Saturday
Sep012012

PAX Prime 2012: Santa Monica Studios Interview With Aaron Kaufman

Imagine what kind of person you would become if everything you knew and loved was ripped away from you, and in a fashion that made it seems as if it were your own fault from the start. Only, you know, it was really a trickster god who set you up for disappointment following your assumed redemption.

Two years after God of War III, Santa Monica Studios is throwing Kratos back into action with God of War: Ascension, the latest installment of the franchise which describes the struggles and buildup of Kratos before his infamous rise as a God.

As George took some extended time with both the single player and multiplayer game modes, I had an opportunity to step aside with Aaron Kaufman, community manager of Santa Monica Studios. We discussed what’s new, what’s returning, and why fans are in for the greatest God of War console experience to date.

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Sean: Let’s start with the basics. What kind of trouble is Kratos getting himself into this time, and what are some basic new mechanics we’ll see?

Aaron: Ascension takes place six months after [Kratos] was tricked into murdering his daughter and wife. He’s cast away to a prison where he’s trying to break the bond he has with Ares in Olympus. It’s another epic journey for Kratos right now, and it’s going to be unlike anything fans have seen before.

As you can see, the Life Cycle ability allows Kratos to manipulate time and solve some different puzzles in the game. He can also use Life Cycle in battle to slow things down and perform new moves.

Sean:  So we saw the Life Cycle in progress as George played, and he pointed out how Kratos now has the ability to use different weapons alongside his chains. Does Kratos now have more weapon options?

Aaron: One of the newest features is the world weapon system. This allows Kratos to effectively steal weapons from enemies and use them as sub-weapons. Before, he just always had the blades and alternate weapon. Now Kratos can use the blades and another sub-weapon alt at the same time. Kratos can also tether enemies and use them like a wrecking ball. He can grab an enemy, have them tethered, and have them drag him while he hits other enemies with his main weapon and sub weapon.

Sean: Has anything changed with the overall leveling and orb collecting scheme?

Aaron: It is very similar to past God of War games where you’ll discover new weapons as you proceed along. Ultimately, we want players to use the world weapon systems and steal weapons from other enemies as they try different strategies.

Sean: Can you do this with every enemy?

Aaron: Not all enemies, but most of them. And you’ll still gain orbs to upgrade health, weapons, and all that kind of stuff.

Sean: So God of War: Ascension is unique in the sense that it’s the first title in the series featuring multiplayer modes. What can we look forward to with multiplayer?

Aaron: Multiplayer is what we’re calling our “titan” of Ascension. The team likes to describe it that way because, in God of War, it’s always about the epic, bigger-than-life moments. Multiplayer is the new thing we wanted to add. The inception of multiplayer came from a bonus arena in God of War III when you could do a Kratos-on-Kratos battle. It was a challenge they wanted to put forward themselves, so it’s not just adding multiplayer to tack it on. There was a real purpose to it – it’s the time. We wanted to expand the universe of God of War to have a life after single player.

Essentially the gods -- Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades -- basically prompted a war against the Trojans and Spartans. The Trojans, Spartans, and other states of Greece are fighting for the favor of the gods, and to become the champions of Olympus. Essentially, you’re going to pledge your allegiance to one of the gods. It’s basically like a class system; the god you choose will unlock new weapons, armor, magic, and other perks you can unlock. The god you choose will define your fighting play style. And as you kill more enemies you’ll earn experience to build your warrior into a champion of the gods.

What’s really unique about this system, similar to an FPS like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you decide “do I want to be the medic? Do I want to be a sniper?” There’s a load out system where, even though you’ve unlocked a certain amount of weapons and armor, you can only go into battle with a certain amount. The combo you choose will determine how you fight in multiplayer.

We’re really excited about multiplayer. The mode we’re showing at PAX is called “favor of the gods. The point of this mode is a 4v4 team multiplayer battle, the core multiplayer mode of our game. It’s the Trojans vs. Spartans, and the first team to gets 5,000 points wins. You get points by killing enemies, unlocking chests, and holding capture points around the maps. It’s a hold-and-capture multiplayer mode.

We’ll also have bosses in multiplayer maps, like the titan Polythemus. If you get too close, he might slam his fists down on you, so you better watch out. When the first team gets to 4,000 points, the gods drop the spear of Olympus. The first team that gets the spear can use it to kill Polythemus and get 1,000 points, so it’s a game ender. But if the team under 4,000 points get it and kill Polythemus first, they can turn the tide, catch up, and possibly win the battle themselves. So that’s one of the unique elements of the multiplayer mode. We’re going to have others on other maps, and this isn’t the only mode we have in the game.

We think multiplayer will add a new post-launch life to this game, and we think it really adds to the feeling of God of War. Now you can experience it with your own warrior as you become a champion of the gods.

Sean: So speaking of the gods, who’s directly helping Kratos in the single player, and who’s he helping?

Aaron: He’s a little in-between right now. Generally, his main objective right now is to break his bond with Ares. This is the story before God of War I, before chains, and after he killed his wife and daughter. He’s going further down the rabbit hole where he’s this tortured man. What would you do if you were tricked into murdering your family? How would you gain revenge and push yourself to? We kind of like comparing it to Michael Douglas in Falling Down or Walter White in Breaking Bad. These are men being pushed to their limits to sacrifice something for the greater good, but ultimately find they have power in their hands. So what does a man do when he has all all the power? That’s essentially what Kratos is battling right now. Kratos is starting to realize he has all this power, but is also dealing with torment and torture he’s trying to rid himself of.

What we’re going to show in God of War: Ascension is the human side in Kratos; it’s a side of him people have seen before. You’re so used to seeing the rage, vengeance and anger in Kratos. In God of War: Ascension, it’s going to be about how he control his anger, deals with his nightmares, and breaks the bond with Ares.

Sean: So before we wrap things up, is there anything else fans need to know?

Aaron: We just want the fans to know that the team is not “weakening” the single player or multiplayer just because we’re adding multiplayer in. we want our fans to know this is the God of War III team. This is the team that made one of the best PS3 games of all time, and they’re going to make God of War: Ascension one of the best, and certainly better than God of War III. We firmly believe that we have our engine locked now. The team is really pushing on all cylinders to make the best looking God of War game to date. The single player team is larger than it ever was, and the multiplayer team is a different sector of our group, so we have this massive team pushing to make this game true AAA quality. We’re really excited about it. We know the fans are going to be excited. We really feel like the multiplayer is going to extend the life of the game, and make fans feel like “wow, I’m Kratos, and this is my custom warrior.”

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Before we wrapped up our interview, Kaufman filled me in on a few other new combat details, including Kratos’s ability to fight with his bare hands. Kaufman also mentioned how final kills will require less button-hitting methods and more challenges involved with examining a creature’s final moves. For instance, you’ll see a moment where you’ll have to dodge an enemy’s final attack while also performing an attack on it yourself.

God of War: Ascension is still scheduled for release on March 12, 2013.

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