One of the most beautiful games on the PlayStation 3 has spawned an equally beautiful art book, says Fernando Caire. And Ballistic Publishing’s The Art of God of War III certainly packs a daunting amount of material into its 272 pages. But at $65 even for the softcover edition, can it justify the price?
Five years ago, almost to the day, I attended a small Q&A session in a packed community college classroom with my fellow illustration students. The artist this gathering was for was nervous, and I was eager to leave so I could catch the Harry Potter midnight showing. But all that changed as he opened up the first page of his portfolio.
What I saw were complex architectures of Greek myth, resembling something out of Clash of the Titans but on a much grander scale. Temples and ruins were sketched with so much detail I couldn’t even begin to imagine how long each piece must have taken. The artist was Cecil Kim, and he gave me my first glimpse of the original work for the first God of War games.
Fast forward five years. Cecil Kim is now the Lead Concept Artist for the third chapter in the God of War series, but he – along with the many other talents at SCE’s Santa Monica Studios – still manage to leave me baffled at the scale of their artwork, now on show in Ballistic Publishing’s The Art of God of War III.
Ballistic has managed to pack a lot of production drawings, paintings and 3D models into this 272-page book. Hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of art went into this project. And the craftsmanship in each is nothing short of astonishing. But while the art is something to marvel at, the book itself is not without its drawbacks.
But first, the good stuff. For me, the best thing about this book is being able to see the lost designs: characters, levels, props and enemies that did not make it into the final game. I always felt the first two God of War games, as groundbreaking as they were, never reached their full potential, due to the limitations of the hardware of the time. Now that the possibilities are virtually limitless, the art of God of War III reflects this freedom.
The character design section of the book shows early ideas for characters like Pandora or Poseidon, and how these evolved to the final designs. Various gods, creatures and titans are given the same treatment in extensive layouts showing rough concept sketches and nearly completed renderings.
The section on 3D characters provides multiple examples of character models and textures. This chapter seems rather tame compared to the others, since it mainly shows the models in basic poses – although, looking at them, you cannot help but appreciate the attention to detail. It’s hard to believe that the gameplay was as smooth as it actually was when the engine was processing such complex assets.
Instead, the highlight of this collection is the concept art for the environments. No game has ever featured levels with the scale and complexity of God of War III and it will be a long time before another does. The digital paintings are full of atmosphere and the scale is immense. From the halls of Olympus to the depths of the underworld, no detail is spared in these pieces.
The Art of God of War III will set you back $65, and that’s just for the paperback. If, like me, you prefer your books with a hard cover, the Special Edition costs $125, while the limited-run Folio Edition, featuring a Blade of Exile’ metal-carved cover ornament, is $300. This strictly limited edition includes an individually-numbered, hand signed certificate by Sony Santa Monica Art Director Ken Feldman, Lead Visual Development Artist Cecel Kim, Lead Environmnet Artist Chris Sutton, and Lead character Artist Patrick Murphy.
But if your pockets aren’t that deep, it isn’t all bad news. Amazon.com is currently offering the softcover edition at just over $40, while anyone ordering the book from Ballistic’s online store will receive 30 minutes of tutorials on the creation of Cerberus and Hephaestus by concept artist Katon Callaway.
Ballistic has always been a mark of quality, and if you have the money, The Art of God of War III justifies its price. Although it would have been nice to have been able to get a hardcover edition without having to pay an extra $60, the most beautiful game available on the PS3 has spawned an equally beautiful book.
View a slideshow of images from The Art of God of War III