God of War is hitting PC on Jan. 14, allowing for players to re-experience IGN’s Game of the Year 2018, while a potentially brand new audience will also be able to jump into Sony Santa Monica’s evolution of the long-running series ahead of God of War Ragnarok’s planned 2022 release.
While it’s the same game feature-wise as what players enjoyed on the PS4 and PS4 Pro (or even backward compatible on the PS5) – there’s no additional DLC campaign being introduced or anything like that – it’s a chance for Santa Monica to take advantage of the increased power of PC’s to allow for better graphical fidelity and variety. And, just as importantly, it allows the developers to expand upon the ways players can actually interact with God of War. Keyboard and mouse controls are a given, more customization options for those inputs, and more tweaks allow God of War to, hopefully, be a more accessible experience on PC.
To find out more about the process of expanding on God of War’s playability on PC, IGN spoke with God of War 2018’s director Cory Barlog and Santa Monica Studio lead UX designer Mila Pavlin.
Adapting a PS4 Exclusive to PC
As Santa Monica’s first time focusing on a PC release, that means adding something as expected as mouse and keyboard support can have big ramifications for the team.
“One of our primary things, when we were looking at PC, is creating an experience that is accessible to the broadest audience possible,” Pavlin said. “And so when we look at things like adding keyboard and mouse support, which is just absolutely a brand new thing for our studio, this allowed us to go back and look at our pipelines, look at how we are actually creating control inputs and making sure that we have those fundamentals in place so that we can create an experience that not only is customizable, but also feels native to the platform.”
In terms of making a game originally designed exclusively for consoles feel native to PC, Pavlin and Barlog noted how the process fundamentally challenged the studio’s approach for the better.
“When we create any game, whether it's for the PS2 or PS3, or PS4, or PS5, we are engineering, designing and conceptualizing everything for a very specific setup for lots of different players, but they have a very fixed setup, which is great, because it makes it easier for us to really tailor everything,” Barlog said.
“And now going into a PC realm, you have a much broader spectrum of possibilities and configurations and opportunities…There are more potential options that people have on the PC side, so we want to give them as much as we can that's realistic and feasible, while at the same time maintaining the feel that we were aiming for when we first conceptualized the game.”
Some of these options include additions like an auto-sprint and an always on-screen reticule, which speak to two different facets of Santa Monica’s approach to both allowing more players to enjoy God of War and to speak directly to how PC players might typically enjoy games, as Pavlin noted.
“Adding in auto-sprint, it's a small feature, but it's a very important feature for people that maybe are using controllers, don't like to press L3 as much and so it reduces that fatigue. When you're looking at people who have some motor fatigue around pressing L3, that really helps them,” Pavlin explained.
“Natively adding in some of the FPS features [was also important], like the always-on reticle for those players that are used to playing high-action, first-person shooters, and want to throw the axe just as they would hip firing something in their first-person shooter, they can now see the reticle on-screen with that option as they're running around, making it a lot more responsive.”
Pavlin explained how additions like these actually had major ramifications to Santa Monica’s pipeline and consideration for options in future development.
“We definitely wanted to make sure that we were building the groundwork for that kind of controller customization and keyboard customization for the future because making sure that you have the underlying base layer in the code is probably the most important thing,” Pavlin said, explaining that the God of War PC port really focused the studio on the idea of building features and frameworks that allow for more options down the line.
Reaching a Wider Audience
“And these lessons start to build into our pipeline of how people are developing the individual features. Obviously with a game that's already been created, you're not going to go back and reconstruct every single thing in the entire game to do that, but you do have this opportunity to start to lay the groundwork for that.”
“I don't think we would've been able to do something like this when we did the first God of War game, because we did hard code so many buttons and we did everything so custom that it took many iterations of God of War for us to start moving away from the hard coding of the buttons,” Barlog explained. “We've begun a further journey of being able to have more of these options available.”
And having options available, and something the studio can facilitate at a core level, is something that Pavlin described as a major studio-wide push to prioritize and expand on accessibility features in Santa Monica’s games. That’s a push that comes both internally from members of the team, as well as Santa Monica’s connection with its fans.
“We have a lot of community connection with folks, especially those who have motor function accessibility needs. And when we talk to them, one of the biggest things that they want is more flexibility when it comes to the input device that they're using to play the game,” Pavlin explained. “Some even being completely restricted from playing the game because they can't hold a controller. And so when we moved to PC, one of the things that really opened up was this ability for people to use these accessibility controllers or to bring in their own equipment, to be able to interact with the game in a new way.”
And baking options into how Santa Monica developers games will pay off with future releases in a way that, as Pavlin explained, is quite like, well, baking.
“If you want to make a blueberry muffin, you’ve got to put the blueberries in before you start baking it. And so that's the same thing with control remapping is when you're looking at these things, if somebody's hard coded something very early in the game, then that's going to ripple effect through the entire thing. But as we start to open it up and move into input mapping and then move into adding more accessibility features early into the process in our pipelines, then they're just baked into the process. And that means that you might see this tiny first step here, but then you're going to see that grow over time, as the studio releases more products, you'll see a much more baked set of features that go into everything going forward.”
And making sure their future games can be played by more people in more ways is reflected in the promise of God of War on PC. It’s a chance for a whole new audience to be captivated by Kratos and Atreus’ journey and put the work of the entire team in front of more players, regardless of whether they’re playing on console or PC.
"It's exciting for us because we spent so much time, so much energy, so much of who we are to create this. So being able to have new people experience it, either become fans, or at least even just to be able to go on the journey, is just huge,” Barlog said. “To have this experience or this opportunity for us to bring it to new people, it's huge. It is tantamount to the idea of writing something and having it translated into tons of different languages. And we get that same feeling when we are localizing the game to different territories, but now we're able to branch it out and bring more people into this experience.”
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN's Senior Features Editor, PlayStation Lead, and host of Podcast Beyond! He's the proud dog father of a BOY named Loki. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.