What is considered out of bounds for the God of War series? It's not violence, as players will decapitate and eviscerate enemies with gory, glorious detail. It's not sex, either, as God of War III continues the series' naughty mini-game tradition. It's the laughs.
"If we start laughing," God of War III director Stig Asmussen says of the game's hyper-violent, over-the-top mature content, "that's our best barometer that we've gone too far."
The man behind the PlayStation 3 exclusive action-adventure game says that those considerations, whether the developers have surpassed their own comfort levels with Kratos' on-screen violent behavior, were discussed "quite a bit" during development.
Asmussen remembers one scene in particular, a violent moment inspired by the Gaspar Noé film Irréversible, infamous for its brutal rape scene and gruesome beating death of a man by fire extinguisher.
"I wanted something that intense, and a lot of work went into getting this particular scene right," Asmussen recalls. "Finally, the team got it working and somebody pulled me out of a meeting, very excited, to look at it. It was brutal and I was like, 'That is so fucking awesome.'" The God of War III lead wouldn't spoil the scene under discussion, but from what we've played, the level of violence is clearly beyond what previous games in the series aimed for.
"It was one of the things that we thought there was no way, the ESRB wouldn't let us do that, but they were fine with it," Asmussen said of the game's violence, which is "conceptually a lot grosser" than previous installments.
"I don't think we're being gratuitous," he argued. "We didn't end up shipping anything that I felt uncomfortable with."
As for the God of War series' other hallmark, the relatively more tame sex-themed mini-games, Asmussen says the one in the final chapter of Kratos' current story line "wasn't done just to do it," citing concern that it would feel "tacked on."
"There's a purpose behind those sex games and it feels pretty natural in the world," he says. "In the first God of War, it was kind of a tool designed to help tell you about a character you didn't know anything about. After the Hydra battle, it tells you a little bit about Kratos, that he's kind of this bad-ass. He has sex and can get glowing orbs out of it."
"The idea in God of War III was to do something that was more integrated into the story and his past on Olympus," Asmussen explained, "bummed" that a recent rating of the game spoiled the nature of Kratos' sexual conquests, something he wanted players to discover on their own.
So, what was cut from God of War III? Some of the gods, Asmussen says. The original version of the game's intro, the one that gives players a preview of Hades, Zeus and more, once featured "a bunch of gods flying around" Mt. Olympus, a moment that was just "too chaotic."
"We had a lot more that we wound up removing," he says, pulling out the Greek gods that just weren't working. And while Asmussen says he's interested in working on another God of War game, he "[doesn't] imagine that I'm going to start working on God of War IV any time soon."
At least there are some spare gods to go around if he does.