PAX Prime 2011: Dave Jaffe’s “voice” informs his creative vision

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David Jaffe hears voices. Don’t worry; he’s perfectly sane. His creative vision "speaks" to him…something about angry Greek albinos and anthropomorphic ice cream trucks. This same vision propelled him to international superstardom and PAX Prime’s Keynote address.

According to Jaffe, you "don’t go after your next big thing." Success can’t be telegraphed. It springs forth organically with creative endeavors sown from the heart. Gaming’s luminaries Cage, Bleszinski, Levine, Schafer, Newell, Molyneux, Kojima understand this truism: Without passion, the symbiotic link between designer and player breaks.

The Eat, Sleep, Play co-founder relies on his creative "voice" to guide him. God of War personifies Its full-throated resonance. When it goes silent, Jaffe flounders, like an (angry) fish out of water. For every Twisted Metal there’s a Calling all Cars.

His tale is an eclectic mix of success, failure, and f-bombs (the latter involves a swing set and April Fool's don’t ask). Inspired by his hero, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jaffe envisioned a career in film. The two share more than a penchant for Diet Coke. Try muzzling them you’d have an easier time getting Michael Moore to vote Republican.


Jaffe applied to, and was rejected from, USC’s film school. He found his "voice" in video games.  

That "voice" speaks loud and clear (mainly loud). Subordinates described Jaffe’s management style in three words: passion, difficult, and challenging. As a passive observer, I can attest to all three.

Jaffe was exactly as I expected. He cusses like a sailor (though less inebriated) and radiates enthusiasm. To watch him perform is mentally and physically exhausting. You climb aboard his vision or get steamrolled by it. His ideal acolyte is somewhere between a yes-man and an evangelical. If Trip Hawkins is a diva, Dave Jaffe is the King of all Cosmos. His persona is larger than life.


I got the impression that Kratos was an extension of Jaffe’s own personality. Anger defines them both. In Jaffe’s case, it’s anathema to success; it needs proper channeling. God of War was his magnum opus: his signature achievement. But to what can we attribute its success?

Jaffe’s raison d'etre is simple: Great gameplay (the "purity of the medium") survives the ages. This separates the wheat (God of War 3) from the chaff (Twisted Metal 3). It doesn’t hurt to listen to your "voice," either.

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