Uncharted: The Lost Legacy wasn’t meant to be as big as it has turned out. Originally just a single player DLC for last year’s Uncharted 4, it’s ballooned into its own game, bedding in two new creative leads and refusing to simply retread old ground. Yes, there’s a lot of familiar gameplay, but there’s also new ideas on top of that, exploring different characters and their backstories, and an ambition to make this the best Uncharted game it can be.
After our hands on session – which you can read about here – we spoke to Creative Director Shaun Escayg and Communications Director Arne Meyer about the game.
TSA: Let’s talk about Naughty Dog as a studio. It’s nice to see over the years that people within the studio come to the top, like yourself. How important is that for the studio’s culture to have people coming through?
Shaun: Yeah, Naughty Dog is an interesting company! We have some of the best talent in the world at the studio and we have this kind of saying at the studio that the best idea wins. That’s true at Naughty Dog!
It’s interesting because a lot of the times where I’m the most nervous I’ve ever been were pitching within the studio to the team and trying to get the team excited. I’ll be like, “I’ve got an idea and it’s going to be awesome!” and everyone’s like, “OK?” arms folded, looking at you, judging. [laughs]
And yeah, that’s kind of our culture, and it can come from anywhere. You can be in animation like I was, you can be in programming, in designing. The things that separates us from other studios is that this culture is open, narrative is our thing – we love narrative stories – and the blending between narrative and gameplay and making it one experience is something we’re always pushing.
TSA: Yeah, it’s nice that you have this kind of collective vision going forwards with the series. For you personally, though, do you feel that you’ve been able to push the cinematics even further in the The Lost Legacy? Are you like, “That’s my thing!”
Shaun: Well, you know, in this particular role, there’s a greater appreciation that I have now for the gameplay and pushing the story into gameplay, trying not to separate the two. We’re trying to keep the whole thing as a story engine, basically.
There is, of course, cinematography in there that I like. Personally, I think it’s somewhere between The Last of Us and Uncharted 4, but it’s also driven by the character herself, Chloe. So it’s asking what cinematography choices I would make to make this story unique and speak to the character.
TSA: Did you dive deep into the Australian film scene for inspiration? [laughs]
Shaun: [laughs] I did a little bit more of a cinema verite. The Last of Us was very cinema verite with shaky cameras, very close, Uncharted 4 was more Spielberg with less shake, more on tracks and dollies, and I think The Lost Legacy is in between. It’s serving you, to keep the world consistent, Uncharted’s big broad vistas and reveals, but there’s tight narrow spaces when needed, cinema verite during action sequences. We’re grabbing everything we’ve learned and dumping into this game.
Arne: I’ve meant to ask you, just because I’ve never actually put it back to back, but you’ve pulled the camera in closer to Chloe that we did with Drake, right?
Arne: I was playing it the other day, thinking I really need to go back to Uncharted to make sure!
Shaun: Yeah, that’s right. It’s all about feeling that tension, and even with the gameplay camera, at some point when you’re in the Jeep it’s wide, but because you’re in open space it’s fine. Then when you’re going through some caves or tunnels, it gets in really close to get your heart pounding. The feeling of height and being afraid of heights – I’m afraid of heights – so playing that up…
Arne: I didn’t know that. I really should’ve taken you to the top of the Eiffel Tower! [laughs]
Shaun: That would’ve freaked me out!
So yeah, just playing up all the fear and wonder, and again, just trying to ground everything. That’s probably the thing I bring most to it.
TSA: How did you decide on Chloe and Nadine? After the end of Uncharted 4 people were expecting Sully & Sam to have their adventure, Cassie’s first film shoot going very, very wrong…
Shaun: We did spend a few months in development exploring different storylines, seeing the Sam and Sullivan combo, Sully and Chloe…
So we went through this process, we pitched a few ideas and then we landed on a Chloe story, because Chloe’s interesting. She’s a character we know very little about, but also has a huge fandom. We were like, “OK, let’s explore why Chloe chooses self preservation over self sacrifice.” Can this character become a hero? Can we make this sidekick who always bails out at the last minute a hero?
And then, who would be the worst or the best person to pair her up with? We paired her up with Cutter and some different characters, and then we landed on Nadine Ross, and I think everyone was like, “Oh my god!” The enigmatic thief and hustler paired up with the pragmatic military leader of Shoreline who’s, you know, desperate for cash now. They’re together on a job, have to navigate the Western Ghat, avoid Asav, and even navigate each other? That was the intrigue.
TSA: I think it’s interesting from the dialogue between the two, it feels like they’ve both got daddy issues? It’s a dumb way of putting it, but…
Shaun: [laughs] That’s the second time someone’s said that today!
TSA: But this reminded me of how Cory Barlog has been talking about God of War and how that team has grown up to want to tell a story about family, Naughty Dog also deals with family a lot and there’s so many game developers getting older, having families and that shapes into the games that you’re making.
Shaun: It’s all about relationships, right? The relationships we have with your family, your father, your mom, shape the individual. To tell the Chloe story, we needed to get at who shaped Chloe and what trauma created this character with that personality and with these instincts. Nadine also has this by the book, strict, can’t fail “I don’t lose” attitude, and what created that character?
These two characters are constantly conflicting and bonding and breaking apart, and in that process they’re bringing out the best and the worst aspects of each other, but they’re also growing and learning from each other. It’s stuff that’s probably on a subconscious level and affecting their motivations.
TSA: Is it a cheeky wink or nod to Lara Croft that Chloe’s dad was an archeologist? She’s like a scaredy cat Australian Lara? [laughs]
Shaun: You know, I’ve never played [the Tomb Raider] games…
TSA: Have you not?
Shaun: No, I have not, so I’m not influenced by it. That’s a good thing!
But for us it’s more that we approach it to find the self preservation in Chloe, the thief in Chloe, and then it’s also about how this character becomes the hero.
TSA: What is it about the Indian subcontinent that makes you think, “Let’s start a war here”? You did it with Nepal in Uncharted 2, now you’re back and it’s a new civil war…
Shaun: [laughs] Well, the choice to go to India was Chloe, again. She’s half Indian – we went back to that story and said that her dad’s Indian – and India is a great backdrop. It’s got everything from jungles to ruins, a deep, rich culture and religion, and this history of the Hoysala people. We felt we could draw this ancient world out and her dad studying this thing and having been after the golden tusk himself is another connection to this region and these people.
Arne: There’s a history of conflict there that, with Asav and his activities in the Western Ghat and what he’s after is basically a modernised resurgence of the history that had been happening there.
Shaun: A lot of this stuff speaks somehow to the politics of today. Here we have these people waging war over rights to lands that none of them own, right? This different thinking between the old king and the young kind and how these characters fit into this world.
TSA: You’ve spoken about this being a kind of best of Uncharted gameplay, but you’re also pushing it even further with the non-linear area we’ve been playing today. You’ve done this in a year and a bit of development? That’s very ambitious, so why push the structure of the game and not just tell a new story within this world?
Arne: A lot of it really goes back to that statement of how we want to create a character driven action adventure supported by aspects of gameplay. That was the case here where we wanted to created this narrative sequence with the feeling of exploration and discovery. We want you to feel what the character feels when you’re playing it, so we wanted you to feel lost in this area and going through the same learning, so to do that we had to expand this area and create this kind of non-linear gameplay.
Shaun: That’s usually where our decision making starts. Can this space accentuate your feeling of discovery? Can you have choices that lead you down different paths?
But also, it’s a challenge and we like challenges at Naughty Dog! […]
TSA: Do you think this shows there’s still plenty of life in Uncharted, whether it’s Naughty Dog or somebody else taking it forward?
Shaun: I’m going to speak for myself here. [laughs] You know, we have no plans at Naughty Dog in the immediate future…
TSA: That explains how you ended up with a full game and not just DLC!
Shaun: Yeah. Literally that’s how we ended up there!
But I say it because the world of Uncharted has a lot of characters. There’s Sullivan stories, a future with Cassie, a future with Sam, a future with Cutter that someone, if not Naughty Dog, could have a wide palette to choose from.
TSA: Coming back to the short development time, you obviously had a lot of tech and core gameplay already in place, so that will have helped, but what should people expect in terms of the game’s length? Some felt that Uncharted 4 went a bit too long in its final act, so does this game get to be a bit more compact?
Shaun: This is the best Uncharted game we’ve ever made. That’s my statement…
TSA: A purely objective assessment there! [laughs]
Shaun: [laughs] A little biased, but best game!
We’ve spent a lot of time with narrative and we’ve spent a lot of time with pacing. It is longer than earlier Uncharted games, but it’s shorter than Uncharted 4. We’ve built on and learned a lot from the others. Yes, some of the assumptions of Uncharted 4 being long, we’ve addressed those and we also took what we thought were some of the best gameplay moments and applied it to The Lost Legacy.
TSA: Finally, photo mode is always popular, but also, Chloe now takes photos with her phone. So can she take selfies?
TSA: [laughs] Well, there’s one bit with monkeys and I think it would be kind of cute to have Chloe and Nadine taking selfies.
Shaun: It’s a possibility… There’s the photo mode and there’s the photos in the environment that Chloe takes of places you’ve discovered.
TSA: OK, well you’ve got a month to get a proper selfie mode in there.
Thanks to Shaun, and very occasionally Arne, for chatting with us about Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. The game is out for PS4 on 23rd August, and you can catch our hands on impressions here.