During the development of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the developers at Sony Bend realized they'd gone down the wrong track with its leading lady -- "Almost universally, focus testers hated Chase, the game's new female protagonist," writes Bend's John Garvin, in a new Gamasutra postmortem of the Vita launch title.
"The problem, we discovered, was the writing. In the script, Chase's character was a bit of a smart ass and a little sarcastic," writes Garvin. Thinking "players were going to love" the Chase he'd crafted, Garvin was surprised when he found out "it didn't work out that way."
While the developers had initially resisted focus testing, they quickly moved beyond that and realized they had problems to solve.
On one hand, the Bend developers had perpetuated some unfortunate stereotypes. Players called her a wimp, which Garvin admits is a "fair assessment."
"For gameplay reasons, we constantly put Chase into situations where Drake needed to take action. Call it lazy if you want, but we ended up with a few 'Princess Peach' scenarios... It seemed that poor Chase was constantly being choked, shot at, knocked out, dragged around and kidnapped. We fixed that, as well as we could, by changing the scenarios to make Chase less of a victim."
In one key scene, Chase was passively strangled by a thug while Drake came to her rescue -- but in the rewrite, she kicked him and escaped, with Drake covering her. They also made her less of a whiner -- in the original portrayal, she'd been "crying out every time Drake fell victim to a rickety structure (which he was prone to do), or every time something bad or unexpected happened."
Though the developers had strived to improve their portrayal of Chase, they were running up against another problem -- players also labeled her a "bitch," which Garvin believes was "unfair".
"What's that old adage? If a man acts forceful he's 'take-charge and aggressive, a real leader' but if a woman acts that way, she's being 'pushy and a bitch' -- an unfair gender stereotype, but one we had to deal with," he writes. "How? By making her less aggressive and critical."
"By the time we got to our third focus test, the replacement lines were in and focus testers stopped complaining about Chase," Garvin writes.
You can read more about the focus testing process for Golden Abyss -- as well as much more about the game's overall development, co-written with his Sony Bend colleagues -- in the full postmortem, which is live now on Gamasutra.