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God of War's unexpected influence? Indiana Jones

The director of God of War says he steals all his inspirational lessons from filmmakers. Also, his voice of doubt has an English accent for some reason.

Santa Monica Studio (PS4 Pro screenshot)

In case you haven't been paying attention, the new God of War on PlayStation 4 is the hottest new adventure in gaming. Spoiler alert: it's good. Really good -- and CNET's gaming crew is obsessed. So obsessed, that when we heard that Cory Barlog, the game's creative director, was downstairs visiting GameSpot, we had to invite him up to talk about games.

But we messed up. We talked about movies, instead.

"I don't know if you know the story of the boulder," said Barlog (in reference to the iconic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the giant boulder that chases Indiana Jones). "This is what I use to motivate people at work."


Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired the new God of War.

Paramount Pictures

He's not talking about the threat of a giant death trap, however, but the art of making one.

The famous scene was supposed to be a simple, quick shot. Indiana Jones triggers a trap, dodges a big rock and gets on with his adventure -- but Steven Spielberg was so impressed with the quality of the 22 foot fiberglass boulder prop that he expanded the scene into the iconic stunt we know and love today.

And that, Barlog says, is the point. "A memorable sequence like that came from a production designer doing their job above and beyond," he says, tying Indiana Jones back to God of War. "I basically tell the team all the time, 'I want the boulder.' ...You give the best boulder, like a boulder beyond what anybody could have expected, and it makes everything better."

It's a weird pep talk, but Barlog says it works. "This game is what it is, I think, because everybody made a better boulder."  

"I steal inspirational lessons from all filmmakers," Barlog says. An early moment in God of War borrowed notes from the vibrating "water cup" in Jurassic Park, and the game's extremely curated previews were designed to limit the kind of story spoilers given away in far too many movie trailers. More than anything, Barlog seems influenced by the work ethic of directors. Once, he says, James Cameron cut the side of a boat off to make sure he could get a specific shot in the documentary Aliens of The Deep. "When I heard that story I was like, dude, I do not work hard enough! I need to come up with plans where we cut the side of the boat out. Because that is an inspiration."


Kratos steps into his strangest role yet: single dad.

Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC

That inspiration drove him to make a God of War that challenged the conventions of the series. He gave Kratos a son, shifting the game's focus from over-the-top action to something far more personal and introspective. The changes were so bold, Barlog worried fans would reject his new vision for the series -- but even that self doubt stemmed from a love of cinema.

The voice in his head that told him reviewers would hate the game, he says, is English.

"I think it dates all the way back to the fact that everybody on the Death Star is English. And I think they sort of have this supervillain English thing happening." The voices of Darth Vader's lackeys have followed him since high school, he says. "I always feel heavily judged by all my English friends. I love them. They're all great. It's just that my internal voice definitely, since high school honestly, has been that screaming voice of doubt." It almost drove him out of the games industry -- but it was the original God of War that convinced him to stay.

Now playing: Watch this: God of War preview: Kratos gets older, wiser and dadder

"I kind of agreed to take the job so I could earn money, but I was very upfront -- I was like, I just want to leave at five o'clock everyday. I'll come in, I'll do some animation. I wanna leave at five o'clock, I wanna get a paycheck, and then I'm gonna make my own movie." Apparently, it took just 48 hours of animating Kratos to change his mind.

Barlog still made his movie, but it was the day job that  inspired him. "It was one of the most exciting times of my entire career," he says. "This character, as an animator, took hold of me and made me want to be so much better than I could possibly imagine. So it was awesome."


The gaming industry has changed since Kratos' heyday. Gamers want more than mindless, over-the-top violence.

SCE Santa Monica

Barlog would go on to take over as game director of God of War II and III. He helped direct the cinematics of the Tomb Raider reboot. He's been actively working on games as an animator, writer or director for almost 20 years. In that time, games have gotten more impressive. They've made huge technological leaps, but they've also evolved narratively.

"We are moving to a point where gamers actually want to feel something in a game," he says. "I think maybe at that magical point, where this is what people are starting to want. They're starting to want to dig deeper. They want 'why' as much as 'what' and 'how,'" he explained. "They want a game to do more than simply scratch the itch of blowing something up."

The conversation quickly goes back to cinema. "We're evolving forward, right? The film industry has been around since the 30s," he says. "We can't even be compared of them, but the reality is they've got a lot of time on us and we're just in what would probably be the 40s or 50s of their timeline."

Games are still evolving as an artistic medium -- but despite his obvious love of film, and the fact he almost abandoned the gaming industry to make movies, Barlog seems satisfied with where his career has led him.

"What we do is make games. We don't make movies, we don't make television. And that's not to denigrate those two things. It's to say that we make games. There is a celebration of interactivity and an agency and a relationship we have with our audience that you don't have with film or television, and I don't ever want to run away from that or shy away from that. I want to be able to tell stories in that kind of setting, in that kind of situation, but at the same time, never lose sight of the fact this is who we are."

Filmmaking springs to mind one final time for Barlog as we wrap.

"Battlestar Galactica," he says. "'This is who we are.'"

He pauses a beat.

"Oh no, that's 'So say we all.' Dammit."

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