"Shhhh," interjects the game's director and co-founder of developer Ready at Dawn, Ru Weerasuriya. "Don't talk about that project."
"It's supposed to be our secret," Barlog continues. "And My Little Pony. All secret."
With Barlog once again highlighting underappreciated licensed games, thus begins my impromptu chat with two of the leading men behind Ready at Dawn's upcoming God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PSP.
A prequel set ten years before SCE Santa Monica's original God of War, the PSP version looks virtually identical to its PS2 brethren and retains all the chaos and brutal on-screen action the series is known for. While Kratos swings his chains overhead and tears apart a number of Persian invaders, the Persian fleet and the defending army exchange mortars in the background. Later on in the demo, a large cyclops is about to crush Kratos with a pillar, but just then a giant fire-breathing basilisk unexpectedly crashes through the wall and devours the beast, forcing players to face off against an even larger and more formidable foe. Of course, this being God of War and all, it should come as no surprise that Kratos eventually jabs his blades through one of the basilisk's eyes.
In fact, the only noteworthy difference Olympus presents over the past console editions is that of control--instead of using the right analog stick to dodge, players now hold the L and R shoulder buttons in conjunction with directional input. Special attacks are a little different as well, now activated by combined presses of L with either Square or Triangle, but are still easily accessible.
To find out more about how all of this was accomplished, I caught up with Barlog and Weerasuriya to discuss how Chains of Olympus fits into the overall series, the power of the PSP hardware, and the challenges of moving a series from PS2 to PSP.
Cory Barlog: Chains of Olympus is basically the ten years that Kratos was in service to the gods. If you played God of War I, he's complaining about that all the time--"I was in service to you ten years, you've not taken these visions away." This is kinda fleshing that aspect out, giving a little bit more of the human side of Kratos and hopefully closing a little bit of a chapter in his life. It is a prequel, but it's not a prequel in the sense that I think a lot of other games treat prequels because it's really just another part of the story, and when all the games are finished, it's like one big story, you know, and it all connects. We're not gonna make some random thing that has nothing to do with the story.
Shack: There's obviously going to be a lot of tie-in with God of War and God of War II, but are there going to be some hints or maybe some hooks for a hypothetical God of War III?
Cory Barlog: There's definitely the enthusiasm of us wanting to do that, to make the God of War III, but there's obviously no commitment to that right now.
Shack: Is there anything that's being preplanned that may tie back into this game?Cory Barlog: Put it this way. If we ever do get to make God of War III, it'll have connections to all the games, just like this game has direct links to [God of War] II. So if you go and you play this game, if you remember in II or you go back and play II, you'll see situations that are directly explained because of the PSP [version] and [this game] helps flesh out [the mythology] even more. All these games have a connection to each other.
Ru Weerasuriya: As far as the game goes, one thing we've tried to do is really again tie into that experience. God of War as an experience is just a multitude of different things that are just done well and put together. What we're trying to do really with this is just do the exact same thing as God of War I and especially II has done, which is with this thing, with this experience that is so well balanced, of things that are happening to you when you're least expecting something to happen to you. It's always like, you know, a crescendo of gameplay happening throughout the whole game.
On the PSP, we're trying to really, really attach to that and do that properly in the combat sequences or bosses. You're gonna get the experience that you got in God of War in very different ways with new environments, new places that Kratos has never been, that no mortal has ever walked into. [We] really give you more of what you've already seen in the combat, in the weapons, in the magic, and also, like Cory said, a story that really will give you depth into how big God of War is as a franchise. People play the game and you know the stories that are there but there is so much behind all of this that is gonna deal with the mythology of God of War and what is hidden behind all these games. You're gonna find a lot more out.
Cory Barlog: What he said.
Turn the page for more on the PSP's remaining untapped power, control differences, sacrificial goats, and the Cory Barlog / David Jaffe tag team._PAGE_BREAK_
Shack: As shown by Daxter, Ready at Dawn has been one of prominent development houses in getting the most out of the PSP hardware. Now you're milking even more out of the hardware, which is just incredible. How much further do you think you can push the PSP hardware?
Ru Weerasuriya: I think we can still push it further. I can't quantify it, but it's just like those guys did with--I'll equate it to PS2. There's a point I remember when some guys were saying, "the PS2 is empty, we've taken everything, all the juice out of PS2" and God of War came out and it was like bam, really cool. Then you see God of War II, and you just were like, "oh my god"--that's the same thing. You have to push a machine as far as you can, and people often blame their consoles for being flawed or whatever for not being able to do [what they want], but I think underneath that's not the case. If you're a good developer, you will get what you want out of the machine.
The PSP has given us all this, I mean, we've pulled off everything up to now that we could, and I can honestly tell you there's more; there's more there. There are certain things that we've already found out that are not going to be in this game, because we thought "you know what, it'd be really cool if we do that, but [let's] maybe not explore that area because it will open up a whole new can of worms."
Cory Barlog: The other good thing is, when you're pushing the hardware like that, you got a lot of tricks in your bag. You're very familiar with it and it turns the development of the game [to be] a lot more focused on the actual creativity and really creating great things as opposed to fighting the hardware.
That's the golden time to develop, I love this late development cycle for the PS2 and I think they're in prime time for the PSP right now. Once you move onto a new piece of hardware it's like starting over, you're back in school again, you're in kindergarten, you don't have as many of the tricks and those make the difference in the game and getting the attention.
Ru Weerasuriya: I was thinking next, Commodore 64?
Cory Barlog: Yea, there you go, that's awesome. I don't know, that's a little--I think ColecoVision, because I really dig that freaking controller with everything on it. It's a lot of buttons, think of all the options with the buttons.
Shack: Cory, you were obviously rather busy with God of War II for a while. You're listed as creative director on God of War PSP, how involved have you been with the project? I mean, at a point, you were managing your team during God of War II, milking everything you possibly could of the PlayStation 2, and even sacrificing goats at PR events.
Cory Barlog: That was me too, the bald guy standing next to it.
[Original God of War director] Dave [Jaffe] was working at lot with Ready at Dawn at the beginning of the project because I was totally overwhelmed with God of War II. Once God of War II started to wind down, Dave's projects were picking up, so it's kinda like a tag, switch-off kinda thing.
Ru Weerasuriya: I saw that happen.
Cory Barlog: Yea, he's just [stretches arm] "eeeehhh." It's very much a wrestler [thing], he got off the top rope and jumped down.
It was a very natural transition, so I've been on it since probably around December or November, working with them and trying to figure out where we're gonna go with this little thing.
Shack: Well it looks great, it looks like the PS2 version running on a PSP. Daxter did that and it was incredible then, and to see God of War do it--how do you deal with the differences in the control between the PS2 and PSP?Ru Weerasuriya: It wasn't that big of a thing. I know that people wanted to find out how you're going to dodge and all that, but you have to find solutions. Again, it's not about the hardware sometimes, it's just about design. If you think about it, you can implement something that will work as well without an extra button. I think that's what we did, the dodge is on there, and going up after people have been playing it, they're like, "Oh yea, I can do it, I know how to do it," that was it. It wasn't a huge, huge problem.
Shack: The lack of a second analog stick just seems to throw so many developers off.
Cory Barlog: The second analog stick is usually the camera movement, which is so integral, and it throws people off because they're trying to figure out solutions and there are solutions, and maybe there are things that just don't work.
In this situation, it's an evade, and an evade can be mapped to so many different things and still work. In God of War I, we were looking at L1 and the left analog stick, we ended up going with the right analog stick because we just didn't use it for anything, and it really worked out good. But I still think there's a lot of options, you don't really need a second analog stick, because we don't give you camera control.
Ru Weerasuriya: People only get used to things that are already there. If they don't miss it--put it that way, that's the thing, if they had never seen it, they won't miss it. That's how you have to look at it. We're giving them a new experience, it's a new game, and we'll try to find a different solution.
Shack: I know you gentleman are very hungry, you've been working hard all day, so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the game. Good luck, and you've got a demo disc coming out sometime soon?
Ru Weerasuriya: I'm not sure. They don't give us dates.
Cory Barlog: Sometime this year.
Shack: And the game itself?
Ru Weerasuriya: Right now it's scheduled for 2007, quarter four.