Naughty Dog turned the Electronic Entertainment Expo on its ear back in 2009 with a show-stealing demo of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. We all remember how that particular story went: boy meets helicopter, helicopter tries to kill boy, boy escapes collapsing building. This year, Naughty Dog brought along another exciting demo for the upcoming sequel Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, but it was impressive for altogether different reasons. We had a chat with game director Justin Richmond to explore some of the details of Uncharted 3's E3 showing that might have been overlooked by the hustle and bustle of the big event.
GameSpot: Now that the dust has settled from E3, let's talk about the demo that you guys brought to the show. The Uncharted 2 demo from a couple years ago was one for the ages, with that incredible helicopter chase through a collapsing building. What made you guys decide to showcase what was, for the most part, a more subdued, stealth-oriented demo for Uncharted 3?
Justin Richmond: We really wanted to show off something that was different from Uncharted 2, but that was also impressive and interesting in its own right. That opening shot of Drake standing on the cruise ship as the rain pours down and waves pitch around him was something that resonated strongly within the studio. As a result, we decided to use that as the starting point to the demo would we ultimately show at E3. I think the level shows off some really amazing stuff, including new features (underwater swimming, for example) and technology (all that flooding water and the rolling ocean). While the demo is more of a slow burn than the collapsing building, it shows off some amazing stuff we simply could not have done in last game.
GS: In terms of the public response you got out of this demo, were there any surprise reactions that you guys weren't expecting going into E3?
JR: Anytime we do a public demo or release assets or information on what we're working on, we always want to keep our fans happy and have them chomping at the bit for more. If we accomplish those goals, we have done our job. During E3, I was really excited to see how well the cruise ship demo was received. To be honest, it's always a pleasant surprise to have people react so positively to something you have spent so much time on, especially as we are so heads down when in the middle of development, so we don't get an opportunity to see this kind of reaction until we've shown it to everyone in a very public way!
GS: Were there any aspects of the E3 demo you think might have been overlooked amidst the general hullaballoo of the show?
JR: With much of the focus at the show being on the single-player, I think many people may not know about the hands-on multiplayer demo we were showing on the floor to anybody and everybody who attended E3. All three days, the line to play was insane, with people giving us all kinds of positive feedback about how much they enjoyed the game. We are really excited for the rest of the world to get its hands on Uncharted 3 with the upcoming multiplayer beta, which starts on June 28 and runs through mid-July. We are really proud of all the improvements and additions we have made to our multiplayer game, expanding on the success of our Uncharted 2 multiplayer experience. We have added tons of new systems, customizability, and gameplay features that provide a multiplayer experience that is unlike any other title out there. Don't miss this beta; it is going to be awesome.
GS: One of the big themes from the demo was the devastating power of water. We saw it in the crashing waves, the constantly moving floor of the boat, and eventually that huge flood at the end. Can you talk a bit about the process behind deciding that water would play a bigger role in this game and the technical challenges of implementing that vision into the game?
JR: The decision came about organically. After Uncharted 2, Jacob Minkoff (lead designer) wanted to try creating a dynamic environment that was moving while you were on it. He came up with the idea of the cruise ship. Out of that, came the necessity of water. Water is obviously immensely tricky to render realistically in video games. We spent a ton of time developing systems to make sure that the level both looked and played how we wanted it to. The boat is actually being driven by the ocean, so it will never play the same way twice. Drake reacts in real time to the sway and pitch of the boat, as well as having to deal with enemies. Then, in the hold, the level actually rotates 90 degrees in real time, the water sloshing as it does so. All of these systems alone are tricky; making them interact with each other in a realistic way was even more difficult.
GS: While Uncharted is very much about those big scripted, cinematic events, there's generally quite a bit of freedom with how players can approach enemy encounters. Is there any other way the E3 demo might have unfolded depending on the player's combat strategy?
JR: Obviously, some of that demo was scripted, but the vast majority of it was player controlled. Depending on how the player chooses to play, the fight in the hold can progress completely differently. The boat will eventually flood to the point where it flips, but the player is in full control the entire time. Also, certain events were not shown in the demo that exist in the full game, so there is actually even more gameplay in the sequence than the demo let on. Players are going to get a real treat when the full game comes out.
GS: You guys also showed a behind-closed-doors demo set with Drake and Elena trying to break into a cargo plane. There definitely seemed to be more of an unspoken bond between those two. Can you talk about where Drake and Elena are as companions--or maybe just as people--and the effect that will have on the story?
JR: With every game, we try to expand upon our characters and their relationships. I don't want to give away anything, but you will definitely see even more of Drake and Elena and how they have grown as characters over the course of the Uncharted series. Obviously, this is a sequel, and it is not like the clock has been reset. Drake and Elena have been through a lot, and Uncharted 3 will put them through even more. Players should come away from this game with an even deeper understanding of these characters and how they relate to each other. All I can say is wait and see.