GamesBeat: I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the single camera. Why is it such a big deal? Why was it important to you?
Barlog: I’d worked with a lot of film people. The language of film is cuts. It’s lenses and position and composition and movement, coupled together in a linear format of close-up, medium shot, two-shot, close-up, crane. This is how they speak. We’ve aped that because we love movies, because we’re appreciators of the work that they do. We continue on with that.
But the idea of doing something that embraces video games, which is—the player is in control of the camera, right? Let’s give the player total control, so that when they’re experiencing this, they experience it the way we would experience it in the real world. When I go see the Grand Canyon, I don’t have a crane that accompanies me to give me this awesome distance shot of the Grand Canyon. I stand on the Grand Canyon and look at it. It’s just as amazing. I don’t need this crane shot to make it amazing.
Also, there’s this sense of immediacy that you get from never cutting away, never looking away, and feeling, almost subconsciously, that you have experienced this extremely intimate, personal portrayal. I knew the story needed to be intimate. I wanted no cinematics, no camera cuts. That’s the first thing I said. We’re not doing any cuts and you won’t ever lose control of the camera. You can walk around, and walk away, while people are talking, which freaked people out and rightfully so. We needed to figure out a camera thing before we could do all of that stuff together. So it gave us a bit more freedom to have the camera move in certain motivated instances, but we would never cut away.
Never cutting away means never looking away, to force you to experience these moments, whether they’re uncomfortable or not. You have to be there, and it has to feel personal to Kratos. To me, these were—the difficulty of grasping it is what people experienced the whole time. “I don’t get why this is going to be good.” Whether they would say that you can’t do drama—you can’t have action and drama without camera cuts. You need cuts to give people a break. I said, “No, you don’t. You don’t need that stuff.” You can make it feel like you start the game and you never look away, so it feels like you lived this life with him. You experience these moments as Kratos.
It’s one of these things where—we were making the earlier games, God of War and God of War 2. We had a camera designer who was being interviewed about working on the game. I think he had said, “I work on cameras here. Pretty much, if I do my job right, you have no idea that I do my job.” That was the end result with the camera. You don’t know why, but it feels more personal. That element, you may not be able to piece it together, but that element adds to it. That’s a critical, linchpin element of the personal nature of the game, even if you can’t say why.
It was hard to convince people with just a three-minute snippet of gameplay. When the game was finished I had a bunch of people come into my office and say, “I get it now,” after they finished the whole thing. After just playing an hour of the game or whatever, it didn’t make sense. But when you get all the way to the end—they were playing the 40 hours in two or three days. They were doing a hardcore push. It was more resonant, I think, than when you spread it out over weeks.
For me it was, perhaps, one of those battles that feels like it’s not—there’s no point. Why are you fighting for this? But I had the gut feeling. I just felt this was going to make a huge difference.
GamesBeat: When it came out in April, was there some worry that people might forget about it by now? All the fall games would be remembered.
Barlog: Oh, yeah. I wanted to get into 2018 to get away from Red Dead. I was very clear with everybody. Red Dead is going to be amazing. And once Red Dead comes out, there’s a line of demarcation. Pre-Red Dead, post-Red Dead. The way everyone is thinking about their games is going to be different. We just need to be away from that. We need our own time, so that way the Red Dead fervor is gone away. And then, of course, they moved. Great. Whatever, I’m embracing it.
I didn’t realize how great of a year it was going to be for games. It is just incredible. So many. From the Obra Dinns up to the Assassin’s Creeds and the Red Deads, everyone’s hitting on all cylinders, making these games that are heartfelt and beautiful and so polished. I think whenever we got into the Spider-Man hype, which was about a week and a half after we released, I was like—yeah, I’m really excited about Spider-Man. I don’t want to talk about God of War right now. I want to see what’s going on with Spider-Man. And then Assassin’s Creed was coming up, and then Tomb Raider, and then Red Dead. I just felt like—oh my gosh, even I’m forgetting about it. So yes, I was very worried that we would be forgotten.
GamesBeat: It’s been interesting to have this contrast this year with games that were on a fixed timeline, like Call of Duty. You can’t go longer than so many years because you won’t have a Call of Duty one year. Assassin’s Creed tried to stay on that for a while as well, have that one game come out every single year. But then you guys are out of that cycle. You were on a five-year cycle. Red Dead was seven or eight. You had this freedom to go forward and back and forward again. But it’s hard to argue that everything should be this way.
Barlog: The interesting thing, the thing that I think is a stark contrast to film—in film they announce the release date when they sign the deal with the director. You’re doing a Star Wars movie and it’s coming out in two years at Christmas. You know your release data and you have to hit that, all or nothing. Whereas in games, the best games come out when it’s done. I think we should never have parity with movies in that respect. We should always maintain that.
It’s way more complicated. Games that are rushed, that attempt to meet a deadline that’s arbitrarily set early on, everyone suffers from that. The only time that you get the benefit is when someone says, “Hey, we’ll sit on this for a year, so how about you have a small group of people tune it and make it better?” That, I think, is really good. But the bar has just been raised this year, by everyone. It honestly scares me, developing games in the future. How much higher can we raise the bar?
Everybody’s game I play, I’m just like—I have so much work to do. I can feel the fact that everyone is operating on this level that is so far beyond just last year alone. What will games look like in 2020? I don’t even know.
GamesBeat: The fact that you guys came out in April and still won this big award speaks to how much people remembered it.
Barlog: That’s true. It is amazing.
GamesBeat: Did all the Easter eggs make it out by now? Have people found them? Especially anything that would give a clue to what’s coming or not.
Barlog: I don’t think there’s anything people haven’t talked about in some fashion. Some things have only been briefly mentioned. A lot of our team, they’re avid monitors of Reddit and ResetEra forums and stuff. When people find a small secret, it may only be a small group of people that even acknowledges they’ve seen it.
GamesBeat: The name in the house at the beginning.
Barlog: Right. We never intended on that being the last secret. That one, honestly, I thought people would find fairly early. The one I really wanted to be the final secret, the really complicated one that I spent months on, where you had the collector’s edition map and two languages that we made up, and then a bunch of coordinates—if you realized that with the collector’s edition you got two toys, in the code it would tell you where to put the toys, and then you’d follow the code and find, at the end of all this journey of moving these toys around the map—in between them is the location where you do a secret code input.
You use the two coordinates, get the two toys to that point on the map, and then you translate the two languages we made up – and you can only find out about that if you played the game – so you know what to do when you’re standing in that position. I had to keep that a secret. I used the visual development guys and a designer to implement it, and we had secrecy amongst everybody, so nobody knew about it. I had a special tester work on it so we didn’t let anybody know the secret.
People found it in three days. Three days after the game came out. It was maddening. That was the one I hoped would take a while to figure out. Nope.
GamesBeat: With the whole industry doing so well now, what would you say as far as advice for creators out there, people who are coming up?
Barlog: An agglomeration of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. One, find your own way into your story. Find your own way into your game. Don’t let somebody else tell you what you want. Part of having a vision for something is, even if you’re taking on something that everybody’s familiar with — if you’re saying you’re going to make Assassin’s Creed — don’t let other people tell you what Assassin’s Creed means. Find your interpretation, your vision, your personal connection to it. If you don’t, it’s harder to make a true moment — if it’s not yours, if it’s not personal to you.
Trust yourself. That, to me, is a hard thing. I don’t fully have it yet. Sometimes I fake it, meaning—I’ll push forward on a decision that I don’t necessarily believe in. I know it’s right, but I’m scared that it’s going to end up being the wrong one. It’s felt by everyone on the team. The team doesn’t need to hear you say, “I have the answer.” The team needs to know that you believe in what you’re doing. They need to know that you’re pushing forward toward something. Even when you say, “I don’t know,” you say, “I don’t know, but we’re going to figure this out together.”
Whether you have a small team or a large team, you’ll always have a percentage of people telling you to do the opposite of what you think you should be doing. Then you’ll have a percentage of people telling you to do the opposite of what they’re saying. It’s a constant sea of doubtful voices. You have to navigate through that. The north star for every creative is that truth, that you have to believe in yourself.
GamesBeat: There’s this movement or discussion about how games might not need stories, or might not need single-player campaigns. Amy Hennig had her Star Wars game cancelled and said, “Games like this are terrifying to make,” because you have to get it right. I wonder what you think about some of the angst around storytelling and narrative in games.
Barlog: A thing a lot of people lose sight of is that games are more than one type of game. That’s the best part about gaming for me. I’m terrible at rhythm games. I don’t want to rhythm games to go away because I’m bad at them. Nor do I have a huge interest in, say, League of Legends. But I think it’s cool and I don’t want it to go away. There’s a place for that. That’s the best part about gaming.
It’s not just story-driven games or not story-driven games. There was a time when there was an attempt to make it us or them, dead or alive, that kind of thing. But I don’t think that’s the gaming we grew up with. Sometimes it was two players next to each other on the couch. Sometimes you played by yourself. Sometimes you play against other people on the internet. These things are all very good. I’m not a competitive player at all, but I don’t want competitive games to go away, because for some people that’s why they play games, to compete. That’s amazing.
Every creator has to follow what they believe. That’s the message I would love for every single executive to get, to clearly understand, and every single producer out there. Telling somebody to create a multiplayer game, when they’re somebody who creates single-player games, or the opposite—know the strengths of the people you’re working with. Play to those strengths. Don’t expect the fish to fly. That’s an important lesson for everybody to learn.
If I were to jump into a multiplayer game and try to make it, I would fail miserably. I just don’t know that genre. I don’t want to play it. I don’t discount those who do, because I think there’s an amazing group of great multiplayer games. But I don’t necessarily think that any of them are alive or dead. They just play in different pools.
Anybody who believes that Fortnite is not an outlier in the way that GTA is an outlier—they say, “Let’s do multiplayer because Fortnite makes billions.” Yeah, awesome, but it’s an outlier. Every kid coming up today saying they’re going to be Ninja. He’s an outlier. Everybody on YouTube is not Ninja, hence the reason he’s the guy who’s on the cover of ESPN Magazine and the Jimmy Fallon show. It’s not every streamer out there that’s doing that.
We get caught up in this concept of chasing the next big thing because we think we’re going to make billions. I’m all for making money. That’s great, because it funds the ability to make more games. That’s the cycle I want to be in. I don’t want this industry to ever go away, and I doubt it will. We’re doing very well. But play to the strengths of your people, to ensure you don’t end up forcing a square peg into a round hole.