Devcom 2018: Cory Barlog offers a glimpse of Egypt and what might have been for God of War

August 20, 2018

Cory Barlog, director of this year’s God of War reboot, delivered the first keynote at Devcom, detailing the many challenges, mistakes and lessons learned in the development of the game, which was ultimately a huge success for Santa Monica Studio.

It was also an opportunity to show off what might have been, as there came a point in development when the studio was seriously considering two settings for their reboot – Norse mythology, and Egyptian mythology. With the team split pretty evenly between the two, Barlog’s casting vote was all-important, and influenced by George Lucas’ tactic to reference concept art from Ralph McQuarrie for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Barlog revealed the two pieces of concept art that were created for the two ideas, with the below image from a possible Egyptian-set God of War never released publically before – an interesting look at what could have been.

The idea for God of War2018 came from Barlog’s desire to bring something new to Kratos and the franchise, a desire that was supported by an external study performed on God of War Ascension, which delivered feedback along the lines of this choice quote, “God of War is like my Dad’s muscle car and Uncharted is like a sexy McLaren, and I want to drive that.”

Off the back of this desire to revamp the series into something new, Barlog made several decisions early on that would make the game more personal and intimate – a closer camera, and no cuts, so that we stay with Kratos and his perspective for the entire journey. He referenced the movie Hard Boiled as inspiration for how this would look for the team.

While Sony was supportive of the new direction, they questioned why there was a need to include Kratos at all and not a new character, which Barlog countered that the focus on Kratos this time around would be to give him a reason to try and be better, re-contextualising the original Greek games as a prologue for a new story. Kratos’ deconstruction made for a more interesting challenge for writing, and was inspired in part by the way Wilson Fisk was made sympathetic to viewers in Netflix’s Daredevil.

At the same time, the decision to include Kratos’ son, Atreus, was met with resistance throughout the whole process of development, and the concept was on the chopping block several times. The words ‘giant escort mission’ were levelled at the game throughout development, and so making Atreus a self-sufficient, positive part of gameplay was extremely important.

Some mechanics, however, did not survive through the process. Hunting was originally meant to be a big part of God of War, but was scoped out about halfway through development. A ‘strike first’ mechanic, where an unseen Kratos can get the jump on an enemy and scare his compatriots into running away, was also nixed after prototyping the feature revealed it to just not be very fun for players.

Barlog regretted throughout development that systems (such as the UI or the diorama-esque map design) were started far too late into production. Combat also took a while to complete – when Shuhei Yoshida, head of Worldwide Studios, was shown an early playthrough of the game, it eventually got back to Barlog his opinion of the state of it – “He was horrified.” While it took a while for Barlog to hear his exact reaction, Shu’s body language and obvious dismay at the state of game provided the motivation Barlog needed to give to his staff to deliver a knockout product for his second playthrough – which went a lot smoother.

Ultimately, Cory Barlog left the crowd with the most important lesson he learned throughout God of War’s development – “Never give in to doubt. Feel it. Process it. And then shut it down, and then move on.”

Devcom will continue tomorrow, with keynotes from Blizzard’s Saralyn Smith, Twitch’s Ethan Evans, and more.