Early this morning when I should have been sleeping, I instead discovered a tweet from God of War creator David Jaffe about the title of God of War and how it was randomly selected from a hat. It seems absolutely insane now to think of God of War as anything other than God of War, but back before it first launched, it was an unproven property. We didn’t yet know Kratos, his Blades of Chaos, or his thirst for vengeance against the Greek pantheon.
Jaffe revealed that God of War was selected randomly from a hat, and that we could possibly have known God of War as either Dark Odyssey or At the Hands of the Gods. Would the game have done nearly as well had it been named something else? Would Cory Barlog have ever reinvented Dark Odyssey or At the Hands of the Gods into a new and more emotionally mature narrative more than 10 years later? As seemingly random as the selection seems, I believe that fate intervened that day to make sure that God of War was chosen. It communicated what it needed to in 2005. It provided a sense of recognition and familiarity in 2018. Would we feel that same attachment were everything the same but for the name?
As a creator myself, I have to say that coming up with names and titles for things is one of the most difficult parts of the job. Regardless of the meat of the writing, the name alone can make or break its success. Of course I wouldn’t be able to call myself a writer if I didn’t have a library of unpublished short stories and novel concepts filling space in the cloud, on my phone, on sticky notes, and anywhere else I can conveniently jot down ideas when they come to me. Every one of them has about seven different working titles and I can never quite land on the perfect one. Even the name of this very column is important to what it is. Daily Reaction. It simply works.
A Gurtnurd by Any Other Name…
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Bill Shakespeare once told me (close personal friends, we are).
“Maybe Bill,” I said, leaning back and staring directly into the sun. “But how would you feel getting your significant other a bouquet of a dozen gurtnurds for anniversaries and holidays?” We finished our Costco pizza and sat in silence for a long time. It was shortly after I posited that question that he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in Athens and actually (probably?) a side story to God of War, occurring alongside the events of Kratos’ life.
My personal close friendship with Billy Shakes aside, what if a rose were called something else? It’s easy for us to now think that there is no other perfect name for it, but what if we never knew otherwise? Some of the most iconic names in history could have been completely different.
I’ve frequently thought about this very subject with ongoing franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. I’ve often thought “what would a Call of Duty developer’s non-Call of Duty game look like?” One might argue that Titanfall was exactly that, having come from former Call of Duty devs, but there’s something to be said for the brand loyalty (and criticisms) that stem from the name alone. There’s an instant familiarity to the name. There are certain expectations that come with it. Imagine if when Activision had added Sledgehammer Games to their roster of devs, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare had been developed exactly the same but under a different name. Would it have done as well as it did, or can part of its success be attributed to the Call of Duty series header? New dev with a new IP is a tough sell, but tell your customer base that they’re developing the next title in the Call of Duty franchise, there’s an instant attachment to it.
Respawn somehow managed to prove the exact opposite of that, against all odds, with Apex Legends. They showed that it’s not about the name, and though it’s set in the Titanfall universe, it didn’t need the Titanfall name to gain recognition with the rapidly growing playerbase. I’d go on to argue that Apex Legends is also a fantastic name, and that it was just as important to get the new name right as it was to decide whether or not to identify the game under the Titanfall umbrella.
When Cory Barlog and Sony Santa Monica were looking to bring Kratos back, it was important to get the name right. This was a new beginning for Kratos, but it was a continuation of a long and storied history. They wanted to reward longtime fans, but didn’t want to alienate new players. Adding a 4 would make it feel inaccessible to those who weren’t around for the first three games. Adding a subtitle might make it feel like a side story of some kind. Changing the name entirely was out of the question. This was still God of War after all.
And that was it. It was and is God of War, plain and simple. It identifies with returning players and new players alike. It carries a history while hinting at a fresh start. And so it shares an identical name with the game that had its title drawn from a hat almost 15 years ago. Kind of the same way that Daily Reaction shares a name with the column that came before it (yes, I’m enjoying drawing parallels between my writing and the absolute masterclass that is God of War).
Would anything be different had David Jaffe and his team drawn a different paper from that hat? It’s impossible to say for certain, but if you subscribe to the idea of parallel dimensions based on every choice made, then somewhere out there, there are worlds where Kratos’ story goes by another name. Does the rose still smell as sweet when its called a gurtnurd?
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Daily Reaction: The God of War Hat Story - Does a Name Matter?