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The 'gross' craft of building God of War

Art director Chris Sutton talks to Gamasutra about how photo reference of cadavers is as essential to building God of War: Ascension as close collaboration with the game's design team.
Working at Sony Santa Monica can be kind of gross. "A lot of times, I walk past a person's desk and they just have the most disgusting reference up on their screen," says Chris Sutton, art director for God of War: Ascension. Last week, Sony unveiled the game to the press at an event in Los Angeles attended by Gamasutra. One particularly memorable part of the demo included a battle against a cyclops -- kind of like the kid version of the guy you see to the right. The fight finished when the creature's torso split open and its guts spilled onto the floor in all-too-real detail. "It's kind of gross work, but they try to give it the same attention to detail that they give the rest of the character," says Sutton of the artists who handle the modeling of the intricate interior systems of enemies. Reference material includes photos of cadavers -- "it's pretty gross," says Sutton -- and even videos. "They'll watch videos of actual autopsies and dissections to really understand how the human anatomy works, and the layering of muscles," he says. "They really get into their craft of creating characters." At Sony Santa Monica, this craft extends from the inside out, apparently. "I think they can have a certain level of detachment to create that, and look at it more from the artistic perspective," Sutton says. Still, inside the studio, some aren't sure whether the gruesome finishes detract from the game. "Sometimes there are debates in the studio. 'Are we going too far with this?'" It's not all about realism when it comes to the massive adventure franchise, however, says Sutton. The team has implemented new animation blending and IK systems in the game to bring the game to life -- but what the team shoots for there is not exactly what you'd call realism. "Sometimes 'realistically' doesn't always translate to making a character feel fun and responsive, so we always try to walk that line," says Sutton. The new animation system allows the game's hyperrealism to feel "that much more grounded, that much more believable," he says. "We definitely exaggerate all the movements," says Sutton. The process of developing the character animations is highly collaborative, he says, a "cross between the animation team, the combat team, and the camera guys all working together." Despite being an artist, he defers to what's best for the game: "what feels the best and what plays the best." "My general philosophy for creating art is ultimately we're creating a video game," he says. "I always try to cater to the way design wants and just try to make that beautiful." That requires, he says, "a lot of back and forth" between the design team and the art team. When he gets their proposals -- always "bigger and badder" for each sequel -- his process is to try and "boil down the essence of what they're trying to get across from a design perspective" and come back with what he thinks the art team can achieve that hits those notes. "A lot of times we try to have design drive stuff at our studio," says Sutton. "You can make the most beautiful game in the world but if it's not fun to play, who cares?"

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