A Few Words...
My time spent at Sony Santa Monica on God of War III and God of War: Ascension was an invaluable learning experience. I learned a great a deal about the specialized craft of combat design from the original GOW combat designer, Eric Williams, as well as veteran combat designers Jason McDonald and Adam Puhl. Aside from the actual craft, the collaboration that took place between combat design, animation and visual effects departments, in particular, to achieve such awesome content was extraordinary. Engineering, camera and sound design are important as well, but the majority of iteration time and collaboration is spent between combat designers and animators. In the end, the awesome animators at Sony Santa Monica such as James Che, Sean Gilley, Bruno Velazquez and many others make the combat designer look good.
Before I joined Sony Santa Monica in August of 2007, I didn’t have a clue that a combat designer position existed let alone have any knowledge of what the job entailed. At this time, I was barely getting my feet wet with general game design at Heavy Iron Studios working on awesome SpongeBob and The Incredibles games. In 2007, Heavy Iron Studios was hosting a USC Game Deconstruction lecture and two of the main combat designers from God of War I and II (Eric Williams and Derek Daniels) were in attendance. Apparently Eric knew of my competitive Street Fighter background and was on the lookout for some up and coming combat talent. A few months later I would be starting my exciting new job at Sony Santa Monica working on God of War III as a Junior Combat Designer.
What is a Combat Designer?
Combat designers are responsible for designing and implementing the fun behind the player, AI and bosses, respectively. Generally, one combat designer is responsible for the player for the entirety of the project. The AI cast is usually broken up between a couple of combat designers, and then dedicated combat designers focusing on a few bosses or one giant boss depending on the scope and size.
Generally, the Combat Designer needs to come up with the general idea on how the enemy is going to behave. Usually, this is based on the concept art of the character. For example, in God of War III, we knew we wanted to get the Chimera into the game. We had concept art from God of War II, so we had a bit of a head start. There are times when concept art doesn’t exist and you really have to shape the enemy from scratch, but that isn’t always the case.
In short, combat designers take the best ideas, give them structure, and then breakdown what assets are needed to realize the idea. From here, collaboration with multiple disciplines is necessary to ensure the core design is adhered to and executed with the utmost quality in mind. Once the Game Director signs off on a design, it’s time for the combat designer to get his hands dirty so to speak and start implementing all these ideas and shape them into something playable and fun.
These are just some of the characters, interactions and moments I've worked on in my six years at SSM. Next blog post I'll get into more technical detail about combat design in general.