‘God Of War’ director talks prequels, sequels, and Kratos’ bloody backstory

god-of-war-ascension(If you have not played God of War III but intend to, proceed with caution and beware minor spoilers).

Prequels can be tricky things. For a franchise looking to explore new ground, going backwards can always be problematic. You have the benefit of working within the confines of a proven property, but you also accept that the story can only work to bolster the existing narrative rather than expand it. Prequels strengthen rather than create – at least in cases that don’t involve characters named Jar Jar.

Todd Papy
Director Todd Papy

But while movie prequels may be forever tainted by George Lucas, video games prequels can typically escape that shadow because they don’t have to be defined by narrative. With only a few exceptions, we play games for the gameplay, and when it comes to gameplay, the God of War franchise is at the top of the pyramid and its star Kratos is one of the best known antiheroes in gaming.

Largely hailed as one of the best hack-and-slash franchises ever made, God of War is the story of a really angry guy with extraordinary weapons at his disposal, murdering his way through the ranks of the Greek Pantheon in a truly brutal fashion. At one point Kratos ripped the head off an opponent and used it like a flashlight through the rest of the game. Kratos does not mess around.

But despite the violence, of which there is plenty, the character is driven by his past, a past that turned a tale of wanton bloodlust into one of righteous vengeance. Kratos’ story is also traditional Greek tragedy born of his own actions that left his family dead, and him little more than a slave to deities.

“…This allows us to kind of get back to the emotions that everybody will feel familiar with, versus this rage-filled asshole.”

The series has explored the vengeance narrative to what would appear to be close to exhaustion. There was a story arc at work in the three console games, and it was resolved at the end of God of War III. While there is always room for a new plot that will continue Kratos’ journey, the developers at Sony Santa Monica have instead elected to go back and tell one more tale of Kratos’ journey from man to killer of gods, and set it long before the larger story arc was resolved. The question is why?

“To show more of his humanity,” Todd Papy, director of God of War: Ascension told us. “It’s one of those things where you kind of see a little bit in Ghost of Sparta, and you saw some in Chains of Olympus. But really after [God of War] 1 you didn’t see too much of his humanity in God of War 2 and 3. It was something that we wanted to be able to play around with, and this allows us to kind of get back to the emotions that everybody will feel familiar with, versus this rage-filled asshole.”

god-of-war-3screenshot3For those that played the console trilogy, that should actually make a lot of sense. Following the events of God of War 1, the character arc of Kratos just went off the charts. He ascended to unimaginable heights then became something different by God of War 3, something that worked within the confines of a video game, but is difficult to craft a narrative around. The guy pretty much murdered everyone and everything in his path, leaving little for him to do. But beyond that it made him increasingly difficult to relate with.

That wasn’t really an issue since the narrative arc was already in place from the beginning of the series, but starting a new storyline with a character so far removed from his own humanity could prove to be a tricky thing. You would have to continually go bigger to accommodate the previous trajectory of the story, and you have to do it without the benefit of a relatable character, even if that character is kind of a bad ass.

One easy answer would be to reset the series with a new character altogether. The series could start fresh within the same universe without sacrificing the gameplay, and still remain true to the core of the series. So could the team at Sony Santa Monica conceivably continue the franchise without Kratos?

“I could,” Papy said in response. “I don’t know if the fans could.”


Papy has been with the God of War franchise on and off since it first began development in 2003. After spending seven years at Midway, he joined Sony in 2003 and was assigned to work on the then unknown new IP. Following the completion of God of War 1 he briefly left to join Atari, before returning to Sony just as God of War II was nearing completion. He has been with the franchise ever since, and there are few people that have a stronger understanding of the character and the franchise than Papy.

“Besides that 15 months I was away, I’ve been working on God of War,” Papy said of his career in the gaming industry. “That’s a long time, that’s almost 10 years. I want to make sure that I have the passion to go in every single day to basically work on a game that I feel really excited about. Otherwise I think that you’re going to turn out a subpar product. That’s not something we ever want to do.”

Once God of War: Ascension has been released, the planned multiplayer DLC has been completed, and the developers at Sony Santa Monica take a long, long vacation, they will reconvene and decide what they want to do next with the franchise. That may include another prequel, perhaps with an even younger Kratos. It could be a true God of War IV, picking up immediately after the events of God of War III. Or perhaps it will take the series into an entirely different direction altogether.

The series is defined by the Ancient Greek setting, but anything is possible. With the apparent conclusion of the Greek storyline, it isn’t inconceivable that Kratos could take the bloody show on the road. The Ancient Egyptian gods would be fun to kill, or Rome and Italy could be a fitting substitute for Athens and Greece. It’s also appealing to imagine Kratos putting foot to ass and taking on the Norse gods, perhaps using Thor’s hammer to beat him to death with it while engaging in a spot of the old ultra-violence.


There are no current plans for this, but it has at least been discussed before. “It’s something we’ve always kind of talked about,” Papy confirmed, before pointing out the logistical difficulties of changing the game on such a fundamental level. It would take years of planning. It could still happen, but if it does, don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. And while it may still too early to begin discussing what comes next for the franchise as Ascension has yet to even be released, you can be sure that Sony would love to see another game in the series debut on the PlayStation 4 sooner rather than later.

“I still want people to make action adventure games…but if they fall into our quarter I want to crush them”

The next God of War game (not counting a possible Vita game or two in the meantime) will be an important one for the franchise, as it will be an exclusive title that could help to sell more PlayStation 4s. In total, of the seven God of War titles released (including two for the PSP and two collections), the franchise has sold nearly 22 million copies. God of War III alone sold around 5.2 million, making it one of the best-selling PlayStation 3 games and helping to sell more than a few consoles. It’s not something the developers are worrying too much about though, even if Sony certainly has it in mind.

“I’m not interested too much in the hardware,” Papy said of the coming next-gen consoles, “I’m more interested in… studios feeling like ‘Oh, ok, I can reboot, I can start a new franchise, I can try something new now.’ That for me is the most exciting thing.”

But before any talk of a God of War on the next-gen can begin in earnest, God of War: Ascension needs to do well. The PS3 is in its twilight, so after this game, the well of exclusive PlayStation games will begin to dry up and move to the PS4. The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls may be the final PS3 exclusives made, making God of War: Ascension the last big franchise exclusive on the PS3.

God-of-War-AscentionNo matter what, the game will likely sell fairly well on name recognition alone, but it will find itself up against stiff competition in March. The end of Q1 2013 will see some of the biggest games of the year released, one after another, beginning with Tomb Raider and concluding with one of the most anticipated games ever: BioShock Infinite. It will be a big month topping off a big quarter, but Papy and his team remain undaunted.

“I always liked shipping in March because I thought we could own it, but now we have Gears [of War: Judgment] with us and Tomb Raider… I guess I welcome the competition. I still want people to make action adventure games like [God of War], but if they fall into our quarter I want to crush them,” Papy said with a laugh.

The character of Kratos remains one of the most iconic in gaming, and the interest fans show in Ascension will also help to shape the franchise beyond games. The series has already spawned comics, novels, and even the soundtracks to the games, but the biggest potential adaption would be a movie, which has been in the works since the original game was released in 2005. The latest news has the proposed adaptation still without a director, but writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan were hired in July of 2012, and the film is said to have a projected budget of $150 million. The problem is, how do you make a movie about a guy that is essentially an unrepentant killer?

“He’s a strong silent type,” Papy wondered, “so maybe as a Conan type of thing?”

god-of-war-ascenscion-mainFor now though, the movie is circling the dangerous “limbo” region, even as Sony is pushing to make more of its game properties into films. Along with God of War, Sony continues to push for an Uncharted film, even after both David O. Russell and Neil Burger were each briefly attached to direct before dropping out. But with Ubisoft creating an entire division dedicated to films, the pressure is on Sony to step up, and God of War is one of its most attractive franchises. If so, Sony Santa Monica will likely be called in to consult, but the creative control will rest with the filmmakers. That will require a bit of faith from the development team, which is keenly aware of the difficulties Hollywood has had with adapting video games.

“Obviously, for us, we’ve been putting our heart and soul into this,  Papy said, “So when we loan him out to other franchises,we want to make sure they put the same loving care into the character that we do.”

For now though, the onus is on God of War: Ascension to do well when it is released exclusively on March 12 for the PlayStation 3. If it struggles, the franchise will likely be tarnished but will survive. If it is a true hit, the successes of the past could be just the beginning. 

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