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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Video Interview Transcript
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:20pm 16/06/09 | Comments
AusGamers chats to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves' co-lead designer, Neil Druckman, about why his game is looking so damn good...

You can view our full video interview with Neil right here.

AusGamers: We're here with Neil Druckman from NaughtyDog to talk about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Neil, we had a bit of a run through of the game earlier today and wanted to have a chat with you about it because we were blown away - first of all, after the response to the first game, what was the overall goal for Uncharted 2?

Neil Druckman: The biggest call was when we finished Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, we took a break and said 'What really makes this franchise?' If we're going to go forward, we don't want to repeat ourselves, we really want push through to the next game. And we kind of looked at it and said ok, we've got that adventure feel, the pulpy shooter mechanics and we really just wanted to step it forward – so we're going to take our shooting, our platforming and really meld them together; really give the player more options as far as when they are traversing anywhere they can shoot, and open out our level layout in a vertical sense so now signs that are up on buildings can now become my cover. And with the mantra of giving the player more options, we're introducing the concept of action-stealth. So now when I approach combat, if the enemy haven't seen me, I can sneak around them, I can take some guys out, I can even blow up a guy; enemies hear the explosion and now they're going into hunt behaviour and now they are looking for me. But again it's all in the sake of not being too dogmatic and saying you have to stealth through this sequence - it's another card in your arsenal to say here's how I approach this combat. So that's kind of from a gameplay perspective. From a story perspective, okay, we wanted to bring Elena back, we wanted to bring Sullivan back like we just showed today in the trailer, but we want to say these relationships are different. It's been two years since the first game, Nathan Drake you know, he's kind of more down on his luck. He's already wasted most of the fortune he acquired in the first game, he's not with Elena anymore, he's with this new girl Chloe, and he's really just surrounded himself with these criminals, and we're kind of beginning to see that is his real world, Drake is a criminal, he's a criminal with a conscious, but he's still a kind of criminal. So exploring the more shadier side of Drake felt really interesting to us going forward in Uncharted 2.

AGN: And we were talking earlier about Nolan North bringing so much to the character as Nathan's voice actor. Can you run us through what he adds to the game?

Neil: Yeah, absolutely. He basically embodies the character. He's naturally funny just like Drake is, and what we do is, when we are writing these scenes and when we bring it to the studio, first of all he does all the mo-cap (motion capture) and the voice-acting, just like we do with all the actors, and that's what sets us apart as far as performances in the game. But when we have these scenes, we go ok, you don't have to be so dogmatic about these scenes, you can improvise a little bit. So if you feel Drake would say something different then let's play with it, let's try that out there. So that's for the cut scenes, for the gameplay we record these long sequences of, like, we showed the collapsing building sequence today, we bring it to Nolan and the other actors and sit them in a room and say ok, get in these characters' minds; what would they say as they're going through these steps? And they, like, riff and we get hundreds and hundreds of lines which really lets us pick and choose the best ones and kind of get the most succinct version of those characters in those moments.

AGN: So what you're saying is it's an organic experience which really reflects in the game because the two demonstrations I've seen so far are just organic moments that really flow. It never really feels like a video-game and it never really feels like a cinematic experience - it's this amazing melding of two different styles.

Neil: Thanks man.

AGN: So I guess that's obviously the work philosophy with you guys. But I think another really good example you showed me was dynamic AI reacting to the scripted events. More often than not in other games, when a scripted event happens, the AI reacts a certain way to go with that event. Was that a conscious decision then? Or did you guys just say 'no we don't want these dumb people doing stuff like this, we want them to try and survive and make the scene more dynamic'?

Neil: It was absolutely a conscious decision, you know, going into it we're putting you inside a summer blockbuster movie, but then screw movies, we're taking that action/adventure genre, putting it into games and making it the best experience it can be. We have these core mechanics; you can run around and jump and shoot and we don't want to take those away with a quick time event or anything like that, what we want to do is let you see that Drake can move and we have this amazing layered animation system, so we know we can have the building collapsing and all the guys in there are stumbling realistically and still have all the systems going, but we also have Drake doing the same thing; so he's stumbling too, but you can still aim and fire and so it lets us still keep that immersion but with the playability we know Uncharted fans want.

AGN: Let's talk about the size of some of the set-pieces. The collapsing building we saw; you're surrounded by these icy snow caps way off in the distance and it looks amazing. Are we going to see more of that? One of my favourite moments from the first game was coming up that jungle path and having that U-Boat revealed and thinking to myself, “whoa, this is so fucking cool”, surely there are other moments like that we'll see in Uncharted 2...

Neil: Yeah, those 'big reveals' are rewards for the player. And we know that we have to deal out those rewards every once in a while for players, so here we have that big helicopter fight and a collapsing building; it's gameplay but at the same time it's a reward. So throughout Uncharted 2 that's been one of our goals, we want to hit you over the head with these things, over and over and over – so yeah, those big reveal moments, they're in there. In fact we have this train sequence that takes you all the way from the city – the one we showed you – and out into the Himalayas, and as you're riding the train, jumping from carriage to carriage, you're moving from a jungle environment into the snowcaps, which is awesome.

AGN: So how much story are we looking at? The first game was reasonably long and there was that big shift in dynamic with the supernatural stuff, will we see more of that this time around?

Neil: Well we feel that the supernatural element is a strong part of the Uncharted universe that we don't want to lose. I mean, Drake is chasing the Cintamani Stone, Lazarevic, the main bad-guy, is chasing the Cintamani Stone for its mythical properties and we want to keep, at the very least, the possibility that there's more to it than just the legend, you know, what if it was real, but as for whether or not there will definitely be a supernatural element, you'll have to wait and see – but we really want to keep the sense that there's a possibility it's there.

AGN: And finally, how much has the engine changed? I mean obviously technology advances and changes with time, and the game looks absolutely stunning, but can you run us through some of the new tech you guys are running...

Neil: Well graphically we've overhauled our engine almost completely. We're introducing NaughtyDog engine 2.0, we have deferred rendering so our depth of field effects look much nicer than the first game, we've optimised our graphics; a lot of our graphic techniques were running from the GPU in the first game, they're now almost all running on the SPUs – we're using 100% of the PlayStation 3's SPUs this time around which takes care of a lot of the AI and stuff like that. We can push more characters on-screen, more particles, more effects – that's why the game, when you're up on that hotel roof (see: preview) and you're seeing the whole city, it looks as amazing as it does.

AGN: Awesome, thanks so much for your time today Neil, we can't wait for the game.

Neil: Cool, thanks man.