Uncharted 2: Among Thieves developer Q&A

Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells and creative director Amy Hennig spill the beans on Sony PS3-exclusive Uncharted 2

Uncharted 2

PCW: You know Introversion? The guys that made Darwinia? They did this Wargames movie homage called DEFCON that used stylized vector graphics and that looked a bit like the sequence in the movie where the computer's simulating global thermonuclear war on these huge screens. The game was stunning beautiful, and without using a single texture or shader. I raise the point to suggest we've got visual appreciation in gaming largely backwards.

AH: Well like you said, it's intellectually impressive, right? But you're not emotionally moved. You're not aesthetically moved at all. I guess, and I've been saying this for awhile, I think there's a seductive aspect in our industry to saying, "How close can we come to absolutely simulating reality?" You even see this in threads on message boards, or people throw up different screenshots of games and say "Well no, this is more impressive." Why everything has to be a versus argument I have no idea, but I think we're just moving past that now. I think we've gotten to a point with the hardware, that I think the argument about "How real is real?" is becoming irrelevant. I think people are more excited to see what's being done artistically in the medium.

I mean this has been going on for a while now, right? We've had the last couple hardware generations with people saying "Well look at this water," or "No, look at this grass," and yeah, there's a certain amount of excitement to saying "Wow, look how we pulled that off," and "Did you see how we did the specularity and subsurface?" That's great, but not if it doesn't contribute to some overall goal. I think the challenge is to say, "Why are you doing those things?" You know, why are you having your programmers working for months on something? What's the end goal? For us, with the blended animation system, the goal wasn't to say look how clever we are, it was to say this is why Nate's going to be a relatable character. This is why you're going to feel for him. It's because he's more human and flawed and vulnerable than most video game characters.

We spent months, for instance, trying to figure out how we were going to render the snow, but because it crucially informs the experience. It's because we want you to believe Nate's really there, and cold, and vulnerable.

PCW: Since you mention the snow, I have to backstep slightly on everything I just said about indifference to graphics, because when I walked through the snow at the beginning of Uncharted 2 and saw it was actually piling up around Nate's legs and leaving a trail, I had my little geek moment. Everyone else does snow like it's just shiny hard-pack.

Uncharted 2

AH: Yeah, and we do spend a bunch of time on that stuff, like worrying in the first game about how wet Nate could get, and would the water only go up to his knees, and how would we do that. Or in Uncharted 2, he's marching through the snow, so it should gather more around his ankles, and if he rolls through it, you want to see the accretion of the frost on his clothing. I mean yeah, we geek out on that stuff too because it's fun, but the whole point is to say how authentic does this feel? Emotionally authentic, rather than just visually authentic so you're not drawn out of the experience. We always say we've done our job right if you're not aware how hard it was and how many months we spent on a certain thing. If we've done it right, it's invisible, and you're not pulled out of the experience even subliminally.

PCW: Let's hit social networking. In Uncharted 2 you can send progress updates from the game to your Twitter account. Things like chapters completed, bonuses discovered, and so forth. In the last day or so, however, you've said you're going to disable those Twitter updates in response to concerns about their frequency. It occurred to me that it's also partially the limits of Twitter, right? It's essentially brute force broadcasting--all or nothing.

AH: Yeah, it's just one big pipe with everybody's stuff coming through.

EW: I do think it was an oversight on our part though. We have several events that we allow people to mark for Twitter updates, and on all except the chapter updates, we have frequency limiters so that we wouldn't end up spamming people's feeds. So yeah, it was an oversight on our part, so we took it down and now we're working on a patch to put a frequency limiter on the chapter updates just like the others. An update or two a day is bearable, as opposed to a chapter every hour or two.

AH: Especially when you've got a game that we keep hearing people just want to sit down and play through in one long stretch. That could get ridiculous when the game comes out. Imagine Facebook becoming "So and so just finished chapter one."

PCW: It is a little intimidating though, because you're looking at some of these updates, and it's like there's 10 minutes between a chapter, and you're thinking "Wow, this guy's really booking." I'm a dawdler when I play. I take hours to go through even short chapters, just to poke my nose in every corner and see what's there, or how it was done.

AH: I think the other thing is, it could give people the impression that the game is short, when it's not at all. I don't know whether it's a fluke of the way the game sends reports, but even I was looking at some of the gamer reviewers' Twitter feeds and thinking "There's no way this person just finished that." We have to get it fixed, so we don't give people the wrong impression.

EW: That player could've been playing on easy. You never know. [Laughs]

AH: [Laughs] Very easy.

PCW: Okay, last question. Uncharted for the PSP?

EW: It's certainly something I'd like to see, given the fact that we're encouraging the franchise to grow beyond the PS3. We've already got the movie deal in production, so yeah, it'd be nice to see someone do a PSP version. I can say straight up that we aren't developing for the PSP, we're focusing entirely on the PS3 right now, but that's not to exclude the possibility of finding a partner to work with somewhere in the future.

PCW: Really-actually last question. Without giving anything away, Uncharted 2 leaves the door open, right? It's not the end of the franchise?

EW: Each episode is meant to be standalone, and I think there's lots of different adventures and places we could still send Drake.

AH: Yeah, absolutely. We knew setting off with this franchise that we didn't necessarily want to visualize it as a fixed number of episodes, and then it'd be done. As Evan said, they're standalone adventures, but with enough connection between them that for people who are playing all the games, they can enjoy the extra background. But each can be played individually. You don't have to play the first before the second to fully enjoy either.

PCW: Thanks Evan and Amy.

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Matt Peckham

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