Designing a Pantheon: An Interview with God of War Design Director Derek Daniels

Brendan FryeApr 30, 2018
Designing a Pantheon: An Interview with God of War Design Director Derek Daniels

Since its inception on the PlayStation 2, God of War has been a series that spoke to the potential of games to push the boundaries of storytelling. Now with God of War on the PlayStation 4, Sony Santa Monica has brought the series forward to a new generation of players. Much like gaming itself, Kratos has grown up and pushed past his blockbuster-style roots into something much more exciting.

Sitting at a preview event for the game, I managed to sit down and talk to Derek Daniels, design director on the latest God of War. Working on many of the previous titles, it was exciting to talk about how the series has evolved with the designers behind it.

Derek Daniels is no stranger to game design, having worked on a slew of titles. He has also worked on many past God of War titles, most notably God of War III, so he brings a wealth of knowledge to the table going the latest entry. Bringing with him considerable experience in design and a love of the franchise, he gives us a good idea at the process of jumping in on this instalment, how Kratos has changed for this game, and what fans should expect when they pick up the controller this time around.


CGMagazine: You’ve been working on God of War for four-and-a-half years, how did you get involved with this project?

Derek Daniels: I worked on part one and I worked on part two and after that I quit Sony Santa Monica, explored the world, and worked for some other companies. I was in my neighbourhood one day and I saw this very disheveled homeless looking man pushing a baby carriage. I looked over and I was like “Corey, what are you doing back in America?” And he had just finished wrapping up working with George Miller on Mad Max. And he was like, “Hey I’m going to be working on God of War,” and I was like, “That’s cool, I do not want to do that, you go have fun”. I’ve already climbed that mountain. So we went our separate ways and then I ran to him again like a month after that. And he was like, “Hey, I have this idea of expanding Kratos, making him a father and trying to humanize him”. And I thought that was kind interesting, and as we were walking he asked me if I was working on God of War what would I change about it. And I said that we’ve got to get out of Greece, we’ve got to do something else, I want to give him a different weapon. He was like, “Everything that you just said is actually what I want to do,” and so I was in.

Designing a Pantheon: An Interview with God of War Design Director Derek Daniels 2
God of War (PS4) – gameplay image provided by SIEA.

As we started the project I used to joke around that my kid is better at being a kid than I am at being a parent. So that was something that we really wanted to bring into this project. The phrase “Do as I say not as I do” you can see echoed throughout the game. For us, these games are long and hard to make. So you have to bring something personal to it. Kratos is very much this stranger in a strange land. My kid is half Chinese and Corey’s kid is half Swedish and neither of us speaks those languages. So there are moments where you kind of just stand there and the kids say things that you don’t understand and we tried to get that across. Atreus is from this land and he speaks the languages and Kratos has to just stand there.

CGMagazine: This new God of War had a unique look. Why the choice to go with a closer, over the shoulder camera and a more melee and close combat focused as opposed to the other games in the series? 

Derek Daniels: Initially, we made six games in that kind of camera and when we started the impetus was that we wanted players to only focus on controlling Kratos. They don’t need to be the camera person and controlling the movement at the time. But it’s been 12-15 years and people have evolved as gamers where they can do more at the same time and the old camera techniques were part of what made the other games feel old now. From a story standpoint the game is a continuation of God of War III but from a gameplay standpoint, we rebooted as many things as possible. So with the camera, you were able to bring it up close. You can throw the axe into one guy call Atreus to hit a second and then run over and punch the guy. So he’s still able to juggle everything it’s just a little bit different.

CGMagazine: Moving more to the visual aesthetics, past games were very dark and very grey. With this instalment, there’s been a shift into a blue-er colour palette. Did that come with the natural choice of location or was that a conscious choice trying to have a brighter, more vibrant game?

Designing a Pantheon: An Interview with God of War Design Director Derek Daniels 1
God of War (PS4) – gameplay image provided by SIEA.

Derek Daniels: I’m not sure which came first but as we moved into Norse we wanted it to look different. And with that there is the kind of blues and the snow, but the other thing too is that when we started part one we definitely wanted to make an action-adventure game. In our heads that meant 50 per cent action and 50 per cent adventure. But as the franchise went along it became an action game with 80 per cent action and 20 per cent adventure.

With this one, we wanted to bring the adventure back and one of the things that we really liked were 1980’s fantasy movies like Labyrinth because they had a unique look to them. One of the things that we noticed was that these films all happened before digital, and before colour correction and so they all are very bright. That was something that we wanted to get into this game artistically, making sure it didn’t feel like every other colour corrected fantasy project.

You can read the full interview with Derek Daniels in the April 2018 issue of CGMagazine. Order your copy today.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!

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