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Postmortem - Sony Santa Monica's God of War: Ascension
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Postmortem - Sony Santa Monica's God of War: Ascension

June 19, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

In this postmortem from the final issue of Game Developer magazine, Sony Santa Monica senior producer Whitney Wade and director of internal development Chacko Sonny discuss bringing multiplayer to the God of War experience. (The complete issue is available as a free download here.)

God of War: Ascension is the fourth mainline installment in the award-winning God of War series. Development started almost immediately after the completion of God of War III, and we set out to exceed the achievements of the prior game -- deliver something bigger, better, and more awe-inspiring while adding something new to the franchise. Ultimately, the product succeeded on many fronts, establishing a strong multiplayer game within the franchise, but fell slightly short of the near-universal critical acclaim for God of War III.

Over the course of development, we faced a number of unique challenges, but we managed to take advantage of the Santa Monica Studios team's key strengths to complete the project on time, within budget, and to our quality standards. This postmortem reflects some of the things that went right, some of the things that went wrong, and the key lessons we learned over the course of building this game.

What Went Right

1. Multiplayer Brought New Life to the Franchise

The decision to add multiplayer to the traditionally single-player God of War was controversial from the start, both with fans and team members. This departure from our core expertise forced us to reconsider how we made games, and in some ways, it enabled us to return to the principles that helped create the original God of War: extensive playtesting, brutal feedback, constant iteration. This invigorated our technical and creative forces. The MP team rekindled our "underdog" spirit -- we needed to prove to critics, players, and ourselves that we could deliver the entirety of the God of War experience in multiplayer. In light of the recent spate of "tacked on" (critics' words, not ours) MP additions to other games, this was an extremely difficult task, as many dismissed the MP game outright before even trying it. People on the team have never been more passionate about proving something, and after our MP Beta, we had converted legions of fans who had either been on the fence or outright opposed to it into our strongest advocates.

2. New Hires Brought New Life to the Team

In the past, Sony Santa Monica has grown from within; many of our senior leaders are team members who have been here from the very beginning of the team. Over time, a number of team members who have left briefly for stints elsewhere in the industry have returned to SMS, acknowledging that there is something unique about the team, process, and products we create.

For Ascension, however, the scope of the game and the complexity of the entire project required that we grow the team dramatically. We acknowledged early on that we required a variety of new skills (multiplayer engineering and design, for example), and leadership expertise in order to successfully deliver the project we had defined. Through an aggressive hiring push, working in conjunction with on-site talent acquisition staff who helped execute our rigorous interview process, we were able to find key contributors in all disciplines and at all levels of seniority.

Our newer team members bring with them a fresh outlook and offer experience or ideas on how we can improve things. This new life is something that we don't take for granted, and we had to work hard to make sure that all team members still felt like they could bring their contributions to the table, even as we grew. This is something that went very right on this project -- careful hiring pays off in the long term, and has led to one of the strongest Santa Monica Studio internal dev teams yet.

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Philip Wilson
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Early MP testing is always a good thing from fresh eyes :) This was a new endeavour for the studio and team so I wonder how it handled studio playtests.

Patrick Davis
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IMO, this is just another franchise that had multiplayer shoehorned in that didn't need it.

Jon Boon
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I have not played this iteration of God of War, I will admit, however, multiplayer is a gameplay mode that I was definately not looking for in the series nor would have asked for if anyone asked me what features were missing from God of War. It is not something that pushed God of War (nor any of the single-player centric games Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Mass Effect, etc) into new areas that were appropriate for the series. I understand why it was done (to gain new players as well as gain a longer game retention factor), but I do not agree with it.

I believe the money spent on the game would have been better spent on making the single player experience an even greater experience, something that the fans of the series would have been expecting.

That is not to say that a multi-player centric game shouldn't be made, but it should be a seperate experience altogether, not married to a single-player game. Make a Mortal Kombat inspired game with single-player challenges and computer AI, as well as multiplayer (vs and co-op) matches and brawls. Spend time and money on that, not shoehorning a half-assed attempt into a single-player game.

Marvin Papin
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Multiplayer makes the game sells, it's a fact. Player wants to play while people are not trained or just while there are people.

And as it's really difficult to refresh that kind of franchise, that not worth buying it full price for the player. So they'll wait to play it from used copy.

As nintendo said and i expected that for a long time, "Do better games if you don't want the player to sell it."

Ozzie Smith
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To counter your point that about multiplayer helping games sells, I don't think there are exact sales figures for Ascension released but I'm pretty sure it didn't sell anywhere near as much as GoW3 did in the same time-frame.

EDIT - nevermind here are some numbers:

I don't think you could blame the addition of multiplayer for hindering the appeal of the game, but the fact that it was a pretty samey prequel (mechanically and formulaically almost exactly the same as GoW3) in a franchise that already had 2 prequels (Chains of Olympus was a prequel to GoW1, Ghost of Sparta to GoW2) didn't help at all. I'm sure there was a lot of cool innovation in the MP but it wasn't the sort of innovation fans were looking for, and so many of them passed on the game.

Nian Wu
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Thanks for sharing!

Christopher Donley
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Very informative piece. I especially like the idea of cross-functional teams dedicated to playtesting and maintaining stability. Seems like a good way to keep the team invested and looking at the game from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Thanks for sharing!