Creative Director Shaun Escayg discusses his vision for a ‘best of Uncharted’ experience
While both Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross are undoubtedly firm Uncharted fan favourites, it’s fair to say that, until now, they have very much been ‘supporting players’ in Naughty Dog‘s long-running saga. Of course, that changes with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, with the pair snatching the starring role away from Nathan Drake.
It’s a big, ballsy move for a series with such an iconic hero attached, and adds a fascinating, unexpected new dimension to its impending return. So, ahead of the game’s August launch, I caught up with the game’s creative director, Shaun Escayg to talk a little more about the challenges the team faced in sidelining Drake, and learned a little about what we can expect from Chloe and Nadine.
Nadine and Chloe are an uneasy alliance
“There’s a lot of fandom around Chloe – people liked her – but we knew very little about her.” Shaun explains, discussing the team’s decision to make Chloe the game’s main playable character.
“As you saw in Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, she was a sidekick character who always bailed out when things got too tough; always chose self-preservation over heroism and that’s really what led us to her as a character. Why does she always bail out? Why won’t she finish the job? Does she have what it takes? We wanted to answer those questions.”
What defines the Uncharted series as much as the eye-popping set-pieces is the banter that plays out between its characters – duly, Drake has almost always had a tag-along for company. The Lost Legacy was keen to keep the tradition alive.
“When we settled on Chloe we tried pairing her up with a whole line of different characters: Sullivan, Cutter… And then we thought, okay, who’d be the best and worst person to pair with Chloe Frazer? Nadine Ross was the obvious choice.
“Nadine is pragmatic; a militant leader suffering the loss of her father’s business and desperate to regain control of that. Chloe is an enigmatic, double-dealing hustler – the complete opposite really – but they both share a common thread: self-preservation. Together they provided the perfect brew for storytelling – will these characters betray each other or will they stick it out?”
And this idea of unpredictable heroes seems to be a key theme for the writers in The Lost Legacy. As Shaun explains, “Just the nature of Chloe herself is… shifty. She’s not a character who you would normally think of as a hero. And as for Nadine Ross – I mean, she was the villain in Uncharted 4!
“This world of thieves is complex. Everyone has perks: they’re still human, they still have personal goals, they still have a back story you can relate to. Once you find out what makes them interesting – for us it was self-preservation versus self-sacrifice – you have to give them that goal, give them that reason to put everything at risk for the greater good.”
The story opens up the Uncharted franchise in new ways
What this ultimately means for gamers is that they have the chance to really get a feel for both Nadine and Chloe, outside of their familiar antagonist roles.
“You will learn some stuff that you would have never known about Nadine – there’s a side of her you really wouldn’t expect,” says Shaun.
“Chloe has a very interesting past – there’s a struggle there coming from some very deep-rooted pain. Seeing Chloe’s perspective of the world opens up the world itself – in my opinion it’s the best of Uncharted.”
The team are clearly passionate about the story and the characters, and they don’t want it to feel like an accompanying act to the gameplay – they want it to be an integral part of the experience. So, as detailed in our recent hands-on report, a more open, less linear structure to how the game plays out has given Chloe and Nadine room to breathe.
“There are some side quests where you can get treasures and emblems that give you a little more context of the region and the history of The Eleven Kings. It also gives you a little more time to spend with these characters and build that bond – or splinter it.”
To leave discovery of so many details up to the curiosity of the player is a brave move for the Uncharted franchise, where story has always taken the role of a central thread that unfolds over the course of play. But it was a conscious decision.
“In this open world space you have options. You can go straight across it, moving from point to point, or you can spend many hours in one spot and learn a lot more about the world, the characters and their relationships.”
Your relationships affect how the action plays out
While all this is definitely *ahem* uncharted territory for the series, Shaun and the team wanted to take things a step further and try something slightly more radical.
“One area that we’re really proud of is the ‘spilling’ of narrative into gameplay,” Shaun explains. “If the characters are doing well – if they’re having a good time and bonding – then gameplay is at its most efficient: you’re fighting and Nadine is there kicking some ass.
“If the characters are at odds, though, you may have more difficulty. Your partner may be upset with you, may leave you – abandon you – may go do her own thing and this is really, really exciting for us at Naughty Dog because we’re always trying to blur the line between cut-scene, in-game and gameplay.”
Since the very first entry way back in 2007, one of the key philosophies behind the Uncharted series was ‘always on the stick’. Put simply, if a moment of action or drama could be controlled by the player rather than being a cut-scene that’s how the team would do it. So while The Lost Legacy is trying plenty of new things with its characters and gameplay dynamics, in this regard it’s as true to that founding philosophy as the series has ever been.
With the game’s 23rd August release just a few weeks away, you’ve not long to wait until you get to experience this new take on Naughty Dog’s enduring series for yourselves.