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Posted November 8, 2015 by Joseph Rositano in Feature
 
 

Interview with Arne Meyer, Uncharted 4 – PAX AUS 2015


Arguably some of the highlight’s at Sony’s PAX Australia 2015 booth was the playable Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End multiplayer and the various panels conducted by Naughty Dog’s Community Strategist, Arne Meyer. Away from the crowds of Sony’s booth and the noise and excitement of the hundreds of cosplayers, I had the opportunity to have some one-on-on time with Arne to discuss Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and gain some insight to its development.

 

Joseph Rositano: What kind of challenges did Naughty Dog encounter when bringing the franchise from PS3 to PS4?

Arne Meyer: It’s a challenge that you get when moving across from any console generation. It involves taking all of your tools and your engine and making sure that it works on the new architecture. It’s a very typical challenge, but it’s one that was very difficult for us between PS2 and PS3. We were actually very fortunate going from PS3 to PS4 in that the architectures were not radically different and we had a robust engine that was already working on a similar type of system.

We were really fortunate to have the opportunity to remaster The Last of Us on PS4, so we were able to really get a leg up. One of the things that happens when moving console generations is that it ends up being very trying. When you’re trying to creating a game and an engine on a new platform you don’t really know how the game is going to shape up and you don’t really know how it works so it’s harder to figure out what might be broken. For us it’s like “we have a game that completely works” so once we port it over and update our tools and everything, if something wasn’t working we knew how it was supposed to work and what it was supposed to look like. So it really gave us a huge advantage for trying to create a game from the ground up for the PS4.

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Joseph: I know the Uncharted HD Collection was handled by Bluepoint, but did that also help Naughty Dog make the transition to PS4?

Arne: It did but it was more from a qualitative viewpoint. It was helping us look back on the Uncharted series and remember the type of things we thought were special about the series, and things that we wanted to do that we weren’t able to due to time or technology constraints. It really ended up helping guide our internal philosophy for Uncharted 4 to make the Uncharted game we always wanted to make and the one we always wanted to play. To do so we had to take everything that we learned from the previous games so it was a really good opportunity for us revisit it mentally. Because we’re handing code to Bluepoint and we were trying to help them out getting the games up and running, it brought a lot of those things back to the forefront of our minds.

Joseph: Even though Uncharted 4 is the series’ first entry on the PS4, do you see this as an ending or a new beginning for the franchise?

Arne: We’ve been saying that Uncharted 4 closes the chapter of Nathan Drake’s adventures. We’ve said for a long time that part of our decision making process at the beginning of each game is that we try to figure out what game we want to make and if there’s an interesting story we can tell in this game or franchise. Is there something interesting we can do for technology as well? If the answers are yes then we keep doing it. As we were working early on in Uncharted 4 and we were thinking about the story we were going to ultimately tell, it sort of felt natural for us to step away from the series for now.

Joseph: What immediate differences are there between Uncharted 4 and previous entries?

Arne: The big thing for us, and something that really comes from the power of a new platform, is that we’re able to do things like widen the environments so that players have multiple paths to go through. It feels like a much bigger world and it provides players with a more choice. We’re able to do really interesting things like layer a lot of the gameplay mechanics we were only able to do by themselves on the previous instalments. There’s a really great example overall. If you look at the demo we released for E3 earlier this year, that’s a really great 15-20min vertical slice of everything that we’re trying to do in Uncharted 4. For me one of the most significant things that we’re doing that was demonstrated there was Nathan Drake being driven in the mud. He’s on a rope,  he’s shooting from the rope, he’s climbing on the rope and jumping on top of a truck which is an independent physics object in the world. Those were the type of things that we were only able to do in the previous Uncharted games one at a time, and here we’ve done all of them at the same time. That’s a real testament to what we’re able to do now.

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Joseph: In your opinion, what defines the Uncharted experience? What makes it stand above other games?

Arne: I think it’s the marriage of having this very fun action-adventure gameplay with an over the top action Hollywood blockbuster feel. But it’s married with these great characters that you can identify with and you can feel their emotions at any point you’re playing the game because the characters from the narrative are so fully realised.

Joseph: Specifically regarding the game’s story, has each Uncharted game been crafted separately or does Naughty Dog have an outline for the entire series?

Arne: It’s almost scary to admit it, but we never had an outline for the entire series. We treated each story as individual entries in the Uncharted world. That was very much by design, we wanted to make sure that players could look at Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, for example, and not feel that they needed to play the previous instalment for fear of being lost in what’s happening or not being caught up in the story. So we’ve always treated each game so that it has a very unique, individual storyline in the beginning and it’s very easy to understand what’s happening.

But what’s happened obviously when you’re creating a series, you’re looking at “what was the story we told before this?” so there is this grander narrative arc that occurs across all four games. But you’ll never be lost by playing the games out of sequence or not having played a game.

Joseph: What has been the main influences behind some of the design choices in Uncharted 4, for example, fan feedback or even games by other studios?

Arne: We’re influenced from a lot of sources whether it’s other games or movies we’re watching, books, TV or comic books. It’s hard not to feel some influence from all of those things. Even just going over, it’s very clear to a lot of people that The Last of Us was influenced by Neil having his first child and also wanting to create a game that his daughter could play. The biggest thing for Uncharted 4 came from two different things. One was really reflecting back on the previous games and thinking about what worked, what didn’t work, what was fan feedback and what was player reaction. Then also saying “well there’s a lot of things that we were unable to accomplish in the previous game”. I mentioned this before, there was this idea that Uncharted 4 was going to be the Uncharted game we always wanted to make. That was a guiding design vision that came up pretty early on in the development of Uncharted 4 and that’s something that we kept revisiting to make sure we’re all working as a team together towards a common goal.

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Joseph: How has the multiplayer evolved, and what do Naughty Dog think the PS4 can bring to the experience?

Arne: In terms of philosophy it’s evolved in the very same way. So, we say that Uncharted 4 is the Uncharted game we always wanted to make, and we feel that reflects on multiplayer as well. This is the Uncharted multiplayer mode we always wanted to make. It is taking everything that we learned from two iterations of Uncharted multiplayer and The Last of Us as well. We’ve basically piled all those learnings to create a unique entry in the multiplayer genre. For us the biggest thing is we’re really trying to transition a lot of the single-player elements into multiplayer. One of the things you can do in single-player is use a grappling to traverse the environment or get a new vantage point, and we carry that over into the multiplayer game. This makes the game much more vertical.

Joseph: What can fans expect from the single-player DLC?

Arne: It would be great if I could even give you a hint about it but we haven’t be able to even think about what that single-player DLC will be yet. I was talking to Neil about this a couple of weeks ago. I was saying “we’re kind of nuts because we’ve committed to this,. We’ve come out publicly that we’re going to release single-player DLC and we have no idea what we’re going to do yet.” We’ve set ourselves up for a really big challenge.

Joseph:  That’s interesting because a lot of developers plan DLC ahead of time.

Arne: Yeah. A lot of it comes from how we develop games. We’re so heads down on what we’re doing right now that it’s very difficult for us to take time away and think about it. We’re 100% on what’s happening right now and everyone’s dedicated to that. We don’t really have the resources to take a few people and start working on that. It just doesn’t work that way for us.

Joseph: At the same time there are a lot of companies out there that have DLC on the disc and charge players for an unlock code which often gets a lot of backlash. So it’s good that you’re committing yourselves to DLC, but you’re also giving yourself time to implement something that will hopefully be great.

Arne: I think it benefits us. It was the same for Left Behind [from The Last of Us], because you have the time and resources to really focus on single player DLC. You’re not carving out a team that has their attention split.

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Joseph: Apart from taking a well-deserved break after Uncharted 4, where do you see Naughty Dog going forward in the future?

Arne: I think that we’re really happy with what we’re trying to do with games that are grounded in some sort of realism. Whether it’s a realistic world or working within the constraints of what the real world has, that creates a great challenge for us. Generally speaking, even if we go off into a completely different genre, we’re going to try to induce some of that sense that it can actually happen in the real world. I think that everyone has been really happy with that and how we’ve been playing in that sandbox for close to ten years.

 

Rocket Chainsaw would like to thank Arne Meyer for his time during our interview. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is currently scheduled to be released worldwide in March 2016 exclusively on PS4.


Joseph Rositano

 
While Joseph's main hobby has always centered around video games, he's also taken an interest in movies, musicals and traveling around the world. No one quite knows what Joseph's true motivations are, but rest assured he is always planning his next grand adventure!


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