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God of War postmortem interview — How the ending and its surprise came together

Cory Barlog

God of War was the surprise winner at this yr’s The Recreation Awards, beating out the favourite Pink Lifeless Redemption 2 for Recreation of the Yr. Maybe the purpose that the smaller workforce (300 individuals) at Sony Interactive Leisure Santa Monica Studio beat out the Rockstar Video games staff, with hundreds of contributors, was that God of War had wonderful writing.

The SIE Santa Monica Studio workforce spent greater than 5 years engaged on the title, which came out in April and turned one of Sony’s greatest exclusives on the PlayStation four. I performed by means of the recreation and felt like its ending resonated, very similar to Sony’s The Final of Us did.

Whereas the recreation stretches over 40 hours, the starting and ending of God of War come together, bringing into sharp focus the father-and-son story. Cory Barlog, the artistic director at the studio, sat down with GamesBeat for an extended interview about how the staff crafted the story and mechanics of God of War. On this half of the interview, I’ve extracted our dialogue on the ending, which delivers a surprise.

“We’re going to start, and we’re not going to explain everything right away,” Barlog stated in our interview. “We’re going to give you really powerful moments that feel important, but you don’t understand why. That way you’ll look back, and they’ll have even more weight. But we want you to feel like you’re participating in the tail end of everything and have this sense of what happened.”

We talked about the symmetry between the starting and the ending. In the first two questions, Barlog addresses how the staff had the design freedom to seek out the starting and ending that it needed. And he revealed how two of the recreation’s characters — Freya and Baldur — have been a sort of mirror to the relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus. Our dialogue of the ending of the recreation units the stage for what is going to are available the future of God of War.

Right here’s an edited transcript of our interview. We’ll even be publishing our full interview, and different elements of the dialogue, individually.

Spoiler Alert — This interview has tons of story spoilers for many who haven’t completed God of War.

Cory Barlog

Above: Cory Barlog, the artistic director at SIE Santa Monica Studio.

Picture Credit score: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: You had this design freedom. I’m interested by what that really meant. Whenever you talked to your bosses, what have been these conversations like? How did you get the license to only do what you thought was greatest?

Barlog: Some of it offers with the proven fact that I labored on the franchise earlier than. However I feel that’s a small half. The rationale that occurs is individuals like Shannon Studstill and Yumi Yang. Principally, they’re the two companions I had by way of this complete venture. They’re the shields, and they’re the swords. They shield, and then they battle again the hordes.

Shannon is there all the time letting everyone know — even for those who’re not seeing something, good issues are occurring. Have religion. She’s a staunch defender of the artistic course of. She is aware of that the artistic course of doesn’t all the time bear fruit for some time. It’s straightforward to get nervous. “Nothing’s being shown. Are you guys messing this up?” At occasions we present them stuff and that’s what they assume. “You’re messing this up. This is terrible.” However it’s the sense of having that partnership the place — you all the time have any person who has your again.

In the starting, the very starting, there have been a couple of discussions with sure teams inside the firm that had stated, “I don’t think you should keep Kratos.” Sure individuals have been saying that protecting Kratos was a good suggestion. I used to be being very closed about how a lot info I used to be handing out, however all of them assumed that if I stored Kratos, we’d simply make one other God of War. At the excessive degree I used to be saying, “We’re not going to do that. I’m not telling you what it is yet, but here’s the little bits of information.”

They stated, “We think it’s a bad idea to keep Kratos. I don’t understand.” One individual even stated, “Is he going to put a backpack on and walk up to Scandinavia?” At the time we have been fairly shut to creating that call. We have been in the last stretches, however we weren’t telling everybody at the firm about it. He stated that negatively, nevertheless it was truly, actually, that’s what we have been going to do. I pitched him, the similar one that stated that, a few month later when every little thing was finalized, and he stated, “I love this.”

It was a superb instance of that sense of — we don’t know what we would like. We expect we all know we don’t need one thing. However when you can work out the proper combination, out of the blue it sounds nice. That’s a testomony to, one, the artistic help I’ve from the companions, and two, not telling anyone something till I figured all of it out. If you pitch a half-baked concept, it’s really easy for somebody to select it aside and hate on it.

Above: A troll battle in God of War

Picture Credit score: Sony

GamesBeat: Did you bounce it off of anybody like Shannon? Or did you go to Shannon saying, “Here’s why you should trust me because I’m going to figure it out”?

Barlog: I’ve labored with Shannon since 2003. Her and Yumi — I’ve an inherent belief with them. However she’ll say, “Barlog, you have to get it together. I need a pitch. I need to know what’s going on.” There was a second, once I had realized that we have been writing the fallacious recreation in our first draft — the focus went away from the father-son story and went much more into the plotting and all the different stuff. That was seven or eight months and I needed to throw all of it out. We had an overview and all the things and I needed to get rid of it. I knew it might make the writers upset.

I went to lunch with Shannon and stated, “I know you’ll get upset about this, but I’ve been going down a blind alley. I have to go back out and re-assess. Here’s my high level.” This was earlier than the motion and the mom. This was simply Kratos and his son on a journey. It had no coronary heart to it. I noticed that we have been in the center of a narrative, however not in a great way. I stated, “I don’t have it all figured out yet, but here’s the highest level. It’s Kratos and Atreus trying to go to the highest mountain to spread his dead mother’s ashes.” She stated, “All right. Do it.”

It was actually — at another firm you’d should have proof and schedules and budgets and danger assessments and all that stuff to make that sort of change. It was at lunch the place I gave her one sentence and she stated, “You’re right. That’s better.” Earlier than, she wasn’t saying what I used to be doing was improper, as a result of I don’t assume both of us had figured it out but. However as soon as I’d gotten to that one sentence, there it’s. That’s it. That’s the factor. I stored telling everybody, “This is what we’re doing. This is the goal.”

Then that turned the battle of, nicely, who’s the huge dangerous man? After a year-and-a-half, two years, I assumed, properly, there’s not going to be an antagonist in the similar trend. The antagonist is Kratos. It’s his incapability to be open, his incapability to truly be a dad. Baldur is a mirror. He’s not even an antagonist. He’s a mirror. His relationship with Freya is that this sense of — she held on too tight. She made selections for him. In doing so, she destroyed the relationship. That is the cautionary story for Kratos. Don’t make selections in your child. It’s not going to end up nicely. He wants that reminder.

Each single factor of the story offers with familial relationships. Always, each character he interacts with is educating him a superb or a nasty lesson, a warning. Don’t go down this street, or you need to take heed to me about find out how to be a household, find out how to be half of a household, and the duty. Whether or not you’re a child or an grownup in that household, you will have a duty towards the communication and well-being of the household.

GamesBeat: Why did the starting end up the method it did? I seemed again on so much of beginnings, and this one was excellent. It has lots of confusion and thriller. You don’t know what’s happening. Why is she lifeless? You begin in the center of issues, like in the ninth yr of the Trojan War. It appears at first like the better part of it was at the starting, however you’re beginning virtually towards the finish. Why did you begin in the approach you probably did?

Barlog: That was a really deliberate factor. It took a bit of promoting to individuals. We by no means do the starting of the recreation till the finish, however I knew proper at the begin of the venture that I needed to begin convincing individuals. We’re not going to start out the recreation with an enormous boss battle. Early discussions, I used to be already laying the groundwork. In the earlier video games, we have been all about that first 10 minutes with an enormous big creature. It was nice, however it was additionally actually arduous, by the time we received to God of War three. You ended up on this arms race. “It’s big, but it’s not as big as that other one.” You’re all the time evaluating it to the earlier one and going thumbs up or thumbs down.

We couldn’t do this anymore. We needed to throw that arms race out. We needed to focus in on what’s fascinating. I exploit the instance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, once they launched Daybreak as Buffy’s sister. They began the episode with the reality that everyone understood and accepted that Daybreak was her sister, regardless that she’d by no means appeared in the present in any respect earlier than. They only moved on. I feel it was two episodes earlier than they advised you that it was a spell and it was all loopy and that’s why everybody was going together with it.

I assumed that was actually fascinating. We’re going to start out, and we’re not going to elucidate every thing immediately. We’re going to offer you actually highly effective moments that really feel necessary, however you don’t perceive why. That means you’ll look again and they’ll have much more weight. However we would like you to really feel such as you’re collaborating in the tail finish of the whole lot, and have this sense of what occurred.

The primary time I pitched Shuhei Yoshida [the president of Sony Worldwide Studios] on the recreation, I couldn’t get a minute-and-a-half into my pitch earlier than he stated, “Who’s the mother? What’s her name? Where is she from? Is she going to appear in the game? What does she look like?”

"Look, Atreus. Everything the light touches is our kingdom."

Above: “Look, Atreus. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”

Picture Credit score: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: I felt like the finish is sweet. It mirrored so much of that considering. Once more, it’s tightly woven. You return and you understand — like, why is he calling him “boy” in that insulting method? And even the reality that you simply’re by some means drawing consideration to how Kratos doesn’t name him by his identify. Have been you making an attempt to cover his id, even that early?

Barlog: It’s a really fascinating story about that one. That is the lovely factor about the agility of storytelling, and being agile whenever you’re writing and directing one thing. Initially the plan was, the identify can be the reveal. At the finish of the recreation, even calling his son by his identify, thus acknowledging and accepting him. Then we realized that in all probability wasn’t the proper factor. However I used to be additionally utilizing “boy” as a result of I couldn’t assume of a reputation.

The primary stab at it, he was simply going to name him by his common identify. However then we thought we had this nice concept. What if he solely refers to him by identify at the finish? That’s good, as a result of it provides me extra time to stall and provide you with the identify. Then we realized that’s not the proper beat. At the finish of the recreation, he has to simply accept him as his son. That needs to be the first time he says “son.” As a result of that’s so charged. It’s what Zeus used when Kratos killed him. He calls him “my son.”

That’s so emotionally charged for him that he doesn’t need to do this. He doesn’t need to acknowledge this child, despite the fact that he’s essential to him. The child represents a second probability for him, however he’s nonetheless not able to confide in him. However yeah, I didn’t have the identify Atreus, I feel, till in all probability every week earlier than we launched it in the metadata of the music tracks. I waited till the final minute.

We had so many names, tons of of names, and I actually favored Atreus. Everybody realized I used to be a fan of the Neverending Story and they stated, “But it’s just like Atreyu.” And I stated, “No, it’s a cool reference. It’s also a great mystery. People will think he’s named after the mythological Atreus and they’ll all go in that direction.” As a result of that’s not likely the story of the place he comes up with the identify. No matter identify we select, it’s going to be a soldier that Kratos served with. It’s going to be a private factor for him. We had a reputation that sort of has a reference to Greek mythology, and everybody would begin studying into it, all these various things.

God of War team celebrates victory after the Game Awards.

Above: The God of War group celebrates victory after the Recreation Awards.

Picture Credit score: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: Now that we’re a bit extra free to speak about endings, there’s the one identify you uncover at the finish, and the quick affiliation is with a nasty man. Everyone is aware of this identify as any person who’s not — who doesn’t end up properly. After which he’s telling you the precise story of Atreus’s life at the finish. I considered it extra and realized, what for those who even have a selection between being the different man or Atreus? Atreus is a really noble character. He does lots of good. Perhaps this boy has a selection between whether or not he needs to end up like this different identify.

Barlog: There was a thought that went into that in the sense that — our id, who we’re, how a lot is formed by our surroundings, how a lot is formed by the expectation of who we’re. To me, Loki is a superb illustration inside the Norse myths of a toddler. Mischievous, trickster, moving into issues. However not essentially with darkish intentions. There’s somewhat bit of darkness in the Eddas, nevertheless it’s not as exaggerated as it’s in the Marvel comics.

However Thor, in the mythology, is a imply man. He’s not a pleasant dude. We in all probability exaggerated him a bit bit, however this man actually was going to take youngsters in cost for a slight. He was going to kill these individuals, kill a household as a result of they slighted him, and they stated, “Please take our children,” and he stated, “OK, I won’t kill you. I’ll just take your children.” He’s not a very good dude.

I favored the concept that setting these two issues up exhibits that there’s an expectation, what individuals assume Loki is admittedly about, that’s actually a neat little cloud that hangs over him. Then he will get to determine, what’s — who am I? It’s what we undergo. It was, subversively, what Kratos was going by means of in the starting of the recreation. Who am I? Who’ve I been for therefore lengthy? This freight practice of vengeance and violence. That’s nonetheless half of me, however who am I, now that I’ve this duty? Who am I, now that I’ve grown and been basically modified by Faye?

Their relationship modified him so dramatically, however nonetheless, he was in the center of it. He hadn’t completed rising. Her leaving so shortly, that principally prevented him from ending that progress. He needed to end it together with his son. He needed to end it on his personal. That’s an essential factor for everybody, to develop on their very own.

GamesBeat: You might have a son. I’m wondering how a lot you see your relationship with him on this recreation.

Barlog: A lot. There’s a lot of this — the approach that Kratos views godhood as a illness he’s handed on to his child, is the similar idea I take a look at my child, with my very own psychological idiosyncrasies, my very own obsessive-compulsive nature. He’s exhibiting all of that. I gave him that, as a result of my spouse is just not that method. My spouse has nervousness, however she’s nowhere close to that — every thing needs to be completed in a sure order, and my child is that occasions 1,000, which is so heartbreaking. It’s the similar means that — in that second when Atreus rages out at the finish of the recreation and knocks himself out and almost dies. It’s seeing that horrible half of your self in your child.

Moments all through the recreation are pulled from my interactions with him, and my interactions with my dad. Matt and Wealthy each have youngsters, so their interactions. So many individuals on the staff, they might inform us tales about interactions with their youngsters or their mother and father. These little tales would discover their method in. That’s actually fascinating. The check for us was — all three of us sitting round, we’d say, “Somebody told me this story today.” And if all three of us stated, “Oh, I can relate to that,” we’d really feel like we might have extra individuals relate to it. It’s one thing common.

There have been some issues we put in and it didn’t work out. Individuals would say, “I don’t get that at all.” All proper, we’ll take that out.

Kratos tries to comfort his son in God of War.

Above: Kratos tries to consolation his son in God of War. Tries, however fails.

Picture Credit score: Sony

GamesBeat: I assumed it was fascinating that there’s this God of War recreation, and a God of War story, however then additionally this father-son story that explains quite a bit of what occurs in the story. It’s not hammered house in a heavy-handed means. It’s unconsciously working on you. You don’t have Kratos psychoanalyzing himself or something, however that layer is there. I feel that’s additionally fascinating, about how this resonates.

Barlog: One, I work with actually good writers. These guys are unimaginable. However I feel the time I spent with George Miller, understanding his course of of breaking characters down — he labored with a author, Nick Lathouris, on Fury Street. Whereas they have been creating the Fury Street script, Lathouris had damaged down the complete script with one web page of script and one web page of line by line, psychologically, what every character was going by means of, both in the display instructions or the dialogue. What’s the motivation? What’s happening of their head?

Studying via that and realizing how a lot truly goes into a look, how a lot goes right into a grunt, made me understand, “All right, we have to think about this so much more deeply.” Once we’re main with, first, the story about rising up — it’s straightforward to say it’s redemption, however that’s not likely what he was going for. It actually was about rising up. Kratos determining tips on how to develop up, us rising up. Half of rising up is that concept of passing on info. What’s your legacy that you simply’re passing on? What’s the duty of that legacy? All the things leads into that, all through the entire recreation.

Quite a bit of occasions you don’t begin like that in video games. It’s simply, “I’ve got a cool mechanic I want to use, let’s do this!”