Interview: God of War

August 16th, 2007 by Arjan Olsder Posted in Interviews | 2 Comments »

SonypicturesRecently, Sony Pictures Mobile released the mobile game God of War Betrayal. The PR team allowed us to ask 10 exclusive questions regarding the mobile game. Sadly enough, all questions from several websites where put together and slightly changed resulting in a not so exclusive interview. Luckely enough, some of our nasty questions (i.e. modojo critics) remained…

Personal/Creative Questions

I would like to first thank you for allowing us to interview you. To start it off, I’m sure our readers would like to know who you are and what you do.

Phil: I’m the Producer, Designer, and Lead Level Designer on GoW: Betrayal. I’ve been working with games since landing a high school job selling them at Software Etc. I eventually got a job as a tester at EA.com, then moved on to Namco for a few years and was promoted to Assistant Producer. I spent a lot of time working with handheld titles and some console work, then got the opportunity to work on casual/mobile games for SOE-LA. I knew nothing about that market, so I jumped at the chance to learn what the buzz was all about and moved to Los Angeles.

God of War as a franchise has become wildly popular and shows no signs of stopping. What are some of games you guys love to play and draw inspiration from?

Phil: I love and draw inspiration from all types of games! Some of my addictions growing up with a 2600 were Pitfall, Pitfall 2, Dark Chambers, Pole Position, and Solaris. We also had the famously monochrome Mac 512.  Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle were probably the holy grail to me as a child. I also played a ton of Double Dragon and Battletoads on the NES. So I guess those childhood memories and lessons have directly inspired me when I approached the task of adapting the GoW gameplay to a 2D side scroller. Currently, I’m playing the heck out of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, GRAW 2, Puzzle Quest, and Civilization IV.

For the PlayStation, God of War is one of the greatest games out there.  How did you feel when you heard about the project for mobile?

Phil: About as excited as a producer can be! It’s not every day you get the opportunity to work with the hottest game franchise around. I instantly new the basics of how I wanted the game to look and feel on the mobile platform and knew it could be done properly.

Looking back at the development, what in your vision makes the game stand out from the crowd?

Phil: The game fits in perfectly with the amazing God of War franchise in terms of look and feel, relative to the mobile platform. The player gets that same feeling as the console games of being ruthless Kratos, brutalizing your enemies in an epic setting.  We’re very proud of so many parts of this game, especially the character controls for Kratos, the great quality and amount of character animation, and the environment art and layouts.

Which mobile game from Sony do you like the most, and also which game from any other mobile game development company you like to play and why?

Phil: Other than GoW: Betrayal, you mean? I really liked our James Bond Casino Royale action game; that project came together nicely, and many lessons learned from that game went into the development of GoW: Betrayal. It was a blast to play, especially for a movie licensed game! Snoop Dogg: Cruisin is a fun distraction as well. We have two other games called Fish’n’Tunes and Jump That Car which are fantastic original titles.

Mobile Game Development

God of War 2 pushed the PlayStation 2 to its limit, resulting in very beautiful environments and character models.  The following are some of the over-arching questions about the development of Betrayal: How hard is it to get a high-paced action game onto a mobile device like a phone with limited memory and processing power?

Phil: “Hard” is a relative term. Every project is hard in its own way. For God of War, that had to do with getting all of Kratos’ look, animations, combat and abilities that everyone expects to see, the variety of enemies and their deaths, and the isometric look to the environment.  It really comes down to the tools, and our developer, Javaground, has the best mobile toolset that we’ve ever used. Of course, with every project you try to push certain perceived limits of the handsets and try to figure a way around them… be it God of War or a casual game like Spider-Man 3 Puzzle. That’s always a hard, but fun part of the development process.

What struggles did you and your development team encounter upon creating the visual aspect of this title?

Phil: With just a few hundred kb and much less on most handsets, we spent a lot of time coming up with a single tileset and palette swapping scheme that was diverse enough to portray multiple environments and lived up to the SCEA God of War team’s high standards.  That was probably the hardest part. Our Art Director, Nathan Leland, did a fantastic job.

How long was the development process for God of War: Betrayal?

Phil: I wrote the initial design document between September and October 2005 when I first got hired on, then it sat and stewed for a year before revisiting it in August 2006, the same month development started. The versions for high-end handsets were completed 9 months later in April. We wrapped up the final versions for low-end handset over the next 2 months, completing the 1st 6 handsets in June 2007. After that, the porting team took the game to over 200 handsets in a matter of weeks.

What challenges did you face when developing Betrayal?  What were some of the challenges that you and your team faced in converting the game play of a fast paced 3D platform action game into a side scrolling 2D game on a cell phone?

Phil: The challenge wasn’t so much in capturing the feel of the combat as it was in capturing the feel of God of War’s visual look and gameplay design. You have very limited processing power and memory on most handsets, which makes devising puzzles, traps, environment interaction, and enemy behavior very difficult.  With such extreme hardware limitations, there is a fine  balance between character art, frames of animation, environment, interactive objects and the cost of the game code for each.  If you get too ambitious with a level’s design, filling it with lots of traps, locked doors, animated torches, waterfalls, enemies, etc., you may find yourself faced with a decision to reduce some of the core combat or to revise the level. It was tough to scale back on some of the initial plans for the levels and find ways to keep them engaging over the entire game.

Did David Jaffe or Cory Barlog have any say in the direction of God of War: Betrayal?

Phil: Of course! They made sure we were on track with capturing the feel of the combat and visual style and were very helpful with their feedback and positive support. We also worked closely with Eric Williams, the console game’s Lead Combat Designer and had reviews with some of the console game’s other key leads.  Their contribution and attention to detail was invaluable.

What did you do to try to implement the touchpad with controls intuitive to the game?

Phil: The basics of running and jumping are “gimme’s” for a mobile platform game. At SOE-LA, we try to keep all gameplay functionality playable using only the phone’s D-pad and soft keys. I already knew how context sensitive kills would work based on our implementation of a similar mechanic in our Casino Royale action game, so we had a good idea how the console controls could be translated to a mobile phone. In the end, the biggest issue came up for one of the smallest details: opening chests, pulling levers, and activating the finishing moves. Initially, we mapped these functions to up on the D-pad. Though it made sense (press up, Kratos lifts things up), the input on a mobile phone isn’t very precise so that sometimes you would jump, maybe into a trap, instead of opening a chest.  We remapped it to down on the D-pad, and all was well.

Moving away from game play for a minute, cell phones have never been regarded as sources of high quality sound. Keeping in mind the often limited speaker systems in mobile phones, what can we expect on the sound and music side of God of War: Betrayal?

Phil: This really depends on the handset you own. Some have amazing audio with multiple channels at once, others barely support MIDI or can only play one sound effect at a time. We did our very best to deliver the best possible sound without sacrificing the gameplay (yes, the two are very much intertwined in the Mobile world). The first time I heard the title music translated into MIDI, I was very excited about how good it sounded. For handsets that could support better audio formats, we included higher quality sound files.

What is one thing that the team wanted to do with Betrayal but didn’t have enough time for, or could not implement?

Phil: I had plans for a few different types of environmental puzzles that included breaking and falling crates, but we were too limited on code size and processor power. We also try to provide the same exact gameplay experience across as many handsets as possible, so we have to keep certain design decisions in check. Keeping this in mind, if you play the super low end 64k version of GoW: Betrayal, and you then play the highest end version (over 300k), the core combat mechanic will be almost identical. This is much tougher to pull off than it sounds! In hindsight, the only thing I would have changed with the final product would be to include Poseidon’s Rage, or a similar attack, in place of Medusa’s Gaze, but that’s really a matter of personal opinion.

How did you use the vertical screen to your advantage when most of Kratos’ moves could be considered as horizontal?

Phil: The vertical screen was actually a blessing in disguise! The horizontal nature of the navigation and combat can be controlled simply by the speed at which Kratos moves, the distance he attacks, and the distance at which enemies spawn or become aware of you. The vertical screen allowed our art director to really capture the epic scale of the God of War environments.  That would have been very difficult to do with a horizontal screen while still keeping Kratos at a decent size. Keep in mind the size of the screens I’m referring too

    2 Responses to “Interview: God of War”

    1. Justin says:

      Just so we’re clear, Modojo did LIKE GoW: Betrayal. We just weren’t enamored with it like some of our peers. 🙂

    2. dante says:

      i wish u guyz made gow: betrayal for motorola v6 maxx…i got the game but its a nokia version…still playable but no sound…
      btw…is there any website where i can get the sounds file for my gow: betrayal game?

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    Arjan Olsder is the Vice President of Pixalon Studios. Opinions expressed on this publication do not have to represent those of Pixalon Studios.


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