Twisted Metal is back! Officially announced at last year's E3 via ridiculous on-stage stunt, Twisted Metal is going to be the first time Sweet Tooth and his army of vehicular combat misfits will be appearing on the PS3. In other words, prepare for high-defintion scrap-metal-on-scrap-metal crime. The developers at Eat Sleep Play have been hard at work on the game, but co-founder Scott Campbell sat down with us to give us a glimpse into the life and times of half the brain trust behind one of the most anticipated games of 2011. Read on to find out more about why other car combat games belong in a junkyard, how the developers went nuclear with their multiplayer, and why foam bats and four-letter words are a necessary part of the "creative process."
Complex: So, tell us a bit about yourself.
Scott Campbell: I’m kind of off the beaten trail—I went to school and got a BS in mechanical engineering, but I was really attracted to high-res graphics. I got exposed to 3D graphics through work with Silicon Graphics, Adobe Photoshop, and other big companies, as well as getting to know a lot of the core guys I currently work with. I approached them way back in 1994 to do a game for the soon-to-be-released PlayStation 1; a bunch of us jumped on that bandwagon and that’s where we started with our first games, Twisted Metal and Warhawk. Then we worked on Twisted Metal 2, Jet Moto, and Jet Moto 2, and then we (as in our company SingleTrac) were sold to GT Interactive. I went on to form Incognito Entertainment and we just kind of continued with the same core foundation, developing Twisted Metal Black, Warhawk, One Hill, and War of the Monsters. While we did great work, Dave Jaffe and I decided to found our own studio, which is when we started Eat Sleep Play back in 2007.
We hear you guys are working on a new game.
Yeah, the latest installment of Twisted Metal! We’ve actually been working on Twisted Metal for about 2½ years now.
Not counting Twisted Metal Head On, as that was more of a remake, there have been so many titles that have come out where the premise is vehicles blowing each other up. How do you think your upcoming title fits within that genre?
That question comes up quite a bit. It’s definitely a popular genre, but it's kind of niche. There have been a couple that have gained some popularity, I think the best known one was Vigilante 8. Their big claim was that it was car combat done "right" with true car physics and dynamics. What ended up happening was that because they put more emphasis on realism, the actual combat element was not the focus. The cars drove well, but the gameplay fell short. The cool car physics were now getting in the way of you firing the machine guns. It was interesting for us to see that because we were talking about going down that same path of making a Gran Turismo game with combat. When we did Twisted Metal Black, we started off with very realistic driving physics, but when we put the combat elements in, the game totally broke down. You would find yourself doing a three-point wide turn just trying to get a shot lined up. All the things we do to "arcade-ify" the physics are basically to allow you to fire weapons and do car combat while you’re driving at high speeds. Unless you focus on that, everything loses its meaning. It becomes hard to tell what it is you're really doing.
Tell us what it's like working with your co-founder counterpart, Dave Jaffe. He's not one to shy away from controversy...
It’s an interesting relationship. We started working together back in 1994 with the first Twisted Metal and I consider him a very good friend. I think we actually balance each other nicely in terms of our roles within the company: I’m kind of hardcore into the production and making things arcade-y, and he’s all about putting depth and meaning into a game, like you'd find in first-person shooters. We lock horns on a lot of these things, and in a lot of cases the compromise turns out better than the arcade version and better than the pure "FPS" version. That's not to say we don't have our share of shouting matches, you know?
Do you guys have therapy sessions with foam bats?
[Laughs.] Let's just say that it's a good thing that we live 1,200 miles away from each other. We definitely yell at each other and throw controllers, but we've always said that as long as it's not personal, it is good to have healthy conflict. It's for the better. A lot of times, we'll take a step back after locking horns and look at it from each other's perspective. We also take a lot of input from the team because they have good suggestions as well. But, if something gets in the game and it sucks, well...
You point to David?
No! No way, I don’t point the finger. I usually step up with him and say, “Yeah, we decided to put this in, here’s the reason we put it in, but obviously it sucks.” We don't let pride get in the way so much that we're not willing to throw something away and go back to the drawing board.
With that said, what are you bringing to this new iteration of the franchise to help innovate the genre?
We've done so many versions of the game and it becomes harder and harder to innovate. Our goal is always to preserve the essence of car combat; if you change it too drastically, you no longer have a well-tuned car combat game. Specifically, we modified the various objectives of the game and put more depth into the gameplay. We also took a long hard look at making the controls better, as that was a complaint in the past. It’s kind of been a gamer’s franchise because we utilize all the buttons on the controller and the game has a very fast pace. We tried to make it friendlier for the masses, making the cars easier to drive and the weapons easier to fire. The big focus was to really go all out on the multiplayer. That was what we started with, and added the campaign later in the development cycle.
So what can we expect in multiplayer?
I’m not sure if you’ve heard of our new "Nuke Mode."
Sounds insane. Please continue.
That’s what we’re calling it right now, but it may change. It's our twisted version of Capture the Flag. You have to steal the other team's faction leader, sacrifice him to a missile launcher, and fly that nuke into a big-ass statue of their faction leader. The key to the mode are the various roles that some of your teammates can play. It's very much Twisted Metal at its core, but we also wanted players to just stare at what was happening and go, "What the f***?" There’s something that we feel will appeal to every type of Twisted Metal player that’s been out there, and even the new ones that might be wanting something that’s more objective-based.
We can always get behind some unadulterated mayhem. We're wondering, since you're an expert and all, what kind of stuff do you find innovative in gaming today?
I haven’t been able to play as many games recently as I’ve liked to because we’re really in alpha crunch mode right now. But, I love how some of the big games like Call of Duty are developing and evolving their community. For me personally, I’m really excited about some of the things I’m seeing in the casual gaming space. To be honest, I tend to play iPhone games more than anything else. They take simple mechanics and interactions and make them addictive.
Amuse us: What's on your iPhone?
I’ve been playing Veggie Samurai. There’s one called Bubble Ball, which was created by some 14-year-old kid in Utah. I'm also into Drop 7 and Fruit Frenzy. What I like about them is that they totally fit my time limit and totally quench my gameplay addiction.
Cool. Are we ever going to see Twisted Metal on mobile devices, maybe on the iPhone or the NGP?
I think that would be really really cool. They're both great platforms for it, but I think you would have to be scaled down on an iPhone, kind of a top-down thing. I don’t know what Sony would think about taking Twisted Metal and putting it on Apple—their competitor—devices. We could do it and ask forgiveness later.
It's amazing how well making tons of money goes over with the suits.