Uncharted 3 interview: The difference with Drake

Just what was that puzzling David O'Russell quote, referencing a "family dynamic" in the Uncharted movie, all about, I asked Uncharted 3 game director Justin Richmond at a recent press event. He laughed. "First of all, all that stuff was denied by David O. Russell," Richmond said. "He actually called us up and was like, 'I don't know what these guys are talking about.'" And Mark Wahlberg isn't anywhere near to being confirmed to play Nathan Drake either -- it's just Hollywood scuttlebutt, apparently. Still, I dutifully told Richmond that the Joystiq Biomass had chosen, and Nathan Fillion has our vote. Message received, Richmond responded.

With that important tidbit out of the way, we moved on to discussing the game: Uncharted 3 has the Cintamani Stone-sized task of living up to its predecessors, and Richmond and his team are busy implementing improvements across the board, subtle as they might appear. "The big thing is that we switched lighting engines between [Uncharted] 1 and 2, and we're keeping the same lighting engine now," he explained. "So we've already got all of those advancements. Now we're just refining them."


Uncharted 2 was an unqualified success, so Richmond says that the jump from 2 to 3 won't be quite as dramatic as the jump between the first two games. From a technical standpoint, the animations will receive the most noticeable improvements in the third game. "We're doing some crazy stuff where we're actually going to stream some animations in," Richmond said excitedly, "so Drake will actually change animation state based on what's happening." Drake might brush his hand against a wall as he passes by, for example; or he could more realistically react to dangers, like smoke and gunfire, as he encounters them. "We don't want to let you walk through fire without reacting," Richmond added, "but most of these animation changes are just like he's doing the right thing based on what's around him, rather than taking away player control. It's about making him seem more realistic."

"Obviously you're still going to be shooting guys, but the idea is that they can mess with your mind, as well." - Justin Richmond, director

Richmond also revealed that brawling -- fist-fighting with multiple enemies -- will be added to the combat. "The fact that you can fight multiple guys at the same time, hand-to-hand, makes a big difference," he suggested. "You couldn't do that last game. So things like a bar fight in the game -- you can put five or ten guys around him and actually have Drake punching them out." Drake will also be able to seamlessly use objects in the environment to aid in a tussle, like grabbing a bottle to smash over an enemy's head or even an enemy's gun to end the fight quickly.

Outside of combat and animation updates, puzzles will now benefit from physics-based improvements. "Imagine this," Richmond began. "The chandelier reacts to Drake's weight. So you jump to it and it starts swinging. The only way to get to the next handhold where you need to go is to actually swing this thing in the right direction. And then imagine that chandelier is actually caught on something, so I have to climb up and free it, then drop to it, and then swing on it to the next thing."

This kind of gameplay might sound like it could lend itself to the PlayStation Move controller, but Naughty Dog isn't going to risk shaking up the established formula with a motion-control option. "We feel like if you're going to build a Move game, you should build a Move game. You shouldn't take a game that already exists with all of these control mechanics, and then build over the top of it."

"We haven't really found a cool way to use it," he added. "If we did, we would." The team did experiment with Move, getting "simple movement" to work in a prototype build, but the technology eats up a significant chunk of memory in calculating player movements (and Uncharted 3 won't have much to spare), so Naughty Dog decided against making any sacrifices, especially in considering the likely majority of players who wouldn't be using Move to play the game.

Uncharted 3 will obviously feature two of the franchise's central characters, Drake and Sully, but more familiar faces are set to return. "There's a lot of characters we haven't talked about yet," Richmond teased. "There will be more characters coming back than you've seen." Richmond also mentioned Drake's opposition this time around, an organized cult of some kind, which will pose a more cerebral threat than the trigger-happy mercenaries Drake faced previously. "It's more of a manipulative enemy than a full-on bad guy," Richmond hinted. "Obviously you're still going to be shooting guys, but the idea is that they can mess with your mind, as well."

"We're going to really take it to the next level, listen to what the fans said, do all of the things we wanted to do last game" - Richmond

As for the prospect of story-based DLC this time, "If we felt like it was financially correct and we felt it was right to do, we would totally do a story-based extension," Richmond told me. I waited for the but ..."But usually, what ends up happening is that the story is really tight, and adding in extra levels and stuff messes with the flow. We usually cut things for a reason, and so we'll get to some spot in the game where we would do something extra, and it just doesn't work." Richmond added that story-based DLC tends to be expensive (typically, you'd have to bring back the actors for any voice work and create all-new assets), and it can be risky to rely on income from DLC to justify that cost.

Multiplayer, however, will be a major feature of Uncharted 3, including post-release updates, though Naughty Dog has learned quite "a lot" from its implementation in the last game. "The biggest thing we learned was don't significantly change the bullet damage of the game after you launch," Richmond recalled. The team got caught up in tweaking the multiplayer after Uncharted 2 launched, and Richmond said Naughty Dog was drowned in feedback after the changes were made -- much of which has aided in the development of the new multiplayer.

"Next game we're going to blow it out," he promised of Uncharted 3's multiplayer. "We're going to really take it to the next level, listen to what the fans said, do all of the things we wanted to do last game but didn't have time to, because we really did the whole thing in just a year."

Additionally, a co-op mode will return, though Richmond confirmed that Naughty Dog still isn't interested in adding the option to the campaign. "That's just not something we want to do," he said flatly. "As a company, it's kind of something where we've said that's not the kind of story we're trying to tell. When you put a second player in the game with you, it changes your feel of the game -- it's not you experiencing it, it's you with somebody else."

Naughty Dog remains steadfast in its commitment to the classic single-player adventure, even if there is some level of anxiety about releasing Uncharted 3 in the highly-competitive holiday period next year. "I'm worried about how crowded it is," Richmond admitted of the game's November 2011 release window, before adding, "I think we can stand up against anybody, take anybody on. There's a juggernaut in Call of Duty, whatever they're going to do, and Assassin's Creed sounds like they're going to come out around the same time as us also -- rumors of 3 or whatever. Ultimately, we've got financial dates we've got to hit; we've got to get the game out when we think it makes sense. We won't spend more than two years on these games."

If the game's release date did get pushed back, the decision would have to come from Sony, not Naughty Dog. "For us, we are going to hit our date," Richmond assured. "Naughty Dog doesn't miss their date."