Interview: Naughty Dog’s Keith Guerette Says Uncharted 3 Better Than Uncharted 2
Just Push Start had a chance to interview the Lead Effects Artist for Uncharted 3, Keith Guerette about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Included in our interview is his reason for why Uncharted 3 has no PlayStation Move support and reasons why he thinks Uncharted 3 is a better game than Uncharted 2. He also mentions Naughty Dog doesn’t intend to “simply regurgitate a recipe to pump out a new game”.
JPS: Uncharted 2 was named 2009 Game of the Year by many people including us here at Just Push Start. What has Naughty Dog done to make sure Uncharted 3 is just as innovative as its critically acclaimed predecessor?
KG – It’s been such a crazy experience for us (and thank you so much for your support!!) – when we finished Uncharted 2, we knew that we had a pretty good game to be proud of, but we wouldn’t have predicted how much people enjoyed it. From the moment we started production on Uncharted 3, we were very aware of the high expectations and the pressure, so we had to look hard at our successes and failures within Uncharted 2, and decide where to go from there.
The primary focus for Naughty Dog on the entire Uncharted series has been the story – For us to be proud of Uncharted 3, we wanted to make sure we could find a rich historical context to weave our fiction around, but also to create a compelling and emotionally involved narrative between our characters. To do this, we eventually decided to look into the role that Sully plays in the life of Drake – the savior/corruptor, the father figure, as well as finally delving to Nathan Drake’s past to learn more about who he is, and the journey that his life has taken him down. All of this is woven around the tale as Nathan Drake follows in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia across the globe in search of the Iram of the Pillars (or Atlantis of the Sands).
Obviously, the story is only a part of it. In terms of technology and gameplay, Uncharted 2 was our proving grounds – we spent the entire two years of development making the tech behind the collapsing building and train sequences work, but we’d barely been able to take advantage of it. This was huge for us as we began to plan out this next game, because we were able to pull together some of the most complicated and epic set-pieces ever seen in video games, and we had time to focus on keeping them fun for a player with no appreciation for the tech to experience.
JPS: What have been some games and even movies that have inspired the many gameplay elements we have seen thus far in the Uncharted series?
KG – One of the fantastic aspects of working at Naughty Dog is that we have a very non-egotistical approach to development. Every other movie, television show, and video game on the market has had to solve many of the same issues that we do – we very actively look to these other pieces of media to see what we can learn from their successes, or their failures. I would have a difficult time making a list, because we really do look at everything that comes out, or any other media that correlates with our scenes in any way or shares a similar genre in its presentation – this season has been particularly exciting with worth-while competition in video games.
JPS: Uncharted 3 is the first game in the series to have Stereoscopic 3D. Was it a challenge adding 3D into the game and what are your thoughts of the end result?
KG – 3D was a very interesting challenge for us, because it meant that we needed to render the entire scene twice, rather than once, in the same amount of time. In order to do this, we had to optimize our render pipeline, and make sacrifices where-ever possible, but we absolutely didn’t want to affect the artistic potential for the 2D experience. We developed a tremendous amount of workflow and pipeline technology to allow us to alter the game slightly when you enter 3d by subtly lowering the resolution of certain objects, or removing smaller details that the absence of would not actually be noticed (rolling tin can on the ground, spider webs in the corners, etc.)
Once we started working with 3D, we realized that there’s actually an impressive amount of “wow” factor added to many of our scenes, and a new art form to learn in regards to using the 3D appropriately – Looking down the cliff face as Drake shimmy’s along an edge actually gives you a decent sense of vertigo – Chasing through the narrow market stalls really did provide me with a stronger sense of immersion. The 3D technology in hardware, and many bits of software are still in an early phases of the growth that I want to see. But when it works well, it really works well. I’m very excited to see this line of technology and presentation improve.
It’s also worth mentioning that when we made the decision to tackle 3D, we also made the decision to implement split screen functionality for our multiplayer experience. Many (but not all) of the challenges and difficulties are shared between the two.
JPS: Why hasn’t Naughty Dog ever included co-op mode as part of the main story as seen in other games such as Resistance 3?
KG – Co-op has been a feature of gaming that we’re very interested in – the ability to share the journey of a game closely with another person is a very powerful tool for a developer. That said, we haven’t been able to find a worth-while way to implement coop game play without negatively impacting the language and presentation of our story, or the way it is woven through game play. In order to continue making the cinematic experience we wanted, within the world that we’ve created, we consciously decided to continue without coop through our primary campaign of Uncharted 3.
We did, however, take on the large workload of expanding our additional co-op adventures in the multiplayer.
JPS: Why doesn’t Uncharted 3 support the PlayStation Move controller?
KG- Sony actually did approach us in the early stages of development and asked us to consider using the Playstation Move. What we determined is that there really was no good way to properly take advantage of the Move without changing the game play, language, and presentation of Uncharted as we know it.
If we do support the Playstation Move, or any other peripheral device/new technology, we want to be absolutely certain that it does both the device, and the game, their due justice.
JPS: Could you provide us anymore details about some of the DLC planned for Uncharted 3?
KG – I’m not 100% sure what we’ve announced in New Zealand (or the world for that matter), so I’m afraid I have to dodge the question a little bit. But I will say that we have big ambitions to continue supporting the community and its wants/concerns for long into the future. We want to make sure we continually improve the multiplayer experience, and add more value to it for the fans that support us so much.
DLC is actually a lot of fun for us to work on – our schedule is relaxed, and the levels, characters, etc are much more freely created (they can be out of context, which gives us quite a bit more creative flexibility).
JPS: Uncharted 2 offered a surprisingly good multiplayer mode. What steps has Naughty Dog done to ensure Uncharted 3’s multiplayer mode is just as good if not better?
KG – The success of Uncharted 2’s multiplayer experience actually surprised as well – in the good way of course! For Uncharted 3, we wanted to make sure we spent a large amount of energy making an industry competitive multiplayer experience. But we didn’t want to detract in any way from the single player campaign, so we expanded our team size specifically to support a tremendous amount of growth into the multiplayer experience.
Our designers turned to every other game in the industry – What are they doing well? What are they doing poorly? What can we learn from them, and apply to the strengths and weaknesses of our multiplayer? We knew that we didn’t want to try and compete with Call of Duty directly – our games are very different, and Uncharted’s strengths lie in some of those differences.
In the end, we added a tremendous amount of variety and player progression to multiplayer – new game modes, character customizations, weapon customizations, skill boosters, power-plays (which temporarily add extra challenges to the matches), special abilities called “Kickbacks”, and much more, all fed through a fun unlockable system to make player progression more rewarding. Additionally, we shifted our design concepts a little bit to try and build levels that play on our strengths in the franchise – more ways to use traversal to your advantage, a tremendous amount of weapon and melee tuning, more dynamic or interactive set-pieces. On the back end, we’ve also added quite a bit of new or improved technology – late join, two player split-screen (supporting different PSN IDs for each player), much better Facebook, Youtube, and movie-editing integrations, etc.
JPS: Could you tell us what has been your favorite aspect working on Uncharted 3?
KG – My favorite aspect of working on Uncharted is actually my favorite part of being a part of the team at Naughty Dog. Because we have very little management or oversight, we have fostered a very strong team atmosphere through production, where everyone is working hard and very passionate about their personal involvement in their work.
There’s always a point when tackling the large set pieces of Uncharted where things just aren’t clicking yet – the dozen or so people involved are all slaving away, but things just haven’t quite come together, and everyone is quietly getting nervous, wondering, “Oh man, did we finally go too ambitious?”
And then one morning, I’ll step into work early, so I can spend that little bit of extra time on my FX, turn on the game, and my jaw will drop the floor – everyone has just submitted their work the night before, and every aspect of it is so much better than we’d hoped for. For a few minutes every time, I turn into a giddy little school-boy, filled with pride at what we’d done. Then we sit down and figure out how to make it better.
JPS: Do you feel Naughty Dog has pushed the limits of the PS3 hardware with Uncharted 3 or do you feel there’s more that could have been done?
KG – In many ways, Uncharted 2 was a rough draft for our technology – we spent a tremendous amount of energy getting our tools and design to work across the full 2 year development, but we’d barely had the chance to use them. Because we had these tools already at our disposal for Uncharted 3, we had the opportunity to run through our tool and rendering pipelines and optimize, custom fit, and rebuild to squeeze even more out of the PS3.
I’m not sure what my appropriate “marketing speech” is for this question, but in my honest opinion, there is still room to grow on this console. I believe that we are quickly coming to a point where the hardware is not directly the impediment for developing a good, creative game, but instead that limitation is based upon the skill, passion, and talent of the designers, artists, and programmers actually making it.
Don’t get me wrong, as an FX artist, I would LOVE to have more dynamically driven animations, dynamic-lights, real-time reflections, better anti-aliasing, larger textures, better fill rate, etc…. but I’m not a believer that those small improvements are the single most important part of a gaming experience.
JPS: Do you have any role in the development for the PS Vita title Uncharted: Golden Abyss?
KG – Naughty Dog has been working closely with Sony Bend (the developers of Uncharted: Golden Abyss) to try and give them as much support as we can, but they’ve been doing a fantastic job on their own. I was dubious at first, but once we started to see the work they were pulling off, I quickly gained a lot of trust and respect for them and what they are acheiving.
JPS: The Uncharted trilogy has been a tremendous success for both Sony and Naughty Dog. Apart from the upcoming Vita release of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, can fans expect to see more Uncharted-related titles in the future?
KG – We honestly don’t know – we’ve only just finished Uncharted 3 a few weeks ago, and everyone took off on vacation (We’re still celebrating!!). We definitely have more cool ideas for plot points and game play elements that we’d love to throw into the Uncharted world, and Sony obviously loves the franchise, but we want to make sure that whatever our next project is, it’ll be something refreshing, fun, and most importantly, worth the blood, sweat, and tears we will pour into it. We will never simply regurgitate a recipe to pump out a new game.
JPS: What do you think makes the Uncharted games so popular with millions of gamers around the world?
KG – When Naughty Dog started the Uncharted franchise, they made the very conscious decision to go against the grain of the rest of the Industry – Gears of War was dominating at the time, and everything was about post-apocalyptic, desaturated, high-intensity gun play with massive silhouetted characters, and a story that was a secondary focus. Naughty Dog chose to pursue a vibrant, saturated, story-driven game with personable characters. I think from the start that made us feel like a fresh take on the gaming experience.
But beyond that, we’ve constantly tried to improve ourselves, to improve the art and the genre of story driven games, and with a tremendous amount of support from Sony, talent from our actors and developers internally, we’ve been able to create something special – the characters are real to us, and we truly want to share the adventure that we’ve dreamed up for them with our players.
JPS: One last question, which game do you think is better: Uncharted 2 or Uncharted 3?
KG – I can honestly say that I’m a huge fan of the story within Uncharted 3 – there have been several moments for me across development when I’ve caught glimpses of the story coming into the game and thought, “Wow… that is really, really good.” We’ve taken the depth of the relations and history from the past two Uncharted games and expanded upon them again – this time the characters are aging, and the history behind their relationships, their roles in each other’s lives, will be presented in a new light.
The fantastic interactions between our actors, the way they play off of each other and improvise, along with our improved motion & sound performance capture pipeline fuse with the excellent story from our writing staff and will leave with you a narrative that you won’t soon forget.
Interview: Naughty Dog's Keith Guerette Says Uncharted 3 Better Than Uncharted 2,