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The combat in God of War is, quite obviously, its most central element. It's not just the focus of the gameplay; it's also where the series has traditionally differentiated itself from competitors, with an emphasis on brutality, lethality, and also entirely different feel and pacing than, say, Devil May Cry, which defined the genre prior to its entrance late in the PlayStation 2's lifespan.
For the series' 2013 PlayStation 3 release, God of War: Ascension, the team is adding multiplayer -- adding several more layers of complexity to the combat design, as players now have to be able to read moves other players use and customize characters with an array of weapons with their own unique move sets. The team is also amping up the series' trademark brutality.
To discuss the core of what's important to the combat -- not just violence, but accessibility and readability -- and how it has evolved since the series' inception, Gamasutra speaks to Jason McDonald, lead combat designer at Sony Santa Monica.
There are things you prioritize when you're making certain decisions about combat, right? What is it that you want the player to do; what you want to communicate. I was wondering if you could talk about it in a high-level way, how you do that.
Jason McDonald: For Kratos, it's always very simple. We want to make the guy feel powerful. We want to make you feel good, as a player, using him. We want him to feel responsive. The moves should be flashy, yet not too flashy. We don't want him doing backflips and doing crazy like ninja-like moves, but things that fit his character, things that fit his power, and make you feel connected to the guy.
So, for the multiplayer, it's pretty much the same rulebook. We want to make sure that they also feel powerful, they feel responsive, they feel it just as good as Kratos. The difference here being is that now they also have to read well to other players, so they can tell what you're doing, so they can counter effectively.
Yeah, that's exactly what I wanted to talk about. You already had to design for readability so the players know what they're accomplishing, but now you have to design for readability so the other players know what's about to be done to them.
JM: Yes, yes.
Is there a balance there?
JM: There's definitely a balance. Kratos is obviously a very overpowered guy. He's got blades that are on fire and are attached to chains. He swings them around like they're nothing. So, it's like that is very intimidating for any character to go against. But it's not something that we ignore in general, because the AI has to have that as well. When the AIs do moves, or the boss does a move, you have to be able to read that, so you can actually avoid it and get the upper hand.
So, a lot of those tropes, or logic, kind of applies to the players as well -- the difference being, of course, that the player will attack much quicker than the AI will, or may be a lot more aggressive. We can't control it. So we have to make sure that even the aggressive player can do moves that feel powerful and have just enough recovery, just enough visual tell, that you can read it, avoid it, and counter it.
How do you feel about things like invincibility frames and recovery? Fighting games are very big on recovery frames, so people have a chance to respond.
JM: Yes, indeed. It's the basic rules, I guess Street Fighter introduced, a long time ago. Where it's like, yeah, you've got quick moves that do a little damage but lower recovery, but you have slow moves that do lots of damage and have high recovery. How can you position yourself so you can actually land the slower attacks? You want to do that. It does more damage.
So, a lot of logic applies here as well, where it's like, "if the player looks like he should be vulnerable, he should be vulnerable" so you can hit, and all that stuff. At the same time, if he is invulnerable for whatever reason -- doing magic or doing something -- we've got to make that tell as well, by either putting some colors on you: make something that's universal, that you can tell where the guy actually isn't going to take any reaction, and he's done.
In Street Fighter, it was when they land. When they land on the ground, you pretty much couldn't hit them anymore. You've got to wait for them to get up, and they have a little get up game. So we kind of think of things very similar, in that line of thought.
What God of War brought was going away from that very speedy, Devil May Cry-ish kind of combat into... I don't know what the word is, even. Like, "thicker".
JM: I understand what you're saying, yeah. Well, a lot of action-adventure games that aren't God of War are very snappy and ninja-like, like you're saying. DMC swings a sword like lightning speed. Bayonetta is the same way. A lot of Japanese games, especially, go with that. Then we have the other style of American games. There aren't that many of them, but some, like Prince of Persia, which doesn't focus on combat. It's a lot slower. But it's also less responsive, because they make other choices.
So, God of War, as you said, to me, has always been a good mix of it's a lot more fluid, it's not ninja-like, and everything feels real brutal and powerful even though it still feels responsive.
I've been with the franchise since God of War and seen that progression from all the God of Wars. So for this one, it's definitely the goal to still achieve that, make sure that the guys don't... Kratos is a brute. He's a warrior. He's not a ninja. He's not an anime character. He's not going to be doing all these crazy moves all over the place. So in order to accomplish that, we have to make sure the moves and everything he does bring that point home.