An unexpected dinner with Twisted Metal’s David Jaffe
(Note: this article was my first ever post on Bitmob, and went on to be cross-posted to the GamesBeat channel on Venture Beat)
It was 10 p.m. on a cold night in San Francisco, Calif., and David Jaffe was hungry. The creator of Twisted Metal for the PlayStation 3 hadn’t eaten since his arrival to the city earlier that day when he was busy preparing for the night’s festivities. Sony was hosting a Twisted Metal community meet-up and multiplayer tournament at the swanky Mezzanine lounge. Jaffe was there, along with a few other members of his team, to promote the game.
Though the event had been over for nearly an hour, a few fans, including myself, patiently gathered outside in hopes of getting the former designer of Eat Sleep Play to autograph our pile of old TM games and memorabilia.
As soon as Jaffe finished up his last interview of the night with EGM Managing Editor Brandon Justice, we received our wish. He had a quick chat with each of us as he signed our gear, and we eventually packed up our stuff — which included an Ikea table laser-etched with the Twisted Metal logo that we were able to take home — thinking the night was over. We started to go our separate ways as Jaffe and Brandon began to discuss places to eat nearby.
Suddenly, Jaffe broke from the conversation and asked us, “Hey, you guys wanna grab some food?”
Hated by some and loved by others, David Jaffe is a bona fide celebrity within the video game industry. Who else can generate news headlines whenever he speaks? While he is most known for his crude vulgarity and long, rambling speeches, you can’t deny the man’s passion for making games. I’ve long admired and respected him for both the Twisted Metal franchise and God of War, so the thought of meeting him in person, let alone grabbing food with him, was enough to send me into an anxiety attack.
I had a chance to sit down with, arguably, one of the most interesting and thought-provoking designers in the industry, and I just didn’t know how to react. All I could do was nod along with the rest of the guys as we headed down to Mel’s Drive-In across the street.
Among the fans who tagged along with me were three others. One guy was a truly dedicated fan of the TM franchise who flew all the way from Texas just to see David and the game. Another was a young producer for Electronic Arts. And the last guy was a programmer for a local developer who made free-to-play titles.
Then there was me, a recent college grad that had absolutely no idea what to do with his life. Originally, as a starry-eyed freshman, I started out as a computer-science major who had aspirations to work in the gaming industry. How hard could programming be, right? Well, let’s just say I quickly burned out after about a year’s worth of courses and was on the cusp of failing out of college entirely.
I fell back to my backup major, English — a dangerous word that carried a frighteningly bleak future of endless job hunting and not much (if any) money. As someone who enjoyed his high-school English courses and actually liked writing, I thought that there had to be some way to combine that pursuit with another similar passion — video games.
Shortly after I switched majors, I tried starting my own blog and attempted to do the whole shebang — news, reviews, features, etc. Anyone who has done this alone can testify to how hard it really is trying to keep your motivation up, especially when it comes to the lack of readers. It also becomes a problem of trying to do too much in such a small amount of time.
Coupled with the demands of homework, midterms, and my extracurricular responsibilities, I eventually gave it all up after only a few months. I felt my heart just was not in it anymore.
There are certain expectations when one graduates from college — that you’re now competent enough to take on the world and to find a career path that’s right for you, especially with the pressure of student-loan payments and the usual bills that goes along with being an adult. This was the situation I found myself in last summer when I finally walked out of college with my BA in hand, still uncertain of what sort of shape my career was going to take.
While I was trying to figure this out, I stumbled across a video of David Jaffe’s speech about a week before the Twisted Metal event. It was from the 2011 Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, the semi-annual convention that also takes place in Boston. In the video, Jaffe talked about the struggle of finding and listening to one’s voice.
Through a series of unrelenting pressure and adversity throughout the course of his career, Jaffe discovered that it’s easy to lose that voice and difficult to gain it back. I found his struggle a parallel to my own where I was still searching for a way to define my own voice in the midst of an uncertain future. Writing about games had always been on the back of my mind, but ever since giving up my blog, I had a lot of self doubt as to how feasible that prospect could really be.
Call it coincidence, serendipity, or what have you, but only a few days after discovering this video, here I was sitting across from David, eating our late-night burgers while I had difficulty just trying to get the words out of my mouth for the current conversation about major trends in the industry.
Given that most of our group had at least some experience and insight in this matter, you can imagine how overwhelmed I felt just sitting there and listening in — whether they were talking about the rise of the free-to-play model in games or the nature of storytelling (where much of what Jaffe said about this ended up in his recent speech at the DICE Summit). I jumped in when I could, but I was mostly just satisfied hearing everyone’s views.
The weird part about this whole experience was that nobody said anything particularly enlightening to me. It’s not like the conversation drifted into the whole “how to break into the industry” discussion. If you really look at it, we were just a bunch of guys chatting about games.
There is, however, something special that occurs when you’re around people that are so passionate about the same hobby, so passionate about its future, and so passionate about why we play what we play. It’s infectious.
I knew I couldn’t let this night go to waste without it fundamentally changing the way I thought about myself and my future.
We all left the diner and said our goodbyes around 12:30 a.m. or so. The guy from Texas (who, crazily enough, was heading back to the airport) and I practically ran to make the last BART train out of the city. The entire time, my head was buzzing and my heart was practically clawing out of my chest. My voice came screaming back from oblivion, yelling at me again and again, that this is the world I belonged to — that this is the place where I need to take a stand and let my thoughts be heard.
Whether I make it or not as a gaming journalist is irrelevant. What matters is that I try.
As a friend of mine told me: It isn’t everyday that something like this lights a fire in you.