What were some of the biggest issues that you found yourselves running into when creating the multiplayer?
ND: In multiplayer especially, the mechanics have to be super-tight. You won't have any patience if Drake is taking half a second longer on an animation to climb up, and if you get shot during that, you get frustrated. So we tightened up all of the controls. We tightened up the shooting mechanic. The camera is zoomed in closer than in Uncharted 1. Guns just feel better. They're more distinct from each other than in Uncharted 1.
It took us a while to realize that you need to know exactly where you are and be able to easily communicate it. So if we had a temple that had two sides of cascading stairs, we cracked the ceiling on one side and had a waterfall coming down in it.
This was so you can be like, "Okay, I'm on the wet side, the dry side, the high side, or the low side," and can easily communicate to your teammates where you are.
Lag turned out to be somewhat of an issue with the melee system. Melee in single-player can last a few seconds when you engage with an enemy, and it couldn't work with multiplayer, so we ended up tweaking the way melee worked for multiplayer.
And then once we had the competitive component, it was so much fun, and we started imagining what it would be like to play it in the single-player scenarios. That's when we added the co-op, and started building up these cooperative scenarios to play with.
Online multiplayer and co-op are something that are kind of expected now, particularly with shooters. Was that something you guys wanted to do because you wanted to see it in the game, and not because you felt pressure like, "Hey, we've got to have this bullet point"?
ND: Yeah, definitely not. If you're thinking that way, you end up with features that are tacked on just so you can get the bullet point. We have to really believe in something and see how it's going to be fun and how it fits in with the game for us to go through with it. Otherwise, we're not going to do it.
How did the writing work on the game?
ND: All of the writing for Uncharted 2 was done in-house. There are three main writers. Amy Hennig is our creative director and head writer. Then there's me and Josh [Scherr], who is the lead cinematic animator. We do a lot of the writing as well.
Recently, Electronic Arts hired a co-writer from the film Monster's Ball for Dante's Inferno. Do you think doing that is misguided, hiring from outside somebody who hasn't done video games?
ND: It doesn't have to be. It can be misguided if they don't understand the process that needs to happen. For us, even if we hired a writer from outside, they have to be in-house. They have to understand the game.
Things are changing and shifting so much, you have to constantly accommodate for it. If you're working with a writer you're only talking with once a month or once a week, I don't see how that's going to work. It will be very difficult to make it work.
The pacing of the game is like a page-turner, or a novel where every day you can't put it down, because you want to see what comes next. It's like you're teasing the gamer, saying, "Hey, just play through this next part and you're going to find out what happens next."
ND: Pacing is actually huge for us. We've had so many discussions about, "Okay, is this battle too long? Is this sequence too long? It's been a while since you've fought somebody. There's too many battles. Let's have a down moment for a little bit." We spend a lot of time, effort, and innovation on pacing.
What was your goal with the visuals in this one?
ND: Just to push the PlayStation to the limit, as far as we could. We re-wrote almost our entire graphics engine... the first game was entirely on the GPU, and in this one, we were able to spread it out.
I'm sure people have seen reports in the past where we said we were using 100 percent of the PlayStation 3, and we're not lying or exaggerating when we say that. What we mean is that none of the SPUs are ever idle. They're working 100 percent of the time. In the first Uncharted, they were idle about 70 percent of the time, because we were just on the GPU.
That let us put all of these systems in parallel and let us get better shadows, ambient occlusion, and much better depth of field effects, which gives us much better camera work than we had in Uncharted 1. We had more compression on our animation. It let us push all of these different things in different directions, and there's still room to optimize, so the future is looking even better.
It's interesting looking at Uncharted 2, and hearing you say that you guys, an in-house Sony company, weren't utilizing the PlayStation 3 closer to its fullest capabilities in the original Uncharted. I know that there are third parties -- you can see in the cross-platform games -- that aren't using the hardware to its fullest extent. I understand that there are technical and cost limitations, but to actually see the console firing on all cylinders is nice.
ND: And we have an in-house team that actually develops tools for other first parties and even for third parties. So hopefully, you're going to start seeing that shift, where more and more games that aren't even Sony first-party games get similar results to what we have, hopefully. I'd like to play more games that look like that.