God of War: Ascension Q&A: Taking Kratos to the Next Level

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God of War: Ascension Q&A: Taking Kratos to the Next Level

With God of War: Ascension’s launch just a few days away now, we sat down with the game’s Lead Combat Designer Jason McDonald and Lead Game Designer Mark Simon to find out how they’ve kept the formula fresh six games into the series, and what challenges the addition of multiplayer presented to the team.

We’ll have more insight from Game Director Todd Papy next week before Santa Monica’s lean, mean new actioner hits the shelves on March 12th. In the meantime, over to Mark and Jason…

God of War: Ascension on PS3

PlayStation.Blog: How difficult is it retro-fitting a prequel story onto the existing God of War trilogy?

Mark Simon: It’s kinda nice actually. At the end of God of War 3 Kratos is completely rage-filled. His sole-focus has been figured out. With Ascension, we can go back to a different time period before he was this character. He has a wider range and you can explain things about him that you didn’t know before. You get to find out what turned him into the guy that he is – what makes him snap, and why is it that breaking a bond with a god like Ares does this.

PSB: If I was to plot Kratos’ anger on a graph, I’d say he starts at ‘seriously ticked off’ for God of War 1 and climbs to ‘ball of latent fury’ for God of War 3. But from what I’ve played of Ascension, he starts this prequel with a serious rage on. What gives?

MS: Sure, he does! But that’s due to the way the story is told. It’s like Slumdog Millionaire, or something like that. He’s not at the beginning of the story when you start the game. It’s told in a non-linear fashion. It builds up to why he is in the prison – why he was taken there by The Furies.

PSB: Do you ever worry that you’re going to run out of Greek gods for Kratos to beat up?

“That’s the great thing about our studio – ideas come from everywhere.”

MS: Every game is a challenge, but the Greek mythos is so wide and varied. We could never do every myth that it has for us. We don’t find it limiting; it’s more exciting to explore more areas of it – new gods, new titans, new locales.

Take the Furies. They’re primordial. They’re from before the gods – they’re more powerful than the gods. Some of their abilities are just ridiculous – so powerful. They make really great nemeses for Kratos.

PSB: Do you have an in-house expert who spends all their time going through Homer looking for new myths and characters?

MS: The cool thing about the studio is that some ideas come from the director, and then a lot of it comes from the rest of the team. Someone comes in and says ‘Y’know this would be really cool!’ Suddenly you’re in a brainstorming session, and before you know it you’re building it into the game. That’s the great thing about our studio – ideas come from everywhere.

Jason McDonald: But if you look at the typical desk in the office you’ll see Greek mythology books, random Greek materials – we do often reference that so we have to have those around.

MS: And the movies! Immortals, Jason and the Argonauts – all of them. We can’t get enough!

PSB: There are no office fact-finding outings to Greece then?
JM: No, but you should recommend that!

MS: Santorini, maybe. There’s got to be some myths around that island, right?

God of War: Ascension on PS3God of War: Ascension on PS3

PSB: Every God of War game has had a different director. How hard is it to maintain a consistent feel in every game?

JM: Even when the director changes, the core of the team remain the same. There’s a number of people who’ve been there for every title. Each director, when they assume that role, was really skilled to begin with, so it’s not like ‘Oh my god, what do I need to do?’ They know exactly what they need to do. Every director puts their spin on it. Like [Ascension director] Todd Papy was a designer, so with this game he kept a close eye on mechanics.

MS: I think that after a project this size and scope, it’s not unhealthy thing to go ‘You know what? The director is going to move onto another thing if he wants to’. We’re a team full of leads. So if one director decides he doesn’t want to do it on the next project, there are a lot of people who can help out.

PSB: The series is known for its visceral violence and I’ve already seen some brutal kills in Ascension. Was there ever a moment during development where you said ‘Okay, we went too far with that one…’?

MS: It’s got to feel impactful. If you swing a club and hit someone it’s got to feel like you’ve just hit them with a club. If it doesn’t, it feels gamey. We don’t want that gamey feeling – we want it to feel like you’re actually impacting someone’s head. It makes that sound, it feels like that – you kind of cringe thinking about it, but that’s what melee combat should feel like.

PSB: Which of the additions that you’ve made to the God of War formula this time around are you most happy with?

JM: The Rage system turned out really well. Everyone uses it differently and it’s nice to see that come together. The multiplayer though – seeing all that come together and people having fun – that’s an experience that is very unique to this game and I’m very proud we were able to accomplish it.

PSB: How did the decision to add multiplayer come about?

JM: I don’t remember anyone saying ‘it’s multiplayer time, let’s do it!’ It was more that we were curious about it. We hadn’t tried multiplayer before so we were asking ourselves ‘can it be done? Is there fun to be had?’

So we tried out a few tests using Kratos, as he was already built. What we found was that people would sit down with two Kratoses and have a lot of fun. They’d sit there for hours. It was un-tuned and very rough, but when we saw people enjoying it we thought it had merit. After that it was all about putting the God of War spin on it – making sure the scale reaches what we expect, and not just eight players bundled into a room fighting each other. We had to design modes and rules to make sure it wasn’t repetitive.

“We found that players really wanted to keep the action going as long as they could.”

PSB: How difficult was it to keep the combat balanced?

MS: You always start with something very simple – people fighting one another. Then you start adding new things and you watch the balance go out the window. Then you try desperately to get it back again before introducing another new thing. That’s how we iterate. We didn’t start with everything all at once.

PSB: How useful was the beta? Did players’ behavior take you by surprise?

MS: I learned a lot just looking at the data that comes in. I’d be like, ‘Woah, I can’t believe this guy opened 17 chests’ or ‘this guy actually killed three guys at once?!’

And the thing that I was surprised by was some of the stuff that I thought would be cool. Like, I thought it would be cool when the god throws the spear down in the middle of a match – everybody would get the same cinematic and we would have this big spectacle in the middle of a match.

I thought that would be cool. And it was cool… the first time. But it wasn’t cool the second time or the third time. We found that players really wanted to keep the action going as long as they could. And when the match was over they generally wanted to get right back to it again. So we took the camera cut out so as not to stop the action. The beta was really helpful for that kind of feedback.

PSB: Finally, I’ve got ask for your take on the PlayStation 4 announcement last month. What do you make of the new system?

JM: Very excited! We don’t get hardware leaps like this that often, so to have one coming up is very exciting. The social stuff in particular. The power is going to be awesome and we’ll have amazing artists and engineers who will be able to draw so much out of it – but the social stuff is great. It’s something gaming is moving towards so the more features that support people playing together, the better.

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  • This game just keeps looking better! But Is there going to any offline multiplayer so I can play with friends who sadly, wont be getting the game?

  • UzaruSchutzengel

    Just a few days left, cant wait!

  • I’m excited to play a full blown this gen God Of War game in 3D!…. it still supports that right? Considering this was announced and never mentioned again >.<.

  • Just finished the entire God of War Saga and I have to say, i LOVE this series. It was a lot of fun! I can’t remember the last video game I played where I was regularly challenged and given a simple linear path to fight progressively harder and harder waves of enemies.

    It’s refreshing to be honest. I love Uncharted, Assassins, Cod, Battlefield, and all those big money games.. but damn God of War really brings me back to the old SNES days. Love it.

    That being said, this game will have to wait. $60 is way too much considering I just got all 5 God of war’s for $40

  • Nice. GOW is one of my favorite series. GOWIII was way to epic. Looking forward to see if this reveals any details on what comes next after zeus’s death. …As always, Keep on Gaming.

  • i played the game a little so far i can say the graphics are really good and gameplay is nice.. what bothers me a little is that some section feels “boring” like something is missing. and storywise… aint so great…. but graphics and gameplay are awesome… gow1 and 2 seems to have a better story. even ghost of sparta story sems better. i hope a vita gow comes out in the near future.. im a big fan but recent gow 3 and ascension storywise is a bit weak….

  • As the days get closer and closer I grow with excitement. I just purchased God of War Saga yesterday and I’m going to wait till I play ascenion to get started on the saga. Also I ordered the collectors edition which makes me look forward to getting my copy even more.

    If all future maps will be free in God of War Ascension so everyone can be on the same page with their friends,,,then what does the Season Pass in the Collectors Edition of GoW do?

  • +Link01 it does not

  • I will not be buying god of war assension now until it’s half price for two reasons

    They are as follows,

    I’ve been hearing from Famitsu Magazine that the single player campaign lasts only 8 hours,thats very poor in my view. I was hoping 20 plus hours at least.

    Plus The Las Of Us Demo has been delayed till the 31st May,2 weeks before the games release.
    The Last Of Us Demo should release on PSN for free for everyone to play 2 weeks before the game releases

    Apart from those two reasons the God Of War Assension demo was a blast .

  • I think the two player should just stop. it is really wierd to have two kratoses on the screen!!!!!!!!!!

  • +makoSOLDIER

    I was just reading up on how the feature was canned. I’m pretty disappointed in this since there was no official blog announcement or mention to this feature being canned after there was an official PS Blog posting announcing this. I was seriously looking forward to that feature! I mean, I’ll still play the game to death, but it really would have been nice to have a game developed ground up with 3D support in mind (especially from Santa Monica studios).

  • Cant wait till next week! Ill be finished all my essays just in time for the big launch!!

  • +10

    … you’re expecting a 20+ hour average campaign for a God Of War game’s single player one time play through. That’s not realistic and you seriously need to re consider what you’re saying…. really

  • @14

    But it can be realistic, I just think games under 8 hours long are not worth the full asking price.

    20+ hours all the way

  • I agree with Strangeheaven. I really liked God of War 3, but the story was just too short. God of War 2 was probably my favorite God of War so far. Also, for us who are not going to bother with the multiplayer, it’s not worth spending full price.

  • @16

    Thanks very much I’m happy that you agree.

  • Actually, I disagree. No linear game is going to last you 20+ hours. Only open world games can pull off that time of time commitment.

    Unless you straight suck at the game, maybe then you’ll run it close to 12 hours… but each game in the God of War Saga took me roughly 8-10 hours. Great games, but not necessarily 20+ hours… that’s too much.

  • +1 for digital PSN version, any news?

  • type of time**

    However, i do agree that buying these God of War games full priced is silly. I waited a real long time to get the full Saga all at once… smartest purchase I ever made.

  • @18

    Well Resident Evil 4 was a linear game, and that lasted 20 plus hours first play through, and that was last generation.

    Hopefully there will be no excuses by developers when the ps4 finally arrives, 8GB GDDR5 Ram all the way with 20 hour gameplay at the minimum.

  • @21

    I agree

  • @20

    I agree with you there

  • @3: There is no longer support for 3D in the game sorry.

  • SANTA MONICA PLEASE!!!!! I would love to see the Titan/God war in an installment of GOW. i love kratos but i want to play as Zeus/Hades/Poseidon. Just think “from the makers of God of War comes Gods of Olympus!! only on PS4.” they can even introduce other demi gods on the vita. i would play a Hercules GOW game



  • tenho dos os god of war, mas esse ta fantastico, principalmente o multiplayer……… não vejo a hora de jogar….. muito anciosa……. e so pra lembrar hoje é o nosso dia, parabéns a todas garotas gamer………

  • nem saiu do jeito que escrevi, que magica é essa kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

  • @21, 22, 23

    Hilarious in the personal agreement postings. But seriously. In game design, there is something called balance. Take a God Of War game, toss in 20 hours, not only do you have a fleshed out full story (aka no need for a saga) but you also just placed a gamer into what could be consider non moderation overkill. Essentially, you start feeling like you’re watching an angry man tear apart everything in sight for 20+ hours. I’m sure that’s not the only vibe the developers want from the consumers. Balance is key. Not to mention the fact that have you ever tried fleshing out a 20+ hour game before while polishing it to the level of detail expected from god of war games and then compressing it onto one blu ray disk. It’s not a reasonable walk in the park.

    to be continued….

  • If i buy a digital copy of this game, still will get the Zeus and Isaac DLC for all stars ?

  • Continued…

    Especially considering that on the business side, all of the 10 hour averaged God Of War games are in arguably A+ rated material that can/will/do sell at $60 a pop. Why sacrifice that ability when you know you have gold, your fans are always excited for the next install, and etc. You shouldn’t over expect from the good games. Try taking that enthusiasm and directing it towards the bad games (where they are needed). Also, stop considering the time a game takes to beat as the worth of the game itself. I’m sure the majority would testify that the 10 hour God Of War games each justified their full retail purchase, and were more worth while than purchasing a game such as Darksiders or Dante’s Inferno at full retail price. Please try to put things into perspective here. This isn’t Heavenly Sword (which was also completely worth the retail price).

  • @24 I figured as much. The lack of an announcement (the quite throwaway) was pretty agitating hence my earlier posting. I find it pretty crude (although I do consider the overall experience of the game to be the most important aspect) to announce the feature while Sony was pushing hard for 3D lovers attention with a silent dismissal. Especially after the amazing effects produced from both Uncharted 3 and Killzone 3 in 3D. Fans have been asking for a proper 3D support God Of War game, but understandably (but crudely) that ship has seemed to sail.

  • I strongly believe Ascension will be my last PS3 game. As a long time fan of the Saga, my approach/intention to buy this game day 1 is to appreciate the hard work the Developers have put up to make this game better. It will suck if we ever see this franchise banish or even the studio itself. We have to support and respond to the Developers. Number one reason why we have patiently awaited their project.
    So my pre-ordered copy stands ON and I will pick it up release day no matter of the reviews or critics!
    Keep it up Sony Santa Monica Studio and SCEA.

  • @33

    I take it that The Last of Us isn’t your cup of tea? It is great to see support placed into those deserve it.

  • Day one digital release news??

  • Digital Download at midnight? It’s a big deal for me. We’re 4 days from release. Any info at all?!

  • Nah, I am not into it any more. Neither going big for GTA V, nor Assassin’s Creed IV, etc. I am sure God of War Ascension will keep me occupied for a long time. Will try to complete it in every difficulty mode like I did with GoW3 and beat every single challenge arena (if there is any).

  • @34 Link01

  • The ONLY question here is:
    WHY IS NOT A GOW GAME ON VITA???????????????????????’

  • @ 18 Nick930930 – 20+ hours is too much?…are you really serious?….you aren’t a real gamer if more hours on campaign isn’t good for you….GoW is the best series ever created but the SP is really short because after you beat the game you always want more…..20+ hours too much?…thats stupid.A game like GoW could be 100+ hours that it wouldn’t be too much.I always need to beat in every difficulty and do everything possible on GoW games to satisfy my eagerness.And it would be the same with Ascension…because I won’t bother with the MP.

  • I agree with Welmosca. GOW3, I beat the campaign on every single difficulty and got a platinum trophy as well. I was disappointed when I was done, even though I put in at least 50+ hours all together. About a month ago I played all the GOW games and was bummed when I was done. I’ve played all these games at least 10 times each. I will never complain about more time on SP mode.


  • I am looking forward to play the Single-player campaign, but will kind of feel odd. It’s a script totally in between of God of War 1 (after kratos’ family)!
    Yet they allegedly say it’s way before Chains of Olympus and GoW 1. I can’t understand this whirlwind story they have come out with just to breastfeed from the franchise.

    Better give it a timed-rest before fans do start getting confused with the concept.

  • hmmm…If i buy a digital copy of this game, still will get the Zeus and Isaac DLC for all stars ?

  • I cant wait for this.
    So pumped for this game.
    Only 4 more days!
    The demo was amazing!!! How do the graphics just keep getting better.
    I was stunned. And the gameplay got even better for Ascension!
    After playing the demo, I realized again how amazing this game series truly is.
    Great work SMS! Congrats :D

  • If there is no digital copy, looks like i’m spending my time playing HOTS

  • I just wanna make sure of something: I’ve seen IGN’s unboxing of Collector’s Edition (which comes with a steelbook). I just want to know if the games is really IN the steelbook (by that, I mean that it doesn’t comes with the regular plastic case). Is it true?

  • MP_is_for_Chumps

    @ Welmosca

    They want a short story so they can finish it in like 2 hours, and then jump into their garbage multiplayer mode to learn their garbage multiplayer maps, and earn their garbage multiplayer exp like their favorite garbage multiplayer shooter call of duty.

  • I’m getting amped for Tuesday, regardless of the reviews that have derided the game. I don’t understand it as Ascension appears to be much more ambitious and overall improved than any of the past installments. Maybe because it’s a prequel that introduces MP it gives short-sighted people automatic fodder to dog it. I thought the MP was surprisingly good and the two SP demos were more enjoyable than 3’s demo. Love all the GoW games but I think Ascension deserves more objective critiquing.

  • thesupremruler31

    This game is going to be amazing

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