Last year a prototype PlayStation 4 pad made its way into the God of War studio, SCE Santa Monica, and as part of Sony's grand plan to make its next console a developer-friendly one, studio feedback was sought.
While other devs excitedly toyed with new controller concepts and discussed a whole range of PS4 issues with the PlayStation top brass, the God of War Ascension team had to keep its heads down and remain focused on finishing its latest project, God of War: Ascension.
The result of the team's grand endeavour is beginning to emerge, and it is somewhat disappointing. Review scores have been fair, but not exactly flattering. CVG's God of War Ascension review team scored it a 7.5 and said:
"Book-ended by two incredible set-pieces, and perfectly solid in between, single-player Ascension is God of War on autopilot."
How the game sells is the next test. PlayStation had hit a PR issue after initially focusing so much on promoting the game's multiplayer additions, leaving some fans expecting less from the classic single player experience.
"There were definitely marketing choices that meant we had to show off multiplayer," says Jason McDonald, the game's lead combat designer, with a diplomatic nod and smile.
CVG sat down with McDonald, along with the Ascension's lead designer, Mark Simon, to discuss the title's release and future for God of War.
Having worked on PlayStation 3 for so long, do you feel you are now completely fluent with the console's capabilities?
Mark Simon: I think that's obviously the best thing about releasing your games towards the end of he console cycle, and why so often the end-gen games are the best, is because all the technology has been perfected. We added a whole load of new things to the engine and, to be honest, it was already very capable technology. The rendering is better, the lighting is better.
Jason McDonald: Yeah I mean, usually trying to develop a new game on a console means you have to spend so much time working on the technology just so you can feasibly get it on the console.
MS: You know, the PS3 has been out for seven years now but this is only our second game. You try to maximise trying to get everything out of it.
So what do you think is the main selling point of Ascension? What will resonate the most?
JM: Well I think it's the story, which shows a different and more human side of Kratos. It shows the side of Kratos because he became this rage-fuelled Spartan. And part of the story is showing how he became who he is.
Does that provide a sense of creative relief, to put a human behind the slayer?
JM: Yeah, well, between God of War 2 and God of War 3 there was a clear narrative path already set. With Ascension, we have a bit more creative freedom to explore the storyline.
It must have been an interesting challenge to add multiplayer, especially when there's such a little creative ways to link God of War to a multiplayer game.
MS: Yeah it's interesting because, when you look at God of War, multiplayer is a natural fit though. You kind of want to fight against somebody else.
Yeah but usually people put on Street Fighter to do that, and God of War is more something they would consider if they want a story-driven game, right?
JM: Yeah right, as you say there are those differences and we thought it'd be interesting to see if we could combine them to bring multiplayer to the series. Ascension gives you the chance to fight in these crazy, amazing arenas, which we see as a real interesting addition.
MS: Yeah exactly. Our plan is to have something memorable on each multiplayer level. It won't just be another sheet that you slide into the background - we are trying to create worlds with memorable set-pieces. But there was also an ambition from our team to allow this game to be fun for beginners as well.
JM: Yeah, the thing about most fighting games is that they're so deep and technical that if you don't know how to fight well then you won't have much fun. With Ascension, there's avenues for a broader number of gamers.
Now after the trilogy and the prequel, do you think that will be the end of the line for Kratos? Do you feel you will be able to take him any further?
MS: I think there's still life in Kratos. He's a fun character to design games around and I love playing him.
JM: Yeah, I think the fantasy of Kratos is always compelling. There are not many characters that are like him.
So, at Sony Santa Monica, is the studio still working on PS3?
MS: Yeah, after the release of Ascension we're going to get back to work on the game - with regards to DLC and supporting multiplayer.
And with regards to different projects entirely?
MS: We actually don't know what we're going to be doing after Ascension.
What did the team make of the PS4 when it was revealed on stage for the first time?
JM: Well, the first thing that hit me was just the power of it. It's been a long time since the last generation started so it feels like a significant boost. It means that certain scenarios and ideas that we shied away from in the past, because they were too technically demanding, can be re-examined.
MS: The thing is, when you look at the specs, there's no way you can say 'oh there is clearly this thing missing'. As if any games studio in the world would be saying 'oh no, eight gigabytes of GDDR5 memory is not enough'. I mean, holy shit, how are going to use all of that?