New Gears and God of War games build on blockbuster trilogies
“How do you undo selling your soul to the devil?” It’s a peculiar question, but Todd Papy wanted to know the answer. The query ended up being the catalyst for the development of God of War: Ascension, which was released on March 12 for Sony’s PlayStation 3.
Ascension is the fourth major game in the God of War series. In the original trilogy, Kratos, the protagonist, kills Ares to become the god of war, then takes out his vengeance on the Greek pantheon. But at a Sony press event in Los Angeles in January, Papy said that none of the games in the franchise has ever addressed how the Spartan warrior breaks his initial bond with Ares, causing him to murder his own wife and child. This prequel recounts that story.
Figuring out the narrative for Ascension was an important step. Papy said that his job as game director was made easier because the development team from Sony’s Santa Monica Studio was the same that created the previous games in the franchise. But the pressure was definitely on. “You never want to be known as the director that fucked up God of War,” he told the Georgia Straight in an interview.
As a game designer himself, Papy said that he wanted to push the underlying structures of the God of War games. “It’s taking those systems that are old and antiquated,” he said, “and adjusting them and making them feel fresh and new.” That led to a new grapple manoeuvre for Kratos, a new rage-meter system, and the ability for him to use enemies’ weapons against them.
Another way to set the new God of War game apart was to give it something the franchise never had before: multiplayer. “We felt we could bring something to the genre,” said Papy, who added that it made a difference that the studio did its own work on the multiplayer component of the game, instead of passing that task off to another studio. The mode supports up to eight players, who start things off by selling their soul to Ares, Hades, Poseidon, or Zeus. The vast, epic set pieces that feature in the game also provide the environments for multiplayer.
On Tuesday (March 19), a week after Ascension hit stores, another game charged with following a successful trilogy arrives in the form of Gears of War: Judgment, an Xbox 360 exclusive developed by Epic Games and People Can Fly and published by Microsoft.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Chris Wynn explained that “fresh blood” in the form of a codeveloper and a new writing team helped shape the Judgment experience. “Right away we knew we wanted fresh ideas and kind of a new take on it,” said the senior producer at Epic, adding that the developers didn’t want to “fatigue” or “sunset” the franchise. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t doing it an injustice,” he said.
Judgment is also a prequel to the original Gears of War games. The decision to place it chronologically prior was decided early on, as was the selection of Damon Baird as the central figure of the story, said Wynn. Fans, he explained, have wanted to know more about Emergence Day, a seminal event in the history of the Gears games, and while Baird was only a wise-cracking peripheral character in the first three games, Epic’s data showed that he was a favourite among fans.
Narratively, the game is framed by the proceedings of Baird’s court martial. It was a structure that was brought in by writing team Tom Bissell and Rob Auten. Things start with Baird, an officer, being arrested. “Then they start the testimony, and each character goes through and talks about what they were doing, why they were doing it,” Wynn said.
As for People Can Fly, a studio that’s based in Poland and worked with Epic on Bulletstorm, Wynn noted they came in wanting to make the new game more challenging and more intense. “The types of encounters you have in the game and the number of enemies that you face is all amped up,” he said.
Wynn said that the goal of the first Gears game was to launch a trilogy. “When we started Judgment we didn’t have quite the same goal,” he admitted. Instead, Epic just wanted to make a great game. What happens after remains to be seen. “Certainly the universe is big enough that we could continue to build on it if we choose to,” Wynn said.
Likewise, Papy said that he thinks of Ascension as a “chapter”, not the beginning of a new trilogy. But more games in the Greek mythology–based series are certainly possible. “If we want to,” he said. “If this one’s successful.”