Uncharted 2 ships in the UK today. The superlative bin is empty: it’s the highest rated PS3 exclusive of all time, and one of the best reviewed full stop.
We were lucky enough to get some time with Evan Wells, co-president of Naughty Dog, to talk about the game’s development, how PS3’s unique aspects allowed the team to make the title it did, how the company will now follow on into a third game and much more.
Hit the link.
Interview by Nathan Grayson.
VG247: The reviews are in, and Uncharted 2 – at least, according to Metacritic – is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. What’s it like seeing Drake and co. alongside Gordon Freeman, Mario, Link, Solid Snake, and other such legendary characters? It’s got to be a bit surreal, right?
Evan Wells: It’s definitely flattering! Seeing the reception from the reviewers and the gamers that have been playing the demo makes all of the hard work that went into the development totally worth it. One of the most satisfying things for a developer is just knowing that people are enjoying what you’ve created.
You’ve mentioned that the Xbox 360 could never handle Uncharted 2. Do you think we’ve hit the point where the PS3 will start pulling ahead of the Xbox 360 in terms of graphical fidelity and overall performance? Do you think there will be a noticeable difference in the two platforms’ games from here on out?
Evan Wells: I think the differences that you see between any two games has much more to do with the developer than whether it’s on the Xbox or PS3. Great programmers and great artists are going to make a great game. Naughty Dog will continue to push the PlayStation hardware as far as we can. We’re fortunate that we get to work on a system that has a hard drive and uses blu-ray for storage. Without these things, Uncharted 2 would have been a very different game. What we were able to do with the Cell processor allowed us to achieve a density of polygons and a fidelity to our effects that would simply not be possible without it. But ultimately, if we didn’t have a team of very talented programmers and artists, we wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the hardware and achieve the results that we did.
Microsoft recently said that it wants motion control to “become the norm.” Is that how you envision gaming’s future, or would you rather the traditional controller stick around?
Evan Wells: I really don’t think that motion control will supplant the traditional gaming controller any time in the near future. There are simply too many games that work really well with the traditional controllers that would lose something significant to be redesigned to use motion control. I’m really excited that there are a whole bunch of new gaming experiences being offered through the use of motion controllers, but I think they are going to live along side of the more conventional games.
There are those who say cutscenes and other sorts of “film-inspired” techniques no longer have any place in videogames, but Uncharted and Uncharted 2 use them to great effect. Do you think cutscenes will ever die out, or do you think they’ll always stick around in some form or another?
Evan Wells: I’m not sure why everything has to be so black or white. Some games use cutscenes well (I happen to agree that they work well for us in the Uncharted games), and others make great use of imbedding the narrative in the gameplay (we use this technique too). There are many ways to tell a story and I think it’s pretty narrow minded to think that things must be done one way or the other. I also think it’s foolish to turn your back on techniques that have been developed and proven effective for so long. So, no, I don’t think cutscenes will die out nor do I think they should.
Uncharted 2’s incredibly polished and tweaked to near-perfection. Yet Naughty Dog’s stated that Drake’s adventures aren’t over. So, in a potential sequel, what flaws or issues from Uncharted 2 would you most like to fix?
Evan Wells: It’s still too early to say. Everyone is taking a well deserved and much needed break, but when we’re back, we’ll go through a post mortem process. We’ll dissect every aspect of the game to see what we want to improve. But often times the most important improvements come through optimizing our workflow and production process. Improvements to development methodologies and tools can make a huge difference in the quality of game you’re able to produce.
You’ve had no less than two beta/demo programs for Uncharted 2. This strikes me as somewhat odd, considering that Uncharted is an established, well-loved franchise. In stark contrast, other well-known games like Modern Warfare 2 aren’t even dropping one demo. Why did you opt to demo your game so much?
Evan Wells: The multiplayer betas/demos served two very important purposes. First, we had to prove to everybody that we were taking multiplayer seriously and that it fit with the franchise. There were a lot of doubters and people were worried that it would distract from our efforts on the single player portion of the game. We had to put it out there so people saw that it was a welcome addition to the game. And secondly, we needed to test our networking technology. There are many things that you just can’t test even with the whole company playing with multiple QA departments. Certain problems aren’t going to arise until you’re testing on a huge scale.
How many people did you have working on Uncharted 2? Was it primarily the same team as Drake’s Fortune, or did you bring in a lot of new people?
Evan Wells: Most of the original team was working on it but we did add quite a few people. By the end of the project we had about 85 people working on it internally. We also had several contractors helping us in the closing months and we did a lot of outsourcing. Sony also has some amazing support groups that were instrumental in us completing the music, sound, and animation.
In that vein, what do you think of the massive development teams that are working on games like Assassin’s Creed 2 and BioShock 2? I think Assassin’s Creed 2 has something like 500 people developing it. Do you think there’s a kind of fragmentation there? I mean, surely, with that many people working on a single project, it’s more difficult to maintain a consistent vision or direction.
Evan Wells: I’m not sure what it’s like to work with teams that size. They must have figured out how to make it work because those games look great. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no one right way to do something. I’ve visited a lot of different studios and everybody’s set up a different way. What might work well for one developer might not work at all for someone else. I think it would be difficult for Naughty Dog to work on a game with a team that large. We aren’t very hierarchical and we expect everyone to be able to work with very little management. That philosophy would probably fall apart with a team that was too large.