Jaffe: Game Execs Need a BS Filter

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Jaffe: Game Execs Need a BS Filter

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Outspoken developer David Jaffe reckons it's easy to "bamboozle" game execs with impressive-sounding jargon.

Speaking at the 2012 D.I.C.E Summit, Jaffe made a point of how easy it is for developers to trick execs into loosening the purse strings by making unrealistic promises.

"It's real easy to bamboozle you," he said. "It's really easy to sit in a pitch and talk about 'I want the realism and grittiness of Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy and I want to put it on a space ship and make you feel like Tarantino and speak to the human condition'. And you walk out of the meeting and you give them the green light because you can see that in your head."

"You guys need to get a bullshit filter and you need to get that before you waste any more money," he continued.

Jaffe argues that publishers are so removed from the game development process and so uneducated about the products they're potentially funding, that they can't tell which developer claims are realistic or even feasible.

"You better start learning gameplay language," Jaffe continued. "It's not to be mean spirited, I would never do that, but you can actually sit with developer and say 'it's cool that you want to do that but tell me how.' If you come in with an awareness of that, if you're an executive that can suss that out, that's great. You don't want to have a developer romance you with the promise of something more than it will ever be and it ends up not being that."

He went on to discuss gaming's place when it comes to storytelling and narrative, eventually concluding that writers with a "story to tell" should look to a different medium.

"A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?" he said.

"Why wouldn't you write a book, why wouldn't you make a movie? It's like being one of the world's best chefs and working in the world's best restaurants, you ply your trade in McDonalds."

Ouch.

Source: GameIndustryBiz

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It looks like his girl isn't going to be the only one fellating him this month. Gentlemen, I think I've developed a new man-crush.

I know this guy thinks he is giving 'realistic' advice, but he's just being cynical, even jaded. No, it's not easy to fit meaningful dialogue and characters into a videogame story, but we've been shown it can happen.

Someone bring him his Happy Pills before he starts agreeing with Roger Ebert.

hooksashands:
No, it's not easy to fit meaningful dialogue and characters into a videogame story, but we've been shown it can happen.

And some experiences will only be realised through interactive media.

I can't really argue with him on that.

David Jaffe:
"If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?"

Petulant much?
Thank goodness there are people around that actually have the initiative, drive and talent to accomplish such a goal.

Perhaps Mr Jaffe requires a [outgoing] BS filter himself?

"A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?" he said.

"Why wouldn't you write a book, why wouldn't you make a movie? It's like being one of the world's best chefs and working in the world's best restaurants, you ply your trade in McDonalds."

*clears throat* Exscuse me, sir?

Bioshock.

That will be all, sir.

EDIT: Or, to use one of Jaffe's own games, the original God of War was a tale of loss, revenge, redemption, and despair. Did it have pulitzer dialogue? No, but when you can SHOW INSTEAD OF TELL, YOU DON'T NEED IT.

Video games are a great place to express philosophy, story and narrative. It's just that most developers are trying to do it how it's done in movies, instead of using the tools games have.

Games have something every other medium does not. Interactivity. If you can use interactivity well, you can make a the most powerful narrative ever. Certainly better than anything in books, movies, and all that.

See: Bastion and Valve games

It's a damn shame so many developers aren't using it to their advantage. Instead trying to do the same thing as movies/tv shows.

And yeah, some people don't like games that focus on philosophy and story and all that. That's fine. We can't all like the same thing. But I see no reason why we can't have both the narrative-focused games, and gameplay-focused games, and everything in-between.

A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?

It's not like it's going to get any better with that attitude.

Jaffe, that last part really shows you still have a lot to learn. Story through gameplay. Philosophy through gameplay. Something as simple as battle conditions can show your philosophy, also through the punishment if those conditions are broken.

For say, killing an innocent will cause your Mentality meter to decline. Reach zero, character has a meltdown.

To sum up my impressions particularly of the end of the story... "Its hard and I'm not very good at it so you shouldn't bother trying". To which I reply, nothing ventured nothing gained. There have been some games that I have found truly powerful over the years who's story really touched me. Quite frankly I think the bigger problem is the stench of mediocrity over gaming. Of people taking the safe route and settling for just being ok. There are flawed games like advent rising or Indigo Prophecy which I have found memories of because you can tell they tried to be great.

For the most part, I can agree with him. Some parts, I can't.

I particularly agree with this.

Jaffe argues that publishers are so removed from the game development process and so uneducated about the products they're potentially funding, that they can't tell which developer claims are realistic or even feasible.

Coupled with my belief that some publishers are just plain wasteful.

Ha, would Snake crawling through the microwave corridor been nearly as epic if I wasn't frantically mashing triangle? Snake needs me to exist.

He has it wrong. It's not that they are removed the development (not entirely anyway), they are too close to sets of data that tells them past trends, then they try to anticipate the future. It's a cognitive illusion created by the fact that they think they know history, but they don't.

First: is that the only picture of Jaffe there is, he looks like a high seventeen year old boy.
Second: He talks like a high seventeen year old boy.
Third: He is completely wrong that videogames aren't for telling stories. Many are, and many do it very well. No one denies Final Fantasy tells a story that is more or less considered good each iteration. The thing that brings people down on them is gameplay mechanics. Videogames are just one more medium to tell a story besides books or movies.

Hard as it is to say, he's got a massive point. This is most certainly not the medium to go to for storytelling these days. Even our best narratives have a very bad tendency of lacking depth, and with the way development cycles work these days, with enormous budgets and a general lack of preproduction ensures makes it damn near impossible to get a story out that doesn't have at least have a few kinks.

TsunamiWombat:

His point stands. If someone has a story to tell or wants to make a difference with their story, its damn near impossible to do it through a game.
And can we really say that God of War really worked as a Greek Tragedy, I mean really worked, when it was so saturated in gore and male power fantasy that no one noticed until that Extra Credits episode?

Its not like GoW made anyone think when it came out.

I could see his point for the first part. In order to communicate with a group of people, its best to learn their lingo so you know when something good or bad is happening. Not every publisher can do that or there would be a lot less distrust floating around.

The second part was seriously wrong. I know it's his opinion, but to say that a great story to rock the ages cannot be told through a game is false. Everyone has that game that they hold dear to their chest because it moved them so much. It isn't impossible. It just takes skill, work, and luck to find the right chords.

Im tired of everyone saying books or movies is where you go for the real groundbreaking things. It's not true. You can make a horrible book and a horrible movie trying to process this great story of love, suffering, romance, new life and struggle.

Ex: Twilight

s_h_a_d_o:

David Jaffe:
"If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?"

Petulant much?
Thank goodness there are people around that actually have the initiative, drive and talent to accomplish such a goal.

Perhaps Mr Jaffe requires a [outgoing] BS filter himself?

Time for me to talk about the one glaring flaw i hold against Okami. The story.

Its not that its crap, beacuse its brilliant.

Its not that its full of plotholes, because it largely isnt. And Okamiden went on to mend most of them, including time-travel paradoxes.

Its that theres so damn much of it. You spend roughly half the game reading the dialouge alone and none of it is skippable due to it all coming together at the very end to mean something.

If i had to force out a metaphor for it, its king of like eating through 8 kilograms of lettuce to get a single bar of Green & Black's chocolate.

I agree with the first part but not so sure about the second part. Movies have been around for over 100 years. Books have been around for millenia. I'm sure people said the same thing about movies when they first started; if you want to tell a real story, you do it with books.

Lol when I first read the title, I thought it was that Jaffe needed a BS filter.

He's dead right about the narrative thing.

I'm glad that a few people are trying to put decent stories in games, but damned if I know why they bother.

I hate when developers throw things around like this like there are things you must always do and must never do when designing a game. The idea that there are any absolutes of the medium that are always held true is just so much pretentious bullshit, made rather ironic by what he was talking about to begin with.

Talk like that does nothing but hold us back.

PureIrony:
Hard as it is to say, he's got a massive point. This is most certainly not the medium to go to for storytelling these days. Even our best narratives have a very bad tendency of lacking depth, and with the way development cycles work these days, with enormous budgets and a general lack of preproduction ensures makes it damn near impossible to get a story out that doesn't have at least have a few kinks.

TsunamiWombat:

His point stands. If someone has a story to tell or wants to make a difference with their story, its damn near impossible to do it through a game.
And can we really say that God of War really worked as a Greek Tragedy, I mean really worked, when it was so saturated in gore and male power fantasy that no one noticed until that Extra Credits episode?

Its not like GoW made anyone think when it came out.

Greek Tragedy IS gore soaked male fantasy.

And you didn't touch Bioshock.

TsunamiWombat:

PureIrony:
Hard as it is to say, he's got a massive point. This is most certainly not the medium to go to for storytelling these days. Even our best narratives have a very bad tendency of lacking depth, and with the way development cycles work these days, with enormous budgets and a general lack of preproduction ensures makes it damn near impossible to get a story out that doesn't have at least have a few kinks.

TsunamiWombat:

His point stands. If someone has a story to tell or wants to make a difference with their story, its damn near impossible to do it through a game.
And can we really say that God of War really worked as a Greek Tragedy, I mean really worked, when it was so saturated in gore and male power fantasy that no one noticed until that Extra Credits episode?

Its not like GoW made anyone think when it came out.

Greek Tragedy IS gore soaked male fantasy.

And you didn't touch Bioshock.

To an extent, that does describe Greek Tragedy. The point I was trying to make was that no one really could find themselves to take GoW seriously because of the way it presented iteself, because of the way most of those kinds of games present themselves. Again, I've never heard anyone say that they've taken anything away from that story, and thats a problem when its one of the few genuine tragedies in gaming that we can name.

As for Bioshock, I didn't really want to rip into it. Yes, it is a game with a good narrative, and I would never say that games can't have narrative depth; that'd be stupid. But we can't just ignore real problems by holding up the few exceptions, and Bioshock also isn't a very good example of how a single writer should turn to games, because really, the actual doesn't have that much influence on Bioshock as a whole.

What I mean is, how much of Bioshock really came from just the writers? Sure, you have the basic plot and dialogue, but the real meat of the story is told through level design, and the tone is set by that and the enemies, composer, etc. Its a collaborative effort, and I'm not trying to say that that's not a great thing, because it is, but Bioshock just doesn't seem like it had a single visionary behind it, which means most should probably turn to another medium to give their vision.

There are games that do seem like the creator had total control behind it: Ueda's Ico and Schafer's Monkey Island are both simple enough and rely on a single mechanic to seem like the work of a single person(clever writing in Monkey Island, the whole relationship thing in Ico), but as a whole, even our better written games like Mass Effect or Planescape lack the influence of a single directoral vision, and I think that is going to hold games back for a while.

Again, this is just my overly wordy, somewhat pretentious vision, and I don't mean to disparage Bioshock or God of War in any way. Every step forward is progress, and I really do want to see games flourish as an art form: I just think some things need to change beforehand.

I refuse to believe that. Look at the lore for the Diablo universe. They even have a man who's position is named "Lore Master." Stories can be told in video games, and they can be told well. My dream is to get a job like Lore Master. I love learning about the universe that the game takes place in. All the back story, and the hidden secrets. DOOM bored the living daylights out of me because I need something more from my games that just mindless action over and over. It's a pity this man feels video games aren't really worth adding good stories to.

Man, this guy comes off as so fucking stupid.

Never mind the fact that "it never had good stories" is a terrible argument to begin with, is he honestly saying that the "hook" factor in games should consist of scores and achievements ad nauseum?

While I agree that publishers should be more familiar with gaming and game development. Hell you could say make similar statements about executive management in general, they need to be more familiar with what those under them are doing so they don't end up making broad wide sweeping decisions about things they know nothing about. However I disagree with what he says about games and stories. There have been plenty of games that have had deep meaningful stories, and some stories are only best told through and interactive medium.

If someone pitching a thematically-hefty idea for a game is like a world-class chef working at McDonalds, what does that make Jaffe? A self-aware fry-cook with low aspirations?

"Oh him? He's been here for years. Yeah, I don't think he's going anywhere anytime soon. He....he might be retarded? I'm not sure... But he makes one HELL of a Big Mac!"

The LAST problem the industry has is screening out interesting ideas. Anybody who thinks what we're suffering from is too many unique ideas or too much artistic incliniation is an idiot. But you look at the major successes of the last few years -- Grand Theft Auto, RDR, Batman, Portal -- games that have not just made money but have been praised and adored and will be remembered, and these are all games that started with ideas to convey. GTAIV IS a gritty Tarantino-esque bla bla bla. And it fucking works. RDR IS a slick western with a cynical moral outlook; that is its entire thesis, from the word go. And it FUCKING WORKS. Portal without the narrative/thematic backbone would be a vastly-inferior game. Hell, leave alone the artistic side -- IT WOULDN'T BE AS FUN!

Jaffe's games are fun, but with the exception of the first God of War, they're hollow. They're expensive toys. They don't mean anything, and in fifty years, they'll just be cultural detritus, no more or less important than Hot Wheels or Hulk Hands. And if that's all you want to make, that's great, it's needed, and there's absolutely a place for it-- but that's not the only goal out there, and it's not the only one that leads to critical or financial success.

Jaffe and Cliffy B and all these other "games are just for fun, bro!" dudes need to stop acting like they've figured it all out. Because they haven't. They haven't even scratched the surface. But they have influence. They can do active harm. They make games that make money, so when they talk, the people with the money listen.

I think his last point is his most valid...if you have a story that you absolutely need to tell, why are you using the least effective way to do it? BioShock may have had an excellent story, but part of its impact was lost on the endless faffing about. God of War has all the ingredients of a Greek Tragedy, but the story is forgotten while you're wading through the blood of a thousand bad guys for some vaguely explained reason.
You want to tell a story - a film or a book is the easiest, most effective way of doing it. You want to create a world, use a game. The Lord of the Rings can't show you Middle Earth in the way that the Elder Scrolls shows you Tamriel.

Character development is a lot harder in a game than it is in the other two major media. What did we learn about Jack from his adventures in Rapture? Very little. But what did we learn about Andrew Ryan and Fontaine? A fair bit more.
This is because a game tends to use a protagonist as a vehicle to explore and interact with the world the developers created. Naturally, there are exceptions, and they tend to have the more powerful characters - but they always run the risk of cut-scene inefficiency. Take John Marston - the player could be the smartest, deadliest, fastest gun in the West, and Marston would STILL stand in plain sight so Williamson could shoot him.

And for that reason - if it's the story you want to get across - use a different medium. If you have a fantastical world that you want people to explore, and a thousand stories to tell, THEN you use a game.

Sniper Team 4:
I refuse to believe that. Look at the lore for the Diablo universe. They even have a man who's position is named "Lore Master." Stories can be told in video games, and they can be told well.

That's actually a great example with the problem of telling stories in games.

I assume the "Lore Master" you're talking about is Deckard Cain? See, the problem with that lore is that it's all straight exposition. It's meaningless from a gameplay perspective. The "Show, don't tell" rule of exposition predates the video game medium by quite some time, but game designers, whether for reasons of technical limitations, budget constraints, or just laziness, very often seem to think it doesn't apply to them. Hell, remember 20 years ago when, if you wanted to know what the hell the story of a game was, you had to read the manual (or if you were REALLY lucky, got a poorly localized crawl at the opening screen?)

And that hurts. I've played through Diablo II countless times. I've never been compelled to listen/read through the slow-scrolling voiced over blobs of exposition that Cain gives you throughout the game. Because when I'm doing so, I'm not playing the game. I'm not even watching a non-interactive movie.

I'm having pages of exposition read to me in a slow, soothing voice not conducive to wanting to go out and kill more stuff.

BrotherRool:
Ha, would Snake crawling through the microwave corridor been nearly as epic if I wasn't frantically mashing triangle? Snake needs me to exist.

Actually, yes, it would have been. That's a poor example, as it was coded to proceed as planned after a minimum number of presses. 100 presses a minute or 10, he'd still get down that hallway. It does speak for the writing that you felt compelled to mash the button like that though.

PureIrony:
Hard as it is to say, he's got a massive point. This is most certainly not the medium to go to for storytelling these days. Even our best narratives have a very bad tendency of lacking depth, and with the way development cycles work these days, with enormous budgets and a general lack of preproduction ensures makes it damn near impossible to get a story out that doesn't have at least have a few kinks.

TsunamiWombat:

His point stands. If someone has a story to tell or wants to make a difference with their story, its damn near impossible to do it through a game.
And can we really say that God of War really worked as a Greek Tragedy, I mean really worked, when it was so saturated in gore and male power fantasy that no one noticed until that Extra Credits episode?

Its not like GoW made anyone think when it came out.

Really? I loved the story of a man bent on revenge against a god who blinded him with near-limitless power only to betray him into killing his own family. When the world was falling apart around you as you were protecting your family from yourself, all you saw was the gore? Granted the ending having Kratos ascend to god-hood after suiciding off of a mountain was a bullshit cop-out, but there were moments that really shone. And I'm talking about when I first played it in '06. It wouldn't have had the same impact if I were just watching it happen. Kratos' struggle in the first game was made more poignant because it was interactive, not in spite of it.

"A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?" he said.

... eh, the problem with that line of argument is that we'll never fucking get anywhere. And its much better that people say that and then do actually want to make games; you can spot some of the failed film-writers/directors in the industry from a fucking mile off.

Games could trump every other medium when it comes to storytelling, and the stories themselves - he's making the mistake of looking at a previous lack of effort as being indicative of future potential.

Thyunda:
I think his last point is his most valid...if you have a story that you absolutely need to tell, why are you using the least effective way to do it? BioShock may have had an excellent story, but part of its impact was lost on the endless faffing about. God of War has all the ingredients of a Greek Tragedy, but the story is forgotten while you're wading through the blood of a thousand bad guys for some vaguely explained reason.

Neither of those examples indicate a lack of effectiveness in the medium itself, just a lack of effectiveness in those specific games. BioShock's problem was that it's gameplay loop was from the 90s; that was a flaw with the game, its not a flaw with all other FPS's, or all other games.

Irridium:
Video games are a great place to express philosophy, story and narrative. It's just that most developers are trying to do it how it's done in movies, instead of using the tools games have.

Games have something every other medium does not. Interactivity. If you can use interactivity well, you can make a the most powerful narrative ever. Certainly better than anything in books, movies, and all that.

See: Bastion and Valve games

It's a damn shame so many developers aren't using it to their advantage. Instead trying to do the same thing as movies/tv shows.

And yeah, some people don't like games that focus on philosophy and story and all that. That's fine. We can't all like the same thing. But I see no reason why we can't have both the narrative-focused games, and gameplay-focused games, and everything in-between.

And Human Revolution; a game in which you actively take part in a debate which is applicable to everything from the replacement limbs we can develop now to internet censorship and DRM, for 40 hours, before actually asking you to pass your final judgement at the end.

I... I... I can't hear myself think over all the blood rushing to my penis.

I would like to bring up bastion for a moment. It is, in my opinion, the best written game ever. Game writing isn't just what people say, but the general mood of the game itself. Everything, from music to level design is to enhance the writing. Every event and note is based of the emotion the writing gives the other developers. It is a collaborative effort, but the writing is the first thing done for a reason. What we have to realize is that the way we write for books and movies isn't the way to write for games because we have an extra element that the other mediums don't, interaction. Well written game function from the idea that some things are better experienced than said.

This guy has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to storytelling.

Woodsey:
"A lot of these people will say 'I have something to say, I have a story to tell.' If you've really got something inside of you that's so powerful, like a story you've got to share or a philosophy about man's place in the universe, why in the fuck would you choose the medium that has historically, continually been the worst medium to express philosophy, story and narrative?" he said.

... eh, the problem with that line of argument is that we'll never fucking get anywhere. And its much better that people say that and then do actually want to make games; you can spot some of the failed film-writers/directors in the industry from a fucking mile off.

Games could trump every other medium when it comes to storytelling, and the stories themselves - he's making the mistake of looking at a previous lack of effort as being indicative of future potential.

Thyunda:
I think his last point is his most valid...if you have a story that you absolutely need to tell, why are you using the least effective way to do it? BioShock may have had an excellent story, but part of its impact was lost on the endless faffing about. God of War has all the ingredients of a Greek Tragedy, but the story is forgotten while you're wading through the blood of a thousand bad guys for some vaguely explained reason.

Neither of those examples indicate a lack of effectiveness in the medium itself, just a lack of effectiveness in those specific games. BioShock's problem was that it's gameplay loop was from the 90s; that was a flaw with the game, its not a flaw with all other FPS's, or all other games.

Irridium:
Video games are a great place to express philosophy, story and narrative. It's just that most developers are trying to do it how it's done in movies, instead of using the tools games have.

Games have something every other medium does not. Interactivity. If you can use interactivity well, you can make a the most powerful narrative ever. Certainly better than anything in books, movies, and all that.

See: Bastion and Valve games

It's a damn shame so many developers aren't using it to their advantage. Instead trying to do the same thing as movies/tv shows.

And yeah, some people don't like games that focus on philosophy and story and all that. That's fine. We can't all like the same thing. But I see no reason why we can't have both the narrative-focused games, and gameplay-focused games, and everything in-between.

And Human Revolution; a game in which you actively take part in a debate which is applicable to everything from the replacement limbs we can develop now to internet censorship and DRM, for 40 hours, before actually asking you to pass your final judgement at the end.

I... I... I can't hear myself think over all the blood rushing to my penis.

I'm concerned you didn't read my final point.

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