The Art of War: A Brief, Personal History of Santa Monica Studios and God of War

I’ve been thinking about God of War a lot lately. Over the course of this piece, I wanted to discuss the memories I had from the very beginning of the God of War video game series, while briefly touching on the history of their releases, the change of directors and the profitable growth of the little-known studio that could, ‘Santa Monica Studios’. From being a fairly unknown small development studio to a juggernaut of the PlayStation empire. I bring you my version of the history of God of War.

Back in 2005, just when we were all getting our claws around the PlayStation 2’s Emotion engine and swimming in classics that defined a generation of gamers, such as Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter, Insomniac Game’s Ratchet & Clank, Rockstar Studios Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the newly released Konami/Kojima title Metal Gear Solid 3, we didn’t think it could get any better than this. But then, a small demo disc was being given out at the local EB Games stores. A free disc of any kind back then was extremely exciting, but the words ‘God of War’ just sounded epic. So, I grabbed one and went home to finish Resident Evil 4 (on Nintendo’s GameCube at the time).

PlayStation 2….so many memories!

I forgot all about the little gem of a disc for most of that day, but later that afternoon my mum called out dinner time, so after I saved my game to the cubes cute and tiny memory card, I turned it off and then placed the demo disc into the beautiful big black and blue PlayStation 2 ready for when I returned. I was naughty though, I didn’t step away and watched it load up, I was going to pause it, I swear and for the first time in my small existence, I experienced something I had never felt before, pure excitement and intrigue, my mother’s cries of anger fading into the background, I pressed the start button and I watched as Kratos lept off a cliff and into the water chasm below, my endorphins began raging as I used the blades of chaos for the first time.

Now this was a huge deal for me, games like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Jak & Daxter were of course, stealing my hours away and punching me in the face with just how good story-telling in games could be in their existing formats and genres, but as an actual mix on gameplay, action and storytelling in a third-person based combat video-game? For it to be as perfect as this? Nothing else came close for me at the time. The demo included the fight between Kratos and a giant 3-headed sea creature known as the Hydra. Not only were the graphics unlike anything PlayStation had seen to date, the facial animations and third-person hack and slash and the fucking epically composed soundtrack was first class, not to mention the voice of Kratos himself played by Terence C Carson and the narration with Gaia voiced by Linda Hunt.

The game introduced the world to quick-time events, an interaction that meant you could enjoy the pure and insane events on screen and rip a creature’s head off with a click of the right buttons at the right time. It was a colossal step forward in terms of innovation and many games even now can’t even come close to competing or over use the mechanic to point of frustration.

After a very angry mum and an even colder meal, I went back and played it again and again. The next morning, I immediately ran back down to EB Games and placed my first ever Pre-order on a video game. I shouted at the top of my proverbial lungs at all my friends to try this, to race in and grab the demo, but they were gone. The word had already gotten out faster than I could hope to have achieved.

The very first God of War released on PlayStation 2 in the U.S. in March 2005

Santa Monica Studios God of War, was released later that year in the U.S. on March 22nd, 2005 and July 8th, 2005 in Australia (Yes, Australia even had to wait for games back then) to global critical acclaim selling over 4.6 Million copies worldwide and being crowned one of the all-time greatest Video Games.

God of War 1 Remastered Gameplay

Then creator and director David Jaffe who currently had worked on the Twisted Metal series of games on PlayStation 1 had been the driving force for God of War, him and his entire team at Santa Monica Studios

Santa Monica Studios

joined the list of the world’s greatest developers in what felt like an overnight sensation.

Creative Director and Writer David Jaffe

A few years passed, and Santa Monica Studios were back to up the ante with their wonderful new anti-hero Kratos (The Ghost of Sparta) and trying to mimic the success with God of War 2.

God of War 2 Released April 27th, 2007

David Jaffe stepped down and entering the creative directors chair was the wonderful Cory Barlog

Cory Barlog Creative Director for God of War 2 and the soon to be God of War (2018)

and God of War 2 was released on April 27th, 2007. Kratos and his voice (T.C Carson) were back to a roaring success, selling millions and which still shines bright today. IGN Quoted God of War 2 as being “The swan song of the PlayStation 2” era of video-games, being one of the very last major releases the PlayStation 2 would see before its successor the PlayStation 3 was released.

The story, combat and fast paced energetic gameplay of the first was tightened down and we got to know a tad more about Kratos and of the Titans, Zeus and the answers to the mysterious conspiracy of hatred towards the Ghost of Sparta, which ended on an amazing cliff-hanger (quite literally), with Kratos climbing up the walls of Olympus on the back of a Titan aiming his vengeance towards his father Zeus. The game also hit more than 4.2 Million in sales, leading to another title very soon in the future.

God of War 2 Screenshot

God of War 3 had another director stepping down and making way for a new lead and previously an artist on the series, Stig Asmussen. 

Stig Asmussen, God of War 3 Creative Director

Kratos’s Daddy issues aside, the next major released title God of War 3, would be some time away and was to be released long after a few successful PSP (PlayStation Portable) titles had made their debuts and successes, the titles God of War: Chains of Olympus and God of War: Ghost of Sparta made by game developers Ready at Dawn,  were just as successful on the portable system and were so popular, they were later ported to the PlayStation 3 as a HD collection (along with God of War 1 & 2 HD Collection). The stories told the prequel tales of Kratos and the years in which he helped the Greek Gods before defying them.

In March 2010, God of War 3 released on a brand-new system, the PlayStation 3 and it hadn’t lost much steam either. Garnering even more success with the now massive global fan-base behind it. God of War 3, if you were quick enough, also released an intricately detailed Collector’s Edition that contained a replica of Pandora’s Box (that I still have hiding away). God of War 3 would set another new benchmark for the series as well with its brand-new game engine and high definition 1080p graphics for the PlayStation 3. Taking much longer in development, due to its higher quality details and new the new DualShock 3 rumble feature also taking front and centre.

God of War 3 Released March of 2010

This now trilogy of main games had ended the story arc of Kratos and left nothing behind, no gods, no sun, just death. He really did go all the way, he probably should have held back a little in his yellow brick road of vengeance but, “In the End There, Will Only Be Chaos” was the tagline and it sure didn’t disappoint. Our anti-hero Kratos was last seen with a gaping hole in his chest and all that was left at the end of the credits was a trail of blood and the Blade of Olympus left behind.

God of war 3 Remastered Screenshot

But not all good things come to an end, then came my least favourite, God of War: Ascension.

God of War: Ascension Released March 12th 2013

Now, while Ascension used the same, but slightly enhanced, game engine as its predecessor, same style of gameplay and awesome soundtrack, I just felt Ascension to be a very underwhelming game after the epic that was God of War 3 and the ending of 3 felt enough for me to move on and be happy in the fact that the series ended on such a high. I found a lot of bugs to be noticeable and the raging music would stop half way through fighting enemies, which of course is one of the series highlights, thumping metal music while bashing the shit out of gods and demons, for it to just stop, it felt empty and unfinished. God of War: Ascension was released March 12th, 2013 and still widely praised with mostly positive reviews.

God of War Ascension Screenshot

New Creative Director Todd Pappy joined Ascension and while I may not have been the biggest fan of the game, he brought a lot to the table that had never been seen before and that even an included a Multiplayer Mode. While not hugely successful it was a step forward for its time and the first one that had been done for the series, setting a benchmark for single player story games to include countless multiplayer modes moving forward. Also, with Ascension came the most amount of Marketing I had ever bared witness to for any game in the PlayStation library.

Todd Pappy Director God of War: Ascension

On the release of God of War: Ascension not only was the soundtrack produced by the talented Tyler Bates (Guardians of the Galaxy Composer) and given a full retail release, a full blown Graphic Novel was released on godofwar.com titled ‘Rise of the Warrior’ a prequel story by Marianne Krawczyk centred around the multiplayer character from God of War: Ascension. There was an online social interaction game, a set of challenges in the form of tasks real people could join in on and be part of. Players could choose the Spartans or the Trojans and solving puzzles unlocked even more goodies such as the Beta Testing of the multiplayer. Winning and becoming the ‘Champion of The Gods’ would give access to exclusive in-game content on the games release.

Many moons went by without a twinkle of the word Kratos and the God of War, despite a few games I never got to due to access, titles such as the mobile game God of War Betrayal, I would not see my favourite anti-hero again for some time and had lost all hope that we would ever see him again. 6-12 months had past and all hope was lost, it was a long time for me ok?

Rumours flared for quite some time before an announcement, all of which were taken with a grain of salt. But at the PlayStation experience on December 6th in 2014, Santa Monica Studios creative director Cory Barlog confirmed a new God of War was in development. Later concept art had leaked showing a Norse Mythology setting (which David Jaffe had in mind since the end of the original trilogy. At E3 of 2016 the next instalment simply titled ‘God of War’ was announced with a gameplay demo showing a full bearded Kratos no longer voiced by T.C. Carson but voiced and motion captured by Christopher Judge of Stargate SG-1 fame and with an in-game son named Atreus, played by Sunny Suljik (The Killing of a Sacred Deer)!

God of War (2018) Director Cory Barlog and the new voice of Kratos Christopher Judge

After the shock of hearing a different voice actor passed (even though Judge is Magnificent, it was still a shock) I moved on to the shock that Kratos was alive and had a son? He was alive and was now head over heels in Norse Mythology? Even more exciting for me was that Cory Barlog of God of War 2 fame, had returned as creative director.

Motion Capture behind the scenes for the latest God of War (2018)

Which brings us to April 2018. We are now only a few days out from seeing the God of War title re-invented, shaken up for a hopeful new generation, sadly there hasn’t been that demo disc to run down to the shops for and it won’t work on my PlayStation 2.

But we have come full circle and bared witness to a very brief history of a journey that spanned over 13 years. About a little-known Santa Monica Studio that has now sold well over 22 Million copies (that was only a 2012 estimate) of a series of adult-orientated titles and counting. We thought we knew one very angry man named Kratos, a pretty shallow character that had nothing but vengeance and hatred for almost every living thing besides his wife and child, which we still grew to love and now see him change into something resembling a full-bodied character with heart that stands before us now. We see a man who has a son and bleeds for redemption from his past. I too, now have two sons and I want my redemption, like, NOW! Bring on the new God of War!

God of War video game (2018) CR: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Our epic God of War journey continues, an Interview with the god himself, creative director Cory Barlog right HERE!! Check it out now and come back soon for our God of War game review!