One of the most exciting announcements at Sony’s PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas came from an unexpected source: David Jaffe. As the creator of PlayStation tentpoles like Twisted Metal and God of War, Jaffe’s presence wasn’t a huge shocker. But it was a surprise — albeit a pleasant one — to see the famed designer finally announcing a brand new IP.
Drawn to Death is a third-person multiplayer arena shooter rendered in a hand-drawn style that resembles a troubled teenager’s notebook doodles. And that’s because the game’s characters and world are those doodles; everything you see in-game is created by a fictional protagonist, mostly unseen save for the times when his hand crashes down from on high to sketch new elements into a battle or give players a ride perched on clenched fingers.
Jaffe might object to the term “troubled,” though. “I had friends in high school. I had friends in junior high. I wasn’t, like, you know, off in the corner eating lunch by myself. But you always kind of feel a little bit like a misfit, right?” he told Digital Trends.
“I get annoyed when people look at stuff like this and it’s just like ‘Ugh, it’s so violent. It’s so bloody,’” he continued. “F–k your holier-than-thou, elitist bulls–t that says this is bad for people.”
Jaffe has never been afraid to speak his mind. That’s practically his defining characteristic, especially if you only know him as a public figure on the Internet. But watching Jaffe interact with his fans reveals another side, and plenty lined up in Vegas to snap a selfie and chat about the impact his work has had on their lives.
“On one hand I absolutely know what it means to be a fan meeting someone who’s been involved in something that has meant a lot to you,” he said. “But what is hard about it is when you’re actually doing the work … you’re making your vision. You’re making it for yourself.”
Game development can be a private or solitary experience, and all too often the only feedback Jaffe gets comes from the Internet. “There are days where you just get hit by such meanness,” he said. That’s why something like PSX has value for him as a creator; meeting with fans in person helps him feel a more solid connection with the community that gathers around the game after it launches.
The idea for Drawn to Death originated with a dodgeball video game Jaffe tested many years ago. Since he has no artistic talent — or so he claims — he imagined his own dodgeball game, with dorky-looking stick figures, and over time that morphed into the notebook-scrawled, stylized shooter we see in Drawn to Death.
“When you’re actually doing the work … you’re making your vision. You’re making it for yourself.”
“But even after all of that, and offers from various publishers, it was sitting in [PlayStation Software Product Development Head] Scotty Rohde’s office and talking with him about this game and what we loved about games and didn’t like about games, and what we loved about business models and didn’t like about business models,“ he explained. “That really just made me feel if they would have me, and they would have us … it’s been good to come home.”
Drawn to Death has no single-player mode, though there are story elements dispersed throughout it. The central character uses his creations to help work through the hardships in his life, and players can find clues during matches that help illuminate what the fictional creator of everything is going through.
“On the level that we have here [at the PlayStation Experience], we have the kid dealing with his parents’ divorce,” Jaffe said. “We see the girl that has a crush on him, we see the bully that picks on him, and all of that is reflected here. Some of it is in notes in the sky, some of it’s in objects the characters have doodled in the margins that have come alive in the notebook.”
But “we’re not going to try to get people to come to this game because of the story,” he explained. “This is a multiplayer game. And it’s a world that we feel can sustain, and we want to do stories in, but right now we’re not trying to get you to come on board … [so you can] get that story itch scratched.”
He recognizes that everyone’s experience with a game is personal, though, and that it doesn’t take a complicated narrative or single-player campaign for players to discover something meaningful.
“I’ve had people tell me ‘I grew up playing Twisted Metal with my dad,’ and that’s so loaded for them and it means so much,” Jaffe said. “I teared up at the very first VGAs when I remembered my dad bringing home an Atari for me. And it’s not like [Atari creator] Nolan Bushnell would say ‘Oh, well I did that on purpose.’ It just happened to be that his system dovetailed into this great moment with my dad.”
“What I don’t have a hard time connecting with is the gratitude to all of these people, and I get teary, you know. They gave me my life. It means a lot to me,” he continued. “We’ve gotten the privilege of entertaining these people and in turn they’ve helped me buy cool shit for my kids, you know? That’s amazing to me and I’m very grateful.”
Drawn to Death is scheduled to launch in 2015 exclusively on PS4.