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Do you do external playtests? Because the one danger you can have is that everybody on the team is very fighting game-literate, they may not represent your core constituency.
JM: Agreed. I mean, God of War, one of the staples we always had is we always do lots of external playtests. So it's like, even if we think something is up to par, we still have other people play it. And depending on the response, we may just change things drastically to get the job done.
We're definitely doing the same thing here. Our team is growing, so our team has a lot of potential playtesters in it. But once it gets to a certain level, we're like, "Yeah. Bring everybody else in here, and let's make sure." Because multiplayer games, even Street Fighter, all of them, they get tuned after the fact. Version 1.011.6. Things that we'll re-tune after the masses get hold of it.
It's funny -- it's like one of those jobs that are just never done essentially. You're always trying to make sure everything is balanced and works right.
Now we've been talking mostly about core combat design, but do you also design combat encounters?
JM: I do assist in that. You're talking about single-player, I assume? Like the AI encounters, and stuff like that? The combat team does try to assist with that, but there's other designers that focus on that element.
I was thinking about that thing they showed at the beginning, disemboweling the cyclops. Those kind of pauses for effect, how they affect the nature of combat? Is that something you have to account for when you're designing?
JM: Oh, you're just talking about the length of time that it took for his guts to fall out? (laughs)
Yeah, exactly. Stuff like that. To keep things cinematic, is that another wrinkle in combat design?
JM: Well, it's another balance. I think when you look back on the other God of Wars, a lot of things that make the game separate itself from other games is the focus on those kills, the brutality. In fact, it was always a good sign, or a positive sign for us, when we saw other games that were action games that came out before God of War start incorporating more little grabs and things that they can do inside the combat -- to kind of stick 'em.
So people like that, there's no doubt. And it's always a balance where it's like, "Okay, this is too long. I've got to shorten this." Or, you know, "People are just not going to get tired of seeing this. We want it to be lengthy and be good."
That's interesting. How do you identify what is too long and what is the thing that people never get tired of?
JM: A lot of it is based on feel, ourselves. Like me, as kind of a more hardcore guy myself, I enjoy the quick ones, the ones that are like, grab him, slam him, rip him apart, done. I like those things. But I also like the brutality.
I like showcasing the things where it's like, you ripped off Helios' head in God of War III, it took some time to get the head off, but that extra time made it more gruesome. It made it more brutal, and made you feel it a little more. So, it was worth it to spend that extra time there, because it really showcased what we were trying to show. So, I guess there's no definite rule on what time it would be. It's more based on the scenario, based on how often this happens.
For example, take a cyclops, which might take a long time to take down. Well, based on the length of time it takes to take him down, and the amount of encounters you see this cyclops, maybe you can have a longer finishing kill, because you don't see him that much. But a little grunt guy, or skeleton you see all the time, you can't be killing him for 10 minutes every time.
Striking a balance, that's gotta be the biggest thing.
JM: To be honest, it's part of what makes the job entertaining. You never just take a formula and just abuse it to the ground. Although we start with some rules, we change them as needed for a scenario. And I've been here since God of War 1, and I've seen all the variants so far. It's still entertaining to do my job.