The Making of Uncharted 3 – Part 2 [Interview]
Released earlier this week, we presume many of you are well on your way to completing Nathan Drake’s third adventure (if you haven’t already done so). Now that you’ve had some time to indulge in the world-spanning, puzzle-solving adventure, what better way to further your knowledge than getting up to speed on how the game was put together and why the team at Naughty Dog made certain decisions?
In this, the concluding part of our interview with Uncharted 3’s game director Justin Richmond and Naughty Dog community manager Arne Meyer, we talk the changes to the gunplay mechanics, the upcoming movie and which elements the team thought of as essential.
*Some answers may contain minor spoilers. These sections are clearly marked below.
Missed The Making of Uncharted 3 Part 1? Catch up here.
Read our 10/10 review of Uncharted 3.
IncGamers: Compared to the previous two games, enemies’ actions seem to be less scripted. In a game of this type, how much of a risk is it to reduce your level of control over shoot-out sequences?
Justin Richmond: Enemy behaviour kind of works in the same way as it has in previous games but we’ve refined it a lot. At the most basic level, a single enemy’s behaviour might be: I have a shotgun and I am going to kill Drake with it. That enemy has a set of pre-defined things he can do but we won’t do the same thing over again.
Basically, they have a set of preferences that cause them to react differently depending on what the player does – which is what makes them feel lifelike. If we tried to script everything they’d either look the same every time or they’d look really stupid.
IG: [*Possible Spoilers*] You’ve said that the cruise ship level was your biggest technical achievement, and yet you refer to the technology as playing a ‘subtle’ role. Did you not want to show-off your most impressive tech in a huge, in-your-face action scene?
JR: There’s so much stuff that we got from that technology that we use elsewhere in the game. For example, the water systems in the cruise ship bit were also used in the ship graveyard – essentially, the bang for our buck was pretty large because we used it so many times.
In terms of the subtlety… it might sound a little crazy, but sometimes you just want to do things the ‘right’ way. What that means is that, even though the cruise ship effects are subtle every player is going to have a different experience. We could have faked it but the player, at some low-level, feels that you’re faking it so we always try and do things for real.
IG: [*Possible spoilers*] It’s not just the waves in that scene, it’s the rain falling on the deck that looks great. The fire in the ‘Chateau’ chapter looks incredible as well – especially the slowly burning wooden beam Drake shuffles across. Were those ‘organic’ elements something you set out to nail?
JR: Yes, absolutely. They’re really hard to do as well and we’re always looking to push ourselves technically. We haven’t spoken about this before but when the door on the cargo plane opens, and also when Drake is walking through the desert, Drake’s clothes start flapping in the wind. It’s that subtle stuff that makes the game feel real.
It’s the subtle areas where we spend most of our time, we want a very polished game. I honestly think that’s the difference between us and other studios; we are crazy enough to polish that stuff until it feels real. I guess it’s part of what goes into our special sauce. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s one of the things we pride ourselves on.
The wind stuff, that took about six months to make because we couldn’t figure out how to do it. Then you get other stuff that looks as though it would be difficult to make but it’s actually only five minutes of work.
Arne Meyer: It’s so important for us to ground the player in the world. If you don’t do it right, or if things are missing, then that can break the immersion very quickly. Because, you know, everybody knows what it looks like when something burns and if you don’t do it the same in the game it pulls the player out of the moment.
IG: And what about the movie? Obviously Drake has to be in it, but how would you feel if the film team started adding their own support characters?
JR: From what we’ve seen so far from [Ari Arad productions], who have worked really closely with us, is that they don’t seem to want to let that happen. I think that we’ve been very good at saying ‘this is what Uncharted is, here are the rules, now go and do what you like with it’, rather than telling them that they have to keep Drake and nothing else.
If you look at Iron Man (also produced by Ari Arad), for example, it’s an updated version of that character; it’s not his ‘real’ origin story. They’ve updated it, but it was amazing because they stuck with the rules of the world – Tony Starks, Pepper Potts, Randy Rhoads – and then adjusted things around that. It seems like they are trying to do the same thing with Uncharted.
At the end of the day, we don’t really have any control over [the movie]. I hope they do an amazing job, and I think they will, but at some point you have to let your baby go out of the door. We’re lucky to be a franchise that’s big to the point that everybody wants to get a piece of it.
I guess it’s a blessing and a curse; we’re at a point where we can’t possibly provide enough content to satisfy what people want from the Uncharted universe. We have to let it go and the best we can do is pick good partners to work with.
People trust us to make these games and we have to trust them to make a good movie.
IG: Do you think we’re finally at a point where the likes of Hollywood treat game franchises with complete respect? Have the times where Hollywood would step in and say “the big boys are here now, we’ll do whatever we want” have dissolved?
JR: I wouldn’t say that they’ve dissolved. I think Hollywood sees that games make a lot of money, and that there’s something in the process of making these things that leads to that. There does seem to be a growing understanding of videogames among movie-makers, especially those that are around my age and the age of other game makers.
The other side of it though, is that a good character is a good character and a good story is a good story. You might have to approach those things differently for different mediums, but at the end of the day you’re still just trying to tell cool stories. That’s what Naughty Dog is all about, we’re trying to tell cool stories. Every experience we’ve had with Hollywood has been a positive one. I don’t know what it’s like for other people, maybe it’s terrible, I don’t know.
AM: I think it’s important for creators to build a bible of the universe and then to make sure the lines of communication are open for anyone that wants to create something within that. That way you get original stories that stay believable in the universe. Original stories are always more compelling. No one wants a novelisation of the film/game anymore.
IG: So you can see yourselves taking influences from an Uncharted film?
JR: Yeah, we’ll take influences from anywhere. If they come up with some crazy set-pieces that would work in gameplay then we’d totally use it. We’re lucky to be given that much freedom with our games. We take influences from everywhere.
IG: Is it possible to realise a game of this scale, scope and popularity without a robust and exhaustive multiplayer component? Is it viable to make a big-budget single player only game nowadays?
JR: You could. I think the reason people don’t tend to do that anymore is that they want to keep discs in the drive. We feel like we’re offering something new, a multiplayer experience that isn’t like anything on the market. Because we have something new to offer we feel like we can certainly take a place at the table.
What we don’t to like to see is people just throwing deathmatch in there and that’s just – that’s boring. Our mechanics and our level design means that we offer something brand new to our franchise and to multiplayer in general. Increasingly I think you’ll see people making online elements a bigger deal because A) it gives extra life to a product and allows you to update it and B) it provides countless hours of entertainment and adds a lot to the value of the product.
If we just did a ten hour single player then, for a lot of people, that’s just going to be a rental – there’s no reason to keep coming back. We can provide countless hours of co-op gameplay that tells more of the story and that’s a really cool feature.
Online is also very interesting. We’ve done traditional game design for 20 years, or whatever, but online is at a point now where the tools are finally good enough to allow us to do some really crazy stuff. That’s a very exciting prospect for game designers and opens up a lot of possibilities. Plus, now that it’s possible, people want to connect and play with their friends.
Ultimately though, you have to make money somehow and that’s about offering the consumer as much content as possible. That’s how we do it, anyway.