Last E3, Cory Barlog revealed a wildly ambitious plan for his update on God of War: the game would take place in a single, uninterrupted shot. This year, the director shared that, in the early days of production, some members of the development team were hesitant to take on the ambitious plan. So, to show the power of the film technique when done well, he screened the hospital scene from John Woo’s action movie masterpiece, Hard Boiled.
“There’s that great one shot [in Hard Boiled],” Barlog said, “where Tequila and, I can never remember the other guy’s name, are shooting there way into the hospital. They end up having a conversation as they’re moving through. They go by an elevator and then the other guy accidentally shoots a cop.
“Then, they get pulled into the elevator. The elevator [door] closes. As they’re riding up to the next floor, in this consistent single shot, this guy is going through a full range of emotions, having just killed a cop. ‘I’ve just made a giant mistake.’ They’re in the heat of this gun play, and they’re going through a lot. And you see in the background, the elevator numbers going up.”
For Barlog, the technique takes something otherwise extraordinary (an action movie gun fight) and make its intimate, locking the viewer in with the characters, not cutting past the moments in which they must reckon with their actions.
Called a “one shot” in the film industry, the technique abandons the cuts used in an editing room to splice a series of shots together. Instead, the film is captured in a single camera movement, shifting from one angle to the next as the story progresses in real-time. The method is known for creating a sense of intimacy and voyeurism.
One-shots are also notoriously difficult to capture, as everything must be performed perfectly in a single take.
Barlog saw the traditional film one-shot as more of a starting point. “I love film and television,” says Barlog, “but we have things they don’t have. We have interactivity. We have the ability to actually make these things work.” Unlike the film director, a game director can control everything in a one-shot, switching virtual lenses on the fly. And a one-shot in a video game doesn’t rely on actors, stuntman, and special effects teams getting everything right in a single-take.
Barlog hopes the final result, a game the plays in one seamless sequence, will be its own thing. As the director says, “I want games to have their own identity.”