I’ll admit, I was surprised to read about David Jaffe’s concept for the game Heartland, which he was working on before Calling All Cars!, but that got cancelled.
I mean if you look at the games he’s worked on in the past, like the Twisted Metal games, and you listen to what he says these days, he very much sounds like the sort of designer that stereotypically overvalues a simple, positive, play experience. Have some adrenaline, some excitement, blow some shit up, fun, wheeeeee (or wii).
So in Heartland you would have played an American soldier defending against a Chinese invasion. Sounds pretty fucking cool - take some standard shooter gameplay, add lots of interesting player choices trying to figure out who is actually the “bad guy”, see Americans siding with the Chinese or be forced to take collateral damage, and whammo! You already have a game with about 100 times more depth than Grand Theft Auto or The Sims.
Ok, to be fair in my fore-judgement of Jaffe, I do know at least a few developers that work at large corporate studios (*cough*me included*cough*) that would like to work on games with such themes, but instead have to work on sugary fluff (the last game I worked on had a guy with a hammer as big as he was). But I was still a bit surprised.
While it no doubt got cancelled for a million other reasons, Jaffe seems to despair on his blog:
“I mean, sure we could have made Heartland- and may still make it one day- but from a MESSAGE standpoint, what’s the point? So here’s a game that says: I HATE GEORGE BUSH! I HATE THE IRAQ WAR! I HATE HOW AMERICA HAS LOST ITS REPUTATION AROUND THE WORLD IN THE LAST 6 YEARS,etc,etc,etc….it’s like….so what? The folks that agree with me will nod in approval, the folks who don’t will call me an ass…”
But that’s not the point, right? The point is to change people’s minds. Have them pick up a shooter by the director of God of War (oooh, pretty explosions!). And be forced into situations where you have to think about political issues today. And maybe change your opinion. Or better yet, act on it. Because even if most people agree with that opinion, what are they willing to stand up and do about it? Imagine a world where a game actually inspired someone to that level of action.
Oddly enough, with Jaffe being up against Harvey Smith at this year’s Game Design Challenge at the GDC, it does sort of seem like the type of game Smith would work on. Go figure.