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Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is designed to be the best of the brand, creative director Shaun Escayg told us in a recent interview. Chatting about the forthcoming standalone spinoff – which stars fan favourites Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross in the lead roles, not series veteran Nathan Drake – the project lead explained that the team wanted to combine everything that it loves about the franchise, including combat, puzzles, and platforming.

That’s evident in the title’s enormous Western Ghats level, which builds upon the blueprints laid by Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’s Madagascar stage. We caught up with Naughty Dog's Escayg to talk about the challenges associated with crafting such an enormous space – and also what it feels like to be heading up development on one of the most beloved brands that PlayStation has to offer.

There are so many awesome characters in the Uncharted universe that aren’t Nathan Drake. You could have gone in so many different directions – we could have seen Sam or Sully or you could have even gone back in time. So, why Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross?

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Shaun Escayg: Chloe was just so provocative. We had a character that we knew very little of, which is great because she was a blank canvas for us – but despite that, we were intrigued by her. She’s mysterious, she’s likeable, she’s a fan favourite with very little information imparted. So there was something about this hustling, wheeler dealer character that never really has enough spine to stick things out that [we wanted to explore]. What would create such a character? And how would that character persevere now that she has everything to lose?

So then we were looking at who to pair her with, and we thought of Sullivan, Sam, Cutter, and so on. But Nadine Ross shares a very similar trait with Chloe – even though she’s different – in that she puts self-preservation first, right? When her [company in Uncharted 4] is under attack by the Drakes, she’s ready to cut her losses and run, which is very Chloe-like. But she’s the opposite in every other way: she’s militant, pragmatic, and no-nonsense. So the combining of these two characters left us with the perfect brew of story-telling.

Obviously we play as Chloe in this game. What have you had to do to make it feel like Chloe? It’s not like you can put a female skin over Drake and call it a day, right?

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Chloe’s brought to life by [actress] Claudia Black. And she is an amazing actress – likewise is Laura Baily [who plays Nadine]. Whenever we approach the game, we approach it from these characters and these actresses that bring them to life. So yes, we had to recapture all of the stealth [motion capture] and all of the combat by these actresses. And they’re the ones who breathe the life into these characters – we just capture it.

There was a lot of improvisation on stage. We would write the scenes, give it to them, and they’d be like, “Whoa, Chloe wouldn’t say that!” So they just do their thing, and it’s that sort of collaboration that brings things to life. So that’s the performance side of your question.

And there’s a few things we did on the cinematography side. Uncharted 4 had a bit of a “Spielberg” feel because it’s a classic Hollywood blockbuster, but Chloe is a thief, so it’s a little seedier in this world. So, we brought the camera in and played to this sense of tension and unease. You can see a good example of that in the PlayStation Experience [reveal trailer from 2016].

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Then we introduce mechanics that accentuate the thief aspect with the lock picking. So because it’s Chloe in the lead role, the tone of the game shifts slightly.

A lot of Naughty Dog’s recent success has been built on linear, third-person campaigns. Why do you have the desire to go so big with The Lost Legacy’s enormous Western Ghats level [which we’ve played, and you can read our hands on impressions through here]?

One of the things we set out to do with this game is the best of the Uncharteds, right? We wanted to bring back all that we love about the Uncharted games. And, look, players have grown and evolved – and so has the technology. Likewise, we have with it. So we wanted to get the wonder back – that sense of adventure and being lost and not knowing what’s around every corner. In an established franchise that’s still doing pretty much the same thing, we wanted to give a different feel to it. So the open world gives this sense of discovery – there’s something new at every turn.

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What are the challenges in terms of pacing these larger environments? When you’re designing a linear game you’re totally in control of what’s going to happen, but in some ways the player is directing the campaign in these open spaces, so how do you keep things moving?

It’s one of our greatest challenges on this game. Fortunately, the [Western Ghats] area is at the beginning of Chloe and Nadine’s relationship, and there’s a lot to learn about the two characters, their pasts, and how they’re connected. So there is pacing, it’s just that it’s very well-crafted into the space to keep you moving forward and getting more information that supports the narrative about how these two characters are going to survive and whether they trust each other or not.

Is the Western Ghats area the only space in the game that’s this large? Can you tease whether there’s another one or…?

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We can talk about it. This is the only area in the game that’s [wide linear]. The rest of the campaign follows a more linear path.

India has some of the most recognisable sounds in the world. Can you talk a little bit about the soundtrack? Was it fun integrating all of the country’s unique instruments into the audio?

Absolutely. Henry Jackman did the score again, and he’s amazing. Every piece that came through was like, “Oh my God, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard.” So he has really captured that feel of India, and I’m sure he invested a ton of research into finding all of the local instruments. But the key is he’s captured it while still maintaining the sound of Uncharted, which is really exciting. These pieces are some of my favourites.

You’re stepping up to the role of creative director, filling shoes previously occupied by Neil Druckmann and Amy Hennig before that. What does that feel like?

It’s a ton of pressure, really thrilling, and really scary. But Naughty Dog is built out of some of the best artists in the world, and they’re the harshest critics and will let you know [if something’s not right]. And that’s the beauty of being in that environment: you get input and critique from everyone. So it’s very hard to fail when you have a great team backing you.

Are you looking forward to Uncharted: The Lost Legacy? Do you think Chloe and Nadine are good protagonist picks, or would you have preferred the game to explore different characters? Come up with a witty one-line even Nate would be proud of in the comments section below.