A few months back I spoke with combat lead Jason McDonald about the fact that part of the promise the God of War series makes to players is that while there can be some depth to the combat, you want people to pretty much be able to play the game without too much complication. What do you think about that?
MS: Okay, so this is what I love about Jason McDonald. Jason McDonald has been with the series the entire time. A true combat designer, the best combat designer I've ever worked with. And he's a hardcore Street Fighter player -- extremely "Don't ever wanna get in a fight with this guy." Even when I play multiplayer with him and Vincent, who's our multiplayer designer, I don't want to fight them because they kill me on a regular basis, and they're really good.
The best part of it is that when we get done having playtests and fights and stuff like that, we'll talk about ways to take balance and tweak it, or ways to make it so that the player who's novice -- in my case, compared to them, I'm a novice -- how I will advance faster so that I can have a more challenging fight with the advanced player.
So for me, the barrier to fighting games is always that. If you run into somebody in a fighting game who knows what they're doing, you're not going to have fun against them, because they're just going to obliterate you, and you're not going to feel challenged, and maybe put the controller down and never play the game again. And the challenge for us, as designers, is to make sure that that person felt like they made enough progress fighting against that guy who was really good.
But the next time around he has a different strategy that will potentially challenge that guy who's very good at it, and continue to develop more and more strategy as well as pick up on the strategies that the advanced player uses, so that the playing field levels out faster.
So for us as designers, we have to level that out faster. So in our iteration right now, and even on the multiplayer end, is that's what we're trying to do. We put the novice in against the veteran and we see how we can get it to balance out, for mode, as well as just straight one-on-one combat or two-versus-one combat, which is even a crazier balance.
How do you help someone learn through play? Because obviously, as we all know, only the dedicated are going to sit down and practice.
MS: Well, there's that, and it's kind of like learning, right? It's not kind of like learning -- it is learning. Everybody learns in different ways. So I remember I had a teacher once who told me that the worst way to learn is the way that you're currently sitting, you're sitting in a classroom and I'm instructing; that is probably the worst way to learn. And I think the best way to learn is to experience.
And the most frustrating thing for a designer is anytime somebody's experiencing something, but they're not learning anything, they keep doing the same thing over and over again. Watching the God of War playtest can be like that sometimes, watching them try to do a puzzle and they do the same thing over and over and you're like, "How do I get them to do something different?"
And I think that's the same thing in combat design -- how do you get them to try something different, instead of trying to do the same thing over and over again?
So here's some of the stuff that we do. You can give them messaging when they die, and it doesn't seem like much to do something like that, but what if it's related to how they die? Then when they die, every time they die, that's a learning experience. You can give them clues based on things that happened while they're playing, in terms of readability, which is huge in fighting games, for sure. Because if you get the feedback that you did something well, then you'll continue to try to do something well. But if you don't get any feedback, then we lost an opportunity to teach you that you did something right.
God of War III, for example, you fought the first boss, and when you were hitting it and hurting it, it wasn't playing hit reactions, and because it wasn't playing hit reactions, you didn't know if you were doing good or not. So as designers, in a way, we made a mistake by not giving you that opportunity to let you know that you were doing well.
So for our novice players, the more that they get the feedback that they're doing well, or the more that they get the feedback that they're not doing well, the faster they will learn, and the faster they will bring themselves up a notch so that they can be a challenge, as well, to the more seasoned players.
As well as exploits. I feel like the seasoned players, or the veteran players, will have found specific exploits that they get really good at executing, and they use it over and over and over again, ad nauseam, when they play. And maybe because it's pushing the dopamine into their head that, like, "Every time I do it, and I get the kill, and I feel great!" And after a while it starts to deaden for them.
But if you recognize the exploits and are able to balance them, then somebody spends more time trying to find the way to get past the challenge, or kill a guy, or complete an objective. And if there's lots of different ways to complete an objective -- whatever that objective is -- then they spend more time exploring ways to complete an objective, and then that's the essence of game.
That is exactly what game's all about. Because then when you do it, and maybe you do it a new way, you get that, "Ahh, that was great, I did it; I completed it this way!" And maybe you're talking to me later and you're like, "Oh, but I did it this way." And when you put that in a challenging environment, where it's me versus you trying to do the same exact thing, that's why I come to work every day.