Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, arguably one of the most anticipated games of 2011, had a strong showing at E3 this year, showcasing single-player set-pieces, 3D support and expanded multiplayer options. We sat down with Robert Cogburn, game designer over at Naughty Dog, to discuss how the team thinks about following-up Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Enjoy!
GU: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was generally considered Game of the Year for 2009. How do you top that?
Robert: It's challenging. I don't know if you saw the Sony press conference demo, but I really feel that we can do it by delivering on that level of scale. Having those epic set-pieces can push the franchise even further then it was with Uncharted 2 - at least that's what we're hoping.
Additionally, we've just expanded the hell out of our multiplayer. Last game there was depth, but not too much. This time we've added kickbacks, you can upgrade your boosters, greatly expanded coop, and we've tried to create these cinematic events in multiplayer. To do that we have things like a cargo plane going down a runway. It's also about working together, so that's why we have our buddy system, which let's you spawn on a friend. We've just expanded it to the best of our abilities, and I feel we are aiming to top Uncharted 2.
GU: Many initially thought Uncharted 2 didn't need multiplayer, so did its success surprise you? And did having an established community around the game change how you planned for Uncharted 3's multiplayer?
Robert: Well, we didn't have to go back to the drawing board. We just thought about what we can expand on it and get our community even more vested into multiplayer. [Uncharted 2's] success wasn't surprising, because our mechanics are so solid with so much variety and depth. We were surprised by the reception and how happy people were with it, but we were pretty confident it would be successful.
With Uncharted 3, we know we have a community out there and we've listened to a lot of them and that's why a lot of this depth is coming in all of the sudden. Everything from the kickbacks, upgradable boosters, weapon mods, it's all there because there has been a voice out there telling us to try them.
GU: One thing that makes Uncharted's multiplayer distinct is the traversal elements and verticality of the maps. It seems that element has only become more prominent with the Uncharted 2 DLC and now with Uncharted 3's maps. Is that on purpose?
Robert: Without a doubt. That's definitely been on purpose. The mechanic just offers so many opportunities for cat and mouse gameplay. Cat and mouse is just really fun to do in multiplayer. You think I'm going left but I'm going right. We've definitely to have traversal elements in our maps as much as possible.
GU: For single-player, you mentioned creating epic set-pieces as a way to surpass Uncharted 2. Some games have run into trouble with this approach in the past, increasing set-pieces at the expense of pacing and storytelling. How do you balance creating epic set-pieces with telling a good story?
Robert: That's what it comes down to. Pacing and laying out a narrative structure that knows when to climax and when to come back down. It's all about the storytelling and we're known to be pretty good at that.
GU: Uncharted 2 encapsulated what the series is all about very well. How do you broaden your audience when the bar has already been set quite high?
Robert: I think part of that is just getting more people to talk about the game. For example, the thing we're doing with Subway, where you get early access to Uncharted 3's full multiplayer starting October 1st, will get more people saying the name Uncharted and wondering what it is. The game can stand on its own, so it's just about little steps like that to let people know how great the franchise is.
GU: It has been said that Uncharted 3 was designed with 3D technology in mind from the start. From a gameplay standpoint, what does that mean for the game?
Robert: Well, you know you can play with depth. In Chateau, you can play with the camera position when the floor collapses. The camera can finish by showing the depth of the level below. When you're in Chateau, a lot of depth can be given to those fire embers cutting across the back area of the level as they pass you. In multiplayer, the depth in line of sight with a tall piece of cover across the map can let the player know exactly how far away their target is. It's a cool piece of technology to consider. It does pose challenges, but I think we've addressed a lot of them and the final product will speak for itself.
GU: So a large part of the work you're doing with 3D is going into the cinematic side of things by playing with camera perspectives?
Robert: Sure. The idea that you can have a camera tracking Drake as he moves along an edge and to have that edge really pop out in the foreground when he jumps to it. It's a pretty cool thing to try.
GU: 3D adoption is still in its infancy. Are you worried that only a handful of people will end up appreciating the time and effort you guys have put into it?
Robert: No, because the benefit of going 3D is that it gives you splitscreen. Because we went 3D, we have splitscreen in multiplayer. So you'll be able to get online with a buddy who is using their own PSN account. They can rank up on their own sitting right next to you, and when they take off, they can pick it up back right where they started from.
GU: So that's going to be your big selling point for the 3D support?
Robert: It's going to be awesome, yeah. With the amount of engineering time it took to go 3D, adding a splitscreen option was that much easier.
GU: To clarify: Splitscreen is also in 2D, right?
Robert: Yeah, it works in 2D as well. When you're rendering it for the left and right eye, you're rendering the scene twice, so it just made sense to say 'Hey, we're already rendering it twice, so why not do splitscreen?'.
GU: Has Naughty Dog been consulting on the series' extensions like Uncharted: Golden Abyss for Vita and the movie?
Robert: I'm not too privy to that kind of stuff. Sony Bend came to us with the idea [for Golden Abyss] and we've opened our doors to them to see how our process works, how we go about creating a narrative, and things like that. After seeing their demo, it definitely feels like they've embraced that. Regarding the movie, I'm so far out of touch with that stuff, so I really don't know.
GU: What else should people know about Uncharted 3?
Robert: It's going to be awesome! [Laughs] The beta drops June 28th, the full multiplayer is available October 1st, and the game comes out November 1st, 2011.
GU: Thanks for your time, Robert.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception comes out November 1st, 2011 on PS3.