The ever-quotable David Goldfarb used to write poetry and now makes shooter games. For a long time, those shooters had the world Battlefield in the title. These days, he’s the game director for this week’s co-op bank-robbery shooter Payday 2. He’s got four answers for us… and one question for you.
1. There are a lot of top game developers in Stockholm. Surely, you all hang out. When you get together, what do you talk about?
David Goldfarb: We hang out sometimes but not as often as you might think. Everyone is pretty busy. There is a lot of war-story swapping and “tell me how your stuff is going” as well as “did you hear how company X is boned?”, as well as the all-important “what are you playing lately?”. All that said, it’s amazing to be able to run into developers randomly just doing whatever. I think in the space of one day I ran into four DICE colleagues, someone from Mojang, and an old DICE colleague now at Paradox. Definitely a luxury and a pleasure.
2. I heard you were into poetry, maybe even a poet. True? What’s the best poetry for a game designer to read?
Goldfarb: I feel like you must have hired a private investigator for this information, but yeah, I wrote a lot of poetry from age 21-30, had some of it published in journals, and then, abruptly stopped once I started working in games. Make of that what you will.
I don’t know about best poetry for anyone, but I remember talking about Vasko Popa, this amazing Serbian poet, to [game designer and New York University game studies director] Frank Lantz, long time ago. Definitely a poet of games, the way every one of his poems contains a simple but almost mysterious and impenetrable ruleset. Richard Hugo is terrific, Paul Celan is terrific, Rimbaud and Lautreamont as well. I remember, when I was young, being really affected by some of WS Merwin‘s work, the simplicity of punctuation and language. I think that has a place in games by way of analogy. I guess I still love poetry, I just am a lot quieter about it now.
3. You worked on big shooter games. You worked on single-player campaigns for them. You’re not putting a campaign in Payday 2. Do you think the big Battlefields and Call of Dutys should start skipping them, too?
Goldfarb: It’s weird, because when I worked on Battlefield as an internal person I wanted to work on SP [single-player], and the conversations came up every game, we are an MP [multiplayer] studio, why make SP? There was always a very lively, vocal discussion about why SP was important to the studio. I suspect it is also true at IW/ATVI [Infinity Ward/Activision, developer and publisher for Call of Duty].
But now that I am not making SP, I have to say, the focus you get from being able to do one thing is super sweet. Doing SP and MP well is so, so difficult. Just doing one well is next to impossible. And now the market is there for MP-only or SP-only (Hi, Skyrim!).
As production risks go up, it almost feels like it’s time to step away from the multiple modes angle and let people go deep, not broad. I know for sure if we had had to include SP on Payday 2 the game would have suffered immeasurably. So I suspect there will be a lot of studio soul-searching very soon with this console transition.
4. Having finished development on a bank-robbing game, what do you know about robbing banks now that you didn’t know before?
Goldfarb: Huh. Things I didn’t know about bank robbery. Well I didn’t know the average take on a real-life bank robbery was 35,000 dollars, which seems like a small number in light of the trouble you’re inviting into your life.
I learned that you definitely want to get both drawers if you happen to be, uh, liberating a bank of its content.
I also learned that the term “Stockholm Syndrome” actually came from a place that is a few blocks from where we now work near the centre of town, during a bank robbery where the hostages began to sympathise, even defend, the actions of their captors.
Oh, and I learned I’d be a really crap bank robber. No, I can’t say how. 🙂
… and here is David Goldfarb’s question for Kotaku: