I recently had the pleasure to sit down and have a chat with the legendary creator of the Twisted Metal and God of War series’, David Jaffe. He gave me the lowdown on his upcoming free to play third-person arena shooter ‘Drawn to Death‘ for the PlayStation 4.
Console Monster: So first off, thanks so much for sitting down with us. Let’s go ahead and get into it. So you’ve been working on Drawn to Death for a while now, would you like to give us the overall gist of what the game is about?
David Jaffe: Yeah, so it’s pretty much taken the DNA of Unreal Tournament, Smash Brothers, or Power Stone and kinda smooshed them into this thing we call Drawn to Death, which is a third-person competitive online shooter that takes places almost exclusively inside the pages of a high school kid’s notebook who is an average kid, bored in class, dealing with basic teenage angsty things and he escapes into this notebook where he draws basically anything he can imagine with his very creative mind. And players get to go into that world and battle each other in this world he’s created. Very much inspired by our love for games like Unreal Tournament, Power Stone and Smash Bros.
CM: I played a bit of the beta and really enjoyed it. I have to say one of my favorite parts of the game is the way the main menu was conveyed as a real, interactive classroom, and you can throw yourself into the teen’s notebook. It really sucks you in.
It still has the sort of competitiveness to it such as your previous games like Twisted Metal and Calling All Cars, just obviously not in vehicles. How does Drawn to Death compare in terms of development? Any new challenges?
DJ: Yeah I think so, one of the reasons I was happy to get out of cars was because I had always envied how other shooters had such a larger range of control. You could peek around corners, you can do slides, you can do fast rotations, just the things we couldn’t do with cars.
I think the hardest thing for us, and we still fight with that today, is that the feeling of the ‘brawler’, and I’m hesitant to say ‘fighter’ because the moment to moment interactions are not as deep as a game as say Street Fighter, but we wanted to bring the flavor of bringing individual characters to life, and we wanted to make sure that mastering of a certain characters wasn’t just a skin. We wanted each character to play and interact differently with other characters, and we wanted to make sure that was as compelling as the shooting element. So that’s always a problem in a game like this. You want to give players a reason to discover and use those tools, and with a game where you are given a gun, it’s very easy to get to a point where the easiest path is just to shoot someone in the fucking face. We wanted to do more than that, so yeah, it’s been a challenge to balance the shooter with the brawler.
We made a decision early on that we wanted a very small core mode where there are only four players and doing that has allowed players to have enough mental bandwidth to kind of track other players and what other enemies are doing. Most shooters are filled with so many other competitors and that’s a lot of fun for a lot of reasons, but in this case, it would have been just overwhelming chaos. So locking the core mode to four players has really helped us keep that balance.
CM: That leads to one of my other questions; some people have complained about there only being four players, saying they want more to match with other modern shooters. Having played the beta I get exactly what you’re saying, especially with the powers and what not. If there were much more than the four players it would devolve into what you said; utter chaos. So that basically answers that question. Smaller battlefield equals more depth to the combat.
DJ: Yeah one of the great things about working with Sony throughout these years is they allow you to go where the game takes you. With other companies, we may have been pushed to do more, because that’s what it seems like the major titles are doing. When we set out to make this game we didn’t want to make it your average shooter becauseA) there is so many of them out thereand B) we’re a small team, we’ve never worked in this genre before. We have no preconceived ideas that we can compete with what makes Call of Duty great, for example. Even if we could, we don’t wanna make that game.
Our goal is if people play our game, and even though we don’t have the player sizeor the amazing graphics like the new Star Wars Battlefront, people will say it’s not that kind of game, even though it’s a shooter, it’s not that kind of shooter. That’s what I hope people take away from it. The failure would be if someone plays it and says “This is worse than Call of Duty. Fuck this, let’s go play Call of Duty”. If that happens, then we haven’t done our jobs.
CM: You want it to be like, “Hey, let’s play some COD.” Then after you get bored of that you say, “Hey, let’s play some Drawn to Death!”, and it’s not just stepping into another Call of Duty, it’s something different.
DJ: That’s right.
CM: What are some features you love in the game? And I know the game isn’t out yet, and there isn’t a date unless I’m wrong, but what are some features you had to cut?
DJ: We don’t have a release date set yet, but it would be fair to say in the next few months we should be releasing. As far as cut content goes, yes and no. We’re a free to play service game, and I’ve never worked on a game like that, but one of the reasons I wanted to was to be able to have the ability to add and remove things down the road. So anything we want to put into the game, we can always put it on the back burner until the next update. That’s one of the great things with this format as a designer; it allows us to really focus on the player experience. We can always come back and touch up things, and focus mostly on how the players play the game, as long as we pick the right things to ship at the right time in order to excite players. It’s going to be an interesting road to see how long we can keep this going. I’m hoping for a good number of healthy seasons as long as the players are there to help us keep going.
CM: Some people have an opposition to free to play, and I am in the sense that, I get on and some guy who has spent fifty bucks is basically impossible to compete with. How will you address this issue? And does Drawn to Death fit within ‘traditional’ free to play exploitations?
DJ: Yeah I’m one of the ones who oppose free to play; I fucking hate it. I hate the ‘pay to win’ style that most games in that format have gone with. In terms of a business model, let’s forget about free to play and talk about competitive shooters in general. Even with sixty dollar retail games, they are set up in a way that I, and the rest of my team, find to be shitty as well. Sure, you might not be able to pay to win, but if you’ve been playing the game five days longer than me, you’re going to have access to gear and weapons that might make you feel good because you’re wiping the floor with everyone, but it’s lopsided in the sense that it makes the one who’s leveled up feel great, and for new players it’s tuned in such a way that it’s not fun to play with those people. I wanna have fucking fun, not take abuse for ages in order to get there.
If we were building a twenty dollar PSN title, we would still use the balance that we are with the free to play format. That’s our philosophy with the business model. There are going to be weapons more powerful than others, but they come at the cost of an incredibly slow reload, they come at the cost of accuracy. The idea will be there are no upgrades. All weapons will be available at the start. Nothing hidden behind level walls. We are being super generous with letting people have trials of weapons, you can even rent weapons and apply the rental price to the purchase price, so say a shotgun is a dollar, and you rent it for five battles for a dime, it will only cost you ninety cents to keep. So with everything from renting, trials, and giving things away to keeping everything balanced- even on our levels. We’re going to be selling levels but we aren’t splitting the user base. When you vote on a level, if you don’t have that level and it wins, you still get to play the level even if you don’t own it. So the way we put it is we’re a team of people who mostly hate free to play, but we don’t hate the promise of free to play. I like the idea of bringing in a lot of people to enjoy the game, and they may pay to help create more content if they are having a good time. It’s too good of an opportunity to pass up if you do it correctly.
CM: I have to say even though it’s only a dime, the idea that you aren’t screwing the player as much as possible really shows an idea of making it more about the experience than just making money.
DJ: Yeah, of course, we don’t wanna nickel and dime the player, that’s shitty. Let’s make this super clear; I don’t have any idea if any of this is gonna work. Even if it doesn’t work, the inspiration that myself and others on the team have … we look at Disneyland or Apple. We want to treat the customer well and like more than a number. A lot of free to play games feel grimy and we don’t want to be like that.
CM: Yeah I completely understand that. To be blunt, with most companies these days it seems people chose the one that fucks you less, not so much which one treats you with respect.
DJ: We’re hoping players come in feeling that they are being treated with respect, but if and when they do purchase something, they feel like they’ve spent money on something worth it; something cool. We are not going to fuck the customer in any way. We are an asexual company.
CM: Put that on the box and I honestly think it would sell.
DJ: We’re gonna change the title. “Drawn to Death: We Will Not Fuck You”.
CM: (Laughing) I’d buy it. Anyways, so this is your first game on PS4, any difficulties or advantages with the new hardware?
DJ: All of our engineers are amazing, some that worked with Naughty Dog on Uncharted 4 are here. We built this with Unity, and there have been some problems with PS4 since it’s so new, but it’s getting better all the time. So getting that up to speed has been a little difficult, along with building a store and a format we’ve never done; it’s all been a bit different. It’s just like any other game, it’s got its own challenges and things that turned out to be easier than we expected. I’m glad we used an off the shelf engine and I’m glad we have a team that’s been talented enough to make it work.
CM: This is a PlayStation 4 exclusive, and the system has some unique features such as the light bar, speaker, and gyroscopic controller. Do you plan to use any of these features in the game?
DJ: I’ll give you a couple of examples. We currently have melee on the right stick, push in the right stick and you’ll swing. I fucking hate that because I’ll get a lot of false positives and I’ll melee when I mean to shoot. A few people on the team have this problem, so we’ve added an option to use the motion of the controller instead, so pushing forward will actually melee which removes that problem. Another feature is our announcer in the game, whose story is, he is a very over-the-top announcer you’d see in the ’90s and he hasn’t had work in years. And sometimes he’ll say things directly to the player via the speaker in the controller that no one else will hear. So there are a lot of little things, but we’re not going out of our way to build the game around the features like Tearaway or The Playroom have done.
CM: Well let’s end this interview by speaking about other games. What are yours and some of the team’s current favorites?
DJ: I’ve played a lot of Yoshi’s Woolly World, loads of Hearthstone, the new Batman, finished Shovel Knight which was fantastic. I’ve haven’t had played Metal Gear Solid V yet, I haven’t played Fallout yet. I want to get lost in those worlds, but they are just so large, and now that I’m older I find myself being a completionist and I just know these games will take over my life. I’ve played every Metal Gear up to this one. I love Metal Gear. The series is up there in my top three favorite games, but it just seems like such a daunting task. It’s like someone saying “Here’s Anna Karenina, it’s a great fucking book”, and I’m sure it is, but it’s also like eight hundred fucking pages, you know? I’ve got shit to do. I just can’t devote that much time to it. I’ve actually found myself playing my WiiU more in the past year. A shit ton of Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, and like I said Yoshi.
CM: Well thanks so much for sitting down with me. Please keep me in the loop for any updates on Drawn to Death.
DJ: Sure, no problem. Thanks to you too.
Thanks again for Mr. Jaffe for taking the time to talk with us.