When I’d set out for GDC, God of War 3 was fresh in my mind. I’d just beat the game a few days earlier, and while my brain still today staggers in awe of the grandiose nature of Kratos’ finale, one rotten tart left a sourness only someone who helped make the game could remove. I didn’t intend to find a cure to my ailment concerning the end of the game, which you can read about here, but instead received some important, and somewhat numbing and humbling, food for thought.
It all came from a chance meeting with Stig Asmussen, Game Director on God of War 3.
While emptying a glass of whiskey and enjoying the light and barely journalistic nature of Sony’s Playstation Media Lounge at the W Hotel during the Game Developer’s Conference, my brother and I sat in the corner, taking a break and waiting for Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera to finish what may have been the longest game demo in mankind’s history. To his credit, Kuchera is more than detailed in his craft, and we all could learn something from his example.
At this point, spoilers abound, however slight. Read on at your own discretion.
Throughout the day, I’d been slowly explaining my lack of satisfaction with God of War 3 to my brother, brought along because he’d just moved to San Francisco to find work, and I decided the career pavilion was as good a start as any. By five o’clock, I’d managed to finally finish, and told him “if you see a tall, bald guy walk in, let me know.”
“You mean him,” he asked, pointing to a random individual some ten feet away.
“No,” I replied, squinting as a shiny surface twinkled ever so briefly. “Him.” Mr. Asmussen literally just walked in, and a Sony representative was showing him a game using the new Move controller. Patiently waiting like a cheetah stalking its unsuspecting prey, I slowly nursed my Jack until Asmussen found a couch on the other side of the room, watching some unknown journalist lose to an ugly AI at table tennis. I pounced, nearly completely losing my composure.
“Yes?” I spat out a well rehearsed introduction and sat beside him on the sofa. “I loved God of War 3, but I’ve got to ask: why hope?”
Mr. Asmussen gave a gentle smirk when he looked my way, and asked what score I gave his child, an exceptional 9.3/10. “Oh, I remember, you had a problem with the ending.” Flattered momentarily, I explained my dilemma: Kratos’ tale had been one of vengeful hate, first towards Ares for blinding him with rage, which ended in him murdering his own wife and child, then towards the gods for sending him on a fool’s errand and lying about saving him from his torment. Fury is what burned so deeply within Kratos, and it made him the perfect vehicle against the gods, the unstoppable fiery warrior whose sole purpose was to wreak havoc to those who betrayed him. It seemed, and felt, odd that hope would save him in the end from Zeus, and that hope would ultimately be the one power to destroy the gods, in this tale of pure wrath.
“Well, it was a hard decision,” Asmussen lamented, “but after researching Pandora’s box, we decided to do justice to the mythology. We took a lot of liberties with it, but we felt that players would be most satisfied if we stayed true here.” Like a lightning bolt his words hit. Of course: Pandora’s box held not only the evils of the world, but hope with it. Curse today’s public education, for I’d never learned it in school and in fact have several pieces of actual literature on my reading list, including The Divine Comedy and several Greek works, such as The Odyssey.
He saw it in my eyes, as I slowly turned away and muttered faint curses into the air. I should have known. Does this change anything? Is the story better now that I know this? After a moment to digest perhaps the most critical piece of information, he explained how the game’s end came into question midway through development, a moment documented in the Making Of video included with the game, and how he researched Pandora’s box to discover that hope was stored alongside the evils of the world.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one ignorant to this knowledge among the reviewers, and he completely understood my disposition towards the storytelling. “Look it up for yourself,” he said, “and play the game through one more time. Then see if you want to change the score,” Asmussen remarked half-jokingly.
After some small chit-chat, he headed off for an interview and I returned to play the waiting game to see Socom 4. “So,” my brother asked, “what’d he say.”
“Hope was in Pandora’s box, and that’s why it ended the way it did.”
“You didn’t know that?”