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God of War - Creating the Valkyries


God of War - Creating the Valkyries

Balancing Fear and Elegance


25 Jun 2018 ⋅ 8 min read

We're excited to celebrate our official God of War Collection. Our newest addition are these stunning God of War Notebooks! Take a look at them and then read on to get a deeper look into how Santa Monica Studio created the Valkyries.

Spoiler warning! We recommend playing through the game first before reading through this story.

Encased in a cocoon with her wings, the Valkyrie in front of you doesn’t move an inch. You aren’t exactly sure what to expect from this Norse creature. That is, until you get close enough, when she bursts out of her wings, unhappy at your presence and ready for battle. What ensues is one of the most intense boss encounters you'll face in our game. These characters’ designs are absolutely intricate, gorgeous and intimidating all at once. Through fascinating, angelic inspirations to the importance of their wings, The God of War team wanted to impart a sense of imposing and beautiful dread while you face off against the unique and deadly Valkyries.

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Fearsome and Elegant Designs

The Santa Monica Studio art team was tasked with an interesting objective with the Valkyries – create nine of the most difficult bosses that were both frightening and graceful. As with many of the assets created for the game, the art team wanted to make sure this creation felt unique, even though the concept of the Valkyries may be familiar in popular culture. God of War’s lead character concept artist, Dela Longfish, remembered the research process: “First, we looked at the mythology of the Valkyries - female warriors that would bring the worthy souls to Valhalla. So that was where they started, as with most of the characters, especially those that many may be familiar with, they tried to give a unique take on them.” The team was constantly challenged with making sure to put their own mark on characters that already had resonance in the popular mindset.

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The Santa Monica Studio team was also told early on that the Valkyries would be the hardest bosses that players would face in the game. Principal character artist, Raf Grassetti, recollected, “We knew that the Valkyries were there more to challenge the players and test their skills as optional bosses. So, that’s one of the initial directions that got reflected in the design too.” Both gameplay and lore affected the final character design - a collaborative process common throughout the development of God of War. “Even game designers breaking down all the different classes and how they were going to work, this was such a big character that it took a long time.”

With these two aspects in mind, artists Vance Kovac and Justin Sweet merged those different characteristics with one another to create this memorable character template. The team’s goal would be to make sure these Valkyries emit a mixture of both elegance and fear. Dela recollected, “We wanted them to make them feel frightening; we wanted to make them feel tough. We also wanted a bit of beauty and nobility in their designs. The concept team really walked the razor-thin edge of beautiful and frightening at the same time, exactly what the characters thematically were trying to emote in-game.” The team was very enamored by the concepts Justin and Vance did of the Valkyries being an angelic form of Death, which was a direct influence and Santa Monica Studio wanted to continue that theme of creating a character that was stunningly beautiful, yet terrifying. “You want to feel they are taking the souls and shepherding them as they transition to Asgard.”

The Wings of Destruction

One of the most striking elements on the Valkyries came in the design of their wings. This became a very important element because of how the wings would be used in gameplay and it was also the first striking element that you would encounter when seeing a Valkyrie. Even the core design of these wings was very different from much of what you may have been used to seeing up to that point in the game.

Dela remembered some of the challenges associated with this part of the design: “Cory and much of the team really liked that the wings weren’t natural – creating an iconic look to these characters. But the wings were the most difficult part – getting these mechanical parts and making sure it didn’t feel out of place with the technology of the time. The design prompt was that we wanted these wings that were mechanical harnesses, but to make sure it fit with Vance Kovacs’ designs.” The art team would play around with how the Valkyries would use their hands to push and pull the wings in order to attack and defend. At one point, there were even handles on the wings to really accentuate the mechanical nature of the wings.

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The Creatures Adoring the Valkyries

Another distinguished part of the Valkyrie is in their helmet design. Each one would wear a very different type of helmet, yet would be themed together based upon a different creature. There is a constant theme of merging a scary, yet beautiful creation that continued to stay top of mind for the team during the design process. Dela stated, “Initially, we wanted nine variations with the Valkyries and wanted to make it something unique to each of them, so we based them on animals and things we see from nature. The eight Valkyries are all animals designed early on by Vance Kovacs and Justin Sweet.” These masks would extenuate in all different directions, from various color choices to metalwork designs and are an important part of reaching the final Valkyrie, the Queen Sigrun.

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“For the Queen, we wanted to give a mythical edge, so we based her mask on a dragon which was initially designed by José Cabrera. Again, we tried to keep them somewhat frightening, but almost a bit beautiful at the same time …and not being able to tell the thoughts behind who was underneath these death masks,” Dela stated. The masks definitely emitted that regal beauty, while still being creepy in nature with Sigrum being built up to be the most ornate and mysterious of them all.

The process of getting to the final design of the Valkyries took a lot of iterations in getting the balance just right, making sure that they were shown off as both skilled and refined. Raf remembered, “It was a long process of designing a helmet that looked Asgardian and trying to make it feel like it belonged as mighty warriors.” Hints of their past would be shown off in their armor sets – not looking completely polished and showcasing a long-and-tired past, such as in the torn feather designs on the helmets.

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Conjuring Magical Weapons

The weapons as well were carefully designed and came through a deep collaboration with Santa Monica Studio’s combat team. The art team would work closely with the other combat designers on how the Valkyries’ toolkit would be represented in each of the characters. This would be in contrast with Kratos and Atreus to showcase the more complex mastery that the Valkyries had of being in the Norse realms. Dela stated, “We were told that when Kratos and Atreus use the Bifrost, it’s very physical, and they’re still learning it. The Valkyires, though, have mastered it, and that’s why you see them use a variety of weapons so quickly, so when you see them in combat you’ll see they come down with clubs or projectile weapons with a sickle flawlessly.”

The Valkyries’ unique usage of the Bifrost in this way was important to the rest of their design as it would dictate what toolkit was used. Raf mentioned, “That was something we really tried to play into with the design as well…how we were going to utilize the Bifrost, which was being designed at the same time that these characters were being created. Even the weapons could be materialized and pulled from different realms. All of this was being played into, the combat designers and us - working closely with them to make the characters.”

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The nine Valkyries are definitely some of the toughest bosses in God of War’s Norse realms and all the more memorable thanks to their unique designs. Santa Monica Studio’s art team wanted to make sure that they would stick with the player, not only because of their difficulty. But because they were strong, fascinating characters they wanted to see more of and really focus in on the emotions that their combat designers were reaching for. “These characters are for the most hardcore players… so that they can test their skills,” Raf mentioned. “So I think the design had to tell them – even just looking at the closed wings in that state, you were about to face off against something that is going to kill you if you’re not prepared.” Elegant and regal. while still being fearsome and terrifying – God of War’s Valkyries are fascinating creations that we will remember far after the journey is over.

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