GamesBeat: I saw Amy Hennig’s talk in Montreal where she brought up a reference to Sullivan’s Travels, the movie. I thought her explanation of that was very interesting. It was a movie about a moviemaker who had a choice between doing fun movies or doing movies with a message, something meaningful. She said that sometimes you just want to have fun.
It almost seemed like this series was an answer to the question that movie proposes. This is about fun. It’s not necessarily about a message. I wonder if that carries through for the whole franchise or not.
Straley: There’s always been a message, though, quite honestly. Even in Uncharted 2, when we were working out the story, it was about working out the character, working out what kind of cloth Nathan Drake is cut from. He’s the type of guy who, despite the treasure and adventure and everything, all the highs, is still willing to sacrifice himself and stick his neck out for the people he loves and cares for. It’s getting to the root of what kind of person he is.
With this game, the relationship that’s been built between Elena and Nate and what Nate struggles with is something very human. It’s something I hope people can walk away with, that resonates on a different level than just fun. Fun is such an interesting word. It’s general and all-encompassing, but what we’re trying to do is create experiences. We’re trying to create something that touches the player on a deeper level than just the actions, the verbs we’re participating in in the moment. The shooting, the jumping.
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Any good story, I hope, reveals something about your protagonist. If your protagonist is well-drawn, which we try to do, it’s touching on something human you can relate to.
Druckmann: Any time you have a story, people try to find meaning in it. Stories are a kind of blueprint to life. You might as well be deliberate with that message. Otherwise people might find some other message or meaning in it.
GamesBeat: Was Sam always part of this story? Was he conceived way back in the early days of the franchise?
Druckmann: No. There was a lot of discussion, around the time of Uncharted one, about who Nathan Drake is. Is Drake his real name? Where did he get the ring from? We would brainstorm ideas. A brother might come up in those brainstorms. Or his dad. His dad took different permutations. But that was never pinned down. Nothing like that was pinned down until Uncharted 4.
GamesBeat: In some ways, I think of an angel on Nathan’s shoulder and a devil on the other side. Elena is one of those, and Sully the other for a while. Then Sam appears, and he’s sort of this third thing. It’s a simple way of looking at it, but they tug Nathan in different directions.
Druckmann: Sam plays an interesting role. He’s where Nate used to be. Over those 15 years, he hasn’t matured in the way Nate has matured over these adventures, settled down and found Elena. It’s a way for him to reflect and see what he was and why it’s so important to mature and change, and how if you don’t it could lead to something very destructive.
GamesBeat: Nadine was another interesting character. Her role almost seemed too small. Did she have a purpose for you guys?
Straley: In the past, we always had trouble in stories trying to fully flesh out our antagonists. Nadine helped us have scenes where instead of it being about the treasure or about a personal conflict with the protagonist and antagonist, Lazarovich and Nate—you can’t necessarily get to the bottom of what motivates Lazarovich because he just has one goal. They’re both in pursuit of the Macguffin. That’s what that conversation is about. Having Nadine allows us to pull out different dimensions of Rafe, have a more personal story and a more personal, drawn-out antagonist story.
Druckmann: She has a different viewpoint on the treasure. She can step back and say, “You’re obsessed with this treasure. I came into this to save my company. I can walk away and be fine.” Which is then the final straw for Rafe and snaps him. Nadine was someone he respected and he was bringing her along, even against her will, because he wanted this witness, someone who will see him get the treasure and become the great person he always wanted to be. Once she exits, that drives him over the edge to pull out the sword and try to kill Nate.
GamesBeat: I liked the variety of gameplay here, especially compared to Uncharted 3. There were more different kinds of things to do. That seemed pretty deliberate, that you wanted the player to have more options and activities.
Straley: We’re always learning from the last game. We’re realizing, in hindsight, what we’ve made and how we can improve on it. It was interesting to not throw the baby out with the bath water when creating Uncharted 4, because it’s easy to slip into that thinking of, we need to reboot and change everything, we need a more in-depth climbing system. Everything had to go into a completely different dimension, which then breaks the structure of what makes Uncharted Uncharted.
It was interesting to try to add dimension and complexity to the climbing and create more problem-solving inside of the play space, the traversal space. But not bog down the pacing. It was trying to create more systems, also, which over the course of Uncharted 2 through Last of us and into Uncharted 4—if we explore what systems can give us, it allows us to play more with the chemistry set. Then we can incorporate systems into not only traversal, but also the puzzles. They don’t have to be so one-off-ish and quick-time-ey.
Likewise, with the systems of something like the vehicles, we can expand those systems into action set-pieces like chases and escapes. The rope allowed us to get into dragging behind vehicles. It scales from the mundane, just trying to ascend a cliffside, to the epic. Which, to me, is what we’re always trying to do. We’re creating a language with the player and the world. Those systems allow us to do that.
GamesBeat: There was a cruel joke in there, I thought, in the Jeep. You spend all the time getting the Jeep up the cliff, driving up the hill. I was looking forward to speeding downhill again. And then it goes over the falls. Such cruel game developers. They killed our Jeep for sport.
Druckmann: We do have the one big chase as the truck is chasing you downhill, at least.
Straley: We try to build everything in the game as a character. Everything has a setup and a payoff. We like the idea of investing so much time in the vehicle, the 4×4, in Madagascar, and really building a relationship. It has its own character, what it can and can’t do, where it struggles. The player hopefully builds an attachment to it, so that then, in an epic set-piece of a bridge collapsing, a river, shooting you down, about to go over a waterfall as you’re separated from Elena—this is a moment in the story where we wanted to make sure there was a bond being built between the two of them.
Despite what she feels for Nate at the time, there’s still clearly a love. She’s willing to still be there for them. This Jeep is going for the hills. She’s separated. You do the rope swing to the tree and she has her hand extended. This is kind of a metaphor for the extension of the relationship. The vehicle dying is the poignant—all right, that’s the end of that character.
GamesBeat: I was mourning the loss of my Jeep. I was looking forward to the gameplay there. I guess I was supposed to pay attention to the story.
Druckmann: There is a dark death in Uncharted 4.
Straley: A Jeep’s End. [Laughs]
GamesBeat: You had delays and twists and turns with the team. Did any of this change the game?
Straley: Back to the vehicle, we had to get rid of the vehicle so we could be on foot and closer to Elena. Being in the vehicle, there’s a certain character development that happens there, but it’s different when you’re on foot with the person, trying to trudge through traversal and combat scenarios. It’s very different. We felt that was necessary to create a closer bond between the two of them. Sorry, back to your other question?
Druckmann: When we came on, one of the first decisions we committed was that this would be the end. Without doing that, there was nowhere else to take Nate’s character. That felt like the only place left for his character to go. And then as far as twists and turns, every game development has a ton of those. We work very organically. We had an outline pretty early on, but that was loose. As you’re building the game and developing levels and mechanics and characters and set pieces, that macro outline changes shape and evolves.
I guess it just felt more rushed because our schedule was pretty compressed, from when we came on to the release date. We’re fortunate that Sony gave us a few extensions, because we really wanted this to be the best Uncharted, being the last one for us.
Straley: It was a hard project. I think that’s what Neil is trying to say.
Druckmann: It was the hardest project.