You might have guessed by now that we liked God Of War. A lot. For want of better superlatives, it's simply a great game. A classic game that's near enough the best PS2 action adventure of all time, and is therefore something you should buy as our review goes to some length to point out.
God Of War is not, in the words of game director David Jaffe, "just another hackandslash", and nor is it exactly original. But if you're going to pay homage to the likes of Onimusha, Tomb Raider, and Another World then the only way to answer your critics is to be better than all of them. The nodding realisation after 15 hours with God Of War is that the reason it's so bloody good is that it excels in every area you can think of. Whether it's combat, puzzling, storyline, control system, camera system visuals, or audio, Sony Santa Monica's three-year labour of love is a masterpiece of PS2 game development.
And just prior to its European launch we were fortunate enough to meet three of the key members of the God Of War team; David Jaffe, (game director/ lead designer), Brit-in-exile Tim Moss (lead programmer), and Shannon Studstill (producer).
Eurogamer: Whose original concept was God Of War?
David Jaffe: It was mine. Actually it was Capcom's because I played Onimusha and said 'let's do that with Greek Mythology' [laughs].
Eurogamer: What inspired you to use Greek Mythology as the basis for the game? Do you have a passion for that?
David Jaffe: I do, I loved it in school, I loved Clash of the Titans and all the [Ray] Harryhausen stuff. The real high concept for me was taking Clash of the Titans and merging it with Heavy Metal magazine. What I liked was the kids stuff you get with Greek Mythology; monsters and giant set pieces and the fantasy. But then I liked the idea of taking that and sort of merging it with the sex and the violence and more of the adult stuff.
I haven't really seen that vibe, not only in games, but it used to be such a prevalent theme in books in the '70s and '80s and in movies and things like that. But lately - at least in America - things have become so politically correct that I was really jazzed about doing that was more a throwback to that more animalistic, kind of brutal Conan The Barbarian kind of vibe.
Eurogamer: What was your role on the game? What does a game director do in real terms?
David Jaffe: It's kind of my overall responsibility to sort out the player's experience; the creative vision, working with the team to take my initial vision and work with them to add to it and improve it. All of the creative content was really my responsibility, and then these guys facilitated that and actually made that come to life. The way I define it is I decide what the ball is, Shannon keeps the ball rolling and Tim makes sure that players actually experience the ball.
Eurogamer: What did you do before God Of War?
David Jaffe: I worked on a the Twisted Metal series [arena-based vehicle combat] , which I realise is more of an American thing.
Eurogamer: Nothing like this, basically.
David Jaffe: No nothing like this. Tim worked on Kinetica, and Shannon did too.
Eurogamer: Did you really expect the huge amount of critical acclaim that God Of War has had?
David Jaffe: You know what, it depended on the day. I'd go over to Shannon's office sometimes, and I'd be like 'dude we f***ing rock, we're so awesome!', and then within three hours I'd be like, 'we're so f***ed, this game sucks, we need more time', and so, you know, you oscillate back and forth based on what you've seen on Tim's monitor or something like that!
Shannon Studstill: Depends where you're talking from. It took a while. It didn't happen in the first year...
David Jaffe: You see, I always knew what the game was. Part of it, that's good for me as a director, it's part of my job - but it was also a bad thing in that I don't think I probably communicated as well as I could have done with other people. So for the first year and a half Shannon was like 'dude, the team don't know what the game is, we don't have a game', and I was like, 'dude, I have it, I'm just too busy working on it to communicate it!' There were moments when I really felt we had something really cool, but those were followed by moments of sheer 'I'm going to get fired, this is going to totally f*** up!'
Tim Moss: By the time we got to the end we were pretty sure it was going to be a good game. We were still having fun playing it while we were finishing it, and that's a very good sign.
Eurogamer: The critical acclaim is beyond doubt, but how has the public responded? How has it sold in the US?
David Jaffe: So far from what I can reveal - which aren't specifics - are that it has sold really well but it hasn't been Gran Turismo. But what's cool about it is, so far, it hasn't had the drop that a lot of other games do.
We're still selling really good units every week, so it seems that the kind of word of mouth is really working for us. We're getting the demo out there, and people playing it are telling their friends and stuff, so I think we're going to be selling for a long long time. Ultimately when we cross the finish line we'll actually have a really really good selling game, but it's not like Gran Turismo, which I think did half a million units in the first week.
Eurogamer: You'd expect that though...
David Jaffe: would, but you know, there's the ego side of me that's like, 'damn! I want that!' We didn't get that.
Eurogamer: Do you think God Of War will do well in Europe?
David Jaffe: You know what? Tim would be the better person to answer that, I'd be curious to hear his answer. I think we have a good shot in Europe.
The biggest inspirations for this game were Flashback and - as you guys called it - Another World, but I've always felt that the European audience tend to warm up more to the puzzles and the integrated storytelling and the action and more of the whole experience, so I'm hoping that - not just the press - but Sony marketing and all that can really communicate to the European audience that this is not just a hackandslash game, but that it really has a lot in common with some of those games I just referenced. I feel we can really - if we can communicate that message - we'll do okay.
Tim Moss: I only have anecdotal evidence. A copy went to my brother, who's normally an enormous cynic when it comes to videogames and he really liked it and played it and rang me up after spending the entire night playing it, so if he likes it, I'm kinda confident it'll go down reasonably well!
David Jaffe: It's tough to know how we're going to do there too, because you guys rate harder. Like, we're getting 10s and 9.5s, and then I saw Edge magazine's review and they gave us 8, and I was like 'oh f*** man, we got an 8', and someone said, 'no, no, an 8 is really good for the UK, 8 is good for Edge', so I was like 'okay, I'll take that'. I dunno, we'll see. I'm very excited to see how we do.
Eurogamer: You do realise you've got to make God Of War games for the next five years...?
David Jaffe: Errrr, that's these guys (points at Tim and Shannon). I'm just kind of hanging out on the sidelines and cheering. I've moved on, so...
Eurogamer: Are you working on something new already?
David Jaffe: Actually I'm in a really fun process. I'm working with a new developer just coming up with 30 ideas, and we'll see which one sticks to the wall. In the meanwhile I'm working on God Of War's, you know, possible future instalments, but not on the level I was involved on this.
Eurogamer: Presumably, whatever your next project will be will move onto next generation technology?
David Jaffe: I...you know what's funny? No. I saw PS3 along with everybody else and I was just telling these guys I was so thrilled. But I want to play games on PS3: I don't want to make games on PS3. I'm dying to work on PSP. I love the PSP, so that's really what I'm designing for right now.
Eurogamer: A similar sort of combat-heavy game?
David Jaffe: No, no, we don't know what the game is yet, so honestly it's more just trying to figure out what the team's passion is, what we generally fall in love with for a couple of years. Some of it's combat driven now, some of it's totally different. Like I said, there's like 20 ideas and we're just trying to pick one which one we think is going to be fun to do, so I don't even know at this point.
Eurogamer: How did you manage - straight off the bat - to get such incredible technology?
Tim Moss: It was actually based on the Kinetica engine, the engine was written from scratch at the Santa Monica studio for the PS2, and we finished Kinetica in about 2001, and then we took a look at our technology and we knew which kind of game we were going to make, and we decided what we were going to change about our engine and how we could make that work for a third person game, and had good animation support and good effects.
Eurogamer: Is this as good as you can get on a PS2?
Tim Moss: You can always be better, but we're very happy with it. It's pretty much as good as we ever wanted to do on a PS2, and it allowed us to make the game we always wanted, which is really the main objective of making any engine. The engine is only as good as the game you make with it.
Eurogamer: It's an incredible looking game, and one of the lucky few to take advantage of Progressive Scan on the PS2
Tim Moss: Unfortunately Progressive Scan is not on the European version. There are some technical reasons, in that it requires a larger screen buffer - which you can't really do on the PS2 very successfully, so unfortunately we took it out.
Eurogamer: Thank you.
God Of War is out now. We awarded it 9/10.