Ever since the credits rolled on God of War 2, Sony has presented God of War 3 as the end of a trilogy. The game that would answer tons of questions and see Kratos finish his fight against the gods. And well, they threw around the word "trilogy" a lot.
But Ready at Dawn creative director Ru Weerasuriya prefers "quintology."
He's half-joking when he says it, driving home a point about how his team's God of War: Chains of Olympus and today's just-announced Ghost of Sparta build on the overall series canon, but it's a nice way of mentioning that Sony's not ready to give up on the franchise just because they've completed the primary story arc.
Ghost of Sparta, as announced in a press release this morning, fills the story gap between God of War 1 and 2 and includes upgrades relative to Chains of Olympus, like a longer campaign, larger bosses, improved enemy intelligence and textures, new magics and abilities, and more characters on screen at once. Much like every other God of War game, it will be single-player only, but unlike the rest of the series, it won't ship in March; Ghost of Sparta has a sometime-in-2010 release date.
After reading the announcement, I tracked down Weerasuriya and Ready at Dawn game director Dana Jan to talk about it in greater depth. Sony reps warned me ahead of time that the duo wouldn't be able to be go into much detail on specific gameplay features since they're saving a lot of that for E3 in June, so I'll pass along that same warning here, but read on if you want to know what they're able to say at this point.
1UP: OK when did the development on this one start? The day after Chains of Olympus wrapped?
Ru Weerasuriya: No, there was a lapse in time when we sent our dev kits back... [Laughs] You know what? I can't even remember. I think it was September of 2008.
1UP: A couple year development cycle, roughly?
RW: Yeah, a little less than that, but yeah.
1UP: So when you sat down in September and started thinking of ideas for this game... I know you can't say much about what the features are, but what were the main things on the to-do list?
Dana Jan: Well one of the things is we wanted to go back [and look at what people said about Chains of Olympus]. Obviously people wanted to have a bigger experience than the previous game, and it's something that we wanted to do as well. We looked at the things that we knew, right after finishing the first one, we wanted to improve upon... We started itemizing those things, and looked at, "Is it possible to improve on these things."
Because some of it comes down to obviously, you know, limitations of what can be done with time and hardware and personnel. But I think that we came up with a fairly large list of things that we were able to actually expand upon and improve and retool. And I think overall, the game's just going to be bigger, better, more polished, and [with] probably a lot more stuff than I think people are going to expect will be in this game.
1UP: Will there be anything that got cut from the first game? I remember hearing that Chains of Olympus started much larger.
DJ: I think every game goes through its cuts and its trim down processes. There's certainly... I'm sure there are plenty of ideas, whether consciously or subconsciously, we actually brought back. There are characters that appeared in our last game who got treatments in this game that are different from before, and we've found moves and things laying around where it's like, "Oh that's really cool -- why didn't we use that?" ... As far as whole areas or levels, I guess we're not really talking about that right now, but you know, that's obviously a possibility.
1UP: Would there be any hints to find if we went back and looked through the deleted scene bonus features [on the Chains of Olympus UMD]?
DJ: [Laughs] Right off the top of my head, I can't think of any, necessarily.
RW: Now you're going to go look, aren't you?
1UP: I actually did that yesterday... But anyway. Sony's press release mentions that the team in Santa Monica is "collaborating" on development. Are they playing a bigger role than they did on the first game?
RW: Actually, up to now, I would say a smaller role. Right now, the cool thing is we have a very good working understanding with those guys. We work really well with them. We have a lot of respect for the IP they've created. So on this project, it was cool because we had much more freedom in some ways. It was hard to get more freedom than before, because they were really cool on the first game to let us do what we needed to do to own the game. But with Stig [Asmussen, game director at Sony Santa Monica], I think we just kept on going like we did with Cory [Barlog, former director at Sony Santa Monica] -- it was easy and we just went on ahead with them very much allowing us to carve our own path.
DJ: There have definitely been a few opportunities we've had over the course of this project, where both sides came up with ideas that would be interesting to kind of connect the two games together: God of War 3 and this game. And so there are things that you'll find in God of War 3 -- and in this game as well -- that link the two together to keep the mythology going between the two and connect them really well.
RW: One of the things that Santa Monica has always been good at doing is that some of the guys over there, even now since they have some free cycles to spare after God of War 3 shipped and are kind of in down time, they also like jumping in to help if we need help here and there. So they've been really cool about that.
1UP: On the Ready at Dawn side, is it mostly the same group of guys that worked on the first game? Because I know you guys have at least one other project going on over there...
RW: Yeah, it's mostly the same group.
1UP: You guys have two teams now, essentially?
RW: Pretty much. Not two full-blown teams, actually. It's more like one full team, and one, what do you call it? Prototype team. Yeah, prototype team.
1UP: Back to Ghost of Sparta. Does the game follow the main God of War formula pretty closely, or might we see some kind of bigger-than-normal twist in the gameplay?
DJ: From my personal perspective, I think that a lot of the game actually is an amalgamation of the separate God of War formulas, plural. One of the things that we've noticed is that, over time, God of War is actually something that has some staples to it, and there's definitely what I guess you could consider the core formula of how the game is supposed to be -- you know, big creatures doing epic things that are larger than life, and absolute brutality, storytelling, puzzles, all that type of thing.
We stay true to those core pillars, but at the same time there's been an evolution of God of War from 1 to 2 to 3, and it's something where we're pulling the things that we like from each of them, and making sure that the game is relevant and that there's gameplay in there that's new and fresh and keeps the franchise alive instead of stagnating. So you're definitely going to find the staples in there, but at the same time we've also thrown in some things that people are going to appreciate for their kind of breath of fresh air.
1UP: But there won't be one key thing, that once you guys reveal it, everybody's going to be like "Wow, that's completely different?"
DJ: Well, we've added the... I won't get specific about it, but I'll say there is a mechanic in the game that we've added that actually is interesting from a moment-to-moment perspective that hasn't been there before, that has some potential for players to possibly feel that way, but I'm not gonna divulge the secrets of what that is.
1UP: You mentioned wanting to feel different. Are you worried at all about this being the fifth main game in the franchise, and the other moment-to-moment stuff might feel too familiar to people?
DJ: I don't think so. Going back to what I was saying about God of War in general and the way that the franchise works, I think that when the foundation is solid and it is God of War, people never complain about that. I think when there's nothing more than that, then yeah, fifth title in the series, people might start to go, "What else is there?" So we definitely looked at things. God of War 3 had some tricks they threw in there, some moments where you're like "I've never really seen that in God of War." We did the same kind of thing in our game as well, to make sure that it keeps it fresh, it keeps it new.
It's not necessarily that you want to take everything that is great about God of War and throw it away. Otherwise you would just be starting from scratch and you'd have people commenting the other way that, "This doesn't seem like God of War." So it's very important to make sure that those other elements you are going to pull and put into the game to work alongside the traditional God of War mechanics are there for a reason, and fit within the universe and the game. Otherwise they will just feel out of place and then they're not doing any good either.
1UP: Did you guys look at any link features between God of War 3 and this game?
RW: It was floated around.
DJ: Yeah the idea was touched [upon]. We had talked about some ideas between connectivity on PS3 and PSP, but at this time I don't think we have anything right now that we've settled on.
1UP: Finally, one of the most memorable scenes in [Chains of Olympus] was at the end where you're pushing your daughter away, interacting in a way that's not combat-based. Are we going to see a lot of that here?
DJ: I think people are going to be surprised with how much of that kind of stuff is in this game. We have several moments in the game that touch on that type of thing, where it's very powerful and moving both from a character and a story perspective, but at the same time it has a different kind of gameplay to it that breaks up the typical rage-fueled combat that you see in God of War. We've got quite a number of those in this game, and some of them are definitely very heartfelt moments.
RW: I'll sum it up like this. One of the things that I'm starting to realize between the games that we've done and Santa Monica has done... I think both of our games, you're going to see, are much more personal on a character level than their games have been. I mean, they had to tell such a grand story that sometimes it's hard actually to get the emotional side of the character out. And we've somehow really been attached to it in both of our products. That's one thing I really love about Kratos -- there's a lot more to him than the brutality. And that's one of the things you'll see in this game, definitely. There's a lot of cool stuff.
DJ: Yeah, it's really cool. [The team in Santa Monica has] given him all these things that we know little bits and pieces about, things that have happened to him and things that he's done that aren't the parts that you're playing. And so there are always opportunities here and there in the games that we're tackling to go, "Is that something relevant? Is that something we can actually bring to the table in this game and flesh out? And is it something people are going to be interested in seeing?"
You know, there're a lot of questions about who this character is, and a lot of thing things that he's done that aren't played in 1, 2, and 3 that make him who he is in those games. So I always think that it's not just for us to go "Oh that's really cool to try to do," but I think that people who are big fans of God of War will appreciate these moments. Because they're really into the character, and this is who the character is, so yeah definitely I think there's going to be a few surprises in there for people.