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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.
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.