Uncharted Territory: An Interview with Naughty Dog

Uncharted Territory: An Interview with Naughty Dog

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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

Crash Bandicoot Has a Release Date

Crash Bandicoot Has a Release Date

Fans will return to the Wumpa Islands faster than they thought, the upcoming Crash Bandicoot remake, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy finally has a release date, according to Activision’s Twitter.

Video game publisher Activision -the company behind the insanely popular Crash Bandicoot Franchise, Spyro Franchise and Destiny– announced on Twitter today that the remake of Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, will be released on June. 30, 2017 for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro console, just shy of Crash Bandicoot’s 20th anniversary. The game will retail for $39.99.

The game publisher teased their announcement on Twitter just yesterday, showing a picture of Crash with six mystery boxes hovering overhead. Activision said that they were pretty excited too and concluded the post with the hashtag, crashisback.

Originally developed by Naughty Dog, the first Crash Bandicoot game came out for the PlayStation in 1996, and was about a mutated Bandicoot named Crash as he explores Australia’s Wumpa Islands to stop the evil Doctor Neo Cortex from taking over the world. Since then, the franchise exploded, spawning seven main games, three racing, two party, four spin-offs and a slew of mobile games.

Although the popularity of Crash Bandicoot cooled over the years, the games were definitely something that the creators wanted to revisit. After a series of teases over the years (Crash being in Skylanders and Crash appearing in Uncharted 4) It was revealed at E3 2016 that Crash would come back as a remake. The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, will be a remake of the first three Crash Bandicoot games; Crash Bandicoot, Cortex Strikes Back and Warped.

With the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy coming out so soon, here’s hoping that the game’s facelift will entice new fans and bring old fans back into the insane world of Crash and his friends.

Last of Us 2 Rumours Circulate After Magazine Scan Surfaces Online

Last of Us 2 Rumors Circulate After Magazine Scan Surfaces Online

Reports of a Last of Us sequel are once again circulating after an unknown magazine scan featuring information on a The Last of Us 2 leaked through Imgur, but taking a closer look at certain aspects of the scan brings the legitimacy of it into question.

The scan features artwork of Last of Us co-protagonist Ellie, with the article itself claiming the character to have aged five years since the original game. While the art featured is certainly of Ellie, it bears a striking resemblance to art of her from the original game pictured above.

Last of Us 2 Rumours Circulate After Magazine Scan Surfaces Online

Should Ellie really have aged from teenager to young adult by the time The Last of Us 2 began, I’d personally find it rather surprising if Naughty Dog were to reuse assets from the first game to portray an older version of the character.
The scan also makes mention of an E3 2016 reveal, which obviously never happened. However, it’s worth noting that Sony’s E3 press conference ended slightly awkwardly, having concluded its show with a gameplay demo of Sony Bend’s Days Gone, which had already had its spotlight moment at the beginning of the presentation. This has led to speculation that something was cut from the show at the last minute.

Should this scan actually be legitimate, it features quotes from Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, the leads on the original Last of Us and this year’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The alleged quotes mention granting players more freedom than the first game, saying that while the game wouldn’t be a “sandbox” game in a traditional sense, but would offer players more freedom to explore its “city-scaled areas.”

A Last of Us sequel has been discussed ever since the original game launched on PlayStation 3 in 2013, and Naughty Dog has stated that another game in the series is part of a short list of potential projects the studio could be working on after the launch of Uncharted 4 earlier this year.

For more on The Last of Us, check out CGM’s review of the The Last of Us Remastered.

PlayStation’s Original Mascot: A History of Crash Bandicoot

PlayStation’s Original Mascot: A History of Crash Bandicoot

Naughty Dog is the Sony PlayStation’s crown jewel: the one developer in the company’s impressive first-party ecosystem that manages to continually deliver near-perfect video games. From the colourful and darkly humorous Jak II to the groundbreaking Uncharted 2 and The Last of Us, time and time again the studio has combined well-designed and enjoyable gameplay mechanics with excellent writing and character development. Yet before its days of delivering blockbuster action titles, it was busy creating PlayStation’s first mascot, and one that would compete with Mario himself.

PlayStation’s Original Mascot: A History of Crash Bandicoot 4Crash Bandicoot is a beloved fan favourite. While the series has been dormant for quite a while, people have been demanding for it to make a dramatic comeback. Sony, sort of, has delivered. The original trilogy (Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, and Crash Bandicoot: Warped) is being remastered for the PlayStation 4. If this HD collection sells well enough, the world might finally get a brand new Crash game in almost a decade.

Naughty Dog co-founders Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin conceived of Crash Bandicoot during their long road trip from Boston to Los Angeles to go work on games for Universal Interactive Studios. Gavin and Rubin studied arcade games during this trip and quickly noticed that fighting, shooting, and racing games were making a transition into full 3D rendering. The first PlayStation led the 3D revolution. Seeing this, both Gavin and Rubin started thinking about making a 3D character-based action-platformer. The basic technology for the game was created when the two stopped in Gary, Indiana. The rough game theory was designed near Colorado. The two already had a game idea called Saurus and Dinestein—a side-scrolling game based on time travel and dinosaurs genetically merged with scientists—but they scrapped it.
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During that same month, Naughty Dog (which at the time consisted of Gavin, Rubin, and a few other employees) moved into the Universal Interactive Studios backlot. Gavin and Rubin met up with Mark Cerny, the then studio head, and pitched him the idea for Crash Bandicoot; he quite liked it. Then came the time to decide on which platform to develop the game on. The unanimous decision was PlayStation due to the system’s “cool” nature and Sony’s push for 3D graphics. Also, Sony lacked a mascot for its platform at the time as well. A $1.7 million budget was set for the game.

Naughty Dog wanted the main character to be an animal that was “cute, real, and one no one really knew about.” The team went with a Tasmanian mammal called a bandicoot. The team chose to make the character, who was at first named “Willie the Wombat,” mute. This decision was based on the poor voice work that was being done in video games during the time, and Naughty Dog decided not risk it with its new protagonist. In terms of level design, Crash has always been a slightly more linear 3D platform in contrast to Super Mario 64.

After roughly two years of development, Naughty Dog finally released Crash Bandicoot in 1996. It was met with decent critical praise, with people lauding the game’s gorgeous graphics and quirky art design. However, many believed the gameplay could have been a little more fine-tuned. Even so, tt was a commercial hit right out of the gate, and has since sold nearly seven million copies to date. Crash Bandicoot was the first non-Japanese title to receive a “Gold prize” in Japan for sales of over 500,000 copies. Of course, the game quickly spawned numerous sequels.

Naughty Dog quickly began working on Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. The sequel, as you’d expect, improves on nearly every aspect from the original. Crash 2 is more ambitious with larger levels, more engaging and exciting boss battles, and an enjoyable story. Development took place over the course of 13 months with a budget of $2 million. Naughty Dog added new, dirtier locations in the game like sewers, better colour contrast to show depth, and new character Coco Bandicoot, Crash’s sister.
PlayStation’s Original Mascot: A History of Crash Bandicoot 1Crash 2 was better received critically, with most reviews praising the challenging but fair platform gameplay. The third entry, Crash: Warped, continued the series’ upward trend with even more improvements. Naughty Dog was beginning to come into its own as a developer, and was able to deliver Warped in less than 11 months of development. After completing the trilogy, Naughty Dog decided to end the series with a kart-racing game, which was a first for the series. Just like Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing lets players compete in high-octane races while using various different weapons to slow down their opponents.

PlayStation’s Original Mascot: A History of Crash Bandicoot 6The real new addition to the kart-racing genre at the time was the game’s turbo system. It gives the player boosts of speed during power slides and while gathering hang time. This was added to make the title feel more interactive than older kart racers. Naughty Dog finally moved on from Crash and began working on Jak and Daxter for the PlayStation 2. This is when the series began its downward spiral.

First came a half-baked party game called Crash Bash, developed by Eurocom Entertainment in 2000. Then came the first story-driven, single-player focused Crash game since Warped, Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex. It’s essentially a prettier version of what came before, with little innovation. The main issue here was the fact that other developers, like Naughty Dog with Jak ironically enough, were trying out different, exciting new things with platformers. Jak and Daxter is one of the first PlayStation 2 games that allowed you to freely explore a beautiful and sizable open world. Linear level design had become a thing of the past, and Crash along with it.
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What followed The Wrath of Cortex were a few mediocre handheld games, another kart-racing title and the slightly more creative Twinsanity. This 2004 game was the second from developer Traveller’s Tales. Twinsanity feels different because it was the first time the series finally embraced open-world gameplay. You can freely explore eccentric, varied environments while collecting different items and solving puzzles. Plus, the crux of the moment-to-moment gameplay centers on Crash and Cortex teaming up while you try to figure how to utilize their different skills to progress.

The next main entries after Twinsanity are Crash of the Titans, in which you can control various different towering behemoths to combat enemies, and Mind Over Mutant, with a similar gameplay gimmick. Both are filled with technical flaws and lack the energy and creativity of the original Crash games. The series was relegated to being nothing more than a second tier mess, and as a result publisher Activision hasn’t released a single Crash game in years. Sadly, Crash’s history is one that only gets worse and worse. But after a long hiatus, and a renewed hunger for 3D platformers, PlayStation’s original mascot has the opportunity to make a grand return.

No, Sony Does Not Own Crash Bandicoot

Crash Bandicoot is Not Owned by Sony, Despite Uncharted 4 Easter Egg

After reviews for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End dropped, rumours of a spiky-haired bandicoot’s return took over the internet.  Since that time, PlayStation’s Vice President of Publisher and Developer Relations Adam Boyes confirmed Activision still owns Crash Bandicoot via Twitter.

***MINOR UNCHARTED 4 SPOILERS BELOW***

The questionable ownership of PlayStation’s former mascot surfaced because of an Easter Egg within Uncharted 4, where players can access and play an entire level of Crash Bandicoot on the original PlayStation. Further, the game’s case can be found as an in-game collectible.

Since there’s no mention of Activision  in Uncharted 4‘s credits, many fans believed Sony reacquired their former mascot under the radar. Crash’s inclusion in Uncharted 4 is a throwback to developer Naughty Dog’s first ever project, the 1996 PlayStation classic, Crash Bandicoot.

We reached out to Activision about the future of the Crash Bandicoot franchise, but they have yet to respond. They acquired the character’s rights 2008. In the past, the franchise belonged to Sony, Universal, Konami and Vivendi.

Uncharted 4 Plunder Mode Revealed at PAX East

Uncharted 4 Plunder Mode Revealed at PAX East

Any PAX East-goers will have a special Uncharted treat waiting for them if they head to the PlayStation Booth.

Lead Game Designer, Robert Cogburn posted the details on Playstation Blog,  showcasing the previously unrevealed multiplayer game mode for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End; Plunder, which makes a return from Uncharted 2 and 3.

Plunder is Uncharted’s Capture the Flag-type mode, with an idol replacing the standard flag. Players must work together to first find the idol on the map, and then protect one another as your team brings it back to the home treasure chest.

The game mode has been updated for Uncharted 4, with changes including the five-on-five teams reduced to four-on-four, as well as the ability to traverse while carrying the idol – a first for the series.

Plunder will be playable on three previously revealed multiplayer maps: Island, Madagascar City and Rooftops.

Plunder will be playable for the duration of PAX East at the PlayStation Booth. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End launches on May 10, 2016, exclusively on the PlayStation 4.