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 Uncharted  designer Lemarchand leaves Naughty Dog for USC

Uncharted designer Lemarchand leaves Naughty Dog for USC Exclusive

April 30, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

April 30, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive

Veteran Naughty Dog lead Richard Lemarchand is moving on after some eight years with the studio, "excited and happy" to join the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

Specifically, Lemarchand -- most recently co-lead designer on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception -- will be teaching at the school's Interactive Media Division, which trained Thatgamecompany's Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen, among others. He'll also work on a series of experimental games, as part of a research project.

"In other words, I'll be surrounded by awesome people, talking craft and philosophy, and building strange new things!" he told Gamasutra.

Lemarchand has been closely associated with the program for some years, having numerous friends involved, and praising the legacy of acclaim its games program has earned. As a frequent speaker and lecturer (and active Twitterer) himself, he has developed close ties to academic and design practice communities from California to New York and everywhere in between.

"I've always been a very hands-on game designer," Lemarchand tells Gamasutra. "And I'm a big believer that no matter what level you're working at on a project, it's a very great thing to be able to stay connected to the practical processes of building out a game."

He praises the IMD's "forward-looking" and "practical" approach toward teaching game design to students, as well as the program's perspective in terms of theory. "I also love to think and to talk about our approaches to games, about the way games work when they interface with our minds, and what aspects of ourselves they utilize to work."

After years of service to Naughty Dog and, in particular, the Uncharted franchise, for which Lemarchand has become something of a creative ambassador, what makes this the best time to join the teaching community? "I think the simplest answer is that it seems like a natural transition point," Lemarchand says.

"I was involved with the development of the Uncharted series not quite from the beginning, but almost... and even though the Uncharted series isn't intended to be viewed as a trilogy, maybe there's something about the number three that felt... there is a certain amount of completeness for me," he says.

"For about 10 years now, I've wanted to make a different kind of game, alongside my professional practice," Lemarchand says. "I've always really loved working on the kinds of blockbuster AAA games that I've had the opportunity to work on, and I think I've been exceptionally lucky -- it's partly by luck and a little bit of judgment I've gotten to work on big games that are also, I think, real exemplars in terms of craft, and hopefully, ultimately, with some transcendent aspects to them."

In particular he expresses gratitude to colleague Amy Hennig, writer and creative director on the Uncharted series, for their time working together: "In terms of being about real aspects of human existence... I think this is in part to do with Amy's great skill as a game designer."

But even the most casual friend of Lemarchand knows of his great love for the independent community. "I've always loved the experimental and avant-garde," he reflects. "I wanted to try to make a game in that sphere for the best part of a decade, now."

And while he has "dabbled" in his spare time, he always felt the passion of the Naughty Dog team deserved his full attention. "But... if I wanted to go out on a limb and take a chance to see some other opportunities, I always thought that the end of Uncharted 3 would be a good time to do that, and then I was very lucky that this opportunity came along," Lemarchand adds. "So I'll get to do what I've been yearning to do for a decade, in that regard -- I realize how very lucky I am."

Lemarchand has acted as an external thesis advisor for USC, and as such has had experience in some respects on what it's like to advise and guide students, a role he feels he takes to naturally -- even if never having taught before may be a challenge. Still, having spent many years working with younger developers -- he feels "lucky" to have worked with "smart, talented young game designers" -- he feels the role of teacher is one he has occupied, albeit in an informal way, for some years now.

He'll get started after a three-month backpacking trip all over the world -- including crossing the U.S., laptop in hand -- where he'll start by germinating some of his experimental game ideas, an exciting portion of his upcoming research work. "Some are to do with procedural narrative; some are to do with space and exploration," Lemarchand explains. "I've always been very interested in the power of environmental narrative."

"Obviously with the kinds of projects that I'm considering, I have scope considerations, which is familiar to me, because every project I have been on has been constrained in some way in terms of the amount of resources we have available," he says. "Of course, this project will be a lot smaller, and I actually find that really stimulating, because I've always said... it's constraint that really gives your creativity something to push against."

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