Sony Santa Monica Studio Prototyped A God of War VR Demo For PSVR

by David Jagneaux • May 19th, 2017

All major console manufacturers have flagship first-party characters that define their systems and audience. For Nintendo it’s always been the colorful cast of the Mario, Donkey Kong, and Zelda franchises. For Microsoft it’s the Halo and Gears of War games. But for Sony, it’s changed with each console generation. The PS1 had Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, the PS2 had Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, and Kratos from God of War. The PS3 also had Kratos, but then saw the debut of Nathan Drake with Uncharted.

Most of those games wouldn’t really be that great of a fit for VR you’d think. They’re all third-person action games. Even though Lucky’s Tale proves it can work it’s not exactly the go-to genre for VR, so consider me a bit surprised when I learned that years before the PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset (previously known as Project Morpheus) actually released, Sony’s Santa Monica Studio created a prototype demo for a God of War VR game.

During an interview with Glixel, the Head of PlayStation’s Magic Lab, Richard Marks, recounted the several years the company has been working on some form of experimental technology that contributed to the creation of the PSVR headset.

“So this is 2009, 2010,” Marks said. “We had the PlayStation Move controllers, and a lot of people were just doing different stuff with them. We put them on our head and did this with the TV. Another guy in R&D was putting it on his head and having a phone screen in front of his eyes, and that’s, you know, more like VR. And the same thing happened down in Santa Monica Studios. They made, like, a God of War VR demo.”

You can see some of the prototype running on an old experimental headset with a Move controller strapped to it. The footage starts around the 5:45 mark during the GDC 2014 presentation embedded below:

The most surprising part about this prototype to me isn’t that it’s a God of War VR demo, but that it’s a first-person God of War VR demo. That flips the whole franchise around and truly turns it into something brand new. Similar to the treatment Resident Evil 7 received.

“They took the code and just did the same thing with a screen in front of their face, a phone screen,” said Marks. “And then some guys in the UK were doing the same, but they were working more on better optics, so they actually made it so it looked better. And then some people in Japan, too. So it was this grassroots thing at Sony – a lot of engineers liked VR and wanted to do something with VR. So they all had a poor man’s VR system because they had this cheap tracking system thanks to the Move controller, that they could use, and it just worked with the PlayStation hardware already, so they could just plug their game straight into it and do stuff. And so everyone came to these internal events and showed each other what we were doing, and kind of got some bottom-up momentum, and then from the top down the head of hardware and the head of content development and the head of the game studios, they decided, ‘Yeah, let’s do this as an official full-blown thing.'”

For more details about the gradual development of the PSVR you an read the entire interview on Glixel. We haven’t heard anything about God of War VR becoming a real thing, but interestingly, Sony’s Santa Monica Studio collaborated on the development of PSVR horror game, Here They Lie, and published Bound, which did receive a gorgeous VR update. So maybe we aren’t so far away from a full-blown project from the studio eventually.

Let us know what you think of the prototype and idea for a full title down in the comments below!

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  • Jonathan Suarez

    That just makes me think that a Doom VR could work, but not so much for God of War.

    • EVERYTHING can work in VR (be if first person game, third person games, shooting games, driving games, fighting games, board games, whatever–basically any games/genres you see on current consoles and PCs); when are some people gonna get that through their skulls.

      • KLEEBAN KLIBAN

        Think you are reading it too literally haha. Anything could “work” in VR at a technical level. You could even say Jar Jar Binks “worked” in The Phantom Menace if you mean he didn’t bug the movie and make it unwatchable. To say something isn’t working is a common expression, like if a chick wears clothes that don’t look good. The clothes function as designed and work to cover her body, but they don’t work on her. Same goes for games. Many games work in VR, but don’t work for VR.

        • Sure, but a God of War game, be in third person or first person or whatever, could absolutely work in VR.

          • KLEEBAN KLIBAN

            Yea, but that’s my point.. it only works/functions just as well and that is the problem. It is not only a waste of development time that could have been used more meaningfully than on a novelty gimmick with no additional purpose, it’s also just a lower quality, more inconvenient way to play, which is why it won’t work and doesn’t work on the games that already do it. The only purpose it serves other than a quick demo that you grow tired of immediately, is it gives developers a chance to practice with VR, which is definitely a necessity and that’s why we see so many games converted to VR that offer nothing additional.

            There have to be meaningful changes to the experience for a VR game to work. Novelty for the sake of novelty is a wasted opportunity, again unless developers are experimenting for their own benefit.

            First person games work because they add to the idea that you are the character, which is what the first person view is all about. Third person isn’t about being the character so VR doesn’t elevate that style nearly as much not without new V-specific features, at the very least not enough to justify the quality downgrade. Maybe that will change when VR is higher quality and you can enjoy the visuals of the 3rd person world.. but at least on PSVR the visuals aren’t impressive after long. Everything is harder to see and more jagged and plain. Beautiful games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4 and God of War 4 are way more visually impressive on screen than they’d be in this gen PSVR.. so much more impressive that you get more lost in the on screen visuals than you do inside the significantly lower quality world. do have PS4 Pro so I have PSVR as good as it gets. While the entry price was the right call and is for the best as far as VR’s progression right now, it doesn’t look great after you get over it.

            Anyway all games work but most wouldn’t be any more successful due to the VR element, so it’s just increased development cost cutting into a negligible increase in revenue, hurting profit by a fair amount. Although in the future hopefully most game engines will by default build worlds that immediately convert to VR with no added development, so development resources won’t even be a factor for games that aren’t VR exclusive experiences and the VR element will just be another option, like cycling from 1st to 3rd person. By that time VR will look a lot better too so those 3rd party games would look good enough for more gamers to consider the experience improved. That being said, you are right that they will work in the future, just not right now.

      • Jonathan Suarez

        My argument is that (this) God of War would not be a good fit for VR. Here’s why:
        1. They changed the game from 3rd to 1st person. This changes many dynamics in the game, like the many QuickTime Events, as well as the overall tone of the game.

        2. The game can be extremely fast paced with multiple enemies. Noticed how many enemies were in that room? One. When did that ever happen in the other God of War games? Also, he couldn’t even land a hit on his first attempt.

        3. I would not want the fighting sequences to be toned down versions of the PS2 game series I grew up with. Maybe keep the game 3rd person for most of the fights, with regular controller support, and switch to 1st person for certain sequences (scaling a huge boss, flying, etc).

        If you want quick executions in 1st person, I’d still just recommend the new Doom.

        • 1. They changed it to first person in this particular example; it doesn’t have to be first person just because it’s in VR.

          2. See above.

          3. See above.

          A God of War game in VR could be every bit as good as any that have existed on other consoles, and likely a whole lot better in a few ways.

          • Jonathan Suarez

            Though If it’s not in first person, how exactly would VR enhance the experience for a game like God of War?

          • Have you actually played VR? There’s a bunch of third person games that are enhanced by being in VR: Lucky’s Tale, Dragon Front, Chronos, AirMech Command, Edge of Nowhere, etc. Not everything in VR needs to be played as though you are literally there moving through it yourself in first person. In fact, some games are simply better played otherwise, and not moving directly in first person can also be a great way to remove most-all of the stuff that actually causes motion sickness too.

          • Jonathan Suarez

            I do own a PlayStation VR and Google Daydream (if you count that) currently, and I’ve had the Gear VR when I still used the Samsung Galaxy Note series. While any game really can be played in VR, from Pitfall to Call of Duty, I’d rather have a game that can be enhanced by it. I can’t rationalize a God of War VR title making use of the PS Move controllers, and I can’t see it working effectively in First Person. So, I don’t think it counts if you just slap something into the system and hope you can “see it through the VR goggles” to call it a full-scope VR title.

            The only possible utility I can see being utilized is head tracking, and that would just replace the function of the right analog in God of War. Sure, simply having VR as an option could work, but could someone make the argument that “God of War totally works in VR” when you’re literally using the VR aspect of it as a perceptively bigger screen, and that’s it?

          • Well, you not being able to think of any ways VR can genuinely enhance a God of War game does not equate to VR not being able to genuinely enhance a God of War game. I, other the hand, don’t have that limitation in how I think about the multiple ways VR can be used to make God of War even better.

          • Jonathan Suarez

            So you list literally zero of the ways VR can enhance God of War, but proceed to tell me that you believe VR can enhance God of War. Rather than trying to take jabs and say my thinking is limited, maybe you can continue the discussion with, I don’t know… Points?

          • So, I have to explain VR to you, basically.

            Well, it’s not my job but: First, you’re seeing the entire world in stereoscopic 3D, and not only that but you’re actually there directly inside the world and it’s to proper scale, and it has true 3D positional audio the wraps all around you roo, and runs at a min solid 90fps. Already that’s a huge benefit over traditional flat-screen, windowed, TV/monitor gaming. And that’s just what VR adds by default to basically all games.

            Now, examples of actual stuff that would be awesome in VR God of War game:

            Example 1: You could be one of the giants/titans in the game that Kratos interacts with. You could reach out your hand with your palm up–using the motion controller of course–and get Kratos to climb/jump onto it and then you could lift him up to a higher area or give him a boost during an epic boss fight.

            Example 2: Secrets like extra-powerful weapons could be hidden in parts of the level that you maybe only discover if you physically lean in and around a little bit to see behind a wall obscuring your view or around a corner you can’t normally see past.

            Example 3: You could be controlling Kratos in third person fighting the good fight and then the scene could pull out to show that beyond the area is a giant God secretly manipulating and controlling everyone like puppets on a game board–you’re avatar is actually that God–and then Kratos could actually break the forth wall and jump beyond the boundaries of the scene and into your virtual God world and start fighting there, maybe even fighting you. To imagine what I mean, visualize yourself sitting in a virtual cinema watching a movie on the virtual screen, and then suddenly the person in the movie burst out from the screen and starts actually blowing up the cinema your sitting in, which chairs flying around, parts going on fire, and people running around screaming. Just translate that general image to a 3D video game taking place on a virtual 3D table top (a bit like a board game) with you playing/controlling the game on that table top while standing in a virtual environment yourself, but Kratos is so powerful he can literally move between the different dimensions, as it were, from his world to your world (which would still be some kind of Greek setting or whatever). And so on.

            Example 4: You could have a level where Kratos gets blinded and the whole screen goes completely dark, and you have to navigate your way through by using only the fully 3D true positional audio to guide you.

            Example 5: You could have Kratos climbing up a HUGE mountain, still in third person, but one so big that even you as basically the virtual camera would be physically looking up and seeing it stretch so far above you that you simply can’t imagine how Kratos could ever get to the top of it. That sense of scale simply cannot be experienced in any meaningful way by looking at some graphics on a 40 inch flat screen with physical boundaries around the edge.

            And so on and on. . . .

            Now, I’m not claiming those are the best ideas in the Universe, but I’m just spit-balling here, and this is only the stuff that popped into my head as I’m typing. I’m sure a talented developer would come up with loads of truly awesome stuff to do in VR with a game like this.

  • Xron

    So, no game reviews this week? I guess that incident really did some damage to uploadvr -.-
    Dang, hope they will solve it as soon as possible.

    Good luck!

  • michaelknight31

    Who knows they might add some vr to the new god of war game or wait til god of war 4 comes out and make god of war vr similar to what rocksteady did put out batman vr after batman arkham knight

  • LegoKnockingShop

    Come on David, how is this news? This was talked about at the Morpheus reveal in March 2014 and there’s been videos of the demo on youtube since then. Kinda late to the party, you could have easily googled this before running this piece.

  • 4brains

    After playing Chronos, Lucky´s tale and Adventure Time, a God of war VR sounds like a really good idea. If the mastodontic creatures are amazing on TV, just imagine feeling tiny besides them, or feeling Cronos´ fingers crushing you.

    Doesn´t need to be 1st person to be amazing in VR.