God of War from Sony’s Santa Monica Studio is a PlayStation exclusive trilogy that started out on the PlayStation 2 and carried over to the PlayStation 3 with a couple of handheld versions of the game appearing on the PSP. The game mixes Greek Mythology with action and fantasy – all told through the eyes of its lead character, Kratos. God of War’s release in 2005 wasn’t a quiet one. It showed the world what could be done on the PS2 console – pushing the boundaries of graphics, gameplay and storytelling. God of War III (March 2010/PlayStation 3) was hailed as one of the best games of the year and most recently was nominated by The Writer’s Guild of America for Videogame Writing.
Script had a chance to interview Marianne Krawczyk who has been on the God of War writing team since the beginning.
SCRIPT: Kratos has battled his way through multiple God of War games in the series – what makes this character a strong and dynamic protagonist?
MARIANNE KRAWCZYK: I think Kratos’ backstory makes him a fully realized person. This helps to inform his actions and choices in the stories we tell. We talk about him as if he’s alive and possibly in the office next door. Doing this breathes life into his character and makes him more dynamic. It also makes us nervous that he’s in the office next door.
SCRIPT: Kratos seems to battle just about everyone he encounters in the game except for an ally in Pandora – can you describe their relationship and how it balances out the story and character development?
MK: You can’t talk about Pandora without bringing up the character of Hephaestus. Hephaestus created Pandora, and in our backstory for him he develops a paternal love for her. When she is abruptly taken from Hephaestus by Zeus, he becomes a fallen and tragic figure. Hephaestus’ story of loss, as told to Kratos, is meant to reflect some of Kratos’ own family losses and resonate in the soul of our protagonist. The story of Hephaestus and Pandora informs the relationship between Kratos and Pandora. Kratos also starts to feel paternal affection for Pandora. So at the end, rather than allowing her to die, he tries to stop her from going into the fire. I think subconsciously Kratos was trying to undo his mistake with his daughter years before.
SCRIPT: The God of War franchise is full of masculine carnage, destruction and even sexual encounters. As a female writer, how did you go about putting yourself into the shoes of Kratos?
MK: The carnage and sexual encounters I leave to the guys for the most part. They are usually playable moments, and the director and design team do an awesome job with them. Keeping Kratos somewhat sympathetic in light of these moments is the challenging part. God of War I is the defining story for our protagonist. By the end of God of War I, we know, without a doubt, who Kratos is and why he behaves the way he does. This helps when wearing his shoes. Keeping Kratos consistent yet interesting throughout the franchise is something that requires vigilance. I remember many conversations, especially on God of War II, about keeping Kratos true to whom he is and not allowing him to arc and become a better person. With a dynamic character like Kratos, the opportunity does arise for him to make the right choice. I think that’s why he’s so tragic. He has opportunity to change, yet for most of the trilogy, he doesn’t.
So, to answer your question, I look for what makes the character tick regardless of testosterone levels. And when themes of ambition, power, loyalty and betrayal already resonate and manifest tragically, that is the best thing a writer can hope for.
SCRIPT: God of War III is both a sequel and a finale to the story. Since you were involved with all three PS3 games can you describe what challenges you faced writing for each game?
MK: God of War I was in some ways the easiest and in some ways the hardest. Establishing the tone and worldview is the most daunting when starting out. I remember conversations early on about how much comedy, if any, should be in the story, what the tone should be, etc. That was all David Jaffe’s domain, and I think it’s safe to say he made all the right calls there. What made God of War I easier than the others for me is that we had a clean slate to develop a powerful character. Nothing came before, so there was a lot of freedom to explore. Sequels are challenging because you have to keep moving forward, be true to the world, tone and character while not being redundant.
SCRIPT: God of War III gives us a theme of ‘hope’ at the climax of the game, however, it didn’t seem to be the spine of the entire story from beginning to end. Was this always the drive behind the story and, if so, what types of story elements helped support or express this theme?
MK: This is actually a trilogy question, because the element of hope was meant to tie the three games together. In Greek Mythology, Pandora’s Box contains the evils that plague mankind. Fear, hate, greed, etc., were all kept locked away until Pandora opened it. When the box was opened, all the evils came into the world, but at the very end, hope was released as well. This is one version of the actual myth. We, of course, put our own God of War spin on it.
In God of War I, when Kratos opens Pandora’s box to kill Ares, he inadvertently releases all of the evils into the world, and those evils infect the Gods. This is why Zeus is helpful in God of War I and in God of War II — he becomes the antagonist. Zeus allows fear to overtake him.
Unbeknownst to Kratos, the power that allowed him to defeat Ares in God of War I was the hope inside of Pandora’s Box. Because Kratos was so consumed with guilt over his family and so filled with rage toward Ares, he couldn’t see that he was now the vessel that carried hope. And, like anyone enduring loss, Kratos locked the possibility of hoping for something better deep inside him.
We also have to remember that, while God of War I was a self-contained story, God of War II ended on a cliffhanger and God of War III was the answer to that cliffhanger. So we now have two thematic elements fighting each other. Fear, which started in Zeus during God of War II, and hope, which emerged in Kratos in God of War III. The relationship with Pandora was meant to give Kratos something to hope for again so he could draw on that power to defeat Zeus. But as we now know, the Pandora relationship didn’t turn out so well and Kratos loses her too. At the end, when Kratos has lost everything, he uses the Blade of Olympus on himself, and he releases hope inside of him. And so, finally, our tragic anti-hero actually does something heroic. He gives hope to mankind.
So, to answer your question, yes, hope was meant to be a thread through the entire game and actually meant to tie together the trilogy, which was a daunting task.
In God of War III, the challenge was to keep the idea of hope cloaked enough until we got to the end. I think there are moments that may have conveyed this better that got left on the cutting room floor, but I also think there are moments in the game that foreshadow the end. It’s just sometimes it’s hard to see narrative moments through the blood-soaked carnage.
SCRIPT: God of War III was nominated for a WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) Award. There has been some ‘talk’ on blogs about how many great games were left off of consideration. Can you explain how Video Game Writing nominations are considered by the WGA and what advantage being a member has had on your career?
MK: I know scripts have to be submitted for consideration, so it’s possible that some developers didn’t submit their work. From there, I assume there is a group of people who read the submissions. Other than that, you’d have to consult the WGA. Being a member of the WGA offers credibility in that you have to have credits to join. As for helping my game career, most publishers are not signatory, so being WGA doesn’t necessarily help get a game job. It would be nice if publishers would sign the IPC, which is the WGA’s way of helping game writers get good medical coverage without the publisher going signatory, but most are reluctant on that front, too. Anyway, I honestly believe what helps get jobs is hard work and a professional attitude.
As for my WGA membership, I belong to the guild because I believe in the power of a collective bargaining unit. In all types of storytelling media, writers can be taken advantage of and the guild protects the writer. I think that’s why the guilds (SAG, DGA, WGA) were invented in the first place. To protect the artists. I am, and always will be, in favor of protecting the artists. And giving them medical coverage. Come on publishers, it’s just medical insurance for the people helping to make your games better. Sign the IPC!
SCRIPT: What advice would you give someone who is trying to break into the video game industry writing for video games?
MK: I think my background in more traditional storytelling has helped me a lot, so that’s where I’d start – learn storytelling and solid character development. Breaking in is tough but not impossible. I was lucky to have the initial meeting with David Jaffe, but years of work prior to that day is what counted when opportunity finally did come. Have written samples ready and continue to write. Try for a job on a development team. A lot of the writing in games is done internally.
For more info on God of War III visit: Godofwar.com