God of War: Chains of Olympus blew everyone away back in 2008 with its stunning recreation of the home console franchise on the smaller screen.
Containing epic gameplay and jaw-dropping cinematic sections, it earned a mighty Pocket Gamer Platinum Award on release. Our own Tracy Erickson decreed it ‘the best game yet on Sony's portable and, indeed, one of the best handheld games ever’.
With the sequel, God of War: Ghost of Sparta, just a week away from release, we sat down with Ready At Dawn’s co-founder and creative director on the game, Ru Weerasuriya, to talk about the major changes, how the team put the game together, and whether or not the PSP has been pushed to the very limits with Kratos’s latest outing.
Pocket Gamer: What are the main features that have changed since the previous game?
Ru: We've revamped pretty much every single system in the game. The engine side, the gameplay side, the mechanics, the models – we've basically revamped everything.
We've added mechanics from the home console games, and added new mechanics you can't find in any of the games including the home console ones.
What kind of new mechanics do you mean?
For example – we've added some underwater grappling. On combat – the Hyperion Charge, which is almost like a wrestling move.
You can grab your enemies and use them the way you want to - hit other enemies or throw them at other enemies. Some really, really cool stuff
In 2008 game director Dana Jan said that Ghost of Sparta will 'push the PSP to its absolute capacity' – have you achieved this?
Yes. I don't think we can do much more with the PSP after this.
What kind of tricks and techniques are you using to 'max out' the platform?
There are really no tricks, just the hardware is built in such a way in that it doesn't offer that much freedom. There's just a single bus to pass everything through – it makes it very difficult. So it's a case of maximising the way you use it, maximising where you want to store stuff in memory.
It's just hard work. Day after day trying to figure out how to get a little bit more out of the PSP until it’s at breaking point, where if we try and do anything more, people are going to be mad at us for having dead PSPs on their hands!
What aspect of the game are you most pleased about?
I think, for me, it's that this is the most complete God of War experience. Everything is integrated so well – whether it's puzzles or combat - the pacing of it allows you flow through so easily.
How do you go about balancing the puzzles with the combat?
You have to figure out a way of getting into the player's head and not fatigue them during the game. Even if you have a great mechanic, if you use it too often players are just going to say 'enough – I want to do something different'.
What we do is build a chart for the whole of the game. This chart gives us a flow of when the big moment of the game happen – puzzles combat and all that.
Sometimes there might be two spikes at the same point – like a combat puzzle – but you have to make sure there are 'beats' in the whole thing. When something goes down, another thing comes up. When there's a story moment, you don’t want to add some crazy combat in the middle because people are not going to remember.
It's like a movie – you make a good game script to keep the player entertained.
How have you gone about ensuring replayability in this new title?
Definitely a lot more has been done than in the past. There are unlockables in there, collectables to find. There’s a different mode of gameplay after you finish the game; a second weapon that really gives you the ability to play the game a different way the second time.
There’s a lot of replayability that we’ve added to the game that hopefully people will use.
Is God of War a game that could only be made on PSP?
No. I had a screen this big [points to 40-inch HD TV] running the game when we were developing it and it felt totally natural to play it on that.
It’s never been a target of ours to say ‘Oh well it’s a PSP so we’ve got to make things differently.’ Instead the goal has always been make a great God of War game
Make a home console game and then pack it into the smaller device?
Yes, and I think that’s the right way you should approach any platform. Making excuses for what a platform can’t do is a really bad idea. If you want to make excuses, go do something else.
If you want to develop a game, make a great game. Don’t make excuses, just make something people will want to play. If it happens to be a Flash game, so be it, it doesn’t matter – as long as you did a good job.
Will this be the last we see of Kratos on the PSP?
We haven’t really talked about anything beyond this, I just don’t know where it will go from here. But there’s definitely more in the IP.
Thanks to Ru for his time. God of War: Ghost of Sparta will be out in the US on November 2nd, and in the UK on November 5th.