David Jaffe, developer on God of War and most recently, head of newly-established independent studio Eat Sleep Play, isn't exactly reputed for self-concealment.
At Nottingham's recent GameCity event, he checked in via video-conference directly from his home office -- site of his unannounced project work.
The conversation was moderated by festival founder and coordinator, Iain Simons, who introduced the video-conference as a way for people to observe a developer in his natural work environment.
The format of Jaffe's presentation was rooted in his current work approach; most of the development of his new titles is actually taking place between San Diego, where he resides, and a development team based out of Utah. He telecommutes on a Mac with an iSight camera, and at this point in product development, spends between two to four hours a day in video-conferences just like GameCity's with his staffers.
This unconventional tactic is motivated primarily by Jaffe's family circumstances; he is divorced with two young children, and works out of his home office mostly to spend more time with his kids.
The audience at GameCity got a very good indication of his work space, even through the reduced resolution of the webcam -- Starbucks, LEGO Indiana Jones figurines, a small Wolfman, and the requisite whiteboard full of post-its, alongside a TV monitor that showed a bird's-eye view of an impressively large cityscape.
This is after "de-geekifying" his office, Jaffe said -- though he retained a framed set of Atari 2600 titles he considered inspirational: Adventure, Dodge 'Em, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Combat.
Jaffe also kept a collection of partially-played titles, including Saints Row 2. Sitting beside that massive wireframe cityscape, Jaffe noted he's a big fan of open-world games.
"As the GTA series has become more serious and artistic, although I still have an appreciation for open-world games, I've actually lost some interest in it," the developer said. "Saint's Row still maintains a sense of good fun, so I'm really enjoying it."
He also noted that Midnight Club: Los Angeles is "good for research," and when asked by the audience about the contents of his white board full of post-its, Jaffe got down to explaining his process a bit.
His broad concepts get outlined by some 300 post-its that eventually get whittled down to about 30 salient mechanics. "Everything else," he said, "is sketches from my 5-year-old and my 3-year-old."
Rummaging through his desk, Jaffe next produced a hefty document -- "this is what you don't want to do if you're a designer... thousands of pages worth of design docs, and lots of expensive pre-production artwork." This big stack of paper was one of his first designs, said Jaffe, and that it was terribly inefficient.
"How are you so sure your ideas are going to work?" asked an audience member.
Said Jaffe, after a beat, "You're not."
"Though in my experience, if the team ends up not resenting you, you're not doing your job," he added. "Iteration is the only way that good gameplay will happen. You need a support and management structure that allows for iterative and flexible design, though getting to that goal is hardly an easy ride. But at the end of the day, that's why I'm still in this business: to do cool work with great teams."
When asked why he left Sony, Jaffe replied, "There were two reasons. The main one was money. God of War made a lot of money, but compared to the profit that Sony took, I felt I walked away with relatively little -- which is why I ultimately decided to be self-owned."
"The second reason is the challenge. I wanted to keep working toward matching the success of God of War, and doing it on my own was something I wanted to try."
The next audience member asked if Jaffe viewed himself as an industry celebrity. "I don't know about that," he said. "I think that being a game industry celebrity is about five steps down the rung from reality TV stars."
Jaffe said he saw a false representation across the Web that game development was all fun and games, and was motivated to confront this impression in his workblog, hoping to "post a serious blog about a serious business." He added, "I never wanted to be a celebrity."
His workblog is much-buzzed for its lack of self-censorship in his posts and videos; in the past, the developer has been unafraid to criticize other developers, games and news outlets, to express his political views occasionally, or to vent his spleen on issues about which he feels passionate.
During the video conference, Jaffe said he started the blog because he felt wasn't seeing much honest representation online about how one makes games.
At this point, the videoconferencing connection began to fritz, and Jaffe switched from video to text chat.
Typed a frenzied audience member, "Are you working on Twisted Metal 3? YES OR NO? NASWER US DAMMIT!" [sic].
"We have not announced anything yet. :) aka F*CK OFF," typed Jaffe gamely in reply.