DICE 2012: Putting story before gameplay 'a waste of time' says Jaffe
"I don't have any slides," Jaffe apologized at the start of his DICE 2012 speech in Las Vegas on Thursday. "I've been spending the last few days offending women," he joked.
Known for his outspoken, open approach to interacting with the video game community, Jaffe was in hot water recently for saying in an interview, that if you buy his upcoming game Twisted Metal, your girlfriend would "suck your dick."
In other words, Jaffe is no stranger to saying things that people would object to.
But it's Jaffe's view on story in video games that some game makers and fans would object to, even more than a vulgar remark.
Jaffe said that building a game that is primarily driven by story and narrative "is a bad idea, waste of resources, of time and money, and worst, I think that it has stunted the medium of video games, to our own peril."
He explained that he isn't talking about video games that implement player-authored stories, where the in-game interactivity "is so compelling and engaging that the player by the very nature of playing the game ... is the story." He put games like Bethesda Game Studios' The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in this category. Those games, he said, don't sacrifice gameplay for narrative.
And he said he's not ordering the industry to return to the Atari 2600 days, with abstracted visuals. In fact, Jaffe said, he believes that it's important to attach a game to strong IP, because that's a way that the player can connect to and relate to a product.
What he objects to are games "With the intent purpose of expressing a story... or giving the player the designer's narrative."
Such games, according to Jaffe, are limiting to gameplay. He used the opening of Rocksteady's recent Batman: Arkham City as an example.
He said at beginning of Arkham City, Batman's alter ego Bruce Wayne's hands are chained up, and taken to the city prison of Arkham City. Walking through the entrance of the facility, Wayne can only walk around, and look around. There's no combat, just walking and looking, until eventually he breaks his chains and is able to fight.
That part where Wayne could only walk, and look around for a few minutes, was done "in service of the story," argued Jaffe, and it sacrificed gameplay. "They lost sight of the gamer mentality of what [the gamer] brings to a game, and what they want out of a game, and let the story take over."
He added, "A design argument is that he can break out of the chains, and now he can fight." But he said that the story took over the gameplay in that instance. Nevertheless, he said Rocksteady's game was "amazing" despite some of the design choices he disagreed with.
Jaffe said some designers are on a path to try to make games "more" than games, and in effect, lose sight of focusing on the things games are really good at. He said games have been enjoyed by people for millennia, and that there's no real history of injecting story and emotion into games with really successful results.
Eventually the CD-ROM came around, which afforded game makers the ability to make games that were more like movies. "We were starting to see more cinematic trappings in our games," he said.
"I think we kind of found ourselves seduced by the language of film," Jaffe said, "...and we started to put the expectations of films on games ... we lost a lot of the fundamentals of what makes video games special."
He questioned game makers that say they have a powerful idea, story or philosophy to express. "If you've got something inside of you that's so powerful ... why the fuck ... would you choose the medium that has historically been the worst medium to express philosophy and story?" he asked.
Though known for being crass and vulgar, Jaffe described himself as a softie who cries at nearly everything. Talking about a yearly Christmas cookie commercial that says "Childhood quickly slips away" nearly had the designer's eyes swell with tears, as he and the audience laughed.
He's aware that he might come off as harsh and cynical, but he confessed, "I'm susceptible to media" and said he "loves being affected by media." When at Sony Santa Monica, where he worked on God of War, he said he personally was seeing firsthand titles that try to push games as a storytelling medium.
But he just couldn't figure out why games, this new, powerful interactive medium, could not evoke the same emotions as a cheesy Christmas cookie commercial.
Perhaps video games just aren't cut out to evoke such emotions, and in that pursuit of story and emotion, developers have "let go" of what makes games special. "I think we need to adjust our thoughts, we need to change what we think this medium is. ... We've let the gameplay muscle atrophy."