Sony Santa Monica has big plans to shake up God of War. "We looked at every aspect of this game differently," creative director Cory Barlog told me at E3, "all centred around the concept of 'Why? Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Why am I making these decisions?'" Barlog was the lead animator on God of War, released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005. He quickly ascended within the team, however, and was game director for the game's celebrated sequel. (A high point for the series.) Though he worked on God of War 3, he left the visually stunning PlayStation 3 sequel early into development. But now, he's returned home.
"I feel like there's very few people that can make [a huge] change without it feeling they're just tearing it up and they don't care about anything," he said. "This franchise means a lot to me. This is a huge amount of creative time and life that has has been invested in this franchise. I want nothing more than to blow people's minds."
“I think, as developers, we’ve grown up. We’re at a different phase in our lives, we look at the world differently. It’s very different.”
In speaking with Barlog, it's easy to pick up on his passion for God of War, Kratos and the universe he helped build so many years ago. Early on, I'm told, there were vague musings about ditching Kratos for a new God of War game, but nothing stuck. Kratos is God of War, God of War is Kratos.
Barlog couldn't imagine coming back to work on a typical sequel.
"I don't think I would have done that, no," he said. "I came back to try something crazy and different. Unfortunately, they were just as crazy as me. [laughs] Everyone was like, 'Let's go bigger! Let's really tear this thing down.' I think that's great."
The last game, Ascension, was not well received. Barlog didn't work on it.
Everything but having Kratos as the main character was (and is) on the table, it seems. The biggest shift, moving the camera into the player's control, was a controversial pitch internally but eventually won out, because the team wanted players to be physically closer to Kratos.
When I watched the game's E3 demo, I noticed something: It seemed the game's depiction of violence has changed. God of War remains a violent game -- Kratos is very good at killing -- but it lacked the cartoonish, over-the-top nature of previous God of War games. You know, stuff like this:
Video Credit: xPruDDy
Barlog says this is deliberate.
"I think, as developers, we've grown up," he said. "We're at a different phase in our lives, we look at the world differently. It's very different."
Like many game developers these days, Barlog is now a father.
He described the guiding principle for this new God of War as "the legacy of a fallen god", and exploring the consequences of Kratos' actions.
"This idea [is] that Kratos is continuing on and trying to making good decisions but failing along the way," he said.
Can a guy like Kratos truly achieve redemption? We'll have to find out.