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Exclusive: Behind The Scenes Of  Uncharted
Exclusive: Behind The Scenes Of Uncharted
April 28, 2008 | By Staff

April 28, 2008 | By Staff
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The latest issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine includes a creator-written postmortem on the making of Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - these extracts reveal how the team wrestled with realism and auto-lock on concepts - before focusing on core mechanics to make the game truly effective.

Designers Neil Druckmann and Richard Lemarchand of Naughty Dog crafted the postmortem, which was introduced by Game Developer editors as follows:

"Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of the most critically-acclaimed PlayStation 3 games so far, and features the best shirt-wetting physics bar none. It takes the childhood dreams of developers raised on Indiana Jones and brings them to virtual reality. Naughty Dog takes us through the treasures and snake-filled pitfalls of their first game based in a realistic human world."

Discarding Lock-On Through Trial And Error

In this initial excerpt from the in-depth postmortem, Druckman and Lemarchand describe the initial process of nailing down the basics of Uncharted, the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter studio's first PlayStation 3 effort:

"As we began to build our new PS3 technology, we also started to formulate a design and direction for what would eventually become Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Once we’d agreed on the game’s general scope, we defined the tone - a light, cheerful, humorous one, similar to that of our pulp adventure inspirations - and what the core mechanics for the game would be. However, one of our strengths at Naughty Dog is prototyping early and knowing when it’s time to deviate from our design documents.

A great example of this is our aiming mechanic. We initially thought that Uncharted would use an automatic lock-on aiming mechanic for its gunplay... Despite all of the planning and production time that we’d invested in the mechanic, the gameplay never gelled for us and we eventually decided to try a completely different approach...

Although this new direction meant months of new work, we’d made our decision just early enough to be practical—we had enough time to integrate and polish the new mechanic, and it was definitely the right choice to make for our game.

We use this kind of process a lot at Naughty Dog — having a well-defined idea on paper is great, but the best way to firm up a game design is by trial and error, and you have to know when an idea just isn’t working and have the courage to ditch in it favor of a better plan."


"Realism In Gameplay Is Hard"

Continuing, the Naughty Dog team reflected in the postmortem on the realization that the decision to pursue a realistic atmosphere had a greater influence on development than expected:

"Although we took a lot of the right steps in our approach to developing a realistic story and character, we seriously underestimated the impact that realism would have on our game design. A major example of this was the difficulty we faced while we were tuning the health of the enemies.

We initially set up the enemies to take a bunch of hits before dying, so that each enemy felt like a formidable opponent. However, we soon started getting feedback from players that it seemed incredibly unrealistic for the enemies to take more than a couple of shots before going down. This meant that we had to constantly retune our setups and spawn additional enemy waves to compensate for the change.

A different kind of struggle between reality and game design happened when we tried to visually differentiate between the different enemy classes.

We kept tweaking the enemy designs as we developed the game, and stylized them a bit with some success. In the end we felt that we could have pushed their visual design even more, as some players still had trouble distinguishing between some of the different classes, and we’ll continue to explore this issue on our next project."


Keeping It Focused

In this last excerpt, the designers draw a contrast between the breadth and depth of gameplay in Uncharted to Naughty Dog's previous efforts, explaining how they zeroed in on the crux of the action:

"Except for a few vehicle-based sections, Uncharted's gameplay is tightly focused on a few core mechanics. This was quite a difference from the design approach of the Jak & Daxter series, where much of the fun was derived from the sheer variety of gameplay in the missions.

This focused approach, along with the realistic world we created for Uncharted, made game design on the project quite challenging. We couldn’t just come up with some wacky idea and give it its own separate mission in order to make a section of the game more interesting.

This resulted in what we feel is a much more elegant design overall. We were forced to think about the game as a whole, and to make sure that our core mechanics were truly exceptional.

Additionally, because we created things more systemically — like the player’s mechanics and the AI — polishing the game in the final months of production became a little easier."


Additional Info

The full postmortem, including a great deal more insight into Uncharted's development, with more 'What Went Right' and 'What Went Wrong' reasoning, is now available in the April 2008 issue of Game Developer magazine.

The issue also includes a condensed version of the seventh annual Game Developer's Salary Survey and a piece on the art of concise dialogue by game writer Ben Schneider - plus tool reviews, special sections, and columns from Bungie's Steve Theodore, Lucasarts' Jesse Harlin, and Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson.

Yearly print and digital subscriptions to Game Developer are now available, and all digital subscriptions now include web-browsable and downloadable PDF versions of the magazine back to May 2004, as well as the digital version of the Game Career Guide special issue.

In addition the April 2008 issue of Game Developer is available in digital form (viewable in a web browser, and with an associated downloadable PDF).


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