Naughty Dog designer maps out Uncharted 2 development

DICE 2010: Richard Lemarchand describes the unique and potentially frightening philosophies that drive the critically acclaimed developer.

by

LAS VEGAS--While many of the speakers at this year's DICE Summit are here to talk about the formal business strategies of making games, today's first presentation offered a more unconventional look at one studio's game development process. In the vividly titled presentation "How to Fly By the Seat of Your Pants Without Crapping Them," Uncharted 2 co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand talked about the philosophies and structure that make Naughty Dog unique and why their fast-and-loose development process would scare most game producers.

Uncharted 2 co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand.

Lemarchand began by talking about the history of Naughty Dog and why the team's success has affirmed its faith in how it makes games. Since the company was founded in 1986, it has gone on to create a number of successful franchises, including Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Uncharted.

To date, the Santa Monica-based developer--described by Lemarchand as a "medium-sized" company of 120 employees--has sold north of 40 million games, generating well over $1 billion in sales. The studio's most recent success has come from the Uncharted franchise. By Lemarchand's math, last year's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has been reviewed 381 separate times, garnering a "staggering" 153 perfect scores.

As a way of explaining this success, Lemarchand detailed Naughty Dog's "loosely structured" development process. He described Uncharted 2's preproduction cycle as lasting a full half-year, a time when there were no firm deadlines, milestones, or any tangible production goals. Lemarchand described this as "a very free-form time" when the whole team got together to throw around story ideas, create rough gameplay prototypes with whatever tech they had lying around, and pile up mountains of concept art.

Naughty Dog wrapped up Uncharted 2's preproduction in April 2008 with a spreadsheet called a macro design. Whereas most studios begin development with a 100-or-so-page design document, Lemarchand said that Uncharted 2's macro spreadsheet was a mere 70 rows long with "enough of a level of abstraction that you don't waste time devising details that later get changed." The final game would deviate from this macro design by only 5 to 10 percent.

Uncharted 2's development was just as free-wheeling as its protagonist, Nathan Drake.

However, Lemarchand was quick to point out that moving to full production didn't suddenly put the team on a tight schedule with deadlines looming over everyone's heads. The team uses the creation of levels and environments as a "backbone schedule for everything else to hang off," he said, organizing the entire development into weekly blocks of time for artists to create environments, then letting the design work fall into place after that. "What we call the micro design--that is, all the nitty-gritty, detailed design work that needs to be done to create the game--we do this work on a 'just in time' basis."

Lemarchand recognized that this sort of strategy would frighten a lot of producers, so he provided some insight into the unique corporate culture of Naughty Dog as a way of explaining why this by-the-seat-of-your-pants process works for them. This meant bringing out the old standby of industry summit presentations: corporate pillars.

Naughty Dog's first pillar is its organization. Not a single employee at the company goes by the title of producer, the management-focused role most developers use to maintain production schedules and make sure milestones are hit on a timely basis. Instead, everyone who works on the game is encouraged to take on organizational duties. "Everyone at all levels of the company works directly on building the game," he said.

Generally, this means discipline leads--design leads, programming leads, and so on--are the ones who act as impromptu producers, because their deep involvement with their work means they have the best idea of when something can be done, and they care more about making sure the work looks great than adhering to a strict schedule. However, this organizational system doesn't just mean people will only volunteer to move up in the hierarchy. Lemarchand offered up the anecdote of Naughty Dog's copresidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra doing work well below their positions as heads of the company. Wells, he said, did a significant amount of design work, while Balestra programmed much of the network code for the game's multiplayer features.

Environment design proved to be the backbone of Uncharted 2's development schedule.

The second pillar Lemarchand discussed was Naughty Dog's focus on open communication. Everyone at the company is encouraged to talk to people outside of their discipline or above their hierarchy about whatever ideas or criticisms they might have with something about the game. "The people on the receiving end of the constructive criticism--including and perhaps especially our game designers--are obliged to take the time to listen to what their teammates have to say." This requires a willingness to accept and deal with one's own faults on a daily basis, and as a result, people without thick skin just don't succeed at Naughty Dog.

Similar to this second pillar is the third: cross-disciplinary collaboration. Lemarchand said that walking through the Naughty Dog office often results in seeing two or more people from completely different disciplines huddled around the same work station, working out certain parts of the game. Someone from the animation team working with a writer on story elements might seem odd, but it's something that Naughty Dog openly encourages, in both culture and office layout, where low desk walls mean you can see what everyone else is working on at all times.

"No one discipline could have created the collapsing hotel," said Lemarchand in reference to one of Uncharted 2's most memorable sequences. But to him, it's that open and free-wheeling nature that has led to so much of Naughty Dog's success. "I hope it all sounds very messy and chaotic, because it is," Lemarchand remarked toward the end of his presentation. "But at the end of the day, we believe that we're messy in a good way."

Discussion

54 comments
khidafi
khidafi

maps not available yet, epic PSN server phaiL

truetime
truetime

hopefully they are good maps

misterg419
misterg419

The mutiplayer map packs will come out on febuary 25 2010 that is in two days so just calm your nerves

thrasher510
thrasher510

amazing game, bought the costumes on the day it was released, BUT the multiplayer maps do not work for me, anyone else having this problem? i updated to 1.05 and when i click on the maps it says i have to download it off the psn, same with the trophies i can't get them because it says i dont have the add-on.

snarl2
snarl2

There is no other game developer like Naughty Dog!!! Well, Insomniac is the closest I can think of, but no one else!!! ;)

Nightrain50
Nightrain50

@crazyshooter93 no I'm not retarded the new mp trophies clearly state that the dlc is required in game, so think before you talk...

clqtte
clqtte

No complaint from me for this game......It's best of the best..

Knutte79
Knutte79

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Knutte79
Knutte79

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

crazyshooter93
crazyshooter93

@Nightrain50 are u retarded ? you can get the trophies without getting the DLC

kamizuka
kamizuka

best environment, i have ever played tbh

Nightrain50
Nightrain50

Uncharted is amazing... Thanks for ruining my 100% though by releasing that $%^en mp dlc with trophies you can't get unless you pay for it. That's BS but what can you do, I refuse to buy dlc. Looking forward to Uncharted 3 and whatever else you guys make in the future. Quality.

gamerjohn07
gamerjohn07

Great companies like Naughty Dog, Insomniac and the like, they are what drive the PlayStation but also what carry the games industry forward. The games they make may not attend to everyone's likes, but they certainly create very well-made games and they all have revolutionary technology and features. Keep it up guys, we rely on you! :)

RGDT021
RGDT021

Fridays should be pants-optional.

SixTwoOne
SixTwoOne

Uncharted 1 is THE reason I got a PS3 two years ago!

shafeeq007sam
shafeeq007sam

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

gamer082009
gamer082009

Naughty Dog is unlike any other...and is partial of the reason for me buying a PS3 slim recently.

Transparanoia
Transparanoia

Richard Lemarchand could have saved his breath and just played the bonus vids that come with U1 and U2, as they pretty much cover everything he said. :P

SDBusDriver1979
SDBusDriver1979

"I hope it all sounds very messy and chaotic" because that was the story to Uncharted 2 very messy and chaotic.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

Naughty Dog has a winning formula and hope that you stay with it,

KoolzKatz
KoolzKatz

Keep up the great work Naughty Dog

VXLbeast
VXLbeast

@tony382 : Lol, too funny! But really, you can keep gears of war, we don't want it.

VXLbeast
VXLbeast

Thats awesome! Wonder if Kotick could leanr anything from this? Nah...probably not.

akiwak
akiwak

Organized chaos???? hmmmmm what's the word I'm looking for?

KOSMOSEngineer
KOSMOSEngineer

"awesome, sounds like Valve and Naughty Dog are both alot alike with how they work on games." Yeah except Naughty Dog aren't cocky ****s.

thrasher510
thrasher510

dont need an uncharted 3 just yet, im having too much fun with uncharted 2.

onlymetal75
onlymetal75

I recently got a 250 gb ps3 and I bought uncharted2. I have had a 360 since release so now I have both I started looking at graphics and such. I can honestly say that this game could be done on 360,I really dont see anything special,I mean dont get me wrong I love the game and my ps3 I just dont get this whole graphics war. And also the interface on xbox is much easier to use,hopefully sony will address this issue.

Dantefan1
Dantefan1

aside from the fact that Sony would never hand over the rights to its biggest exclusive and ND shows no desire to work with MS.

Dantefan1
Dantefan1

@etai79 he may not be the master of all knowledge, but he's right. a 360 would likely sh!t the bed the moment it tried to run U2's graphics, and the game had to be reworked in a few different areas and compressed differently to fit on the disc. a blu-ray disc is 25 GB and it almost wouldn't fit. what's an HD-DVD? 15? if they go dual layer, 30, but to try and run a game this demanding via dual layer on a 360 would just be console suicide (as if buying a 360 in the first place already wasn't...)

jones_kyle
jones_kyle

Now lets talk about Uncharted 3 haha

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

awesome, sounds like Valve and Naughty Dog are both alot alike with how they work on games.

Dragdar
Dragdar

I have no experience in the bussiness but that seems like a wise way to make games :)

Zidaneski
Zidaneski

Naughty dog has always been my favorite game developers. And they did such an awesome job with Crash Bandicoot, People that I thought that didn't play video games have played through Crash Bandicoot, back in the PS1 era.

OJ_the_LION
OJ_the_LION

Naughty Dog is an awesome company that consistently comes out with great games that sell a good amount. I think some other larger companies might benefit from trying to loosen up their structure a bit to let the creative process flow, then maybe they'll come out with great games like these instead of crappy IPs or cookie cutter sequels.

Nobri
Nobri

Indeed, Dante200X. Imagine if they made a new Jak and Daxter after seeing the graphics in Uncharted 2. A current-gen Jak would be amazing, and I'd love to see the effects they'd do on the futuristic cities.

Dante200X
Dante200X

Uncharted is a nice new series an' all, but I still miss good ol' Jak :( It's a shame they gave the rights to somebody else to develop the new games.

etai79
etai79

@EdibleFood Thank you, oh master of all knowledge.

judge__judy
judge__judy

Well their strategy definitely works for them. Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter and now Uncharnted. Have they ever made a bad game?

phil-_-meh
phil-_-meh

@ tony382 how about just buy a PS3

EdibleFood
EdibleFood

@tony382 definately not going to happen

tony382
tony382

Please port this over to the 360. We'll give you that gears of war crap.

DKyleM
DKyleM

Uncharted 2 is one my favorite games. It's action packed, has a great story, and once you start playing you cant stop. Well done Naughty Dog, well done.

solidniko
solidniko

How to Fly By the Seat of Your Pants Without Crapping Them wow nice name

Nintenkid49
Nintenkid49

hopefully there is a Uncharted 3 in our future :)

vinibr
vinibr

Nice. I like knowing how games are designed/ developed.

k0r3aN_pR1d3
k0r3aN_pR1d3

Please remake Crash Bandicoot. I miss collecting wumpa's and the upbeat soundtracks.