Phil Cohen talks up God of War: Betrayal

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Phil Cohen talks up God of War: Betrayal
We never thought we'd have a canonical God of War game on the cell phone but that's exactly what happened. We asked Phil Cohen, producer and designer of God of War: Betrayal, what it was like to squeeze such a huge franchise into such a limited platform.

How hard is it to get a high-paced action game onto a mobile device like a phone with limited memory and processing power?

"Hard" is a relative term. Every project is hard in its own way. For God of War, that had to do with getting all of Kratos' look, animations, combat and abilities that everyone expects to see, the variety of enemies and their deaths, and the isometric look to the environment. It really comes down to the tools, and our developer, Javaground, has the best mobile toolset that we've ever used. Of course, with every project you try to push certain perceived limits of the handsets and try to figure a way around them ... be it God of War or a casual game like Spider-Man 3 Puzzle. That's always a hard, but fun part of the development process.

What struggles did you and your development team encounter upon creating the visual aspect of this title?

With just a few hundred kb and much less on most handsets, we spent a lot of time coming up with a single tileset and palette swapping scheme that was diverse enough to portray multiple environments and lived up to the SCEA God of War team's high standards. That was probably the hardest part. Our Art Director, Nathan Leland, did a fantastic job.

How long was the development process for God of War: Betrayal?

I wrote the initial design document between September and October 2005 when I first got hired on, then it sat and stewed for a year before revisiting it in August 2006, the same month development started. The versions for high-end handsets were completed 9 months later in April. We wrapped up the final versions for low-end handset over the next 2 months, completing the 1st 6 handsets in June 2007. After that, the porting team took the game to over 200 handsets in a matter of weeks.




What challenges did you face when developing Betrayal? What were some of the challenges that you and your team faced in converting the game play of a fast paced 3D platform action game into a side scrolling 2D game on a cell phone?
The challenge wasn't so much in capturing the feel of the combat as it was in capturing the feel of God of War's visual look and gameplay design. You have very limited processing power and memory on most handsets, which makes devising puzzles, traps, environment interaction, and enemy behavior very difficult. With such extreme hardware limitations, there is a fine balance between character art, frames of animation, environment, interactive objects and the cost of the game code for each. If you get too ambitious with a level's design, filling it with lots of traps, locked doors, animated torches, waterfalls, enemies, etc., you may find yourself faced with a decision to reduce some of the core combat or to revise the level. It was tough to scale back on some of the initial plans for the levels and find ways to keep them engaging over the entire game.

Did David Jaffe or Cory Barlog have any say in the direction of God of War: Betrayal?
Of course! They made sure we were on track with capturing the feel of the combat and visual style and were very helpful with their feedback and positive support. We also worked closely with Eric Williams, the console game's Lead Combat Designer and had reviews with some of the console game's other key leads. Their contribution and attention to detail was invaluable.

What did you do to try to implement the touchpad with controls intuitive to the game?
The basics of running and jumping are "gimme's" for a mobile platform game. At SOE-LA, we try to keep all gameplay functionality playable using only the phone's D-pad and soft keys. I already knew how context sensitive kills would work based on our implementation of a similar mechanic in our Casino Royale action game, so we had a good idea how the console controls could be translated to a mobile phone. In the end, the biggest issue came up for one of the smallest details: opening chests, pulling levers, and activating the finishing moves. Initially, we mapped these functions to up on the D-pad. Though it made sense (press up, Kratos lifts things up), the input on a mobile phone isn't very precise so that sometimes you would jump, maybe into a trap, instead of opening a chest. We remapped it to down on the D-pad, and all was well.



How did you keep the look and feel true to the God of War franchise on a platform that is much more limited than the PS2?
We played a ton of God of War! We studied the pacing and tricks that were put into the console game. It's always good to analyze a reaction you have to a game or section of a game to figure out what it was that gave you a particular reaction. You find that one nugget of gameplay that's fun, and since that's all you can really afford to do on the mobile platform, you refine it and reuse it as much as you can in as many different ways as you can.

Most console game conversions follow more or less the same storyline on mobile as they did on console. What was the reason for this new storyline, and will the mobile storyline be of meaning to players of the planned new console releases like God of War III or God of War: Chains of Olympus?
It was important for all of us to make sure that we made a game that would live up to the expectations of the God of War fans. From the beginning, we knew that we had to add something new to the series. We also had the opportunity to work closely with Marianne Krawczyk, the writer from the God of War console games. In the end, we had a story that filled in details that were not explained in the console games, and we were able to provide additional depth and background to a story that players already know.

Who decided to set the game after the original God of War, and why?
The story in God of War 2 jumps ahead a bit, starting out with a brief history since the ending of the first game which sets up the story revealed while playing GoW 2. This introduction did a great job setting up the game, but it also left an opening for our story. The writer of God of War was able to use God of War: Betrayal to explain why the relationship between the Gods and Kratos changed so much.

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For more info on God of War: Betrayal, text KRATOS to 4SONY on your mobile phone.

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