Interview: John Hight, God of War III director of product development

John Hight runs Sony's Santa Monica studio and oversees the entire God of War 3 team. He makes sure that everyone is happy, that the game is going to ship on time, and that it's going to be something you'll want to play. Read on to learn more from him about the the future of the franchise, the possibility of multiplayer, the God of War movie and why he hasn't played Dante's Inferno (yet).

Tell us your name and your role in the grand scheme of God of War.

My name is John Hight and I am the Director of Product Development for Santa Monica Studio. I am the guy that oversees the team for God of War.

And how long have you been there?

I have been with Sony since 2005. Prior to that, I worked for Atari. And prior to that, Electronic Arts. It was part of Westsmith Studios.

We've heard this isn't the end of God of War. Is this franchise going to live on past this game?

The franchise will definitely live on.

The franchise will definitely live on. This is the end of the trilogy, though. We set up a story in the beginning with God of War I and this is closing that story. So there won't be any sense at the end of it that, "Oh, wow, there is a cliffhanger and I gotta run out and buy another disc to find out what happens to Kratos." You will know. You will feel a definite resolution.

He doesn't have a cloned brother or something hiding in the wings, waiting to step up?

[laughs] Yeah, exactly.

A lot of games are going episodic or adding large chunks of game play via DLC later. Did you guys consider that, or is there even the ability to do that with a game like this?

Sure. There is always the ability to do it. And no, we did not consider that. We felt like we wanted to tell a complete story. We like to think that God of War is something that people ... you know, it is a game that they will hang on to, that they want to have as part of their collection. That is why we actually remastered God of War I and II for the Playstation 3, so that people could continue to play it. So just like collecting a great book or a favorite movie, we wanted it to be contained. That being said, we are not above considering doing some form of downloadable content to enhance the game play, but it wouldn't be to finish a story that we started.

So this is all completely self-contained.


Speaking of that collection, we spoke to Ready at Dawn last year and they said -- with God of War: Chains of Olympus -- they weren't asked to be included in the package. Was it ever considered for inclusion or was it just viewed as something separate because of the platform?

We are not above considering some form of DLC to enhance the gameplay.

Well, it's not really separate. We had a lot of involvement in Chains of Olympus. Our artists contributed the artwork for it. At that time, the game director, Cory Barlog was heavily influential in the design of that game. And they actually report into our studios. So that product is part of the sanctioned Kratos universe and God of War. The reasoning behind not including it on the God of War Collection is that game was designed for the Playstation Portable, and Ready at Dawn did an incrediblejob, I think, of getting a great graphic look out of the PSP.

But our concern was that it wouldn't translate over to the PS3 as well. We worked at pretty high resolution when we did God of War I and II, and we had a hold of all of the source code, source assets, and the people that worked on it. And it really was a decision I made right after E3 to go after this project, a very short term project. To try and include Chains of Olympus into it would have been a substantial amount of work to res it up and get it up to the level of the PS2 games.

Last year we wrote that Ready at Dawn was rumored to be working on another God of War PSP game. Will we see Kratos or God of War return to the PSP?

You know, that is always a possibility. We did really well with Chains of Olympus and the PSP is a great platform, so I wouldn't be opposed to it.

If you guys did go that route again, would you go back to Ready at Dawn, or with the size of the group you have now, is that something you could just do in house completely?

Well, yeah. We could totally do it ourselves, but we have a great investment in the PS3 technology and Ready at Dawn did an incredible job. They would be a good developer. There are a few very good PSP developers that we would be willing to work with, and we love what they did.

We talked to (lead combat designer) Adam Puhl about Dante's Inferno. Have you been able to play it?

You know, we literally have been working, up until Thursday, just crazy hours, kinda nuts. And it is funny, a couple people have asked us, "So have you played it yet?" I honestly haven't played it yet. There are a lot of games on my shelf that I am really excited about. And starting Friday, I am going to get at them. It's not the top one on the pile, but I am sure I will give it a whirl.

Did you guys view the demo as a success? And did you tweak anything in the game based on feedback from that?

Well, I think the demo was very successful for us. It took us to E3. We had huge lines at E3, people wanting to get their hands on it. Most of the people that were interviewed at E3 came back with a very positive experience. It is kind of funny. There was one gal from the media, a very, very attractive young lady, that had dressed up for the occasion. And she was offering guys in line the opportunity to go have lunch with her if they would forego playing the demo. And she literally went through 30 people at the front of the line there, all guys, of course, and had no takers and finally gave up.

Well, that was a pretty long line.

Yeah, no kidding. I was pretty sure she would get about three in and boom, you know, because she had actually come up to me beforehand and said, "Now, if I do this, would you be willing to let these guys back in the line." I said, yeah, if they are willing to do that, yeah, fine. I will do that. But she didn't disclose that to them and nobody took her up.

Well, that would have spoiled the whole thing.

Beyond that ... normally when you make a demo for E3, you kind of assume that that is it. And I think that the guys, my team, did such an incredible job putting it together and making it so solid that when marketing approached us with, "Hey, we want to do a downloadable demo," we were faced with two decisions. Do we make something special for download or do we use this? And honestly, our only concern about using the E3 demo was ... well, two concerns. One is that graphically, we have gone beyond it and we wanted to make sure that players had a sense of where we were going. And the second is it is really big. It is 27 minutes. It is a lot of space, but our marketing department was willing to suck it up and put it out there. I think that is great.

When you say you have gone beyond that, how could you quantify that for our readers? Like, in terms of graphics from the demo versus this opening scene that we are seeing now in the final game? What are the changes?

Well, you know, for some people it will probably feel like splitting hairs, but, you know, the depth of field that we have, motion blur, high dynamic range lighting. Just, in general, higher texture in fidelity of the models. Kratos himself, we get a lot tighter in close-ups. Overall, it just looks great. If you were to look side by side, you would see the difference. If you play the demo first and are like, "Wow, this is intense. I love it." Then, when you actually get the game, it is going to be, I think, a very positive experience, like, "Man, they made a lot of improvements in six months time." But, I mean I think it is a strong demo. I mean I am not embarrassed about it. We will keep that demo out there for a while.

Since the graphics have improved so noticeably, would you consider putting out another demo with more gameplay in it, like Darksiders did, or is the one we have pretty much it?

That's right. I mean at this point, anything we do will be to service the fan base that we already have. And, you know, we are excited about getting to work on the next project. So we are going to take a little break, and after that we are going to hit it.

Have there been any thoughts about bringing God of War to the PSN?

The whole game?

The whole game, or maybe one of the remastered ones.

No, it's too big. I'm trying to remember. I think we are at 36 gigabytes with God of War III. We did talk about the possibility with the collection, you know, splitting it up I and II. But even then we are talking about 17 gigabytes. We are all gamers and we are just like, "You know what? Even with background downloads, we don't want people to have to wait that long to get the media." And honestly, we have had really good retail support for those games. We don't see the need yet to distribute those. And you know me. I am a huge of PSN. I helped created a lot of that original content that it came out with. So we are definitely going to find ways to support PSN, but probably not with the full game.

No thoughts of chopping the first two up into episodes or anything?

No. We don't want to do that to people. We feel very strongly that these things are made and they need to be seen in their entirety.

Some publishers like EA are big about expanding their branded games. Is that something you guys have thought about with God of War? There was a cell phone game ...

And it actually wasn't bad.

It was pretty good at the time.

But currently, no, we don't have any plans in place to do a mobile phone game.

You said you are kind of eager to move onto the next thing. Do you guys know what that is yet, or is that the next process, figuring that out?

Yeah, that is the next process. We grew from 60 people at the beginning of God of War III to 132 at our peak, although some of those were project specific people or contractors. But still, we have a pretty good sized team. We are going to kind of move forward for a team and a half. So one team is going to move into ... we have a pretty good idea of what we are going to do, and they are going to move into pre-production on that. And then a small team is going to do concepting for down the road. So that we can kind of move that production staff from one project to the next and still retain a pretty good sized studio.

Sony has been talking a lot about their ... I guess it is called the Arc now, their motion controller.

I think they went back to calling it Motion Controller.

Is that something that could be retroactively applied to a game like God of War, or is it something that you have to think about on a future title?

There have got to be a lot of gamers that have a fantasy of wielding some kind of a bladed weapon and going to town.

You know, it is funny, because we actually have looked at it. I am not too confident that we could apply it to God of War III. However, the technology itself is pretty interesting. And we know that there have got to be a lot of gamers that have a fantasy of wielding some kind of a bladed weapon and going to town. So, you know, we are probably going to experiment with it and see what we can do with it.

I mentioned Dante's Inferno and Darksiders before. A lot of games now follow the God of War formula with regards combat and scripted boss finishes. Is that flattering or annoying?

Well, I mean you can't ... you know, nobody owns how a game is built or the mechanics of a game. It would be pointless for us to be upset if somebody borrows or outright copies things that we do. I think the main thing is to be focused on our game. How could we continue to push it and make it great? Because in the end, for us, what really matter is what our fans are thinking.

There have been rumblings about a possible God of War movie. What's the latest on that?

Before my coming on board, there was an option to do a movie, and there has been talk about it, but no script has come across my desk and no studio has asked for us to weigh in, look at anything, or consider anything. So I would be very surprised if something materialized. I think any new deal that might happen, Sony would support coming back to us and having us involved at some level. I think especially now, I think God of War III hopefully establishes that this is a strong franchise and we are the keepers of the franchise.

We have gotten a lot of questions from readers about the quantities of the Ultimate Edition and the EU. We have heard reports that the limited edition is being cut in certain territories because there is a limited supply, Ireland specifically. Do you guys have any comment on that or do you know anything about that?

Wow. No, I am not aware of how many ... I know how many units of God of War are being made in Europe and the United States, but I don't know how many of those are specifically earmarked to the Ultimate Edition.

Some customers are being told it is no longer being offered. I think some people were upset about that.

That's interesting. I'll look into that. It's going to be a cool box. Stig (Asmussen - game director) helped design it and it is definitely worth having. I mean it is not just one of those things like, "Oh, it is kind of a neat looking box. I will either toss the box in a couple of months or I will eBay it." No, it is something that people, especially God of War fans, are going to want to hang on to.

What were some of the discussions about things you guys were thinking about including with that? It seems like the bar keeps going up. Call of Duty had the night vision goggles. They made the Fortune Hunter Edition of Uncharted 2 that came with the Purba dagger. Did you guys ever consider going way over the top, or what were some things that you guys tossed around?

Well, literally, I am not kidding, the box itself is super special and it can be used for other things. And it fits within the game itself. But the other materials we wanted to include with it, we wanted to make sure were things that would have entertainment value in their own right but supportive of the franchise. So it wasn't just a, I guess, gimmick. When we did surveys, or marketing did surveys, and it was in part the survey that fans said, "Hey, we want to have God of War I and II on Blu-Ray" that prompted me to want to do Collection. I mean we weren't in a position to be able to include that in the ultimate edition because of the sheer cost of developing that. We had to recoup our investment in doing that. And we are also concerned about timing on it.

Honestly, I felt like having the Collection out at Christmas time would be a nice way to get fans back into God of War and be ready for March, because, in a know, we always plan on doing March, but we know that a lot of our fans wanted to have the game for Christmas, so we felt like, "Well, a collection is a good way to make that possible for them."

When we spoke with Adam, he said multiplayer was considered and talked about. What was your opinion about multiplayer?

This is the story of one guy, Kratos, and his beef with the gods.

Yeah. It was never considered, from day one. I think that there was some confusion, because I also oversee Lightbox Interactive, which did Warhawk. And last summer we were interviewing for some online engineers. So it said, "From the people who brought you God of War." So I think some blurb people got that and starting saying, "Oh, it looks like they are hiring online ... there is going to be multiplayer in God of War." No. We never planned on it, because, you know, this is the story of one guy, Kratos, and his beef with the gods. And we didn't want to trivialize that. We didn't want to send the wrong message to our fans that somehow we were turning the game into something that it wasn't. We are excited about it. I love multiplayer games. We all do. And I am sure that we are going to offer something in that space.

Something in the "Olympian" space that is multiplayer, possibly?

I don't know. I mean there is the fiction that we want to center a game in, and then there are mechanics that we find interesting. Now, having a team and a half, we have the ability to look at a couple of different thematic areas.

When a game like this it completed, do you look to keep this team together or do you always have to lose some of the staff?

No, no. Our fulltime staff stays with us. Now, we have contractors that were hired specifically for God of War, some of which we were fortunate to be able to offer fulltime employment. But some of which, unfortunately, you know, that ended at the end of God of War. And we try to help them locate other stuff to work on, and we hope that, as we ramp up on the next one, they will come back and work with us. But still, we have got a core staff of over 100. You know, that is my job. These guys are super talented. It was hard to find them. I don't want to let go of them. I am going to do everything in my power to keep the lights on and people working.

Great. Well, thank you, John. It was very nice talking to you.

You too. I really hope you enjoy the game!

This article was originally published on Joystiq.