God of War

Like most great games, God of War decides to be great at just one thing – namely, beating the snot out of your enemies. For variety, there’s a dash of platforming and logic puzzles, but overall it’s just one, long bloodbath from beginning to end. So, fortunately, that is the part of the game which shines. The “feel” of swinging Kratos’s blades is so good that it’s fun to do just by itself – which makes GoW one of the few games where I welcome the crates. More stuff to smash!

My interest in God of War comes from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which is my favorite game of this last console cycle. PoP:SoT had a simply incredible movement/jumping/swinging mechanic which, unfortunately, was interrupted by a clumsy combat system. The game still succeeded because they got the core feature so spot-on. When I heard that the sequel was going to focus on combat (and drop the wonderful storybook ambience), I lost all interest. Which begs the question: if Prince of Persia had God of War‘s great combat mechanics, would it be the action game to end all action games?

I’m not sure… I think we can often overestimate how much “stuff” the player can juggle (or, rather, enjoy to juggle) in his or her mind at one time. The idea of a PoP/GoW hybrid gives me a mental image of my brain exploding. And not in a good way.

God of War also has an insanely high level of polish – an intimidating level of polish, I would imagine, for its competition. Perhaps someday I’ll write an entry on whether this is a good or bad thing for the games industry in general. It’s certainly a long, long way from a game as fun and innovative and yet rough around the edges as this. Here’s hoping there’s room for both…

The other point to discuss is the game’s relation to film – God of War is certainly the most cinematic game I have ever played. It’s no surprise that the game gives you no control of the camera; I have a sense that the level designers always wanted control over where you were looking. David Jaffe, the game’s lead designer, or “Game Director” in official terms, has expressed some ambivalence over the connection with film. I have similar feelings.

The challenge for understanding games is not figuring out whether games are movies or whether they are cars. The trouble is that some games really ARE like movies and some games really ARE like cars. I have a hard time thinking of another art form where its members are so radically different. Which has more in common: Star Wars and Annie Hall; or God of War and Civ 4? I would say the former, however crazy it is to link those two films together. (well, I guess there WAS the scene in the planetarium… in reality, of course, they are similar because they are both ultimately about the characters. That’s what makes them both good movies.) So whenever people (like me!) pontificate that games are like this or game are like that – it’s important to remember that “games” are a super-category of their own. Like sound. Or matter.

Because games have so much variation, I’m not sure how universal some of the “rules” are that designers like to state. I think it would be an interesting exercise to line up designers from all the different genres and give them an identical list of general questions about game design and see what they come up with. I haven’t, for example, designed a game with a player avatar in a long time… and I bet there are a lot of designers who have never designed a tile-based game. I would love to know how the hard problems (how do you teach gameplay? how do you divy out rewards? how many difficulty levels? how do you address cheating? saving?) are solved in other genres that I have never touched.

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