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Joystiq interview: Talking Uncharted 2 with Naughty Dog's Evan Wells

Kevin Kelly

When he wasn't busy showing us the best way to get Nathan Drake killed, Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells was patiently listening to our questions about facial hair, multiplayer plans and the adventurer's latest female companion.

Thankfully, he answered everything we lobbed at him (without lobbing any physical objects back). Read on after the break to find out what other secrets Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has to offer.

Gallery: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (1/23/09) | 8 Photos

So how soon after the first game did you guys decide, "We're going to do a sequel?"

We had always intended [Uncharted] to become a franchise. So the hope was always there that we could just jump right into a sequel. It was probably right around the time we were wrapping up production -- and it was a crazy production. Then definitely a lot of things started clicking right at the tail end. It was fairly big for Naughty Dog standards, anyway.

"We had always intended [Uncharted] to become a franchise."

There were probably 70 people working on the game at the end. So you have all these people working on various components that were all coming together at the end. We really saw it all live up to what we had hoped it would be, in terms of just bringing in all that action video game play with the cinematic narrative story telling.

We thought we had hit on the winning formula. So it was pretty much just to confirm our beliefs when we saw the reviews that we got. We thought, "OK. There is definitely a sequel coming."

We didn't really have a lot of time to do pre-planning before the end of the game. So it wasn't like we had started production during Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but we just had to jump in there after we had a much-needed vacation and get right to work on the sequel.

Was the first game always meant to be a PS3 title? It's not like the kernel of an idea that was bouncing around here for a while, possibly for the PS2?

No. We were looking at the PlayStation hardware specs when they were first telling us what the PS3 could do. That is when we started trying to decide, "Well, what is going to be Naughty Dog's next generation intellectual property, and what are we going to try to do with this new power and hardware?"

We thought it was a natural progression from PS1 to PS2. We started with this big-headed, big-eyed, furry mascot character to something that is still fantastic and stylized with Jak and Daxter. [Jak] is more humanoid. He is an elf.

We started getting more into the storytelling with those games. We thought finally with PlayStation 3 we wanted to go fully real with real humans. We thought that the technology was there to finally get that emotional expression out of the characters' faces and be able to do what we set out to do with Uncharted.

Did you guys learn from the experience of working on the first game with the hardware? It was so new at the time and a lot of companies were having difficulties with devkits. Now we are seeing the second tier of game development. Have you learned a lot and was it a smoother run?

Absolutely. It was a huge step for the entire industry really to move on to the next generation. I don't think it was restricted to just the PlayStation. I think everybody had to rethink how they were going to do things with all this new power, not only from multi-threaded processors, but also through graphics cards that had pix illustrators and were capable of doing much more realistic materials on your textures.

So, absolutely. It was a huge learning curve for us. We rewrote our engine from scratch. We started with a line of code with Uncharted basically, so we could build an engine and a tools platform custom-built for what we thought the system was capable of handling.

The budget for the first game was said to be around $20 million dollars, and that had to include that engine creation from scratch, which is a big thing. Since you are using the same engine, has this been a cheaper endeavor? Are you guys spending the same amount?

We are spending the same amount. You always want to be able to just do more. Definitely it is a leg up to start with that technological foundation, but what you try to do with it is just that much more.

"... it is a leg up to start with that technological foundation, but what you try to do with it is just that much more."

Not only is the spectacle part of things that we are doing bigger, in terms of the kind of enemies and encounters that Drake is going to find himself in, but we are also trying to deliver a richer narrative experience as well. So both sides come at a cost. In order to get all those real big set pieces it requires a lot of custom scripting of events every moment of the way. You have got something happening; an explosion happening or even just a water drip. All those little effects take time and people to do.

On the narrative side, working with some really talented actors and working with them over a really long period of time, as I was pinpointing in the presentation; we are going to the mocap studio two or three times a month minimum with these actors trying to capture their performances. We work with the House of Moves, which is a big studio right here in Culver City. They are just right down the street. We are there all the time and all that adds up.

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