Friday, 15 October 2010 12:05

God of War: Ghosts of Sparta literally fills the PlayStation Portable

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INTERVIEW: iTWire sat down with Ready at Dawn's Art Director, Nathan  Phail-Liff  to discuss just how much has been crammed into the soon-to-be-released God of War: Ghosts of Sparta for the PSP

Phail-Liff describes himself as the bridge between the artists and programmers at independent game developer Ready at Dawn; 'So nobody gets hurt' he jokes.

Having landed at Ready at Dawn some seven years ago, working as a Texture artist on the companies first major project, Daxter, Phail-Liff has since turned his artistic eye to high profile projects such as God of War: Chains of Olympus for the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) and the upcoming follow-up God of War: Ghosts of Sparta.

In that time Phail-Liff has seen his team grow, almost reluctantly, at Ready at Dawn;  ' We try to keep team sizes reasonable, because we like the small company atmosphere and culture, so we are at about 40 employees right now.'

Compare this to the 150 at Sony Santa Monica who worked on God of War 3 for the PlayStation 3.

Back to the PSP however, what can fans or new comers to pint-sized Kratos on the hand-held expect from the new Ghosts of Sparta release?

'The story is set between God of War 1 and God of War 2, so it deals with Kratos coming to terms with his darker past, and he is trying to claim the throne as the God of War.  So we will touch more on Kratos's back story, and a lot of things about his character will really be explained,' says Phail-Liff

'So for fans of the series, we will really get an insight into Kratos as a character, as well as there are a number of story tie-ins between the main trilogy of God of War.  Even in God of War 3, once you play Ghosts of Sparta you will see a lot of moments in God of War 3 that Ghosts of Sparta references.  It is kind of cool to see that back and forth tie-in.  We worked closely with Sony Santa Monica to make sure we get that in there.'

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Is it becoming increasingly difficult, from a writing perspective, to find a theatre to stage these stories in?  

'Yes it definitely is, but in terms of Ghosts of Sparta, there was definitely an untapped portion of Kratos's story that actually from the very beginning of the God of War games was always waiting to be told.' explains Phail-Liff  'So this was a story that was planned out from God of War 1, so it certainly does have a substantial story-line in terms of the trilogy, much more so than our previous game Chains of Olympus.'

Obviously story-line is very important in the God of War series.  But from a game-play perspective, will we see typical God of War action here?

'What all the God of War games are good at doing is not breaking a formula that works and has millions and millions of fans,' says Phail-Liff 'but we have been adding revisions to it to keep certain ideas fresh.  We definitely have the same approach with Ghosts of Sparta, so you will certainly see the things you expect from a God of War game, but you will also see some new stuff; some cool emotional storytelling, some close camera work and some big one off moments, oh and some new combat mechanics like one we refer to as the Mount system where Kratos can tackle an enemy and take them to the ground.  It is a little different from the typical quick-time-events in God of War, in this system players have a decision to pummel an enemy with light or heavy attacks, and try to whittle the health down, or pick up the enemy and throw them as a projectile, we have found this to be fun and satisfying, it was a cool addition to the game-play.'

In terms of new weapons in the game, the team has been generous; 'The ones we have shown so far, if you have played the demo, the Eyes of Atlantis which is a relic that unleashes this lightning attack, kind of the fury of Poseidon, what you don't see in the demo is that at higher levels you can upgrade this weapon to unlock chain-lightning ability.  When you shoot an enemy with the lightning, it will arc between nearby enemies.  That is definitely a cool magic.'

'And then there is the Spirit Shield the Arms of Sparta, this is really cool, there have already been five games in the God of War franchise, but surprisingly this will be the first time that Kratos gets to use the traditional Spartan weapons.  They really break up the game-play of the blades giving you a range of offensive and defensive moves including projectile attacks where he can throw the spear.  Another weapon we have teased a bit is Thera's Bane, which Kratos can infuse his blade, seared with lava fire, so players can use that to deal more damage, setting enemies on fire as well as breaking through barriers that are otherwise impervious to the blades.'

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How does the team manage to cram these new game-play options as well as art assets into the portable form-factor of a PSP?

Phail-Liff is balanced when discussing the challenges of working on a mobile platform; 'Pretty much any platform it is the same thing, you know the limitations and you do everything you absolutely can to push it to the limit, in that effect the PSP is no different.'

'The challenge with the PSP is that alongside the PSP you have the big console God of War games, and fans are going to measure up our game against those.  I think the most daunting challenge was making sure Ghosts of Sparta stands up to the depth and quality of the main God of War trilogy, we definitely achieved this, and it is something we are really proud of'

There were a lot of lessons learnt from Chains of Olympus; 'Certainly when we were starting on our second God of War game the first thing we did was sit down and gather our own feedback, feedback from fans and critics,' explains Phail-Liff 'The common themes were people wanted a longer game, bigger bosses and more of them, they wanted a more involved story line that tied into the big console God of War, and they wanted more diverse game-play in terms of environmental navigation such as grappling and climbing up things, and puzzles to break up all the combat.'

'We knew if we wanted to make another God of War game, we wanted to push on all these fronts, you will see dramatic improvements in all those areas.'

Phail-Liff points out just how much has gone into this release; 'We have literally filled this game to capacity, by the end of the game we were 300KB short of filling the UMD [Sony's disc format for the PSP] , so you could send a bigger email attachment than we had room left.'
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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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