Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Interview
We talk to Naughty Dog design lead Richard Lemarchand to find out more about one of the most promising games on the PlayStation 3. Incredible new screenshots inside!
For several months after its unveiling at the E3 in 2006, most gamers simply talked about "that Naughty Dog game", thanks to Sony's neglecting to supply a title to its brief clip. It wasn't until February that we found out the game's name, and that only made people more curious...
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is the story of an everyman, Nathan Drake, and his attempts to follow in the footsteps of 16th century explorer Sir Francis Drake (no relation... or is there?). The game supposes that the English mariner didn't die in 1586, as the history books say, but had one last adventure in the South American jungle. That's where Nathan comes in.
Is he related to Sir Francis? What sort of adventures await? And is the game going to make fence-sitters want a PS3?
To find out more, we went straight to Richard Lemarchand, the lead game designer on Drake's Fortune at Naughty Dog.
Kikizo: How did you feel after the game's brief debut at E3 2006? Even though the snippet was short, it still has people talking to this day. Does that put extra pressure on the team?
Richard Lemarchand: We were very pleased by the warm reception that Uncharted received at E3 last year. We follow the gaming forums very closely, and the level of buzz on the internet that our project generated let us know that we were on the right track to creating something uniquely compelling for the PS3. We voluntarily put ourselves under plenty of pressure all the time, and so an enthusiastic public response like that just inspires us to try even harder!
Kikizo: In a recent interview, Naughty Dog president Evan Wells described how with each generation the company was able to bring its games closer to reality. What is the biggest step you've been able to make with Uncharted?
Lemarchand: We've leapt forward on so many fronts that it's hard to single out just one feature for special attention, but the thing that players might notice first - since it's so "front and centre" - is our animation system.
We've been working on Nathan Drake's moves for a long time, and we feel that we've created something indisputably next-gen. The animation is full of realism which is pretty unique in the world of character-action games, but Drake still controls in that responsive on-the-button way that fans of Naughty Dog's gameplay love.
There are lots of other areas where we're pushing the envelope, like our environment modelling techniques and our lighting and water systems; players will have to decide for themselves which is their favourite feature.
Kikizo: How important is capturing realistic human subtleties (versus a more cartoony take) and how is the PS3 helping you achieve this?
Lemarchand: In a dramatic game like Uncharted it's very important that we capture all the small expressions and subtle muscular movements of the face that a realistic human character needs to be truly expressive and dynamic, and we've put a lot of time and effort into polishing the finer details of the character animation.
Many of our amazing animators come from feature animation but love games with a great passion, and as a group they always push themselves beyond what game developers think is possible in terms of animation quality on our kind of tight schedules. They keep delighting us with little expressions of character emotion that we haven't seen in a game before, and when you get to feast your eyes on our new trailer you'll see what I mean!
Kikizo: Do you find it difficult to bring together strong narrative and involving gameplay? How do you plan to overcome the concessions that companies taking a similar route have been forced into, such as taking away control at key moments?
Lemarchand: Not really - bringing together great story and strong gameplay has been a high priority for Naughty Dog for a long time, and we're continuing to build on our past experiences of making this style of game.
We're all big fans of great story games with strong action mechanics, and we continually challenge each other to find new ways to tell a great story without pulling the player out of the flow of the action.
Kikizo: Is there one principle inspiration for Nathan or is he more an amalgam of characters from the genre?
Lemarchand: We did draw a lot of inspiration from the genre of classic adventure stories for Nathan's character - from great adventure movies, books and comics - but he's really a very contemporary and unique person that you can recognize as coming from our modern world.
I think we all know that dude - the kind of guy that you might meet backpacking in Thailand - who's intelligent but likable, digs a cool adventure or a lark, and always has a smart remark ready. Maybe he's also just a little bit prone to screwing up over something important at a critical moment - or to saving the day in an unlikely way. That's Nathan Drake - he's 100 per cent original for a video game, but someone you could relate to if you met them on the trail in the Amazon basin.
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Naughty Dog Untitled Game aka Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Direct feed trailer E3 2006
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