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God of War III Director Stig Asmussen on His Game’s Best Kills

In the unlikely event that there are any Playstation 3 owners who haven't taken a sick day to buy it, we should probably inform you that arriving in stores today is Sony's God of War III, the series' biggest, most ambitious entry yet. The actioner — in which Kratos, a revenge-seeking, loincloth-wearing warrior, is tasked with killing all the Greek gods he didn't dispatch in previous GoW titles — features the largest-ever enemies to appear in a video game and some of the most delightfully gruesome pixelated violence this squeamish Vulture editor has ever watched through his fingers. Last week, we spoke to game director Stig Asmussen about the movies that inspired GoW III, his favorite in-game kills, and what he's looking forward to about his next big project.

The first thing people are going to notice about the game is the largeness of the characters. How much bigger are the villains than the main character, Kratos?
The titans are about the size of the Sears Tower. Literally, that’s how tall they stand. It’s like a 140-story building.

How did you actually pick the scale? Once they're that big, why not just make them even bigger?
If they’re too small, they wouldn’t have been impressive. We needed them to be tall enough where Kratos could stand on top of them and fight other enemies. If they were too big, they would be too cumbersome to frame in the camera. To make them as big as we could, we decided rather than starting at the thing’s foot and climbing to its head, we would start you at its shoulder and go to his hand. And then we’ll just have game play that’s on his head or game play that’s on his chest, and figure out different ways to get to other parts of its body [at] key moments.

Your game had a huge budget, is insanely violent, there's no tacked-on multiplayer — it's just a single-player game, which is unique for a blockbuster title these days. So did you have to compromise any part of your original vision for it?
There was no pressure from the company in terms of "You need to make it a certain way" or "You need to dial back on this stuff." We’ve got our own monitor with the ESRB. The only criteria that Sony would give us is that it has to be an M-rated game, it can’t go above that. And I wouldn’t want it to go above that. It’s like the difference between making a rated-R movie and a rated-X movie, and I’m not interested in making a rated-X movie.

You've said that one of the kills in the game was inspired by Gaspar Noé's Irriversible — namely, I assume, the scene of the movie in which a guy's head is beaten in with a fire extinguisher. Did the ratings board have no problem with that?
Yeah, [it inspired] Hercules's death [in the game]. I was surprised. We had a backup plan for that one. But they passed our whole game, and we still had a little room left. I think the ESRB takes things in context in terms of the game as a whole. He’s fighting against gods, and that’s something that helped us. Do you think that scene was pretty gruesome?

Yeah, definitely.
But is that what you felt like doing then?

Sure.
Good — that was the whole point.

What other movies were you watching for inspiration?
The Poseidon kill at the beginning where he gouges out his eyes is from Layer Cake. Several of the cameras that we did — we have one camera called “The Evil Dead” camera, when the camera kind of swoops back and goes along your arm and swoops through the trees, it’s kind of like the quick-motion cameras that they had in the Evil Dead movies of people going through the forest. Man on Fire was something that we kind of looked at, 'cause it was a movie about this violent guy who has a deeper side to him, and he develops this kind of interesting relationship with this girl. So he has this softer side, but he’s really focused on his mission. He takes people out with extreme prejudice.

The game features dirty, sex-filled interstitial mini-games in between levels. I've read that you almost took those out ...
We almost didn’t do them in general, but we found a good way to use them. I didn’t want to do it unless it was something that could be integrated into the story. Aphrodite ended up becoming a tool that allowed us to explain why you were stuck in a certain location in the game. We didn’t do it very elegantly, but it was a lot better than putting a locked door and having Kratos go fetch a key or something. She kind of just sends you off in this new direction. Then, we were like, well she’s here, so we might as well use her for the sex mini-game.

God of War III was in development for three years. Are you always thinking that far ahead? What's something you're excited to do in your next project that you couldn't do this time?
I'm interested in 3-D TV in terms of the technology and what that can do for games. It’s a new development that I definitely want to take a closer look at.

So back to your game's violence for a minute: Did you really not have to take out anything that was too gruesome?
We had something that I was uncomfortable with, a choking sequence with Hera where you could control the choking. We played around with it and then we got into it, and we were like "This is pretty violent." Violence against women — I didn't want to include that in the game. I think that the thing that makes me cringe the most when I look at it is the Hercules, and that’s as far as I wanted it to go. I didn’t want to take anything any further than that.

Do you have a favorite kill in the game?
The Helios head rip was awesome. Maybe my favorite is the one where you cut Hermes's legs off, because it’s so satisfying after the whole [battle] to do that. It feels so good to take that guy out that way.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony