Naughty Dog's Justin Richmond looks back at Drake's Deception.
January 17, 2012
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a verified masterpiece. At Naughty Dog, Justin Richmond, the game's director, works with creative director Amy Hennig to focus on game design and actual game play for the Uncharted games. In this exclusive interview, Richmond takes a look back at Nathan Drake's latest adventure.
What were your goals heading into Uncharted 3?
We wanted to keep pushing the envelope in terms of storytelling and gameplay. We were intent on telling a more personal story about Drake, especially in regards to his past. We were trying to follow up the amazing success of Uncharted 2, and push the technological bar in terms of our graphics and set pieces to new levels. We also wanted to blow out our multiplayer presence, and do an even better job with our online offering.
How do you feel the final product lived up to those goals?
I think we succeeded in hitting our stated goals. I feel like the story in Uncharted 3 tells more about Drake's character than we have ever revealed and pushes the PS3 further that it is ever has been before. I am incredibly proud of the team and of the game we produced.
What impact has DLC had on the development process, especially with ideas that weren't able to be fit into the final product?
I don't feel the DLC had much of an impact on the development process in Uncharted 3. We had a few map ideas that we knew we would never be able to finish for the ship of the game, so it was nice to know that we had an avenue to release that stuff. DLC is content that we couldn't complete for the final shipping game and thus needed to work on after ship. DLC also gives us a great place to put new content for Uncharted 3 long after the game has gone out the door. Someone might come up with an amazing game type, or map setup, and the only way to get it to the fans is through DLC.
What are your thoughts on the fan feedback that the game has received?
I think it's important. We look at all the feedback we can find and that can lead to us changing or implementing things, whether it's for Uncharted 3 or something in the future. We aren't just sitting in the office ignoring what the fans are saying. Once the game goes live and millions of people start playing, it takes on a life of its own. We are always monitoring for feedback and making adjustments as necessary.
How will that feedback impact DLC and future games?
Sometimes we change things in patches, sometimes changes go into a DLC release. Sometimes that feedback might not be actionable in the present game, but might make us think about the way we are working on our next project. It is always valuable to know what people are saying about your game, even long after it is released. We have incredibly loyal fans and we try to keep them happy.
What do you think of the critical praise the game has received?
It's been amazing. It is always a great feeling when you find out that people like the game after you have spent two years of your life making it a reality. The overwhelmingly positive response is something that makes all those agonizing hours of self-doubt and hard work worth it.
What role do you feel game reviews play in today's game industry?
Gaming is an expensive hobby. I think people want to have some idea about the product that they are spending sixty dollars on. That being said, reviews are still just one person's opinion, so the reader should take that into account. Reviews are obviously important, but the general trends of reviews are even more important in my opinion. If a game is generally getting fours, then chances are that game isn't all that great. If it is generally getting all nines, then it's probably worth checking out.
For myself, for reviews of any medium, I try to find a reviewer that I trust, and that seems to have the same taste I do, and then see what they say. Sometimes I love stuff that they hated, and vice versa.
Once your game was completed, what did you do that you'd been putting off because of the production schedule?
Slept. Took my car to get the oil changed. Played all the games that had been slowly stacking up in my "to play" pile. Saw a bunch of friends and family. Just normal stuff.
How much time do you get to enjoy after a game's completion before your mind turns to what comes next?
I always have ideas in the back of my head for things I'd like to try in the future. During production, you often come up with ideas that are not really usable in the current game but that could be really fun if given the time they deserve. That being said, we all take time off after a project and try to step away from the game for a little while to get some perspective. But pretty quickly we get back into the swing of it and start cooking up new things.
Well, ain't that pretty?
What other games have you been able to play since your game launched and what are your thoughts on them?
I have played a ton of games since the end of Uncharted 3. I loved Batman: Arkham City. I sat down to start playing and suddenly it was six hours later. Rocksteady did an amazing job at taking their existing gameplay and making it even more interesting than Asylum. Skyrim is in my console now, and I have been slowly building up my Battle Mage. The world is amazingly well realized, and that sense of being able to go everywhere that you see is phenomenal. I have also been playing Battlefield 3 online as well, getting my fix of strafing my enemy from a jet.
How do games that you play influence your own projects?
Everything influences us, to some extent. Inspiration can come from anywhere. I try to keep up with all types of media, be it games, television, music, movies, books, comic books…you get the idea. But playing other games can spark specific ideas in your head. We might see a something in a gameplay sequence and think, "Wow, how would we do something like that? And what would that mean to our characters?" Or we see some vista shot or a set piece and start analyzing it. How did the developer do that? We like to push the boundaries and the only way you can do that is if you know where the boundary is to begin with.
With technology constantly evolving, how will advances in technology since you started on this project impact DLC and future titles?
Tech changes probably won't affect the DLC plans for Uncharted 3. The engine is very robust as it is, and changing things due to tech is often very risky. But for our next game, we always are working on improving our engine. We'll take into account all the new advancements in the games industry and then try to make sure we are on top of it for our next release.
What's something that you're most proud of when it comes to Uncharted 3?
I love the Cargo Plane/Plane Crash/Lost in the Desert sequence. On paper, the Lost in the Desert sequence sounds like the worst idea ever. But I think it really gave us a chance to put the player with Drake, out there alone on the burning sands. The plane and crash are this amazing crescendo, and then it's just quiet. It's just Drake in the desert alone, up against an enemy that can't be shot, or reasoned with, or even talked to. Kurt Margenau, the designer of those levels, did an amazing job.
What's something that you would change if you had been given an extra few months of development time?
We would polish more. We would playtest more. We wouldn't have added any major features or anything of that nature. I am very proud of the game we put out. Having a deadline is important in this industry, otherwise we would just noodle and change things forever.
What do you do for fun when you're not focusing on game development?
The number one thing is spending time with my family. I have two young sons, and my wife and I love to take them on adventures whenever possible. I am also a voracious reader, play games, and generally just mess around on my own pet projects.
What's next for you?
We have a bunch of DLC that we are working on for Uncharted 3. I am really excited about it. There is some cool stuff coming down the pipe for our Uncharted players. Other than that, there are ideas that people are beginning to play around with, but right now they are just that, ideas. We'll see where it leads us.