There’s no denying that God of War is a technical marvel. The game is a visual masterpiece and its various systems and mechanics come together flawlessly. Thanks to Lead Systems Designer Vince Napoli, we’ve been given an in-depth look at just one of those systems.
Recalling the Leviathan Axe in God of War is an integral part of combat and is certainly one of the most important (and cool) features. According to Lead Gameplay Designer Jason Mcdonald the idea to have Kratos throw his axe came up early in development, but Santa Monica Studios had issues making it work.
There was always this animation of Kratos throwing the axe that seemed like it would be cool but it would be like, well, he’s going to throw his weapon away.
What use is that going to be? Is this going to be gone? You’re gonna have to go pick it up.
It wasn’t until Napoli suggested that Kratos be able to recall the Leviathan Axe that things started to come together. Napoli says that the recall mechanic was something he wanted to do “all the way back in 2015, maybe even 2014.”
Leviathan Axe God of War
However, even though recalling the Leviathan Axe in God of War was being worked on three or four years ago, “we were still putting the finishing touches on it months ago,” Napoli explains. “It really did take several years of tweaking and noodling and messing with it.”
As Napoli explains, the function of recalling the Leviathan Axe was one of necessity. Santa Monica Studios knew that Kratos needed a ranged attack and instead of giving the axe the power to fire a projectile it made more sense to have him throw the axe.
It was also an aesthetic decision;
Hitting an enemy with a solid / large object is just more satisfying than using a projectile/particle effect.
Once the team started experimenting with throwing and recalling the Leviathan Axe, it realised there were unexpected benefits. “One of the first things we realized was that hitting enemies on return was basically mandatory,” Napoli said adding, “It wasn’t only what you would intuitively expect, it was something that was both satisfying to do on purpose and have happen accidentally.”
One feature of recalling the Leviathan Axe the team added was to modify the return arc to ensure it hit more enemies. Napoli says, “We used a pretty tight angle to define when the Axe should do this. Although, there is a special pommel late in the game that opens that auto-seeking behaviour to 180 degrees.”
When it came time to actually animate the recall, Napoli explains that the team went through several different versions. “The first version actually required the player to be static while it returned,” he said. Kratos stance for this version was more like the original games, “a bombastic, high profile, hand in the air, facing completely forward approach.”
The animation was changed to allow Kratos the freedom to move and block and so the aesthetics of the recall animation changed. According to Napoli, one of the first changes made was to lower Kratos arm and have him turn toward the camera.
This gave the recall animation a more casual feel and lowered tension. The team also emphasised both “the initial recall moment and the catch moment.” It was important for the developers to make the initial recall moment feel ‘weighty’ and ‘forceful.’ The catch too needed to be forceful, but not so much that it made Kratos look unable to handle the weapon.
We had to strike a very specific balance so that the catch feels casual, like he does it all the time, but still carry some momentum through so you can feel the Axe’s speed.
After the team nailed the recall animation down, it set to work on tweaking the timing and arc of the Leviathan Axe’s return. At first, the Axe returned in a straight line and at an “acceleration/max speed value” but it proved to be problematic. Napoli states there were two main issues with this approach;
- The further away you were from the Axe, the longer it would take to get back to you. This was extremely frustrating in combat.
- Travelling in a straight line often meant you didn’t see it.
Napoli and another Santa Monica Studios developer George Mawle worked to achieve the curved return seen in the finished game. Napoli believes, “This increased the chance you would see the Axe return, as well as just, looked nicer.” He also explained that the way the Axe rotates into Kratos’ hand took some clever trickery.
Only in the last second before it goes into Kratos’s hand does it rotate itself around correctly. Attempting to rotate the Axe in flight made it look too messy/out of control.
When it came to solving the issue the recall speed, the solution was ” to use a hard time-out in addition to a base speed/acceleration.” This meant that when the Axe was nearby it would return to you more quickly and still remain visible.
If the Leviathan Axe was at a distance that would take longer than 1.5 seconds, the team devised a way to “simply increase the speed to whatever was necessary. This allowed us to easily control the max possible time that the player would be spent waiting for the Axe.”
An interesting feature related to the time spent waiting for the Axe is what Napoli calls the “Axe Wiggle.”
One of the more subtle little mechanics (that was notorious for breaking numerous times during development) is a wiggle the Axe does before it rips itself out of an enemy or wall.
The “Axe Wiggle” actually caused some players to believe the time spent waiting for the Leviathan Axe was longer than it actually was. Napoli explains that Santa Monica Studios settled on an animation time of 0.1 seconds before the Axe would return to Kratos.
I need to Axe you a question
Napoli explains that the Axe Wiggle “used to be much longer, but we started getting complaints that the Axe felt like it was taking too long to come back.
“And strangely enough, it actually didn’t matter if we sped up the return to compensate because it was the added delay before moving that made it feel longer. Some even had the perception that their inputs were delayed.”
It seems incredible that the animation of the recall could be sped up to compensate, but it would still feel longer due to the delay. This one small detail gives such incredible insight into the development process of videogames and how good at problem solving developers really are.
To finish off the Leviathan Axe recall animation, Napoli explains the small details that add polish. The sound of the Axe returning is tied to its location and rotation. There are also three distinct force-feedback rumbles used when recalling the Axe; “one for the initial triggering, one for the flight, and one for the catch.”
Despite how much work it took, this mechanic might be the one I’m most proud of in the game. Of course we took some inspiration from a certain Marvel character… but from a game play standpoint I feel like it really did open a lot of doors we weren’t expecting.
Napoli’s explanation of the Leviathan Axe recall animation is a fascinating insight into how much effort goes into the smallest parts of the games we love to play.
If you’ve played God of War, you’ve probably marvelled at how satisfying it is to throw and recall the Leviathan Axe. I know I did, but I didn’t give a second thought to how much work must have gone into making it happen.
God of War is available now on PS4.