It's been a gruelling three year wait, but Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is on the home straight. Naughty Dog wrapped up production on the hotly anticipated PlayStation 4 exclusive a little while back, and we recently caught up with lead designer Ricky Cambier in order to quiz him on the mood in the studio, the biggest challenges that the developer faced, and more.
Push Square: How does it feel now that you've completed development on Uncharted 4?
Ricky Cambier: Oh, man – yeah, it's been a long time. We just finished about a week and a half ago. We just locked it. And I remember making this one last little change – sneaking it in before they cut us off.
What was the change? Are you allowed to say?
Oh! What can I say? It was just one of those polish things that you fix; this edge case where you want to make sure that everything's okay. Just a small thing…
… That only you'll ever notice, right?
Yes, yes. But, y'know, that's the type of polish that we like at Naughty Dog. However, to get back to your original question, it feels like… There's pride, there's excitement. It also means that the past week we got to play some of the stuff and see it all come together.
So, we're all working on this thing and know where we're going, but there are moments, y'know, where the sound comes in and the music goes in and… You get all of these final details going in: the effects go in and so on. So, there were certain moments last week where I was like… Okay.
But then there's also this thing where we always try new things and we always try and push ourselves and we don't quite know how people are going to respond. So, there's no great comfort, and we're still quite nervous but also very excited. It's going to be a whirlwind.
What would you say the biggest challenge was making this game?
There were a lot of challenges across the board. I mean, there was the pure challenge of moving across to the PS4. So, you've got these hardware challenges, but also these great hardware rewards. We're like: what can we do now with PS4? And there are some design challenges in there… So, after coming off The Last of Us and moving onto Uncharted 4, what are the things that we want to accomplish there? And that's just the gameplay perspective.
But you also have this narrative challenge of this character that we've spent a lot of time with – as a studio over ten years, as fans close to ten years – and the fact that we're going to close out Nathan Drake's story. So each one of these on their own would be pretty big.
But let's talk about the spaces that can now be supported on the PS4… How do we create a combat space that feels new and takes advantage of some of the new toolsets like the grappling hook? There are some challenges just figuring out what that sort of thing looks like. So, how can you feel empowered to make choices as a player – but still feel pressured by the AI? There were some real challenges just in pure level design.
And, of course, just going up to the programmers and being like, "Just how big can we go?" Y'know, we've got the jeep now… What can we do? Where can we go? What level of fidelity can we get with the graphics?
Is it scary leaving Nathan Drake behind? It seems to be in Naughty Dog's culture to leave characters at their peak, but Drake is arguably the biggest star that you've moved on from so far…
Um, is scary the right word? It's a great question. I think we really just took it as a challenge and an opportunity, y'know? For a character that's been so important to us, critical to fans, and commercially successful… I mean, if Uncharted hadn't worked out, what would Naughty Dog have done? Y'know, we could have disappeared.
But, as story tellers – especially in this medium that doesn't end things – I think that it's kinda awesome. And it doesn't mean that it's not going to be sad. And, y'know, we are sad – I mean, the title's right there: a thief's end. It's not a little goodbye party – it's challenging. But it's important in terms of pushing storytelling forward in general – and how hard it is to do an ending.
On that note, the expectations for this game are astronomical.
How does the studio, and you as an individual, deal with those kind of pressures?
I think, as a studio, the expectations have always been pretty high. So, the pressure's there already. But the fans kinda expect that from us, right? We know now that people are going to frame-by-frame through a video or anything that we release – it's going to happen. But we're already doing that anyway; we're always asking, "Can this be better?" It's never, "Is this good enough?" We're constantly like, "What do we think this medium can do now? What can we do with this technology?"
A more specific one: how much is stealth a response to the serial killer "complaints" pointed at Drake? Can you play through this game without killing anyone?
No, you can't play all of the way without killing anyone. You definitely have more options within certain combat spaces to completely bypass groups of enemies, but there are still specific story beats that we're building towards, and there are certain moments that have to happen within the narrative structure to tell the story that we want to tell.
I really appreciate the dialogue that people have around the ludo narrative dissonance, and I love that that's something that people talk about – I think that it's important. But I think we just have to own, for this world, that we're dealing in pulp action and we're dealing in melodrama and we're dealing in high-stakes good and evil. But what I love about this is that you can have that, but you can also have really complex characters.
So, when you take a game like The Last of Us, that's really about morality. Well, Uncharted isn't really about morality, and that means that you can accept the black and white nature of good and evil. But you can still have a character like Nathan Drake who, in between games, is having relationship problems. So he's still a hero, but he's still very human in the sense that he has an obsession. And in Uncharted 4 we want to explore why he makes these decisions – and what are the costs of them.
One last question: with The Last of Us' single player DLC you took things in a different direction. Are there any teases or hints that you can say about Uncharted 4's single player DLC?
You can always ask, for sure! So, we're going to do multiplayer DLC, but we haven't said anything specific about… I mean, we don't treat DLC any lighter than our story.
Of course, Left Behind was amazing!
Thank you! We always want to explore something that we're interested in, and I hope that continues to be true.
Okay, cool. Thanks for your time – thank you so much!
A pleasure, and you.
How's your hype for Uncharted 4 holding out? Are you eagerly anticipating this outrageously attractive action adventure, or are you still unconvinced? Plunder the comments section below to let us know.