Sony recently held a Twisted Metal launch event in San Francisco. Developed by Eat Sleep Play, the game heralds the return of the longest-running PlayStation-exclusive franchise and the series’ first outing on the PlayStation 3.
While design director David Jaffe was busy offending women all over the Internet, GamesBeat sat down with Operations Director Angelic Quintana and Producer Drew Bradford to discuss the impending release of the Salt Lake City, Utah-based studio’s second release in four-and-a-half years.
Eat Sleep Play is composed mainly of members from previous Sony studios SingleTrac, which developed the PlayStation 1-era Twisted Metal titles, and Incognito Entertainment, which developed the more recent Twisted Metal titles for PlayStation 2, as well as Warhawk for the PlayStation 3.
Interestingly, shortly after this interview, Eat Sleep Play announced that it had laid off roughly 25 percent of its staff and would be focusing on iOS development, while studio co-founder Jaffe will also be departing.
You can read a lot more from Jaffe himself in our article on his DICE 2012 presentation, where he explains why video games should not focus on stories. Here’s the transcript of our talk with Quintana and Bradford:
GamesBeat: [Eat Sleep Play] went from Calling All Cars to Twisted Metal. Two vehicular combat games. Did you carry anything over? They’re obviously very different, but was there overlap in what you could apply from the previous title?
Quintana: Well, actually we went from Calling All Cars to the port of Twisted Metal: Head-On, for PS2.
Bradford: Well, Calling All Cars was Incognito…
Quintana: That was Incognito, yes, so this is the second game for Eat Sleep Play. So it’s kind of hard to say it’s carried over, because car combat is what this team has done, has always done. And has done since Twisted Metal one. It’s not so much a carry-over. We kind of look at it as a rebirth or re-invention.
GamesBeat: Incognito was responsible for War of the Monsters, correct?
GamesBeat: I don’t know how it did, but that was one of my favorite PlayStation 2 games. That was the one I forced everyone who came over to my house to play.
Quintana: War of the Monsters actually did pretty well. Not exceptionally, but it did pretty well. It made revenue, it did well for the studio. And it’s one of the games where we get the most requests for a sequel. We get more requests for that than just about anything else.
GamesBeat: I don’t understand… well, don’t let me get sidetracked into a fighting game conversation! Okay, so back to Twisted Metal, what was it that you set out to achieve with this game? Not just from design, but maybe for your company?
Quintana: I would say, one, it’s for PS3. We kind of wanted… not so much a rebirth as a rejuvenation of Twisted Metal. There are so many things that have been the same all along. With the new console, the new power, new processing, we wanted to showcase what we really could do with Twisted Metal had we always had the PS3. It was more of a rejuvenation of it, with adding the characters, things like that. Not so much the characters, but we haven’t had characters in the cars before. This was a new thing for us.
GamesBeat: What were those things that the PlayStation 3 allowed you to do specifically?
Bradford: Definitely the online experience, having tons of players in a game online, whereas on Black they were limited to four-way split and just a few players online with the Network Adaptor. 16 players online going 200 miles an hour, crashing headlong into each other, shooting missiles, trying to kill each other, it’s absolute insanity. It’s just chaos at all times in some of the game modes. We didn’t want to mess with the formula too much, I know that. There’s that nostalgia factor, all those… You go back to Mario, you go back to Zelda, and people have that… They think they know what it was like back then. Granted, they could go back and play that game and it’s not gonna be that same game they thought it was. But in their head… that’s what we’re trying to put in this game, that nostalgia that people had sitting on the couch beating up their brother or whoever playing split-screen. And make it come alive. That, “Oh, I love that game, it’s great, and this one feels just like I thought I remembered it.” That kind of thing. Making it something that doesn’t exist, but people think it exists. That’s hard.
GamesBeat: Meeting their expectations?
Bradford: Yeah. Going back, you try to remake GoldenEye…
GamesBeat: Which Activision has tried to do….
Bradford: Right! And a lot of people have failed. To me, that’s my favorite game of all time, but…
Quintana: Well, a lot of the time it’s like giving the player what they want before they know they want it. And then once you give it to them, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, this is exactly what I wanted!”
Bradford: Right. Listening to them, but boiling that down into what they really want. Somebody could tell you, “I want faster weapons.” But maybe they don’t want that. Maybe they want to do more damage. So if the weapons go faster they do more damage. Well, maybe we don’t want to do that; maybe we want to make the weapons do more damage instead. But giving them what they want, right? They may ask for something, but you give them something else that they’re really asking for.
GamesBeat: Speaking about that, I was at Comic-Con last year, where [Scott] Campbell and [Dave] Jaffe were on stage showing off a bunch of new content, and they were toying around with ideas, like, a mile-long map… And they were basically just soliciting advice from the fans. “Do you guys want this? What do you guys want? Help us decide these features.” Which I thought was really cool, because most developers are a little more stubborn. They were literally talking directly to the fans. Throughout the development of the game, how much has fan feedback swayed in-game content?
Quintana: Well, the philosophy is, you don’t just design the game that you want. You design the game that your fans want. And so sometimes it is a challenge to split those. Because you know what you like and what you would want, but you come from a different place than many of your fans do. So one of the great things about Scott and Dave is they give us a lot of feedback. You’ve probably seen Dave’s blog, and his site. He asks a lot of questions of the fans. We look at the forums, it’s all that kind of thing…
Bradford: He gets a lot of Twitter stuff coming in.
Quintana: Yeah. Lots of stuff like that. We try to take all of that and incorporate that into what we feel you would like and you would play.
GamesBeat: You were telling me that you’re kind of like the filter for the somewhat notorious David Jaffe?
Quintana: Yes. We try to be.
GamesBeat: But he still slips a few out every once in a while.
Quintana: Yes. The thing about Dave is, it’s like caging a wild animal. You can try. But it’s not so much that we want to stop what he has to say or filter what he has to say. It’s more like a timing thing. … Because everything Dave has to say is usually pretty honest, it’s really up front, it’s in your face. Which is great. We don’t want to stifle that. But a lot of the time it’s just… Sometimes you want to keep that information for a particular release time.
GamesBeat: At the same time, he’s so prevalent whenever you’re talking about something at Eat Sleep Play or Twisted Metal or whatever. … How does that impact the team when…? You were saying, there’s 38 team members, there’s a ton of people working on this game. Everyone’s doing it. He’s just one cog in the machine. It’s the same way I would imagine… Like, Transformers is associated with Michael Bay. When there’s hundreds of people that work on it. How do you guys combat that?
Quintana: The thing is, it’s not so much a combat. Just like you saw on stage tonight, Jaffe is really good about trying to let people know that it’s not just him, that there is a whole team behind him in this. He could be the most amazing idea guy, but somebody has to bring those ideas to fruition, and he’s really great about giving the credit to the team that actually makes that happen. … People ask him, “Where did you come up with this, how did you do this?” And he’ll say, “Well, it started with this little nugget that I came up with, but these are the guys that actually made that happen.” He has been great about that. I don’t think there’s a time where he has taken credit for this game and not mentioned the studio and the 37 other people that make that happen.
GamesBeat: How often do both of you play the game throughout the development cycle?
Bradford: It kind of depends on the timing. Early stages, you’re playing it a lot, because there’s a lot… You have to do big, huge tuning moves during the game, whether it’s a level or whether it’s a car, weapon systems, whatever. You’re playing it constantly and you’re trying to make what you have better. And then you get more into the… Okay, now it’s on the testers. Now we have this stuff that we know is in there, we have to keep an eye on the major systems going in and make sure they’re going in correctly, but more on the testers to come back with the bugs and the issues, the things that we have to fix. And then you get to the end of the game and it doesn’t matter. The game is the game at that point. You’re not going to swing it one way or another. You may move the needle a little bit by changing this one thing or that one thing, but it’s all about… The last six months are all about just getting the game out the door. It is what it is at that point. You’re not going to add a bunch of cool stuff, you’ve just got to get it done.
GamesBeat: Last nine months in your case, because of the delay, right…?
Bradford: Yeah, there’s been…
Quintana: Just a little bit. Yeah.
Bradford: There’s been a lot of features added to the game, so we’ve had several release dates, and February 14 is our final. It is approved by format, we have all the thumbs up…
GamesBeat: In the last, last delay, from October to now, is that just polishing? Can you detail what that delay really means to people?
Bradford: There’s a lot of things that went into that. Some of it was on our end, saying “The game’s not ready,” and Sony not wanting to put out a bad product. Sony’s good about that, letting the developer develop, and not worrying about scope, schedule… It’s gotta be a good game, because they want to sell hardware and we want to sell video games, so it’s mutually beneficial that we put out something that’s the quality that we expect. This is a huge franchise that people expect a lot out of. If it’s not right it’s not right. It can’t be the first title to market, the first IP saying, “Well, this is what it is, it may change in the next one.” This is… People know what this franchise is, and we can’t sell them short. We have to nail it. There’s no room for error.
GamesBeat: Speaking of that, the expectations and what the franchise is, the character roster was actually cut down pretty heavily. Can you talk about the decisions behind that and what the feedback has been like?
Bradford: That was an easy one. You can go for number of characters, or you can go for depth of characters. What we decided was, we’re going to go for deeper character stories, get back into the origins of some of the most… I guess, the most iconic characters in the series. Pick them out and dig a little deeper into who these people are. What happened in the tournament. As opposed to just doing the cheapo, rip-off, it’s been done a thousand times before, where you just do cels and show kind of a comic-book style with some text on screen or V/O or whatever it is…
GamesBeat: And some awesome CG, like in Black…
Bradford: Yeah. The CG in Black was awesome. But we wanted to go even older-school than that and do the live-action. The actors that played the characters in the game are here tonight, and they’re walking around in their costumes that they had on set. Angelic was there, she can account for it. It’s really… These people are, to us, they’re famous. We’ve been staring at them for four years now.
GamesBeat: There’s no argument against better character development. But at the same time, I wonder… Because Jaffe even said, the story is kind of like… It’s the bait, and then the multiplayer is the hook. So I’m wondering if, for the single-player development, the story, doing the four characters, if that kind of lopsides the multiplayer, and what that could have been? Multiplayer, people want their choices, they want to be able to…
Bradford: What happened, basically, is… We started out the game as a multiplayer game. That’s what Sony wanted; that’s what we wanted to do. We were just coming off Warhawk so we knew how to do a multiplayer game and we knew how to do it well.
GamesBeat: Did you guys also work on Starhawk?
Bradford: No, it’s part of the same team that did Warhawk, but it split off…
Quintana: Yeah. Incognito split, half of us went to ESP, and half of us went to Lightbox.
GamesBeat: Starhawk’s really cool. I like Warhawk too, and I’m glad that they…
Quintana: No, I think Starhawk’s great.
Bradford: And they have a great team over there, we love those guys. We wish them the best. Can’t wait to see what they finally come up with. I wish I hadn’t been shipping this game, and I could have been able to play the Starhawk beta. Those guys are super talented, and they’re getting better every day.
GamesBeat: So you’re saying it started off as a multiplayer game…
Bradford: Right. We have a game, this is talking two years ago. We have a game that’s multiplayer, that we’re going to tune, balance, get out there. It was basically going to be the reverse of Black. Black came out and it was all single-player and then they came out with Black Online that had the multiplayer. We were going to do the multiplayer first, because that was kind of where games at the time were going. We’re talking over four years ago now. We wanted to do a really good, really fun, really fast-paced car combat game online, which really hadn’t been done since Black. Nobody had nailed that since Black. We did that, we had it, I’d say, what, 80 percent? We were good. We had a good game. And then… Everyone was talking about, “We’ve got to do a single-player. You can’t not give characters to people in Twisted Metal.” We had the factions, we had the idea that there were these characters online, but they didn’t have any depth, there was no backstory, it was just… You go on, you play, you kill each other. I think it was mutual. Sony and Eat Sleep Play agreed, we have to do a single-player. And that’s when we extended the title and said, “We’re going to do this right, we’re going to do the full thing, we’re going to give them a 60-dollar value, it’s going to be huge, they’re going to see really cool graphics, fun gameplay, exciting AI, cool story twists, modes inside the campaign, and then they’re going to be able to take all that knowledge they gained from the campaign, take it online, and kick the hell out of either random people or their friends.”
GamesBeat: The second part of that question was the feedback. We touched on, earlier, sometimes giving the fans what they literally ask for and then sometimes giving them what they don’t know they want. So how has the reaction to… It’s just four characters, right?
Bradford: It’s four characters, we have four factions online. Ever since the demo came out I’ve been trolling the Twitter feeds, seeing good and bad comments. You’re going to get both, everywhere.
GamesBeat: I think that’s “lurking.” Trolling is when you’re…
[lots of laughs]
Bradford: Right, I’m not trying to screw you, lurking, voyeurism, whatever you want to call it. I’m perusing the Twitter feed. I would say nine out of 10 people are saying either that they’re so excited about the game, they just pre-ordered it, they can’t wait to get it, or some people are just excited about how they’re downloading it. But there’s that one person that says, “I don’t like this,” or “I don’t like that.” We take that into account, but there’s some stuff that we can’t do. We can’t change the soundtrack at this point. A lot of the one-out-of-10 negative comments were “I don’t like this track.” That’s fine with us, because we added in a custom soundtrack feature where you can play anything you want in the game. So that’s kind of a non-issue for us.
GamesBeat: So the majority’s been positive?
Bradford: I would say nine out of 10, we’ve had great feedback; the team could not be more proud. We are absolutely ecstatic that we have something live. After all this time, after all this work, after missing weekends and birthdays…
GamesBeat: Four years is a long time.
Bradford: And not just four years of five days a week, eight hours a day. We’re talking… These guys have been killing it for years.
GamesBeat: Then I will end with a slightly lighter question, which is… For me, my favorite moments were… Not just Dollface’s cutscenes in Black, but also the rooftop battles. That was in Twisted Metal 2. And then the Ferris wheel, which was always a really cool moment. So from this new game, what are your moments?
Bradford: Well, you’re going to get the same iconic stuff that you remember. It’s gonna happen again, and it’s gonna be better this time, hopefully.
GamesBeat: But specifically for you guys, when you’re playing it, what were some of the standout moments for you?
Bradford: For me it’s the insanity and chaos. It’s not one thing, it’s… Sometimes it’s a series of things, where you’re driving through a mess of 10 cars, and you get like six kills with one napalm. And then you ram someone and kill ’em. You shoot a missile and kill another guy. And then you drive off and get some health and actually recharge and you kinda get this… [deep breath] Like, “Oh my God, that just happened. I had six kills in 30 seconds, that’s amazing.” Or somebody will do it to you, and it’s still amazing, because you’re watching this destruction just occur. It is the ultimate in destruction derby.
Quintana: My favorite, personally, is in Suburbs, when you can make it to the top of the theater, you hit that theater reel and the reel takes off? It reminds me of the Ferris wheel, but it’s just a different twist on it. That’s definitely one of my favorites.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Bradford: Go buy it on February 14!
Quintana: Yes! Please!