David Jaffe Walks Us Through Drawn To Death
Even after Dave Jaffe publicly defused the speculation that he could be attached to a new God of War game, some people clung to hope that his new studio, The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency, would bring Kratos back at Sony's PlayStation Experience this week. Sony Santa Monica ended up being the studio with the God of War announcement, and Jaffe's team revealed Drawn to Death, a PlayStation 4 exclusive that has a little bit of Twisted Metal in its blood.
Drawn to Death has a visual style all its own, bringing the disturbing illustrations from a high schooler's notebook into the framework of a four-player competitive shooter. This distinct graphical style all started when Jaffe played Super Dodge Ball on Super Nintendo. "I drew this stick figure with a dodge ball, Jaffe remembers. "I said 'Let's do a dodge ball game. A stick figure dodge ball game! It started like that and sort of evolved into [Drawn to Death] over many years I started thinking about it right after God of War, and it eventually turned into the game here."
Drawn to Death is a four-player arena shooter that has a story to tell through its artwork. Many of the child's illustrations have stories to tell. All of the characters represent aspects of the people he knows in real life. The child's thoughts are scrawled crudely on the sky box, on building walls, and on billboards that, when shot, reveal hidden messages. "There's a lot of things about his life in all of the levels," Jaffe adds. "His thoughts. Things his girlfriend said. We included a lot to discover and read in all of the levels and through all of the characters."
All of the characters in the Drawn to Death demo are distinct and carry a Twisted Metal vibe, such as a chain-saw wielding teddy bear, who represents the child's unloved step dad. "The soldier character represents his brother," Jaffe says. "And the punk represents him. He's just kind of being irreverent."
Like the Twisted Metal games, the arena in this demo holds many secrets that can be used as weapons against your opponents. Shooting an illustration of an eye on the wall awakens a alien beast that swipes his tentacle. If a rival player is in the area when this happens, they'll sustain significant damage. "We really like that kind of [experience] where if you explore it will pay off. There's lots of things to look at and discover to make the world feel like this kid's imagination has gone crazy. He's not some twisted, dark kid that's ready to snap. He's a kid who is dealing with his parents, his girlfriend. He's really creative, but he's not the world's greatest artist. He's going to do boob jokes and butthole jokes because they are funny, but he's also going to get out his emotions about things going on in his life."
The world and action embody the juvenile tone of the child's illustrations. One weapon is a lizard that doubles as a flamethrower, another has profanity in its name. A power-up in the game summons the child's hand to interact in the game world, much like the foot from Monty Python's Flying Circus. The action is fast and frantic, allowing players to sprint, double-jump, and reach high vantage points with ease. The weapons are goofy in concept, but are dynamic and deep. The dodge ball, for instance, can become more powerful if a player throws it against a wall and catches it. Another firearm that resembles a shotgun gains blades when its shots land on a player. The blades trigger a minigame similar to Gears of War's reloading mechanic. If the player can time button presses correctly, the shotgun becomes lethal with the blades. Regarding the potential of a weapon progression system, Jaffe says that "skill should be the only determining factor. If you've been playing this for a year, and I just come in and I'm awesome at these types of games, the only reason you should win is you know the map better and are more comfortable muscle memory wise. It should never be because you have better weapons. It's not meant to be a game that is play it a lot, unlock stuff, dominate."
Given that the game is just for four players, the arenas are small, but the action is heated. All of the people who played the game at PlayStation Experience had the chance to talk about their experience with Jaffe and the team from Bartlet Jones. "I want to do this every month," Jaffe says. "It's the best focus test you can have. They don't owe you anything and they aren't paid to be here. They are paying with their money. They're going to give you honest feedback - 'we love it, we hate it,' stuff like that. We're pulling in reams of data. When we get back to the office on Monday, we have probably 700 items to go through based on this play test. We're going to go 'Okay, let's pick the most important ones and get on that.' The hope is that with each show, people's enjoyment of it gets better and better until we are ready to launch it. I love that we were able to do it. I hope we can do it more."