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The Secrets of Brutality: God of War's Combat Design
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The Secrets of Brutality: God of War's Combat Design

June 11, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

The combat in God of War is, quite obviously, its most central element. It's not just the focus of the gameplay; it's also where the series has traditionally differentiated itself from competitors, with an emphasis on brutality, lethality, and also entirely different feel and pacing than, say, Devil May Cry, which defined the genre prior to its entrance late in the PlayStation 2's lifespan.

For the series' 2013 PlayStation 3 release, God of War: Ascension, the team is adding multiplayer -- adding several more layers of complexity to the combat design, as players now have to be able to read moves other players use and customize characters with an array of weapons with their own unique move sets. The team is also amping up the series' trademark brutality.

To discuss the core of what's important to the combat -- not just violence, but accessibility and readability -- and how it has evolved since the series' inception, Gamasutra speaks to Jason McDonald, lead combat designer at Sony Santa Monica.

There are things you prioritize when you're making certain decisions about combat, right? What is it that you want the player to do; what you want to communicate. I was wondering if you could talk about it in a high-level way, how you do that.

Jason McDonald: For Kratos, it's always very simple. We want to make the guy feel powerful. We want to make you feel good, as a player, using him. We want him to feel responsive. The moves should be flashy, yet not too flashy. We don't want him doing backflips and doing crazy like ninja-like moves, but things that fit his character, things that fit his power, and make you feel connected to the guy.

So, for the multiplayer, it's pretty much the same rulebook. We want to make sure that they also feel powerful, they feel responsive, they feel it just as good as Kratos. The difference here being is that now they also have to read well to other players, so they can tell what you're doing, so they can counter effectively.

Yeah, that's exactly what I wanted to talk about. You already had to design for readability so the players know what they're accomplishing, but now you have to design for readability so the other players know what's about to be done to them.

JM: Yes, yes.

Is there a balance there?

JM: There's definitely a balance. Kratos is obviously a very overpowered guy. He's got blades that are on fire and are attached to chains. He swings them around like they're nothing. So, it's like that is very intimidating for any character to go against. But it's not something that we ignore in general, because the AI has to have that as well. When the AIs do moves, or the boss does a move, you have to be able to read that, so you can actually avoid it and get the upper hand.

So, a lot of those tropes, or logic, kind of applies to the players as well -- the difference being, of course, that the player will attack much quicker than the AI will, or may be a lot more aggressive. We can't control it. So we have to make sure that even the aggressive player can do moves that feel powerful and have just enough recovery, just enough visual tell, that you can read it, avoid it, and counter it.

How do you feel about things like invincibility frames and recovery? Fighting games are very big on recovery frames, so people have a chance to respond.

JM: Yes, indeed. It's the basic rules, I guess Street Fighter introduced, a long time ago. Where it's like, yeah, you've got quick moves that do a little damage but lower recovery, but you have slow moves that do lots of damage and have high recovery. How can you position yourself so you can actually land the slower attacks? You want to do that. It does more damage.

So, a lot of logic applies here as well, where it's like, "if the player looks like he should be vulnerable, he should be vulnerable" so you can hit, and all that stuff. At the same time, if he is invulnerable for whatever reason -- doing magic or doing something -- we've got to make that tell as well, by either putting some colors on you: make something that's universal, that you can tell where the guy actually isn't going to take any reaction, and he's done.

In Street Fighter, it was when they land. When they land on the ground, you pretty much couldn't hit them anymore. You've got to wait for them to get up, and they have a little get up game. So we kind of think of things very similar, in that line of thought.

What God of War brought was going away from that very speedy, Devil May Cry-ish kind of combat into... I don't know what the word is, even. Like, "thicker".

JM: I understand what you're saying, yeah. Well, a lot of action-adventure games that aren't God of War are very snappy and ninja-like, like you're saying. DMC swings a sword like lightning speed. Bayonetta is the same way. A lot of Japanese games, especially, go with that. Then we have the other style of American games. There aren't that many of them, but some, like Prince of Persia, which doesn't focus on combat. It's a lot slower. But it's also less responsive, because they make other choices.

So, God of War, as you said, to me, has always been a good mix of it's a lot more fluid, it's not ninja-like, and everything feels real brutal and powerful even though it still feels responsive.

I've been with the franchise since God of War and seen that progression from all the God of Wars. So for this one, it's definitely the goal to still achieve that, make sure that the guys don't... Kratos is a brute. He's a warrior. He's not a ninja. He's not an anime character. He's not going to be doing all these crazy moves all over the place. So in order to accomplish that, we have to make sure the moves and everything he does bring that point home.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Keith Burgun
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This is so uninteresting, that actually it loops around and becomes interesting on a meta-level.

"Yeah, yeah. Most games these days, no one reads the manual anymore."

Right, because we don't need a manual for a game we have all already played 100 times in various incarnations dating back to, like, 1990. We would only need a manual for a new game with new kinds of interaction. I know this concept is kind of alien to video-gamers since they almost never, ever get a new thing, but: things which are *actually* new require some explanation.

Michael DeFazio
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@keith --thanks for your scintillating insights. (You always have the option of NOT commenting on an article you don't find interesting... just a thought)

Frankly when I played GoW1 there was nothing like it (it "felt" different than anything I ever played). I'm glad they haven't deviated too far from the original formula. (If I wanted to play DmC or Ninja Gaiden, I'd buy those games)

I know they try to both add "depth" to the combat while maintaining some level of accessibility, and I think many people DO appreciate the depth of the combat system (juggles, etc.) it would be nice to throw a bone to those players (by giving them optional challenges that would really test their metal).

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Michael DeFazio
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Was tempted to respond to your points but I realize we are veering from the main point of the article (with respect to GoW's combat system).

I realize you don't like GoW and I am not trying to change your mind about it, but there really is no need to be condescending to people who work very hard on the game and fans of the franchise:
"I'm saying that it would be a better dummy training game than a fighting game, because whoever likes to deal with juggling doesn't enjoy fighting."

I'd reiterate my previous post (What YOU like differs from what other people like) but it doesn't seem to be sinking in. But let me ask you:
How do any of your comments contribute to discussion or debate?

Michael DeFazio
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Ha ha... before you edit it... you said exactly this:
"juggles are terrible gameplay mechanics for fighting games and games in general."
"I only said that jugles in fighting games shouldn't be taken seriously in competitive play"

seriously... read your OWN posts.

Also, I didn't realize we were talking about competitive fighting games, but rather GoW's combat system.

Michael DeFazio
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Ok Christian... Last post for me, it's been fun. (I'm currently drowning in the volume of text in your comments which are heavy on words and light communicating anything that is cogent)

" jumped to conclusions way too fast. I get that, a lot of people do that on the internet."
No, I just read your posts and they contradicted one another. By the way, your clarification:
"Because it meant ''casual mechanics'' in competitive games" in reference to Juggles in Fighting games doesn't make any sense.

If you are communicating that your opinion that you don't like juggles in fighting games fine, but that doesn't mean juggles in fighting games are casual mechanics... (I imagine a long winded explanation trying to link juggles with "casual mechanics" of fighting games may be forthcoming.)

...Also, inferring that the combat designers for one of the most popular action games is history is inexperienced or unqualified might not be the best way to get your point across:

"I wonder if the designers of today are asked to add those things (juggles) or if they are just inexperienced and unqualified."

"because whoever likes to deal with juggling doesn't enjoy fighting."
These things (juggling, fighting) are not mutually exclusive (What if I am a clown who juggles and participates in cage fighting?)


Mark Venturelli
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This was very disappointing. I was expecting something more in-depth than "yeah, we worry about making our combat approachable".