E3 2017: Impressions – God of War

I sat with Cory Barlog, Creative Director for the new God of War coming to PlayStation 4 as he quickly ran through the trailer we’d seen at the Sony Media Briefing giving little insights as he went.

This is clearly a different game than any of the others in the series as Kratos now has a son named Atreus. It won’t be one long escort mission though. Atreus is a competent partner in your journey and the character grew out of the experiences of much of the development team.

They’ve all grown older throughout the development of these games and many are parents now. Barlog spoke about how being a parent can allow you to experience things all over again for the first time through your child’s eyes. There’s a sense of wonder and discovery and it’s something they wanted to capture here.

A big part of his personal life seeped into the game as well. Barlog’s wife is Swedish and his five-year-old son is bilingual. With his in-laws in town and everyone speaking Swedish much better than him he can end up feeling like a “stranger in a strange land” in his own house, a concept I’m very familiar with having a wife and her family speaking Cantonese with the children.

Kratos is the same. Following the events of God of War III he took a long journey walking across the Earth and after “an unspecified period of time” he becomes wrapped up in the Norse mythologies. He doesn’t understand the different languages and needs his son to translate for him.

This becomes important in understanding the runes seen in the trailer as well as a number of other languages that Atreus will learn throughout the game. Kratos will be entirely dependant on him to help make sense of the world he’s in.

This is a new land for Kratos and it’s a point in early human history where all mythologies exist together in the same time period but in different places geographically. They essentially all exist as the origin stories of different cultures. Because of this, Kratos is known in some of these other mythologies.

You’ll interact with people and creatures from Norse mythology including Sindri, who forged Mjolnir, and his brother Brokkr. The two of them are involved in a bit of a family spat but you’ll be working to get them back together during the game.

Unlike previous games in the series not everything is a fight, but Kratos is always suspicious. His son is representative of the humanity that Kratos has lost and he’s always there to remind Kratos that not everything needs to be met with brute force. The idea is to circumvent the expectations of a God of War game.

The toughest part has been balancing the expectations of fans since bringing Kratos across the Earth to Norse mythology moves him far away from the original games. The idea is that the first seven games only took us through Chapter One of his life and this will be the start of the next phase.

Kratos is imperfect and the rules keep changing. There’s this idea that the hero will fail over and over but they always get back up and they persist. That’s why we root for them and the fact that they struggle is universal.

Cory Barlog is, much like myself, a big fan of the Stargate television series, so being able to bring Christopher Judge into the role of Kratos was a big deal. As a father, Judge brings a lot of emotion to the character. He was away from his kids for eleven years while making Stargate SG-1.

When Kratos’ son was born he still had all that rage within him and couldn’t control it so he spent a lot of time on his own trying to figure out how to get a handle on it. This made him miss out on a lot of his son’s early life so Judge was able to bring a lot of his personal experiences to the character.

Finding Judge however was a long and difficult journey. Barlog knew that he wanted to have the whole game be a single camera shot from beginning to end. To do that he needed all performers on set, sometimes four or five actors all performing with a SteadiCam operator all in one take.

Trying to do motion capture with a smaller person and then overlaying a bigger character didn’t work well and trying to do it with a bigger person but using a different actor for the voice ended up being too time consuming and problematic.

He knew they needed a bigger person who could handle the on set demands and fit the part physically while also being the voice. They went through a ton of people that didn’t work out.

They met with a casting director who eventually threw Judge’s name out but Barlog didn’t think he’d want to do it. He decided to set up a meeting to see if it would work out and it exceeded everyone’s expectations. His first reading was amazing and exactly what they were looking for. He immediately had great chemistry with Sunny Suljic, the actor playing his son Atreus.

Sunny was cast within the first year because he was really impressive and as a bonus, very small. They figured that even if this took a while, he wouldn’t grow that much. As each year passes though it becomes more and more stressful with the idea that his voice may start to change and he’ll grow, throwing everything off. Fortunately, they’re close to the end so it should work out fine.

Bringing a child into the game allows for many light hearted parenting moments. With so many people on the team having kids, there was a constant reevaluation and they wanted to ground things, bringing the camera in closer, and making it more personal. From what we’ve seen so far, the evolution of Kratos is just what the series needed to move it forward.

God of War will be released on PlayStation 4 in early 2018.

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