Do you think that that violates the power fantasy deal you made with your audience in prior games? And if so, is that interesting or cool to do that?
MS: Well, I don't think it does, because what it does is it provides another end of the spectrum. I think that if you are constantly the overpowering guy, eventually that starts to become dull, and dead, and you never get the other end of the spectrum.
In order to have conflict, you need to have another end, so you need to have the ebb and flow where you have to play defense a bit in order to feel like you need to overcome something that's more powerful. And if you don't have that -- if you never have to worry about being overpowered by something else -- then it's not a good accomplishment, or great a feeling, when you do overcome that.
At GDC Europe, Jörg Friedrich, lead designer on Spec Ops: The Line, said they realized they needed moments of defeat to make the moments of victory mean something. Like you said, though maybe you didn't put it this way, God of War can get a little one-note, maybe, if you're just bashing your way through the world.
MS: Yeah, and that gets dull. And even if it becomes more and more epic, and more and more grand in terms of how you're trying to sell it, it's a lot simpler to just not be victorious one time. What happens if you fight a boss and you lose? If you end up fighting that boss later in the game, you have the knowledge of fighting that guy earlier in the game that you lost to. So when you're fighting him, you might know like, "Oh, at the end of the game the hero's always going to win", right?
Or maybe not! Who's ever tried that? Who's ever said, "You know what? We're going to make this so different that we're going to have you get a different reaction in the end", or a different reaction midway through the game.
And I think that that is very interesting; I agree with that designer and what he's saying. Because I think that what he's saying is that he's providing a different challenge for the player, and also casting a little bit of doubt... Everybody has the all-powerful -- I shouldn't say "everybody has", but many of the action games are all about the all-powerful guy, and some of the more interesting interactions are the ones where they're not all-powerful, and you feel like you're fighting against it as you go through. I'm attracted to that type of character design.
It seems like it's a tension between what our instincts are in terms of game design and storytelling. Things are always getting better and more exciting, you're always getting more powerful, you're always winning bigger battles -- versus what we expect out of drama, which is that there's going to be multiple setbacks on the road to victory. In any movie, you'll see the characters go low before they get high again, so it's maybe a tension between our instincts in game designer and instincts in storytelling.
MS: Right. It's the Rocky Balboa principle, right? You've got to feel like you're rooting for the underdog in this battle for you to get that emotional payoff sometimes. The Fighter, another boxing one, is another great example of that. I remember watching that movie and like standing up and being excited -- and I was watching it by myself at two in the morning -- because I felt like that guy had overcome a lot to get to where he was at. And it was a fight movie, and it was drama, but it's the same thing, I think, in video games.
We're a storytelling game, too. We'd like to be considered great stories. I know how much work that Todd and Marianne and Ariel and Will and Stig and Cory and Dave and all those guys have put into the story of God of War. Those guys have put a lot of effort into that story. And as a designer, you don't want to discount that work, nor the experience the player has from that story, just so that you can keep your principles alive of "brute alpha male".
So sometimes I think it's good and I think it's better to... I don't think that you get rid of the fact that the character or the hero feels powerful, because it's good that Kratos is the way that he is; that's what is attractive about him. I come home from my job or whatever, and what I do, and I want to play a guy that's different; you don't want to play somebody who's like me, you know?
Is there a way to do that through design? You did allude to the idea of showing more vulnerability in his animations. But is it simply a matter of animations, or is there a way to do it through something else?
MS: Well, yeah, I think it comes from even set design, situation design, and how he progresses; sometimes it's okay to take a situation and have him take a step backwards before he makes progress.
And you were talking about drama and how you'll chart out the emotional level of somebody, and you want to take somebody down before you bring them way up again. And challenge can be the same way, where you take somebody down in terms of challenge to where it feels effortless and easy right before you put them in front of something that feels monumental and impossible to overcome.
But the other example -- I was talking to somebody earlier today. The example is you run against a creature that has this massive advantage against you -- maybe it's speed, for example -- and you get your butt kicked by it, but you are able to overcome it. And when you get through that challenge of fighting that character, you feel great, because you're like, "Man, I was able to do that!"
And the next time you run into that character you're like, "Aw man, this guy again; he's such a pain." But then when you defeat something or you acquire something that now, when you face it the second time around, you have the upper hand against it, you feel like you've made this progression. And it's extremely rewarding to be like, "Now I have this! And now our encounter is going to be very different." So now you've gone up and you've peaked out, in terms of the reward for that fight.