Q&A: God of War

How physically (in)feasible would weapons like the Blades of Chaos from God of War be in real life (the in-game nonsense about attachment aside)? The blades themselves are too big to be accurate thrown weapons, which I’m assuming the chains are supposed to compensate for, but I don’t quite understand the aerodynamics and weights versus a meteor hammer (or other, slightly more conventional weapon of that sort).

The short answer is, they’re not. For the exact reason you mentioned, the Blades of Chaos are far too heavy to use, this is before you even consider throwing them. Man at Arms built one back in 2013. To make the thing work, they actually used a lighter steel alloy, scaled it down, and ported it to get the weight of the blade under 10lbs. Even ignoring the part where Kratos is throwing them, these are stupidly big blades.

So the overall size isn’t an option. You can chalk this up to art design, or superpowers, if you want, but the swords are simply oversized to the point that they’re unusable. If you want to say, “that’s art design,” sure. That’s fine. It’s not authentic to the real world, but you’re talking about a steroid junkie who was resurrected from the dead hunting down and killing the Greek Gods, so, there’s not a lot of point to arguing if his swords are too large for a human to wield them. Just, you know, keep in mind, that’s part of the material’s visual aesthetic.

As with using them, they’re too heavy to throw at someone. That said, sticking a blade on the end of a length of rope or chain was a real weapon that saw use in China. We’ve talked about rope darts or kunai before. These are, basically, a small throwing dagger that is controlled by the user via the attached chain or chord. These are pretty popular in martial arts films, and they are a real option. There’s also a number of blunt variants, including the meteor hammer you mentioned. In those cases, you’re less worried about aerodynamics, and more interested in using the chain to control where and how the weapon spins. Sort of like a yo-yo, of horrific death and dismemberment.

There are practical points for both the Blades of Chaos and the rope dart, but they’re fundamentally different contexts.

Rope darts, and similar weapons are incredibly hard to deal with defensively. Against a trained user, they’re nearly impossible to block or parry.  Beyond that, they can be incredibly hard to predict. They’re also very difficult to use. It takes a lot of training and practice to actually put the blade where you want it. This means that a skilled practitioner can give these some very idiosyncratic strike arcs.

The Blades of Chaos are designed to do something you usually don’t want in a weapon: They’re designed to telegraph the user’s actions, and it is incredibly important that they do so.

For those of you unfamiliar with the God of War franchise, it’s a character action game where you control Kratos, an undead, Spartan warrior. Gameplay is (primarily) presented from an isometric perspective, where Kratos takes up somewhere around 2%-5% of the screen at any given moment. Part of this is to provide a sense of scale, and the series has a frequent sub-theme of sticking him next to incomprehensibly massive enemies. So, making him visually small is thematically important. It’s also important from a gameplay perspective. The player needs to be able to see the entire arena they’re currently fighting in, so that they can track enemy movement, and avoid attacks.

The chains attached to the Blades of Chaos provide two critical functions. They provide several medium range attacks for the player, and they offer the player feedback. That’s the telegraphing thing I mentioned earlier.

Given the way combat flows in the franchise, the ranged attack options are critical. The idea is that they player will be involved in melee combat, and continue to engage in it immediately after killing an opponent. There’s a number of ways to deal with this design goal, including lunge attacks or medium range options. As far as I know, God of War does both. The blades are also used as traversal tools, both in a chain pull to move the player around the battlefield (that’s a lunge move), and as climbing aids for some of those massive boss fights. (And some miniboss fights.)

In a character action game, telegraphing your attacks is actually fairly important. It runs contrary to actual combat doctrine for the exact reason that you’d never want to do this in a fight. In a game, you need to know exactly what your character is doing at all times. You also need to know what your enemies are doing. Because, as a genre, character action games tend to ramp up the speed of combat significantly, and maintain a high tempo, this means you’re not going to have the time to take a measured look at your opponent and evaluate their movements. So, for it to be playable, everything needs to be telegraphed. If you don’t, the combat will become nearly unplayable or, worse, feel unresponsive and inconsistent.

The cartoonist proportions of the blades are (I suspect) largely because you need to convey information to the player, in game, quickly. They’re comically oversized, but that’s because you need to be able to track them on your TV, from the couch, when Kratos is smaller than an action figure. The part where they ignite when used just gives you clear information on what you just did, where that hit landed and, (most importantly), when you’ll be able to do something else.

That last part is a huge component behind why all of this is so important for a game like God of War. (Not just a video game in general, but this specific genre.) When you’re designing a game, it’s important to understand what aesthetic elements communicate to the player. There’s a lot of parts to this, and it’s not always as simple as just the art style.

This is also why you don’t want to take stuff straight out of a video game without seriously considering what it was doing there in the first place. In this case, it’s telegraphing.

That said, if you’re drawing art, the whole oversized weapon aesthetic can serve (roughly) the same purpose: to communicate the progress of combat clearly. It also gives you more space for fine detail work on the weapons, which may work into your overall aesthetic as well. It’s not realistic, but there are artistic merits to the style.

When you’re in a real fight, the last thing you want is your opponent to know what you’re doing. This is one of the things the rope dart excels at, and part of why a lot of martial arts focus on keeping your movements inside the body’s profile. Humans process objects by identifying the outlines, and it will (usually) lump a person together as a single object, or a small collection of objects, meaning tracking motion inside that outline is actually harder. It’s not that you can’t see it, just that there’s a momentary lag of your brain going, “wait, what was that? I wasn’t paying attention.” In a fight, that can be fatal.

When you see stuff like this actually play out in video games, it tends to result in feeling like you couldn’t tell what was happening, or attacks came out of nowhere. In short, it’s not fun.

Television and films often use large exaggerated movements for the same reason, to convey what’s happening. It’s part of why the roundhouse punch is so prominent on screen (particularly up into the late 60s), when attempting the actual move in a fight is borderline suicidal. (The other reason this persisted is, it’s a very easy attack to whiff for the camera. Meaning it makes life much easier on the actors. Additionally, the long windup means the other actor has plenty of warning to cue their reaction. Again, the opposite of what you’d want in a real fight.)

-Starke

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