Even before its retail release, God of War generated a substantial degree of interest and intrigue. Drawing its inspiration from ancient Greek mythology, the game focuses heavily on exploration and strategic battle mechanics. It's been compared to such games as Rygar and Castlevania on account of the hero's diverse attacking abilities, ultimately being the major draw for PS2 players.
To help better understand and appreciate the game's engine and philosophy -- we turned to SCE Santa Monica Studios Combat Designer, Derek Daniels (once a highly active player within the fighting game community) on how the game's direction and philsophy was developed.
What titles have you worked on in the past?
Derek: Xmen: Next Dimension, Backyard Wrestling 1 and 2.
How did you get started in the industry?
Derek: I grew up in the midwest playing fighting games in the arcade like most people my age - everything from Street Fighter to Mortal Kombat to Virtua Fighter. Around 1996 when fighting game popularity started to decline and the internet was becoming a house hold name I slowly started meeting other fighting game fans who were also looking for competition. What started out as nothing more then wanting to play some games with other people turned into a real community as people from all over the country and now all over the world come together to play Street Fighter, Tekken, Soul Calibur, etc.
As I was meeting more and more people, a few of them were in the videogame industry which seemed like the most INSANE thing ever! I knew videogames were made but I never even thought of it as a real job that could actually be obtained. After talking to them for a couple of years, one of them decided to give me a shot when there was a job opening at his company. I quit the career I had and it has totally changed my life for the better.
"The first thing to remember when making
games is that you aren't making them for yourself..."
What is the game that you’re most proud of, aside from God of War?
Derek: I know this will sound weird but oddly enough Backyard Wrestling 2. At the end of the day, it is not a good game. But the time schedule we had did not allow for it (I won't go into the horror stories of game development, seems as if there are plenty of them floating around recently). But with a really short schedule we got the character models double in polygon and in texture memory, added a lot to the combat system - 4 way grappling and the ability to switch from each side, just frame combos, cool juggles and some cool acessories that we used to populate the AI with randomly so everytime you played it you fought against visually random characters.
How did the past games you worked on help you when creating the combat aspects of God of War?
Derek: Working on fighting/wrestling games gave me a good idea of what works and what doesn't work. Putting in Just Frame combos in Backyard Wrestling was just silly - granted they were fun for me to do but the people playing the game could care less. The first thing to remember when making games is that you aren't making them for yourself - you are making them for the kid who just spent $50 to play the game, so it is always important to put the player first at all costs. But not only did that mindset help but also kinda learned what is too hard, what is too easy for the average player to do. Growing up playing fighting games, I can hold in 3 different buttons while doing 360 motions on the left analog and have fun but can the average player? Another big thing I learned was just how to sell certain things - putting pauses on hits to make the hit feel harder, along with blood and when should you see it, the rumble of the controller, etc. Sort of putting the whole package together to really sell something.
Given your Street Fighter background, what elements of fighting games did you want to incorporate into God of War?
Derek: The general philosophy was that we weren't making a competitive game so nothing had to be fair or balanced, so we threw that idea completely out the window and tried to make everything really good and broken so to speak. So the whole idea of an attack had to come out, have hit frames, recovery before you could do another one was quickly thrown out as we allowed the ability to jump out of almost every attack along with evade and block. One of the things I hated most about modern day action/adventure games is you do square, square, square and then the final attack has this huge delay and you are stuck being hit as someone from behind shanks you. So we took the idea from fighting games where you can parry and we allowed you to cancel your attacks into parries so you were always on the offense even while being on the defense. We really wanted to convey that idea of always moving forward in a straight line when it comes to how you are attacking so we allowed you to cancel out of moves to keep moving or cancel out of your move in a parry/block to keep moving forward.
"After talking to them for a couple of years...I quit the career I had and it has totally changed my life for the better. "
God of War is yet another original title from SCEA; what kind of changes would you have made to the game, both artistically or technically?
Derek: Seeing as how the game has been receiving high scores, I would have to say nothing. There are definitely some things that did not make it into the first game and hopefully we can revisit those ideas if we do a sequel.
What’s the most impressive thing that you find about God of War?
Derek: For me the most impressive thing was that it worked!! There were many lonely nights at work when I didn't know if it was going to come together, thankfully it did though. But in all honesty the thing that impressed me the most was the team - everyone wanted to one up each other. If a level artist made a really good level then the character artists made sure that the characters looked good in that level, then the sound guys made sure that the sound was awesome, then me and Eric Williams, the other combat designer, would try to make our characters and AI super good then the level artist would see the whole thing and be like, 'oh man...let me go make this part over here better!' or whatever.
We eagerly look forward to the next installment from SCE Santa Monica Studios. Special thanks to Ryan Bowling of Sony Computer Entertainment and of course to Derek Daniels whose fighting prowess will always remain legendary. Stay tuned for our upcoming hands-on review.
God of War Screenshots