I am the God of War: An Analysis of Game Feel and God of War I and II

How can someone become a god? What does it feel like to wield the power of a god? These are likely issues that the developers of God of War I and II had to consider. The purpose of this article is to analyze God of War I and II through the conceptual framework of “Game Feel” presented by Swink (2007) and to evaluate if this framework is sufficient for understanding the success of these games. In addition, a modification to the framework is suggested to create a more encompassing model of successful game design.

First, it is necessary to learn a little bit about the games. The God of War series follows the story of Kratos, a Spartan warrior, and his interactions with the gods of Olympus. The games incorporate a lot of greek mythology, requiring Kratos to fight mythical creatures like hydras, medusas, and so on. In the first game, Kratos pleads to the gods when his army is on the brink of destruction. Ares, the god of war,  saves Kratos and provides him with his weapons and strength, but in the process turns Kratos into an insatiable war machine. (Spoiler alert!) When Ares tricks Kratos into killing his own wife and child, Kratos vows vengeance and with the help of other gods murders Ares and takes his place as the god of war. Both God of War I and God of War II were originally released on the Playstation 2, recently receiving a graphical upgrade to be rereleased together on the Playstation 3 as the God of War Collection, with the first releasing originally and 2005 and the latter launching in 2008.

For anyone not familiar with the series, the God of War games were developed by Sony Santa Monica. According to Metacritic, a website which consolidates game reviews, God of War I earned a score of 94 out of 100 based on seventy-four reviews, while God of War II received a score of 93 out of 100 based on seventy reviews. God of War I also won over a dozen ‘Game of the Year” awards (“Sony Computer Entertainment America to Unleash Kratos in Limited-Edition God of War I® PSP® Entertainment Pack,” 2008). Similarly, God of War II also received critical acclaim, even being ranks as the number two PS2 game of all time by gaming website IGN(“The Top 25 PS2 Games of All Time – PS2 Feature at IGN,” n.d.). In addition, both games have had commercial success as well, with God of War I selling four million copies worldwide (“God of War for PS2 on VGChartz.com,” n.d.) and God of War II selling 3.36 million worldwide (“God of War II for PS2 on VGChartz.com,” n.d.). So critically and commercially, both games were very successful and even led to a third in the series which released in 2010.

Part of the success of these games has been no doubt due to good game design. From the success of these games, one could presume that these games probably have good game feel. But how can we kn

ow for sure? According to Swink (2007) there are six ways in which to separate and consider game feel: input, response, context, polish, metaphor, and rules. The following will use each of these approaches to consider the design of God of War I and II.

Input

Input incorporates how the player sends commands to the game in order for the character, in this case Kratos, to perform various actions. As stated previously, both games were released for Playstation 2 and so use the controller for that system exclusively (or a PS3 controller for the updated God of War I Collection). The controls are relatively simple, with melee attacks: triangle for strong, square for normal; grab attack, which is circle; the x to jump; L1 to block; L2 to use magic; R1 and R2 for interaction; and the directional pad for selecting magic. Movement is controlled with the two analog sticks; the left controlling movement and the right used to evade. Although the controls are not necessarily intuitive as Swink (2007) recommends, they are easy to get used to.

In some instances, the controls mimic natural actions. For instance, when you want Kratos to grab on to something, you push R1. Pushing this mimics grasping an object in your right hand. The game also makes use of combos by pushing buttons at the same time or in a certain order. This may add to the feel of having to work somewhat harder in order to inflict more damage on your enemies.

Response

Response refers to how the game interprets the input received from the player. Part of this includes the sensitivity of the input and how it relates to actions such as movement (Swink, 2007). Both God of War games make differing uses of input sensitivity. For example, the left analog stick is highly sensitive and the movement of Kratos is in sync with the movements of the stick. However, for the right analog stick which controls evade causes Kratos to lunge or bound several yards with the slightest flick of the stick. Attacks also seemed designed to increase feel with strong attacks appearing to do more damage than normal attacks and combo attacks creating even more damage. This is portrayed through visuals, with how impacts are visualized and the intensity of movement.

Another interesting design element is how the game use some interactions with objects. For instance to open a crate which might contain life orbs or some other useful object, the player must hold the interaction button down as Kratos strains to lift the lid. A similar instance occurs when Kratos must open a gate. The player initially hits the interact button and then must hit a second button repeatedly, in a way simulating gathering strength in order to lift the heavy gate. In an interesting move this action is actually mapped differently between the two games. In God of War I, he player simply R2 repeatedly; but in God of War II, the player must push R1 to grab the gate and then repeatedly hit circle. It would be interesting to find out if the developers thought this was a more ‘natural mapping’ (Norman, 2002) or created a better feeling for players. So the games appear to attempt to make objects in the game feel like they have weight.

Context

According to Swink (2007), the context of the game includes what the player can interact with. Some examples in this case would be the aforementioned crate or heavy gate. Other objects that Kratos can manipulate are weapons, picking up enemies, and destroying environmental objects. All three of these lend to the feel of power and aggression that is seen in Kratos. Swink (2007) also uses context to discuss the environment and how things are spatially related. Both God of War games incorporate some platforming; climbing walls and jumping from ledge to ledge. One area of criticism about the game can be the physical boundaries or invisible walls that the player can come into contact with. For instance, some ledges are designed to be able to jump off of while others are impossible to jump off due to an invisible barrier. This could be considered an impediment to the game’s feel.

Polish

The way that motion or interaction provides insight into the physical properties of objects within the game incorporates polish (Swink, 2007). Again, the examples of the crate lid and heavy gate apply here. Another instance of how physical properties are portrayed is through enemies. In both games, there are large quantities of enemies that Kratos must defeat. Through the momentary second or two of straining when Kratos rips one in half or when Kratos slices into an enemy and releases sprays of blood, the feel and physical properties of the enemies are being conveyed to the player. The game utilizes a lot of detailed movements or graphics in order to portray the physical attributes of objects.

Metaphor

In some fields, metaphor could be considered what makes up a person’s schema or mental models. Swink (2007) describes the metaphor by stating “people have these build in, preconceived constructs, mental models about the way certain things move and, by extension, how it should feel to control them (pg. 4).” An example in the God of War series is whether or not Kratos feels like a god. Does the player feel like they have the strength to overcome and defeat a god? The game goes to considerable effort to make Kratos feel powerful, while making the game challenging. This is done through large numbers of enemies, puzzles, and boss fights that have huge scale.

Rules

The movement of the game, according to Swink (2007), is what established a game beyond just the moment to moment actions. In the God of War series, this can be considered trying to obtain objects that allow you to open doors or defeating bosses and enemies that are trying to prevent you from going somewhere. In the first God of War, the overarching goal was to defeat Ares, but to do this you had to find and open Pandora’s box; but that cannot be done without getting through the temple which houses the box, and so on. To some extent these are story elements, but in other cases they are arbitrary goals that allow for progression up to the main goals of the game.

Beyond Feel

Through reviewing each of the six components of game feel presented by Swink (2007), it is evident that there are many examples of design elements that fall in line with each aspect of game feel. However, there are also some design elements in the God of War series that may no fall in line with the theory of game feel. One instance of this is cueing. For instance, when Kratos enters some new places, the camera moves away from Kratos and shows the path or objects that need to be manipulated before returning to its original position. While this feature is good for the player by indicating where the player should go, it is also rather unnatural. In real life, we might have signs to point the way somewhere or have to explore to find the way. In a game a sign might take away from the atmosphere and exploring could be frustrating. While cueing may be convenient and make a playthrough run more smoothly, it does not appear to fit within Swink’s (2007) framework.

Another design element utilized in the God of War series is what are known as quick time events. These events are instances where the game tells the player a button to press and when the player does so, the game portrays a certain event which the player has no direct control over. Sometimes, these events may require hitting a series of buttons shown on the screen, with any error resulting in a failure of the whole sequence. The God of War games use these quick time events rather frequently especially for boss fights or finishing moves. Completing a sequence correctly causes Kratos to accomplish feats that the player does not have the ability to do when directly controlling the game. So how does this fit with game feel? Pressing the indicated button in time does not seem to naturally relate to the impressive and often jaw-dropping scenes depicted on the screen. In a sense, it is really just a test of reaction time, yet Kratos completes moves that are often incredibly powerful, agile, and complex. This does not seem to fit within any of Swink’s (2007) six categories.

While Swink’s (2007) theory of game feel seems to explain a lot of the design element s of the God of War series, there are elements that do not seem to fit. Therefore, it becomes necessary look at what might be missing that would explain these issues. One possibility is that of player intention or motivation. Perhaps, the player is willing to suspend or offset elements that seem to violate game feel when there is motivation to do so. Take the cueing example, players are willing to accept the cues because they know it means they will not have to waste time figuring out where to go. A similar point can be made regarding quick time events. Although pressing a random button as it appears on the screen does not enhance the feel of the game, the player maybe willing to accept this design element due to the rewarding event that it causes. Since the quick time events are often visually appealing and sometime benefit the player, the fact that the game mechanic is just a reaction time test does not matter.

Conclusion

The commercial and critical success of the God of War series is a testament to the successful game design elements that they utilize. Using ‘game feel’ (Swink, 2007) as a framework, these elements were explored. While the framework proved useful in analyzing many of the elements which likely made the series a success, there were elements that could not be explained. The use of cueing as well as quick time events do not seem to align with the game feel framework, and due to the extensive use of both techniques in the God of War series, need to be addressed. Therefore, a modification or addendum to the game feel framework is suggested in which player motivation is considered. It is proposed that players are willing to complete tasks or accept elements that are discordant with ‘feel’ when there is sufficient reward. Cueing provides easier navigation, while quick time events allow the player’s avatar (Kratos) to complete complex moves that the player could not do using the same controls as the rest of the game.

References

God of War I for PS2 on VGChartz.com. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 7, 2010, from http://www.vgchartz.com/games/game.php?id=869&region=All

God of War I II for PS2 on VGChartz.com. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 7, 2010, from http://www.vgchartz.com/games/game.php?id=6078&region=All

Norman, D. A. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books.

Sony Computer Entertainment America to Unleash Kratos in Limited-Edition God of War I® PSP® Entertainment Pack. (2008). . Retrieved April 7, 2010, from http://us.playstation.com/corporate/about/press-release/454.html

Swink, S. (2007). Game Feel: The Secret Ingredient. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2322/game_feel_the_secret_ingredient.php

The Top 25 PS2 Games of All Time – PS2 Feature at IGN. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 7, 2010, from http://ps2.ign.com/articles/772/772296p5.html

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About Jonathan Frye

Ph.D. student at NYU. Game researcher. Game Design/Usability/Theory nerd. Research focus on psychology of players. RA for Games for Learning Institute. View all posts by Jonathan Frye

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