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We’ve prepared a report on the awesome talk Sony Santa Monica’s Cory Barlog gave at GDC 2019, covering the development of God of War (2018). Learn about the road to creating a reinvented title which was a seemingly endless climb up an impossibly enormous mountain, filled with countless gut-wrenching failures and joyfully sweet successes.
He wanted to do something really huge and bold. “I’m moving my arms around, it’s gonna be huge and blow and you raise your voice every once in a while, and you know we’re gonna turn everything upside down and just freak people out”.
There was nothing of substance to that initial pitch but Studstill was still interested. Barlog came back to the studio in June of 2013 and started working with a bunch of people and tried to formulate what he wanted to do with this game “that wasn’t just huge and bold and lots of arm gestures.”
After four weeks he put together a pitch for Scott Rohde (PlayStation Game Development Head for Sony Worldwide Studios America). The way the organization works is Shannon Studstill, leading Santa Monica, and Scott is overseeing all the other studios within North America. Then, there’s Shuhei Yoshida (President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment.), and Shawn Layden. All these people need to approve the pitch before it goes into full blown production.
“Something I realized when I was putting this presentation together is everybody above me has an S in their name. They all work for Sony, their names begin with S and I realize, like you know, progress upwards in this company is all related to whether or not you have an S in your name,” – Corey Barlog joked during his GDC chat.
It’s August 14th, 2013 and there’s the idea that “all the mythologies of the world are kind of like this Hubble telescope and they are like galaxies individually spread out throughout a complete universe. The world is the universe and all the mythologies are sort of origin stories of various cultures throughout the world beginning at the beginning of time and stretching all the way out, so at any given time all the mythologies exist together concurrently and they are simply separated by geography.”
Initially, they were talking about this concept and they were calling it a reboot, but it wasn’t meant to be a reboot. Barlog wanted to tell Kratos’ new origin story and actually continue the timeline and reinvent the field. They did so much work developing the character and they didn’t want to throw all that out and start on a new character. They wanted to grow the world, everything needed to expand out and give players a sense that something was going to be different. That was the initial pitch.
The studio was really good at making action-adventure games and they wanted to make sure that they stayed on that track of making action-adventure games but they wanted to broaden their skills to feel like they were progressing forward.
They wrote a script, but it was the wrong script and Barlog was realizing he wasn’t making this about the main characters and the story sort of meandered a little bit.
Kratos was just an angry violent scary guy. Not only did he need a fresh start but the player needed a fresh start as well. They needed a new perspective on this character. It was all about the concept of breaking the cycle right and it was so multi-layered. It was about Kratos breaking this cycle that he had since the beginning of the Gods screwing with his life, him being an absolutely crap father, him blaming the rest of the world, so they needed this father-son story and Barlog ended up writing a story that assumed you already knew the relationship of the father-son and they had to rewrite the story again.
Kratos still has this monster inside of him and Barlog was using the example of Hulk who was out all the time, but this time was about Bruce Banner. He was really excited about this concept of teaching in the narrative and the main hero had to train his son, teaching him about life, how to be a God and the son was kind of in turn teaching Kratos how to be a human being — something he had forgotten so long ago.
They wanted to change words brutal and epic with something else, so Barlog decided to have a single camera shot throughout the entire game. They also needed to make an interactive and immersive experience, plus seamless narrative, seamless play, and character development.
Barlog wanted to really broaden the exploration but also get back to the basics.
The next thing was “the play pyramid” which is about making up your moment-to-moment gameplay. The game was about either narrative combat or exploration and every one of those things fed into character development. Everything had to help you into the minds of the characters.
Then there was the 2014 God of War pitch for Shuhei Yoshida. The whole game story was supposed to be about the relationship between two characters, not necessarily about all plot elements, but all that sort of fed into the concept of character growth and the father-son story really is this kind of relatable human story, and Barlog states that so much of the moments in this game are just ripped from the lives of people on the team.
The big goal was to dramatize the exposition all the time. “It is really something that I picked up while I was working with George Miller (director of Mad Max). He gave me this example and it is a play that he went to go see and there are these two women on stage sitting on a couch and in between them is a phone. They start talking and the phone begins to ring and it rings a couple of times before one of the women goes: “Oh well, are you gonna answer that”, and she says “No, it’s probably my son, I don’t want to talk to him.” They continue talking for a little bit and the phone keeps ringing and the other woman finally says: “You know what? Maybe you should answer that. What if he’s sick? What if he’s hurt?” The other one responds: “Oh no, you know we’re not really good right now.” She starts talking about the fact that they got into an argument and the phone keeps ringing and that phone is gonna keep ringing until somebody answers it and as it’s going the audience finds itself kind of creeping up on the edge of the seats a little bit and it’s agitating. You’re getting agitated like the other character because you want her to answer the damn phone. They go and go and what you find out is that you are getting all of the exposition about this character’s relationship to her son.”
What you get is a feeling of empathy and a feeling of connection to a character because you are under stress.
The exploration was a whole new thing for this game because the director wanted the project to be so much bigger than anything that they had worked before. He wanted to build mechanics that would encourage discovery and exploration and that was one of the more stressful things. It was really important to actually see these characters change, not just in their dramatic art, but in their sort of visual as well as their play so that actually feels like what you’re doing is growing with these characters experiencing their lives.
Initially, they knew that they were going to do a reveal on E3 2016 but he had no clue what it was gonna be was. He started writing up different demo ideas and at the time they had not figured out the beginning of the game. He’d written the short story back then but they had not settled on it. The first pitch with PR and marketing people wasn’t successful and Cory went with another idea that actually made it to E3 with this whole orchestra thing. Barlog actually told an awesome and funny story about E3 and you have to listen to that yourself.
Make sure to check out the full recording below: