How the director of God of War: Ragnarok found inspiration in these five classic NES games

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God of War: Ragnarok is shaping up to be one of the biggest games of 2022, and the saga’s new director has revealed what classic games influenced his career.

Speaking to IGN, Santa Monica Studio’s Eric Williams tells us what five classic NES titles they have served him to address the different key elements to create a successful game.

The patch is now available ahead of Ragnarok's November 9 release.

Williams, who took over from Cory Barlog at the helm of the franchise, describes himself as an “engineer at heart,” with a “mathematical, scientific, and design background.” So it’s no wonder that while some of his formative games focus on fantasy and mythology, others focus on mechanics, stats, and combat systems.

The Legend of Zelda

The classic 1986 game that introduced the world to Link, Princess Zelda, and Hyrule made a strong impression on Williams as a child. He says that “being from the Midwest and playing in the woods as a kid made this game feel very familiar and fantastic at the same time.”

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Mythology plays a pivotal role in God of War: Ragnarok, and it seems like it’s been one of Williams’ favorite story elements for a long time. Speaking of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, he calls it “the complete package”, detailing how the game’s “city, day/night, insane secrets” and “monster mythology” especially influenced him.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

A massive game like God of War: Ragnarok requires complex combat systems, and Williams learned early on the importance of crafting them well. In fact, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! from 1987 helped him understand how a combat system should work. “The patterns, mechanics, techniques, and challenge of this game,” he says, “informed all of my early notions of what a ‘good’ combat system should be.”

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Baseball Stars

Quickly learning how money and upgrades work in a massive game like God of War: Ragnarok is often the key to success. And it turns out that Eric Williams discovered it through a game of a totally different genre. One of the most influential games for Williams is 1989’s Baseball Stars, and it turns out he found inspiration beyond gameplay and mechanics.

“I love the ‘numbers’ in baseball,” Williams says, “and this game had a salary system that taught me the fundamentals of statistics and economics systems.”

River City Ransom

Combat systems, story, mythology, and stats are important in developing a successful game. But, according to Williams, so is the theme. And he learned the importance of it playing 1989’s River City Ransom.

Theme is very important to me, and this game’s theme of being a ‘kid’ was very strong,” says Williams. “Playground gangs, sports, guns, comics to learn skills, even the under cap money resembled lunch money or actual values ​​of the time”.

Although Williams was inspired by a series of classic Nintendo games from the 1980s, it turns out that The NES wasn’t the only console to have a huge impact on his career.. In fact, one of the first home game systems ever developed set him on the path of video game design when he was just a kid.

“The Atari 2600 was the console that made me want to be a game designer. I don’t know how I knew at age 9 that the term ‘game designer’ existed,” says Williams.

It might be hard to take the word of an elementary school-aged future AAA game developer, but Williams provided the evidence.

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“When I was in 4th grade, we had to write a book about all the things we wanted to be one day, and it required us to explore 10 different paths,” he says. “My bottom line was fighter pilot, mostly because I watched Top Gun. But the funniest thing was that second place was ‘game designer.’

Eric Williams's path to designing games began when he was 9 years old.
Eric Williams’ journey into game design began when he was 9 years old.

“(This) image was taken from that book and is ridiculously embarrassing. Yet all these years later, here I am sitting in the Santa Monica studios pondering the dreams of a Midwestern kid while the world plays our game. “