"Gameplay Is First": Santa Monica Studio's Animation Director on God of War Ragnarök

Bruno Velazquez talks about the development philosophy, working from home, and the new characters in the game.

Santa Monica Studio's animation director Bruno Velazquez has talked to Eurogamer about the upcoming God of War Ragnarök and discussed the company's philosophy, working on animation from home, and the new characters introduced in the game.

Velazquez said that one of the greatest things about the game was the opportunity to show the differences between the characters of the expanded cast and add "little personality bits" to each of them. For example, Atreus now is more confident, "almost like Bruce Lee", and you get to explore Brok's and Sindri's personalities as you can interact with them a lot more.

Speaking of characters, Velazquez added that the team aimed to have their own interpretation of mythology, to see how they could add their own twist to it. Thus, Thor is left-handed in the game, which was made to contrast him with Kratos and his other depictions. 

"For our particular version of Thor, we have the thing where he always snaps his fingers to call back the hammer. And we avoided certain things like spinning the hammer around, which is something that is used in another medium. And also the look of the character: just like making him a little bit more inspired by some of the original Norse texts, we wanted to get a little closer to that."

The studio wanted to add more dimensionality to him, so you'll see his relationships with his family. "Because in the end, this game is all about family relationships. You've got Kratos and Atreus; you've got Thor and his family; you're going to see Odin, he's a father himself; Freya, she's a grieving mother now. So you're going to see all these relationships develop."

Velazquez also shared the studio's philosophy, saying that gameplay comes first. So while the animation team might want to add anticipation and movement and weight into attacks or create longer sequences, they were given some goalposts to work within.

God of War's combat system aims to both appeal to casual players and also capture hardcore gamers. "Of course we always want to have great fidelity, but the gameplay always comes first – we always have to strike that balance between it."

The pandemic has hit many developers in recent years, and Santa Monica was not an exception. When it hit, the company had to stop shooting, which put a strain on it as there were a lot of cinematics left to shoot. Fortunately, with help from Sony, the team figured out a new system and managed to finish the work.

"One of the biggest things that we did is we figured out how to shoot remotely as well. So we were able to have our setup at home, and we were able to communicate with the stunt performers and give them directions through like Teams or everything done online, and somehow we pulled it off."

The studio's goal, according to Velazquez, was to take what it had already built on the previous game and expand on it. As a result, some animations were reused and some – created anew.

The creators heard the fans and introduced more enemy variety to God of War Ragnarök, so expect multiple new creatures. Additionally, weapon-specific finishing moves were added, so depending on whether you have the Blades or the axe equipped, you're going to get a unique kill.

In conclusion, Velazquez shared that if he could magically solve one problem in animation, he would create an automatic animate button or improve the motion capture process to minimize and reduce the equipment and setup.

God of War Ragnarök is coming to PlayStation 4 and 5 on November 9.

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