Inside the Developers Studio: Evan Wells & Richard Lemarchand

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We were lucky enough to interview not one, but two Naughty Dogs for this latest Inside the Developers Studio post. Evan Wells leads our Q&A here with help from Lead Game Designer Richard Lemarchand. Enjoy!

Uncharted: Drakes Fortune

1. What game do you have at E3 this year?
EW: Naughty Dog will be showing off our new PlayStation 3 game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

2. Describe it in five words or less.
EW: Modern day, pulp action/adventure.

3. Tell us more about your game. What’s the story?
RL: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a new character-action game for the PlayStation 3 from the insanely talented videogame makers here at Naughty Dog, creators of Jak and Daxter. It has a mature, realistic, slightly stylized look, and is set in a world that reinvents the classic action-adventure genre of games and movies.

The game is a blend of problem-solving traversal, great cover-based gun combat, hand-to-hand brawling and puzzles, and is huge leap forward for us in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a storytelling action game.

The story centers on Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter and occasional con man, and his quest to uncover the mystery of a family legend linking him with the famous English explorer and pirate Sir Francis Drake.

Hooking up with a young cable history show presenter called Elena Fisher, Drake finds himself stranded on a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean, battling present-day pirates and dark, unseen forces in a hunt for the mythical treasure of El Dorado.

4. What did you do on this game that you couldn’t do on another platform?
RL: There are so many things that we can do on the PlayStation 3 that simply aren’t possible on any other game system, but probably the biggest thing to mention is our animation system. In a realistic game like ours, it’s a massive challenge to create a character that is incredibly responsive but whose moves still look perfectly smooth and seamless, and so the animation system was one of the first things we started work on at the beginning of the project.

We’ve created a huge number of animations for Nathan Drake that we combined together on the fly using our blending system, so that Drake responds immediately to what the player does with the controls. That’s really important in a triple-A character-action game, where an ‘on the button’ feel is essential. But even more radically, we’ve built a very innovative layered-animation system, which is what gives our hero a staggeringly believable look.

At any given time there might be up to fifteen layered animations playing back in the game at once, so that Drake can be coming out of cover, reloading his weapon, stumbling on a rock, grimacing with exertion and flinching away from incoming gunfire, all at once. When you see him in action in gameplay it’s almost hard to believe that he’s a videogame character, and it’s the unique processing architecture and power of the PlayStation 3 that gives us the ability to pull this off.

5. What do you think is the coolest aspect of this game?
RL: I think that the coolest thing about Uncharted is also one of the things that make it unique. When we made Jak and Daxter we really wanted to push the bounds of what’s possible in an action game that tells an excellent story, and to find new ways of bringing great gameplay and terrific storytelling closer and closer together.

We feel like we achieved a lot with the Jak series in that regard, but we knew that we could do even more if we kept pushing ourselves. So it’s the new ways that we’re combining play elements from platform games, shooters and puzzle games – all the while spinning an enthralling character-driven tale – that makes Uncharted stand out.

The quality of the writing and acting in Uncharted is something special for games – I guess we’re always trying to raise that bar as high as we can. We’re doing more with in-game story sequences than we’ve ever done before and have figured out some techniques to embed concepts from the story in the puzzles and the rest of the game world that we’re very excited about.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a realistic game with more mature themes than previous Naughty Dog games – we’ve done some growing up and we know that the gamers who play our games have too. That said, our main focus is still on getting as much pure fun out of the hardware as we possibly can!

6. When is it being released?
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune will ship this holiday season.

7. If you could sit one person in front of your game for an hour, who would it be?
EW: Daxter. So he could see what we’ve been up to lately.

8. What game do you most want an hour to sit in front of yourself (besides your own)?
EW: Little Big Planet

9. Describe the pre-2007 E3 experience in five words or less.
EW: Hectic as always.

10. Most overused phrase or expression during E3 season
EW: Pixar quality graphics.

11. You are asked to make suggestions for an E3 survival kit- what three items HAVE to be included?
EW: Based on E3’s from the past I would have said earplugs, comfortable shoes and a cell phone set to vibrate. This year things should have changed substantially, but I doubt you could go wrong with comfortable shoes.

12. What advice would you have for someone who has never experienced E3?
EW: With the new format, I feel like E3 is going to be a brand new experience for me too, so I’m looking to receive some advice instead of giving it.

13. Describe what you anticipate from 2007’s newly formatted E3 in five words or less.
EW: I’m managing my expectations.

14. What’s your favorite part about developing games for a living?
RL: Wow, where do I start? Game design is a great profession, and every day presents incredible opportunities for fun, engaging work that’s both creative and technical. I’d recommend game design – or any kind of game development career – to anyone smart and artistic who’s passionate about videogames.

I love media; games, movies, books, music, comics, art, and the web are all just pure brain food to me. I see games as a super-medium that can incorporate and eventually exceed every kind of creative human endeavor that has come before them – perhaps most importantly because they’re interactive.

That immense possibility for self-expression, communication and creation is what keeps me jumping out of bed each morning and racing into the office to see what challenges the day holds! So maybe my favorite thing about making games for a living is all the stuff we haven’t done yet! I just can’t wait to see what amazing things – like Uncharted – the future of videogames will bring…

Also See:
Three Speech Q&A with Evan Wells

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