The Core Pillars of God of War
One of the most important elements that made 2018’s God of War such a successful video game is the carefully balanced level design, which uses the game’s core pillars to deliver a compelling experience for players. Sony Santa Monica’s Rob Davis went deep on all aspects of God of War’s level design during a GDC talk in 2019, focusing on the famous level ‘The Magic Chisel’, which takes place around the halfway point through the game.
If you still haven’t played God of War yet, note that this article will contain some minor spoilers.
During the pre-production phase for God of War, game director Cory Barlog oversaw the creation of three central pillars that would define the game’s tone, structure and direction. These three pillars would be central to all decisions that the team would make throughout development, so much so that Cory would have them framed and placed high on the wall in Sony Santa Monica’s main building.
Pillars are critical in game development as they ensure the various development teams always have a clear idea about what to focus on, and equally, what to avoid. Rather than trying to do everything, the team could instead focus on doing a few things, and doing them well. Another way to think of core pillars are the creative building blocks with which the game is built.
The earlier God of War games prior to 2018 were known for their explosive, over-the-top action sequences that pushed the limits of what the PS3-era hardware could achieve. However by 2014 the team at Santa Monica studio knew that for the series to successfully make the transition to the next generation, it would need to grow beyond its action-focused roots. So they took the time to completely re-think the fundamentals of the entire experience, and to hopefully create something stronger and ultimately better.