's about Christ...
Jaffe: I hear what you're saying, but ... if the music that's evoking the feeling, then it's not that that game has failed but this thesis of mine which may not be possible has failed.
Multiplayer: It's connecting to a feeling that the game already presents. The two are simpatico. They're not … without the music you'd feel the same way. It just fits. It's just sensory enhancement. You're seeing something that's telling you that is majestic, slow-moving, relaxing. Because you're seeing diving underwater and schools of fish swim by. Like I love the Blue Planet documentary series, looking at schools of fish or whatever. You're seeing it. You're kind of feeling it. Because it's all motion-control and you're just slowly swimming looking at stuff. And then you're hearing something in this music and in the very little bit of ambient sound effects they have that just feels like it completes the sensory experience.
Jaffe: See that's what gets me curious about our medium. In any other medium -- our medium can too… that music you're talking about can stand alone and evoke a feeling without any of the gameplay. You can watch a great scene on a stage or in a movie without any support other than just the scoring and the actors. There's no music, no really cool editing techniques and you can still get the essence of cinema or essence theater. You CAN get the essence of gameplay without any of that other stuff that you're talking about. You can play a great round of "Mario Kart" battle mode or "Call of Duty 4" or "Half-Life" "Team Fortress 2" with all of the other stuff turned off…
"If I was a true video game designer slash artist I wouldn't need any of that to evoke emotion. I could do that through the core mechanics."
See this is the issue I always have with the whole emotion in gaming. And I have seen some things recently that indicate to me it actually is do-able. It actually is possible. But I think so many people, myself included... if you look at "Twisted Metal Black" it's such an amateurish attempt to really express something, because all I was doing was taking techniques or taking elements from any other media and sticking it on top of mine and going, huh, see? I'm arty-farty too and all I'm f---ing doing is ripping off somebody else's techniques and fitting them in my medium. If I was a true video game designer slash artist I wouldn't need any of that to evoke emotion. I could do that through the core mechanics. And there are some things I've seen recently. I mentioned in another interview "Passage" which gave me great hope for sort of emotional video games.
Multiplayer: Were you pretty bummed out at the end of that game?
Jaffe: I wasn't bummed out. I didn't cry when Aeris died. I didn't give a s--- about the Colossi in "Shadow of the Colossus." I'm not one of these… Maybe I've got too much testosterone. I don't know if that's true or not. I am en emotional guy in movies and stuff. Here's what it was. I wasn't bummed out. But I was like here's… it touched a tiny little trigger. It made me think that's kind of cool. That's kind of sad.
Multiplayer: That's where I was at. Clint Hocking had just finished showing me "Far Cry 2" and then he told me about that. He did kind of spoil what was going to happen.
Jaffe: I didn't even know you could go down the screen, by the way. I was affected by … all I was doing was pushing the right arrow key left to right.
Multiplayer: You're the second person who's told me that. At least you're not the first.
Jaffe: Uh-uh. So there are things out there. But even in that but then you get -- I don’t' want to bore your readers or you, but I just find this stuff endlessly fascinating to talk about. Then you can drill down even more and say one of the reasons that works so well is because that was kind of this very crude rudimentary bitmap visual which allows you to project so much onto it. And then you get back into not talking about play mechanics being the thing that cause the effect, you're talking about the art style.
"And it's like when are we going to get -- if ever, it may simply not be possible -- when are we going to get to: how do you press the buttons what is the rhythm of pressing buttons? What is the resource management of your items? When do those things evoke anything other than sort of the moment to moment pure play?"
And it's like when are we going to get -- if ever, it may simply not be possible -- when are we going to get to: how do you press the buttons what is the rhythm of pressing buttons? What is the resource management of your items? When do those things evoke anything other than sort of the moment to moment pure play? And they may never. It may be that what our medium is about is sort of a conglomeration of all of these elements. But I don't know.
Multiplayer: Definitely a valid line of thinking. I would point out that neither you nor I have ever seen a movie that doesn't use the crutch of a score or something to evoke an emotional response. So it is valid in any--
Jaffe: Yeah, but to hear Martin Scorsese talk about it, he says, "I never use'' -- granted he's probably one of the best filmmakers working today, maybe of all time. But he's like "I never will use music in my movies as a shortcut to emotion." He's like "I use it because it makes sense for the story and for the characters and what is happening in the story. Versus 98% of the movies it's like I need to feel this way, I'm not getting it from my storytelling technique. Let me kind of bring in some back-up.
Multiplayer: Yeah, look at how an HBO drama is scored versus how a network TV one. I love "Lost." But "Lost" is completely manipulative in that they play the sad music when it's time to feel sad. Unlike "The Wire." "The Wire" doesn't play any music to evoke any particular reaction.
Jaffe: "Six Feet Under didn't either." I remember that. "Six Feet Under," until the end, I don't remember any music in "Six Feet Under," which, to me is one of the greatest TV series of all time.
Jaffe and I talked about his business plans next. Faithful Multiplayer readers have already read that part of the exchange. Can Jaffe succeed in finding the music in gameplay? Can he discover a way for a game to feel like rap or metal or any other style without necessarily sporting a soundtrack that forces the issue?
It's certainly an interesting experiment to follow.