Q&A: Naughty Dog on Uncharted
Copresident Evan Wells on completing Drake's Fortune, the untapped potential of the PS3, and inevitable comparisons with Tomb Raider.
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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is undoubtedly one of the key games for Sony's PlayStation 3 this holiday season. GameSpot AU caught up with Naughty Dog copresident Evan Wells on a recent trip down to Australia and quizzed him on what the experience was like working on a next-generation console, how much of the Cell's processing power is being used, and whether the team is happy with the game being compared to the Tomb Raider series.
GameSpot AU: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is now complete, right? How long was the development process overall?
Evan Wells: Yes, we just went gold last week. We were in full production for two years, and we had a small staff of five or six engineers working for about a year before that.
GS AU: What was the dev process like for the PlayStation 3?
EW: It was really exciting. We were thrilled at the opportunity to work on what I feel is the most powerful hardware out there right now and to do something that was brand-new and different. We could have certainly taken the easy route and made another Jak and Daxter game, but we didn't feel that would really push us to achieve something that was fresh and interesting.
GS AU: So why did you decide to introduce a brand-new IP now instead of creating another Jak and Daxter or Crash Bandicoot?
EW: It really is the motivational factor partly, and also because we develop a franchise to really take advantage of the hardware we're making it for. And we felt that with Jak and Daxter--the way we were doing it on a PlayStation 2--was engineered to take advantage of the PS2. We were stylised with our characters because of the limitations of the hardware. We felt on the PS3 it was time to go fully armed and on to human characters set in the modern day.
GS AU: How much more work is required for a PS3 game as opposed to a PS2 game?
EW: The first game out of the box here was a tough one. I think it was hard for everybody to make the transition from last-gen to this generation. The leap was much larger I think than from PS1 to PS2 in terms of technology, and to wrap your head around multiple processors and pixel shaders--it really was just a whole new way of developing games. But now that we've got our IP established and we have our game engine completed, we're moving pretty rapidly now. We can create, I would say, nearly as fast as we could on the PS2 with maybe 30 to 40 percent increase in staff.
GS AU: How much of the PS3's processing power is being used in Uncharted then?
EW: We were just profiling it not too long ago as we were wrapping up production. As far as the Cell processor is concerned, we're actually using about a third to half of that right now, so there's still a bit of untapped potential there.
GS AU: You mentioned more realism in graphics. How important is that to an overall game experience?
EW: Details are what makes the game. They aren't just details--they're what creates the experience, even if they're just subconscious. Those things, even if they aren't hitting you over the head, you're still feeling them. That's what we were trying to do with Uncharted--to immerse you in this experience and make you feel like you're starring in a big-budget summer blockbuster. Now the quality of the graphics has risen to the level that you can feel like you're blurring that line and feel like you're in a movie.
GS AU: Do you think gamers notice these little graphical touches?
EW: As I was saying, maybe they're not consciously noticing them, but maybe subconsciously noticing them--not only the graphical details, but the way the character controls and feels. Even if they're not overt, they're subtly making a strong impression on the overall experience.
GS AU: Apart from better graphics, what has the PS3 allowed you to do that you haven't been able to before?
EW: I would say [the] number one thing is animation, and the fact that the Cell processor has so much raw horsepower that you could just throw more and more at it and it doesn't break a sweat. Our animation system is very complex, and we layer on dozens of frames of animation so you have that fluidity of movement where Nathan Drake can be running across a courtyard, stumbling over a rock as he's ducking under a hail of gunfire, reloading his weapon and rolling into cover, and all of these animations can happen simultaneously.
GS AU: Uncharted has so far drawn a lot of comparisons with the Tomb Raider series. Are you happy with those?
EW: I completely understand them, just because this is a genre which is not that widely used in video games for whatever reason--people tend to focus more on science fiction. This more-realistic, treasure-hunting, pulp action adventure genre really hasn't been tried by that many. So I think just by the very fact that both Nathan Drake and Lara Croft are treasure hunters, there will be comparisons. But beyond that, they diverge pretty rapidly. From a character standpoint, Nathan Drake is an everyman who struggles to get by, who you can see on his face that he's stressed out as he's flinching from bullets ricocheting off the cover he's hiding behind, while Lara is the more stone-faced acrobat, perfect landing every time. And then the gameplay, obviously we were very focused on third-person cover-based play, while theirs is more auto-aiming and a little more heavy on the puzzle-solving.
GS AU: We understand the team actually surfed forums a bit and implemented some gamer feedback into the final game. Is that right?
EW: That is correct. One of the most noticeable ones was just a few weeks ago, I had put a blog entry up on the US PlayStation blog, and I got a bunch of responses asking me about the resolutions we support. Up until that day, we were only supporting 720p and it never really crossed our minds to support anything else. In the US, we have this issue where a lot of early adopters with HDTVs have TVs that only support 1080i. So if you have a TV that supports 1080i and the game only supports 720p, the PS3 will default to 480p, which isn't even high-def and is not the way Uncharted should be experienced. So they brought that to my attention--I mean, it was kind of embarrassing that we didn't know that before--and literally within the hour we had 1080i support up to take care of all those people.
GS AU: What are your expectations for Uncharted? Do you think it will make as much as an impact as your previous games?
EW: I really don't have a good idea of what to expect. I'm really proud of what we've accomplished, and I think the team has done an amazing job. Two years in development may not seem like a short amount of time, but we really did pull it off in a short amount of time. So far, all the previews and the anticipation on the forums have been there, so I'm cautiously optimistic.
GS AU: So can we expect to see more of Nathan Drake?
EW: I hope so. We really developed the game to be a franchise. We've picked the pulp action adventure genre partly because it lends itself to serialisation and episodic content. Part of the storyline involves searching out some of the lost treasures of Sir Francis Drake, and there's a lot more treasure out there to be found.
GS AU: So can you tell us what's next on Naughty Dog's agenda?
EW: I wish I could. But we're still focused on finishing this game up, so we don't have that much in place to roll on to the next one. The next order of business is to get back home and knuckle down and figure out what we're going to do.
GS AU: Evan Wells, thanks for your time.