Monsters of Ascension: Polyphemus

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As we move through production on God of War: Ascension we thought we would share an insight the amazing God of War universe. Giving you a look into the creation, lore, design, and gameplay being poured into the game. Welcome to our first “Monsters of Ascension” feature.

In God of War: Ascension, we are introducing an epic, all-new multiplayer experience, unlike anything you have seen before in God of War. You will become a Champion of the Gods, but not before you encounter and conquer one of the biggest Titans ever seen in God of War – Polyphemus.

God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus

Known as the gigantic one-eyed son of Poseidon, the Titan cyclops Polyphemus is a brutal “boss” on our desert multiplayer map. He will literally crush you and your foes, countless times, until you earn enough favour from the Gods to be granted the Spear of Olympus – the only known weapon that can destroy Polyphemus.

So, who on our development team had the vision for this Titan monster? God of War fans, meet Izzy…

Who is “Izzy”, who is this mortal Concept Artist? Or perhaps you are immortal?

I’m Izzy (and I am mortal), the Lead Character Concept Artist on God of War: Ascension. I graduated from the Art Centre College of Design with a degree in Entertainment Design, and I’ve been working in games since then. I’ve created concept art on a number of high-profile titles including Gun, the Tony Hawk franchise, our beloved Starhawk, and of course, God of War III. In my time with the God of War team I have been responsible for the invention/design of a ton of killer characters and weapons such as the Nemean Cestus, Pandora, Hercules, and Cerebus to name a few.

God of War: Ascension - Hercules God of War: Ascension - Pandora

God of War: Ascension - Cestus God of War: Ascension - Cerebus

If you’ve been following our recent gameplay videos, you’ve already seen some of my early work on God of War: Ascension – I designed the Satyr Grunts, Satyr Captain, and the ginormous Elephantaur!

As you’ve already guessed, I also designed the gigantic Titan Polyphemus that was featured in the playable multiplayer demo at E3 this year, he was a beast to imagine.

Polyphemus is the gigantic one-eyed Titan son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Ancient Greek Mythology. When you were given this brief description to create him, what were the first crazy visual thoughts in your head? How do you start your own visual discovery process as a concept artist?

When I was first approached with the design needs, we hadn’t settled on any myth specific character, yet. The requirements were, we needed a gigantic Titan in the background of our desert multiplayer level. He needed to be ferocious, and a constant element of danger, and of course he would constitute our big gory finale for the level. After discussing it with our leader Todd Papy and Art Director Chris Sutton, I discovered they were pretty fond of an old high concept idea I had of this giant plump big daddy cyclops.

God of War: Ascension - Cyclops Daddy

So I started doing research and got to work. My process almost always begins with hitting relevant websites and encyclopaedias and doing old fashioned reading type research. Words tend to be more visually evocative to me than only researching images. I realized pretty early on that I wanted to do a version of Polyphemus. I pitched the one from traditional Greek Myth with his eye already gouged out by Odysseus. It was a sweet nugget from The Odyssey where the King of Ithaca had visited the Cyclopes Island and engaged in the kerfuffle with the sheep. Of course, he ended up putting a hot poker in the creature’s only eye. The blind aspect got shot down pretty quickly as “the final kill” needed to feel like a classic Cyclops style takedown.

God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus Sketch 4 God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus Sketch 5

What inspired your visual creation of Polyphemus? Any other particular monsters, movies, comic-book villains, a recent to trip to Mesopotamia, or perhaps a particular dev team member?

Ironically, I pulled a little bit of his body type from myself and similarly shaped guys. I’m pretty barrel chested and sport a proper tummy. Someone else noticed the similarity so I even painted a quick version of Polyphemus with my trademark curls, spiral earrings, and a hoodie – it got some laughs in the review!

God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus Sketch 7

I find with a lot of these sorts of classic Greek monsters, I’ll mix something really traditional with something highly unusual. In this case horns came up pretty early as a nod to the old Harryhausen Cyclops, and Polyphemus’s restraints came from a sort of modern bondage/piercing angle.

God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus Sketch 2 God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus Sketch 3

The other thing I brought into his shape was the knowledge that the original Myths of the Cyclops are said to come from early Greeks encountering ancient Elephant skulls. It wasn’t until way later in the days of Hannibal that elephants became known to the culture at large, so it was likely that they invented the Cyclops tale to account for these massive fossils. With that in mind I added some short tusks to the characters jaw line, and added just a bit of an elephant texture to his skin. There may be an underlying tone of “Elephant” throughout God of War: Ascension because of me, just saying…

What was unique about the creation process of Polyphemus from concept to approved in-game model? We heard this beast may have broken an usual record?

Believe it or not, Polyphemus did not take centuries to concept and create in-game. We were really focusing on the core multiplayer gameplay to ensure an addictive and fun PvP experience, however we realized this particular map was missing a bit of that “God of War flair”.

We needed something epic, something huge to keep our universe cohesive. With that in mind and a serious E3 deadline at hand, I believe Polyphemus may have broken the record for “quickest turnaround of a major Titan” we’ve done at this studio.

My concept art hit the nail on the head pretty quick, that’s unheard of around here. Things in the concept department became so hectic after I passed him off to our modelling team that I didn’t even get to see how long they took to make that kick-ass model!

God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus - Orthos

From concept to final, what’s unique about how the God of War team works with you as a Concept Artist and translates your art to in-game? How close to 1:1 is it usually and what drives that process?

The really interesting thing about preparing visdev for this team is how much they respect a good thought process. Here it’s so much more than just painting a bad assed uber creature, they encourage us to extrapolate from a basic idea and force as much life, myths, and histories into it as possible. The player may never know about the ideas that were built up between the disciplines but they are definitely there, and the final products are all the more spicy for it!

Another, random but interesting aspect, particularly for character concept art, are the times when we are able to inspire animation with sketches of how a creature might move or attack.

God of War: Ascension - Polyphemus Sketch 1

The translation from concept to in-game is never really 1:1, but I would never want it to be. I am constantly amazed with how the modellers push our concepts to the next level in three-dimensions, and how the animators take the final models and breathe so much life and attitude into them. There’s no way just a single concept artist could conceive and execute such incredible intricacy and beauty into a final game moment. It has always been an awesome collaboration, and that requires a concept artist to accept and enjoy that there is no such thing as 1:1, that’s totally cool.

How do you feel about Polyphemus being a featured “boss” in Multiplayer instead of traditional single-player epic bosses that you are accustomed to creating for God of War?

I am really content with Polyphemus’ role in multiplayer. He’s the first GOW multiplayer boss ever created, and in many ways has to break a lot of new ground. Not the least of which is heavily based on the technical side. This is a full blown GOW Titan boss that players are accustomed to seeing in single-player, but now featured in an eight-player multiplayer mayhem. That’s incredible! He may not be what I’ve become accustomed to, but he’s definitely a monster all his own, LIKE A BOSS.

God of War: Ascension - MP Polyphemus Wireframe

What is crazy about Polyphemus?

If you pay attention to the piercings on our big dour friend, you’ll notice that he’s got three gigantic piercings holding him in place. Two are impaling his arms. They separate his biceps from the humerus bone in what could possibly be considered the most intense body modification possible. The pain of constantly having your muscles tugged from the bone must be incredible. Yet he pulls against his bonds with all of his giant’s might to destroy the measly humans at his dinner table.

God of War: Ascension - Screen 1 God of War: Ascension - Screen 3

BUT, those are mere mosquito bites when you compare them to the one on his neck. You can’t see it frequently except from a few really good angles on the map (I encourage you guys to hunt them down!), He’s got a massive ring passing from around the back of his neck into the flesh at the sides, just below his ears. The piercing punches through right in front of the spine, but behind the esophagus, so he’s still able to give that mighty bellow!

If harnessing your entire ancient Titan rage to pull against devices that would hurt like that, just so you can smash the equivalent of bullet ants isn’t the definition of “bad-ass”, I don’t know what is.

If Kratos battled Polyphemus, how would he destroy him? Be as visceral as you’d like…

Kratos is the epitome of visceral. He has crushed the vitreous fluid of thousands of cyclops eyes into the wine of the dead. Polyphemus would pose no threat in the end game. The Titan, exhausted from battle, would be unable to keep up with the insanity and vengeance that hastened the Spartan’s heart. Kratos, weary of eyeballs and dangling nerve fibres, would do something altogether different with the God King of the Cyclopes.

Eager for a new challenge he would climb the titans face and force open its struggling blood-stained lips. He would brave the aromatic horrors of Polyphemus’ cannibalistic maw and use his blades to smash incisors and molars alike. The skull vibrating sensation of his teeth shattering like cinder blocks into his gullet would force the titan to scream. The children in villages for hundreds of miles would find sleeping difficult for their remaining lives.

As Polyphemus’ mouth gaped with ragged broken teeth, Kratos would follow the swallowed fragments of enamel and thick cyclopean blood into the creature’s throat. He’d leap past the ragged uvula and jam his blades hard into the soft palate of Polyphemus’ skull and climb up into the cyclops’ sinuses. Tears and blood would well out the monster’s eyes as it violently sneezed and vomited yet more gore onto the bones of the thousands of warriors that were once meals.

God of War: Ascension - Screen 2 God of War: Ascension - E3MP

Kratos would punch through the thick plates of bone behind Polyphemus’ eye, like a thick ceramic vase. The monster would claw at his own face to rid himself of the whirling demon literally inside his head. The last thing the monstrous man-eater known as Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, would see, before Kratos finally cleaved his optic nerve, would be his hands full of his own blood and teeth.

Visceral enough? =)

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