Uncharted Territory: An Interview with Naughty Dog

Uncharted Territory: An Interview with Naughty Dog 1

The Uncharted series, since it first hit the PlayStation 3 in 2007, has managed to capture the sense of wonder and adventure unlike any other series. It combined the globe-trotting treasure hunting seen in Indiana Jones with a lovable scamp named Nathan Drake and the results were ground-breaking. The series has gone on to feature on three different consoles: the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and the PS Vita. There is something special about the games, and Naughty Dog clearly knows it.

Now, with the story of Nathan Drake done, the company has moved in a new direction with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, focusing on the treasure hunting Chloe and mercenary Nadine as they search for the Tusk of Ganesh. This is a departure for the series, and yet it all still feels unmistakably “Uncharted.” CGMagazine managed to catch up with Kurt Margenau, Game Director, and James Cooper, Lead Designer, to discuss this new direction, what it means for the series, and how an expansion blossomed into a full game for fans of the series to enjoy.

Uncharted Territory: An Interview With Naughty Dog 1
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – game play images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

CGMagazine: When did you make the decision to leave Nathan Drake behind and feature Chloe as the main character?

JAMES COOPER: We really felt like with Uncharted 4 we wrapped up Nathan Drake’s story and with that, we saw an opportunity to tell a new story with the open roster of characters that we have in the Uncharted universe and really focus on one of the favourite characters. Bringing Chloe back was an easy decision for us and we kind of used what we had from the previous game. She was a fan favourite and a favourite among the devs in the studio as to what to bring back and certainly give Chloe her own game as a protagonist.

CGMAGAZINE: Is this an indication of the direction that you plan to continue with the Uncharted series moving forward?

Uncharted Territory: An Interview With Naughty Dog 2
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – game play images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

KURT MARGENAU: I mean we started the project as a way of fulfilling the promise of what we said we were going to do with the series. So it was kind of a road map, but we took that and ran with it and it got bigger and bigger and this is how we finally ended up with The Lost Legacy as a full game. Right now we don’t have any plans for another Uncharted game. We’re moving on to The Last of Us Part 2.

CGMAGAZINE: Moving into a game without Nathan Drake, what were some challenges you faced or felt were hard to get by and how did you solve them?

JAMES COOPER: I mean, I guess it was coming up with a compelling story with new characters. It was as much an opportunity as it was a challenge to take these characters and really shine a light on them and dig into what makes them tick. It started from the great relationship that these two have where they are kind of tendentious and they’re characters that don’t really play well with others. From what we know about them and seeing them have to work together isn’t something most see so it’s interesting to have to build a story around that. Changing the setting to India, getting a sense of scale with these giant monuments and things to explore we kept pushing the exploration gameplay. There were a lot of challenges, and I mean we’re always trying to evolve gameplay and our storytelling. It was really more a fun opportunity to tell a new story with new characters.

CGMAGAZINE: Uncharted 4 brought a lot of new scale to the series; are you carrying that forward with this latest installment?

Uncharted Territory: An Interview With Naughty Dog 3
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – game play images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

KURT MARGENAU: Yeah you know we talked a lot about the wide linear approach to the design of our environments in Uncharted 4 and that’s certainly something that we’ve continued with in The Lost Legacy. The Western Ghats chapter is a very player directed experience. It is a free roaming open expansive space. The player gets to choose where to go and what to do at their leisure basically. We’re very much delving into that as a gameplay experience. That’s really been a challenge for us as well. How do we continue to tell this attractive linear story where the gameplay goes in a nonlinear fashion and is player directed? It was a challenge, but we found a way without getting rid of the open nature we were talking about.

CGMAGAZINE: You mention that open nature, do you see you taking this concept and pushing it forward with other Naughty Dog properties in the future?

KURT MARGENAU: With every layout we do, with every section of the game, it always has a purpose that we try and tie back to the narrative. So for this game and this story it made the most sense that the part that is the most exploratory is the part that the characters explore each other and their relationship. It really is just a tool that we have. It is by no means a direction that all games will go in. For this part of the story we had the opportunity to explore this sense of exploration that we’ve never done and it’s just woven into the narrative. Every time we approach a new level, a new story, a new game, we’re going to be looking at the beats, the narrative, and what type of gameplay matches that best while still pushing the mechanics.

Uncharted Territory: An Interview With Naughty Dog 4
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – game play images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

CGMAGAZINE: Uncharted has now spanned two generations of consoles. What do you think makes the Uncharted series so important to veteran players and also one that even new players will constantly find joy experiencing and that will have a lasting impact moving forward?

KURT MARGENAU: To me I see the whole action adventure genre as a way to use storytelling and the adventuring to tell a story. It works so well as a player experience and Uncharted has tapped into those themes so well. It has this roguish cast of characters who are interesting and it has these hero characters but they aren’t at the same time. Having this world of themes and stories to tell is really what I think players love coming back to.

JAMES COOPER: I think it’s a developmental spectacle in every sense of the word. The most gorgeous vistas that are realized and explorable. There are particular action scenes that invoke all of our favourite blockbuster moments. It’s all about taking that and bringing it up and making it interactive and making it into a narrative that seamlessly is calm while also becoming this roller coaster of ups and down of emotions and spectacles; to me that’s Uncharted.

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