God of War director, Cory Barlog, talks reboots, Norse mythology, and parenthood.
“I don’t just want to make another game. It’s not about just shipping something. I want to make a game that really means something.”
Cory Barlog – Rolling Stone, June 20, 2017.
After a near six year hiatus, Cory Barlog returned to the God of War franchise in 2013 to work with SIE Santa Monica Studio on a daring new project to reboot one of PlayStation’s most critically-acclaimed series.
Cory left the development of God of War III back in 2007 after writing the script with some of the level designs already completed. Afterwards he went on a “creative walkabout,” learning from other game designers such as Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki about storytelling and character development.
“I realized I had a lot to learn, so I went on a creative walkabout.”
To the surprise of many long-time fans of the series, God of War swaps the traditional long-shot camera angle for a more intimate third-person experience making combat feel more impactful and satisfying. Barlog explains that changes such as this were done to “shake things up” as he believes many of the series’s traditional mechanics need to evolve to move the franchise forward.
One of the earliest design choices was to involve the son of Kratos, Atreus, in some form. Against the advice of several game developers, Cory decided that Atreus would be a companion character throughout the campaign similarly to Ellie from The Last of Us. This choice received a mixed reaction from Sony executives at first, however, Barlog was keen to push forward, ensuring gamers that Atreus will be more help than a hindrance.
“The elevator pitch was Kratos has a son. It was literally just that.”
The rebooted God of War also steers away from Greek mythology in favour of Norse, placing Kratos in an unfamiliar and drastically different environment. Barlog himself felt an immense personal connection to the story with his wife being Swedish. The creators felt a tremendous amount of pressure to do the source material justice, often referring ideas back to Barlog’s wife to avoid trivialising the culture.
Players are likely to meet iconic Norse gods such as Odin, Thor and Loki, however Barlog teases a more diverse cast with some characters being created from a single line from the source. A hint of this expansion of the mythology can be found during the final moments from the E3 trailer where Kratos is met by one of the children of Loki; Jörmungandr (The World Serpent).
“I wanted to make sure I was doing something that was cool versus making it lame and traipsing on something sacred.”
With Kratos being thrust into this vast alien landscape, his son quickly becomes a necessity as Atreus speaks multiple languages allowing him to translate for Kratos, adding a co-dependent dynamic that brings the characters together in a natural and fluid way.
The God of War team discussed milestones people go through as a child to help develop the characters further, and wanted to emulate some of their own experiences through Kratos and Atreus’s relationship. With many members of the team, including Barlog, being parents themselves, the game reflects some of their greatest fears and doubts about parenthood amplified to a godly level.
“Sometimes it paralyzes you to not know what to do as a parent. You worry about making the right decision and worry about what you might be doing wrong and it can make you unable to make any decisions.”
God of War is set to be one of PlayStation’s most gorgeous and heart-wrenching single-player experiences with an estimated release date of early 2018.