Uncharted 2 Interview
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February 6, 2009 at 3:02 pm #13779Doctor_RockMember
Well, I guess IGN are good for something
Part 1: Evan Wells (Naughty Dog Co-President)
IGN: So, Evan, where was there more pressure: when you were launching Uncharted as a new IP or trying to follow up the success of the first game right now?
Evan Wells: Well, there are two different kinds of pressure, really. The first time, first of all, it's a brand new IP and second of all, it's your first foray into the PlayStation 3 or next generation so we definitely had a lot of expectations for ourselves in terms of making sure that we stayed ahead of the competition in terms of what people were providing visually, but also we wanted to make sure people fell in love with our IP. So, there was a lot of pressure there. Now, there's a whole new kind of pressure because first of all, we were really proud of what we were able to accomplish in the first game and it got a pretty good critical reception and it's been developing a pretty decent fanbase as well. So now, we've got to sort of one-up ourselves, and now, when you're in competition with yourself, it's a whole different kind of pressure. So, two different kinds of pressure. I wouldn't rate either one higher than the other.
IGN: OK. We've obviously just seen the first demo — where the hell is Elena?
Evan Wells: [laughing] Uh, well, we haven't started talking about how their relationship–
IGN: If you broke those two kids up…
Evan Wells: [laughing] We're focusing on Chloe right now. We want to give her a proper introduction — make sure everybody understands her relationship with Drake, and we'll be revealing more details as the campaign continues.
IGN: I understand. As you were doing the presentation today, you said that Chloe and Drake had a preexisting relationship — was it romantic or was it just that they knew each other?
Evan Wells: Well, there's definitely a romantic tension there, and there definitely was a history there that's more than professional, but I think it's that really interesting past relationship that they have had that makes the vibe between them so much different than what Drake had with Elena. You're going to start to catch glimpses through their conversations and references that they make about how that went and where it might go in the future.
IGN: Watching it — it's obviously Uncharted, it's Nate, I'm very excited to have it back. At first, it kind of looks a lot like the last game, but then what I was picking up on was stuff in the background. The background looks way more clear. When he's jumping, like when he goes spread eagle, there are more animations to him. What are the little things that stand out to you that make this game different so people don't just go “Well, it's Uncharted again.”
Evan Wells: Sure. Well, if we want to just talk at the base level, it's the technology; the fact that we have been able to get so much more power out of the PlayStation 3. The fact that there's more detail in the background is a direct result of being able to get more out of the SPUs — we're able to put more polygons on screen. It doesn't just go to the background; it means we can have bigger combat encounters because we have more enemies on screen. But then on a more purely visual level, the fact that we aren't going to be spending the majority of our time in a jungle like we did in the first game — we're going to see these concrete and urban environments, we're going to see a lot of ice and snow. I think that's going to give it a brand new veneer just through that alone.
But then when you start digging into the depth of the gameplay, I think that's where it really stands apart from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune — the fact that we've got this action/stealth element, the fact that you can approach the combat encounters in many, many ways but very distinct ways through either a stealthful approach or an aggressive approach… it really gives the whole combat a different dynamic. I think that a lot of people really wanted to have that in the first game, and it was really frustrating when they'd enter into a combat encounter and they would kill one enemy and all of a sudden everyone would know where they were or you walk into a room that was more or less empty and then the enemies would just enter and that's how combat played out in the first game. Now, you actually get to see the enemies in their natural environment as you approach. So, it helps us tell more a story in terms of “Well, what are they doing, what are they interested in?” You can overhear conversations as you approach so it's really got a narrative as well as a gameplay benefit.
IGN: One of the things you guys were talking about was how there are different animations, different things for what's happening in the environment. So if I am sneaking into a room, is there some kind of button I need to press to be crawling and be stealthy?
Evan Wells: It's automatic. It's all contextual so if you noticed in the demo as I approached the enemies and they weren't aware of me, he hunches down and you get that stealthful approach. If you're on the train, he's going to be checking his balance and making sure he doesn't fall off. It's all contextual. The idea is to make the control scheme very basic, very intuitive. We aren't trying to overcomplicate things through this addition of stealth — it should just all come second nature and become a player choice.
IGN: Jumping back just to talk about the after effects of the original Uncharted, you guys were some of the first people to come out and openly support Trophies. Why did you feel that was something important to do?
Evan Wells: I think it enhances your experience by a great deal. We had already included in the game our own personal trophy system — the medals. We had actually originally intended for those to be Trophies, but the SDK just didn't support it in time for our release, so we were very excited to go into there and tap into that. It's quite amazing how many people have downloaded the patch and gone back and gotten their Trophies. For having it be patch-supported, it's right up there with being one of the most Trophied games out there statistically.
IGN: As a proud Platinum holder, are you bringing that same thing to it for Uncharted 2?
Evan Wells: Oh, absolutely and beyond. We're not getting rid of the medal system — we're going to have the Trophy system as well as the medal system so we can have that many more unlockables and bonuses to give out.
IGN: Is there going to be any tie-in to what you did in the previous game? I know you get fat suit Drake at the very end, but I've just finished the game for whatever number of times. Is there any carryover between saves?
Evan Wells: Yeah, we were looking at tapping into Trophies and how far you've gotten in unlocking stuff in the last game to reward the owners and Platinum holders of Uncharted 1 in Uncharted 2, but those details, we just haven't worked out yet.
IGN: I understand. I know there's a lot you can't talk about. From what we do know and what you can say, why should people be excited for this new Uncharted?
Evan Wells: It really comes back to that active and interactive cinematic experience. As Amy was saying in the presentation, a lot of people — a lot of developers — pay lip service to really trying to capture that cinematic feel, but I don't think they have made the investment that it takes to really deliver on that the way that Uncharted does. Just the way we do our cinematics and the way we capture performance and the way we convey emotions through our actors — that doesn't just stop at the end of a cutscene; that continues throughout the gameplay in Drake's body animation and his facial animation, and the NPC's animations, and the comments that Drake makes, and the story that unfolds while you're playing the game. It's really that intersection of the cinematic presentation with the really, really tight, fun, exciting action that we provide. I think that makes Uncharted unique from any other action-adventure game out there.
IGN: Now, you said to everybody that it's a bit longer. Are you willing to tell me how much longer?
Evan Wells: I can't tell you exactly how much longer–
IGN: Damn you, Evan.
Evan Wells: The game's not finished is one thing. It's going to be a much richer experience. You're going to get a lot more value out of your gaming dollar with Uncharted 2.
IGN: I'm going to broaden the question a bit; in terms of in-game stuff — like in Uncharted, there was basically the beginning segment of we find Sir Francis Drake and then the plane crashes and we're on the island — it all could've happened in a couple days. Is this more lengthy in terms of the game world?
Evan Wells: Yes, it does cover a little bit more time. There are a few more gaps. In Uncharted one, there was really, as you pointed out, the two phases — the before you crash on the island and the after you crash on the island. After you crash on the island, it's basically real time. The events unfold in the sort of — we call it — the Die Hard timeframe; you're stuck in the building and there are the events you can't escape. There's no escaping it. So, we sort of have that point as well in Uncharted 2 where Drake is in the adventure going and things never stop, but it happens a little further into the game. So, there's a couple weeks timeframe before that moment kicks in and there are a couple of gaps in time during that period.
IGN: What haven't I asked you that you'd want to touch on?
Evan Wells: The thing that I want people to come away with — if they're anticipating Uncharted 2 and especially after they've played Uncharted 2 I hope they really feel this — is that we've created this experience that's like no other game. The fact that we have platforming traversal mechanics combined with everything you'd expect out of a third-person, cover-based shooter. Just gives you a brand new experience; Bruce [Straley, game director,] is talking about being able to climb, being able to jump, being able to swing and being able to shoot from all of those states really gives Uncharted this really unique feel, and it all comes together. It's greater than the sum of its parts, and I want people to play Uncharted because we hear so many people who their expectations are not met in a good way — you know? People sort of expect it to be one way but come out experiencing something entirely different and unique and something that really makes a lasting impression.
IGN: Final question: How's Sully?
Evan Wells: He's doing well. [laughter] He's doing well, and he and Drake they definitely are still pals and we'll see if he makes a cameo in here or not.
IGN: I'm going to crack you, Evan.
Evan Wells: Maybe he's got a bigger role than a cameo. I'm sure we'll be talking about him in the coming months.
IGN: I lied; I have one more question. Now that you're introducing a second character in Chloe, who's almost on par with Nate, have you guys thought at all about a multiplayer component? I don't know for this game, and I'm sure you can't talk about it if you have, but is that something you guys have talked about for future stuff?
Evan Wells: You know, it's really exciting how co-op and multiplayer are becoming exciting features for gamers. You're seeing a lot of great games that are taking advantage of that — Left 4 Dead was a fantastic game, Gears co-op is awesome, Resident Evil 5's got a great co-op mode. It really does seem like it would fit the Uncharted universe well. It's something that we haven't concentrated on right now; we're really concentrating on bringing that single-player experience to the forefront and delivering the best single-player experience that is out there. At Naughty Dog, we're very excited about online games and multiplayer games, and it's something that we certainly will be looking at in the future.
IGN: Well, great. I wish you the best of luck.
Evan Wells: All right, thank you.February 6, 2009 at 3:06 pm #21045Doctor_RockMember
Part 2: Amy Hennig (Creative Designer)
IGN: OK, Amy. So, creative director: what all does that entail?
Amy Hennig: Well, on this project — I mean every company's different, right? — but on this project, we have a creative director and a game director, and that's Bruce Straley as game director and I as the creative director. So really, the creative director's job is to keep an overall view of the holistic aspect of the project. Kind of maintain a view of the forest for the trees and in my case really shepherd the whole story development and the writing and the whole working with the actors, which is a massive job, whereas the game director's more the nuts and bolts — the layout, the mechanics, the implementation of that holistic vision, but we really have to work as a yin and yang to make it all happen.
IGN: So managing the forest — setting out here, you guys have already talked about having a little bit darker of a tone in Among Thieves going into this seedy underbelly, was there concern about losing the fans who like Drake as just that normal, everyman guy?
Amy Hennig: Well, absolutely, and I'm very sensitive about that word darker and getting applied inappropriately because we really aren't going darker; I think we're just trying to tell a little bit more of a complex story, and obviously the sort of romantic veneer and the charm and the humor is just an absolute touchstone for us and our series. All we want to do with this is sort of say that these are all real, fallible, relatable characters. They're not cardboard cutouts; we want to see all of their complexities. We want to see this world that Nate normally inhabits. So “darker world,” that doesn't make him a dark character if you see what I mean.
IGN: No, I do. I have to ask.
Amy Hennig: I'm glad for the clarification.
IGN: Next, as a huge fan of the series, where is Elena? Why are you hiding her?
Amy Hennig: [laughter] We've buried her. She's in the crawlspace. No. It's so funny; we always get this question, and if you note — if you read all of the things we've said — we've never said that she's not in the game; we just didn't say that she is. The thing is, obviously, what we're focusing on in talking to you guys in these previews is that we really want a larger cast of characters and a more diverse cast of characters because the whole goal is to tell a character-driven story and to have those characters all reflect these different facets of Drake's sort of complications and contradictions in his character. That means more characters and a more varied cast, and that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't people returning. But we really wanted to focus on some of the new characters that are playing a role — Chloe Frazer being the one we've focused on so far.
IGN: I don't trust her yet. In terms of timeline, how much time has passed since the events of Uncharted 1 now going into Among Thieves?
Amy Hennig: Just a couple of years because we left the characters in sort of this Sullivan/Nathan/Elena snapshot leaving at the end of the first game, but we pick up a couple of years later and obviously things have changed. Drake's in a slightly different place in his life — or back to the place he used to be. He's good at being the romantic lead and the hero when he's called to but probably not very good at human relationships back in the real world. He's better at being a little bit of a shady guy. And so, our starting point is that he's a little down on his luck at the beginning of this one — again, not necessarily a darker place but back in the world he normally occupies — and we sort of explore a little bit of how he got there and where he's going from there. Again, without the expectation that anyone had to have played Uncharted 1 to enjoy Uncharted 2, but for those that did play Uncharted 1, they'll get a lot more of those resonances.
IGN: How hard was it to make that jump to try and expand upon these characters? A lot of people immediately connect with it whether it's Sully telling his story walking through the jungle of the bar maids — how do you expand upon that and bring in more characters while keeping it connected?
Amy Hennig: It is challenging, actually, because everyone's always afraid when they're doing something — another game in a franchise, another story in a series — that they don't want to mess up what they've created by adding to it, but at the same time, if you just repeat yourself, that's not good either. Stories are about conflict, right? Stories aren't about happy endings. You can't really take the happy ending of the first story and start from there and say “Everybody's great, everything's awesome and now let's go have more adventures.” You really need to say, “What are the obstacles these character have in their lives and how are they going to overcome them?” When you tackle it that way, it becomes a lot easier to think about what characters you would introduce, you know? What we say when we talk about this internally is if you say Drake is part of this sort of seedy underworld of smugglers and thieves and that's part of the world of treasure hunting, you have to ask what kind of people would he have around him and can he trust them.
IGN: I know you talked a little bit about the research that goes into this. How do you start? Is it just one day you're kicking around old explorers who Nate could go try and plunder? The Sir Francis Drake stuff I had never even thought of let alone Marco Polo.
Amy Hennig: Yeah. Well, it's tough because you have to do a lot of research and you do start from a blank slate. You just start kind of plucking certain items out of the air and then do a bit of research and see what develops. It's funny; sometimes there's a serendipity to it where you'll just start researching one thing and it'll lead you to discover something else and you get this ah-ha moment and you learn something — this is one of the most fun things about this job anyway is that you learn things. Through all this research, you're constantly — it's like you're in school all the time. But what we try to do is start from something that's familiar to everybody — what we call a sort of grade school level of knowledge. A historical event or a person or a character from history that everybody's familiar with, and then we teach you something about them that you maybe didn't know and then we take it a whole step farther with our “What if?” So, it really is kind of stepping into that void and starting to read books.
IGN: Do you just Google “unexplained explorers?”
Amy Hennig: Yeah, thank God for Google.
IGN: “Empty caskets?” “Lost ships?”
Amy Hennig: No, you just start reading. There's actually been a recent biography that was written of Marco Polo that's really excellent and that was just one of the things that grabbed our attention and I read it and there were all kinds of interesting hooks in there. One thing kind of led to another.
IGN: I know it's early, and I know — obviously — you can't say everything. For you, what's the big thing that's going to draw people back to this world? What gets you excited for Uncharted 2?
Amy Hennig: Well, it's what I was saying when we were talking earlier — I think what differentiates our game from a lot of other games is that it is character driven. People may be initially attracted by spectacle, but they stick around for the substance of the story. It's something that I think we're doing that a lot of developers — or maybe no other developers — really aren't doing, which is joining the spectacle of creating a summer blockbuster experience with the substance of creating a great movie-like experience for the player where they're in control. By thinking always about how the story's character driven — not just sort of external obstacles or visceral obstacles but also emotional ones — I think it makes you want to constantly keep the controller in your hands and not put it down. I think that's what will draw people back to Uncharted 2 if they loved Uncharted 1.
IGN: What haven't I asked you that's on the tip of your tongue? What's that one question you keep wanting me or somebody else out there to ask?
Amy Hennig: Probably something I'm not supposed to answer. Well, I think that it's basically that something we've been talking about/thinking about internally is that all of the things that drive the player and really pull the player through the game have to have an emotional context. I mean, you need the visceral context, too, but you want to have the emotional context to really keep you immersed. The example that I've used internally is — and this isn't a literal example for the game so I don't want anyone to get any expectations — there's a visceral response to have to run into a burning building that's collapsing around you. There's a much different response to have to run into that burning building that's collapsing around you to save someone you care about, and it's even more intense if you're saving someone you care about who you suspect may have betrayed you. That's the difference between a shallow, visceral sort of spectacle/experience and one that's actually got substance and heart.
IGN: And body. You want to get behind it.
Amy Hennig: The difference between a shallow film and a great film, and it's the same thing for games.
IGN: OK. Great. Thank you so much.
Amy Hennig: All right. Thanks, Greg.
So, I think Co-op is a go surely? I also think that at some point in the game, Chloe and Elena will make Nate choose between the two and that will effect your ending. As for the Trophies intergration. You think that if you have 50 kills with an AK you could spawn an AK straight away? Maybe something like that?
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