Interview: Making Drake's Fortune
On a swanky press trip, we met with Naughty Dog game director Amy Henning, for a detailed behind-the-scenes interview feature on the epic new PS3 adventure.
By Adam Doree
It is common for game companies to wine and dine journalists on specialised 'press trips' to promote their upcoming releases throughout the year, but rarely has Kikizo visited as beautiful a place as Dubrovnik, an historic city on the Adriatic Sea coast, in the extreme south of Croatia. On this occasion the host was Sony, and the game in question was the anticipated PS3 adventure, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
But why the city of Dubrovnik to showcase this latest Naughty Dog developed title? After all, the Naughty Dog team is based in Santa Monica, Sony Europe is headquartered in Central London - and so is Kikizo for that matter - so why go to the hassle of flying two UK game sites out to Croatia to meet our fellow European and US games media, and the creators of the game?
Arriving there, it becomes immediately obvious why. The beautiful and inspiring environments of Dubrovnik, with its perfect blue ocean surroundings and centuries-old architecture, strongly resemble the mysterious setting of Uncharted, and the venue for this event - a sprawling ancient fortress called Fort Lovrijenac - echoes the values and environments in the game rather fittingly.
Staying in a nearby hotel that was literally about as far along in development as the game itself - that is, finishing touches were being made as we experienced it - the trip is as good an excuse as any to do a spot of travelling and be merry in the name of investigative games journalism. And it would be rude not to say how charming the trip (which also incorporated a day for Ratchet and Clank, our coverage for which went up a while ago) turned out. We speedboated our way to a tongue-in-cheek 'treasure hunt' on a mysterious nearby island and learned about the city's history to (not) win a prize, and went clubbing with a chap from Sony France so late that we were barely functioning when it came to Ratchet the next day. Yes, we're professionals.
Now, particularly in light of certain controversial goings-on last week relating to the firing of a gaming site's editorial director - allegedy because of a review that the makers didn't like next to their major advertising campaign - the criticism of press trips like this, and the relationship between games media and makers in general, is a viable one: that entertaining us like this and letting us see the game and meet creators at various stages in development gets us too close to a game, and not critical enough when it comes to the review.
A pity, then, that this particular game will do no favours for our argument that our coverage suffers no such dishonour, because Unchartred genuinely is a brilliant game. After discovering a 400-year-old clue in the coffin of Sir Francis Drake, you set out in search of the fabled treasure of El Dorado, leading to the discovery of a forgotten island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where the search turns deadly. It looks gorgeous, with its layered animation system and very saturated, stylised graphics, and the tactical style of gunplay and hand-to-hand combat has already earned Drake high praise since its release Stateside two weeks ago.
Following the game's unveiling last year and our previous chat with Naughty Dog earlier this year, this new interview with Amy Henning, Game Director at Naughty Dog who also directed Jak 3, goes in-depth for a final look at the making behind possibly the best PS3 game to date, before our review later this week as the game hits UK shops.
Richard Lemarchand: Uncharted Interview 1|
We talk to Naughty Dog design lead Richard Lemarchand to find out more about one of the most promising PS3 games.
Amy Henning: Uncharted Interview 2|
We met with Naughty Dog game director Amy Henning, for a detailed behind-the-scenes interview feature on Uncharted.
Evan Wells & Naughty Dog Video Feature|
An introduction to Naughty Dog from all the staff in video form. Witness the best office dog mascot in the business.
Uncharted: Drakes Fortune Review|
Our verdict, coming later this week. Stay tuned.
Interview: Amy Henning, Game Director
Kikizo: Thanks for your time to talk about Drake, Amy. First, are you saying Jak is pretty much finished as far as you guys are concerned now?
Henning: Not necessarily. I mean, we haven't said one way or the other. It's a different situation than it was with Crash, so it's certainly something we've kept the door open to. But right now, this is such an ambitious project that we needed every person in the company to work on it.
Kikizo: So just to be sure, Jak is an IP that is staying with Naughty Dog?
Henning: Oh, absolutely.
Kikizo: The last time we spoke to Naughty Dog about Uncharted was with Richard Lemarchand, and there were a few things he couldn't talk about at the time.
Henning: He's probably more disciplined than I am!
Kikizo: One of the things was dynamic difficulty; this game's demographic has the potential to be quite broad...
Henning: Absolutely, it's something that I've been concerned about too, because you want to make sure that you satisfy the hardcore gamers, but you don't alienate the casual gamers, because I think there's huge casual gamer appeal here with the genre. So yeah, we've definitely been working very hard on our dynamic difficulty adjustment system and working with Mark Cerny and the Sony Technology Group on that. It's a constant tuning process to make sure that you don't tip it one way or the other, but it's been making a huge difference in terms of seeing how well someone's getting on with the game, and being able to adjust difficulty on the fly, back and forth.
Kikizo: This is mainly a singleplayer adventure, but what did you eventually settle on in terms of online features for the final game?
Henning: It's mostly trophies and things like that, or being able to compare accomplishments in the game, things like that - we're sort of coming out too soon to really be part of the trophy system per se, but we've done what we can in terms of letting people share their accomplishments in the game.
Kikizo: In terms of the puzzle stuff - or the problem solving, as you so strategically call it - can you tell us a bit more about how you avoided clichés to make this interesting with spatial problems?
Henning: Sure, I think some of the games I've enjoyed most as a game player have been the games where, the problem in front of you is to look at the environment and think, well I know I need to get there or I need to accomplish that, but how am I going to do it? And looking around you can figure out what your path through the environment is and what you may have to accomplish in order to open a path. And that's what I call spatial problem solving, as opposed to kind of like fine, detailed problem solving where you've got a certain puzzle in a room, that's what I would call more a puzzle. But I think it's more depth with navigational problem solving, which I think gamers like games like Prince of Persia and Ico have done so well for so many years.