Development of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

The development of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, an action-adventure game, began after Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception's release in November 2011. Sony Computer Entertainment published Uncharted 4: A Thief's End on May 10, 2016 for the PlayStation 4. The four-year development, led by studio Naughty Dog, was kept secret for the majority of development. In the game, players assume control of Nathan Drake, a former fortune hunter who is reunited with his older brother Sam and longtime partner Sully to search for clues for the location of Captain Henry Avery's long-lost treasure.

The game's development was initially led by creative director Amy Hennig and game director Justin Richmond; following their departure from Naughty Dog in 2014, they were replaced by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, respectively. Uncharted 4 was officially announced in 2013; it was heavily promoted and widely anticipated. Naughty Dog missed the original release date, delaying the game in order to allow for further polishing. Naughty Dog marketed the game through video trailers and press demonstrations. Various special editions of the game were released.

The relationship between Nathan Drake and his wife Elena Fisher was a central focus of the game's development, as Naughty Dog attempted to humanize the former more than in previous games. Nolan North and Emily Rose reprised their roles as Nathan and Elena, respectively, contributing greatly to the development of the characters and their motivations. Taking inspiration from Naughty Dog's previous game, The Last of Us, the development team wanted to explore character relationships deeper than before. The introduction of Nathan's brother Sam, previously presumed deceased, allowed the writers to explore Nathan's character and his development since the last game. Uncharted 4 was Naughty Dog's first game developed specifically for the PlayStation 4. The team took advantage of the advanced hardware to process larger dynamic environments. Both the game's art design and sound production were inspired by the Indiana Jones franchise; Nathan's redesign borrows elements from the titular character. The game features an original score composed by musician Henry Jackman.

ProductionEdit

Bruce Straley (left) and Neil Druckmann (right) were chosen to lead development on Uncharted 4 as game director and creative director, replacing Justin Richmond and Amy Hennig, respectively.

Developer Naughty Dog split into two teams in 2009, to develop Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and The Last of Us concurrently;[1] the former team, led by creative director Amy Hennig and game director Justin Richmond, began preliminary work on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End after the release of Uncharted 3 in November 2011.[2][3] Hennig and Richmond led development for several years, until their departure from the company in March 2014.[4][5] In June 2014, it was announced that Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley were working on the game as creative director and game director, respectively; Druckmann and Straley had previously led the development of The Last of Us.[6] Initial reports claimed that Hennig was "forced out" of Naughty Dog by Druckmann and Straley, though co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra later denied this.[4] After taking over development, Druckmann and Straley scrapped about "eight months of [Hennig's] story".[7] They became committed to making Uncharted 4 the final game in the series, as there was "nowhere else" to take the characters.[8] They faced great difficulty after Hennig's departure, due to the more limited development time and significant story changes.[9]

Story and settingEdit

Scherr co-wrote the story of Uncharted 4 alongside Druckmann, while Bissell and James provided additional writing.

The game was written with a dialogue designer, in which several lines are inputted depending on the player's activity.[9] The game's production process began with a story outline, describing the major events and beats, before becoming a process where writers and game designers collaborate, regularly rewriting scenes to fit the gameplay sequences.[3] The ability to participate in optional conversations with non-player characters in The Last of Us was used in Uncharted 4 for players who wish to engage with the story. The game also features several dialogue trees, first used by Naughty Dog in The Last of Us: Left Behind, to position players in the same mindset as Nathan.[10]

Druckmann co-wrote the story alongside Josh Scherr;[10] Druckmann considered Scherr the "funny one", allowing him to write the humor of Uncharted 4 due to Druckmann's self-professed inability to write jokes. He appreciated the collaboration of writing on Uncharted 4, having written The Last of Us almost entirely independently.[11] Tom Bissell and Ryan M. James also provided additional writing on the game, particularly contributing to companion, enemy, and multiplayer dialogue; Bissell and James also performed the game's historical research.[9] The writers challenged themselves to "tell a meaningful human story with complex relationships ... in this more lighthearted drama".[8]

The narrative pacing of the game was seen as a benchmark for several of its environments and gameplay beats. Despite adding some freedom and player decisions, the writers ultimately wanted to tell a specific story and explore specific emotional moments. The narrative explores the idea that "every treasure has a cost" and the extent to which one would go to save their loved ones.[12] The game also explores the theme of family, both by surrogate and blood.[12]

Uncharted 4 follows the search for the treasure of Captain Henry Avery and Thomas Tew. The outcome of Avery and Tew was included as a message that greed and obsession "will ultimately destroy you".[8] The team constructed the game's ending early in development. They felt that the game's subtitle—A Thief's End—applied to several characters in the game, including Rafe Adler, and the pirate captains.[8] The addition of the epilogue was to ensure the game ended definitively, instead of players questioning the events that followed. "There was something in the resolution that felt satisfying ... That felt right for the franchise as well," said Straley.[8]

Character developmentEdit

Nolan North (left) and Emily Rose (right) portrayed Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher, respectively, reprising their roles from previous entries in the series.

Nolan North and Emily Rose portrayed Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher, respectively, in Uncharted 4, reprising their roles from previous entries in the series. Richard McGonagle also reprised his role as Victor "Sully" Sullivan.[13] Their performances were mostly recorded using motion capture technology, with remaining audio elements recorded later in a studio. The relationship between Nathan and Elena was a central focus of development, as the team attempted to humanize Nathan more than previous games. When Elena accompanies Nathan later in the game, the team found it necessary to "create a closer bond" between the two characters by removing the use of the vehicle, forcing players to traverse on foot alongside Elena. In developing the character of Nathan, the team wanted players to become conflicted between his relationship with Elena and the hunt for pirate treasure. "To have that conflict ... was interesting", said Straley.[8]

The team consider Nathan a reflection of their own mentalities; as they have grown older and matured, Nathan has also matured in age and wisdom. North found that the aging of Nathan due to the advancement of technology humanizes him. McGonagle compared Nathan in Uncharted 4 to Sully in previous games; both consider themselves too old for treasure hunting.[14]

Druckmann described Elena as "a very strong person who loves [Nathan] very much", ultimately encouraging her decision to return to him. When Elena witnesses Nathan's excitement regarding his discovery of the pirate captains, she realizes it is "what was missing" for them as a couple, and she "gets to see [him] as the adventurer she loves". The scene in which Nathan and Elena become trapped in a net was seen as a metaphor in which the two are drawn closer together, cooperating to escape before reconciling over a humorous situation. Straley found that Uncharted 4 allowed Nathan to discover his motivation, and to become vulnerable and trust another person in his life; events in his early life led him to develop a sarcastic attitude as a defense mechanism, which begins to diminish after receiving Elena's love and trust.[8] Druckmann felt that the story questioned the possibility to "balance passion versus settling down", referencing the effects of "crunch time" on the developers' lives.[15]

The game's actors regularly contributed to the development of the characters; Druckmann found that the actors were more familiar with the character motivations, and took their advice while writing.[16] Throughout the series, North tried to portray Nathan as a regular guy, as opposed to an "action star".[17] In Uncharted 4, he found that the older ages of the characters allowed players to identify with them more closely, recognizing their struggles and establishing a connection with their own.[16] The team wanted to place characters in uncomfortable situations, wherein the pressure of conflict propels them to discover new things. The team also found that the assistance given by non-player character allies during combat assisted in the story and character development.[18] Straley wanted to explore character relationships deeper than previous Uncharted games, taking inspiration from the story of The Last of Us.[19]

Baker, Kole, and Bailey were chosen to portray Sam Drake, Rafe Adler, and Nadine Ross, respectively, in Uncharted 4.

Troy Baker was chosen to portray Samuel "Sam" Drake, Nathan's brother who was presumed deceased.[13] When cast in the role, Baker met with Druckmann and Scherr to discuss portraying Sam, who is older than Nathan, despite Baker being younger than North. Baker ultimately compared the relationship to his own friendship with actor Travis Willingham; despite Willingham's younger age, his life experiences have led Baker to look up to him, which he felt echoed sentiments of Nathan's relationship with Sam. Baker's pre-existing playful relationship with North eased his portrayal of the character, as he felt as though he was portraying himself.[20][16] He and North also found that there was a sibling rivalry between the brothers, as they attempted to outsmart each other.[21] North recalled difficulty in portraying the frequent animosity between Nathan and Sam, due to his close relationship with Baker, though found the "brotherly love" easy to play.[17] Sam was developed to expose the feeling of "worthiness" in Nathan, encouraging him to adventure.[19] The team added the flashback sequences of the brothers to demonstrate Nathan's intrigue for adventure, as well as Sam's care for Nathan.[15]

Since the development of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007), the team regularly considered exploring Nathan's family history; while several additional characters were considered, including Nathan's father, the team did not properly explore Nathan's history until Uncharted 4, with the creation of Sam. Druckmann viewed Sam as a past version of Nathan, before the latter married Elena and quit treasure hunting. "It's a way for [Nathan] to reflect and see what he was and why it's so important to mature and change," said Druckmann.[8] He also felt that it allowed the exploration of the question "Who is Nathan Drake?", and a deeper exploration of his evolution throughout the series.[22]

The announcement of Laura Bailey, a white actress, portraying the character of Nadine Ross, who is of Black South African descent, led to some backlash.[23] Druckmann explained that when the character was conceived, her ethnicity was not yet determined; Bailey was chosen from the audition of casting calls from actors of several heritages.[24] Druckmann also noted that a Caucasian character in the game is voiced by a black voice actor.[23] Concept artist Ashley Swidowski created the look of Nadine; Druckmann's curly hair was used as reference for Nadine's.[16] Straley found that the inclusion of Nadine allowed the team to "pull out different dimensions" of antagonist Rafe Alder (portrayed by Warren Kole), due to her differing viewpoint on the treasure; while Nadine is interested in the monetary value of the treasure, Rafe has a more personal attachment to the discovery, eventually leading him to lash out against Nadine and Nathan. Druckmann also considered Rafe to be a reflection of Nathan, representing his ego.[8] When writing scenes featuring Nadine or Rafe, Druckmann felt that they "don't see themselves as antagonist", stating that he "[wrote] with a clear motivation and clear objectives ... don't write them as clichés".[22]

The character of Evelyn, portrayed by Merle Dandridge, became obsessed with traveling and hunting treasure, resulting in her family life diminishing; this was developed to parallel Nathan and Sam, and the outcome of pursuing treasure throughout their lives.[8] Evelyn's character was originally an old English man. Throughout development, Druckmann was influenced by Swidowski to include more female characters in the game. "She is constantly challenging me and pushing for diversity in our cast", he said.[25] Druckmann admitted that his development of the game's story was influenced by Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of gaming. Among the influences of Sarkeesian were switching the gender of Drake's child (originally a son) to be female and changing the outcome of conflicts so women would win more frequently to be seen as powerful and independent.[25] Upon a focus tester's criticism regarding these changes, Druckmann instructed him to leave, responding "Wow, why does that matter?".[15]

Technical and gameplay developmentEdit

 
Uncharted 4 was Naughty Dog's first game developed for the PlayStation 4. The development team took advantage of the advanced hardware to process larger dynamic environments.[26]

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End was Naughty Dog's first game developed for the PlayStation 4, having re-released The Last of Us for the console as The Last of Us Remastered in July 2014. Remastered allowed the team to become accustomed to the architecture, having previously suffered great difficulties switching from PlayStation 2 hardware to PlayStation 3 during development of Drake's Fortune. "There's a lot of things we learned about our engine capabilities and our tools pipeline throughout development," said director of communications Arne Meyer.[27] The advanced hardware allowed the team to include more in each level, and create a more dynamic environment. "We're at a point where technology isn't driving our decisions, it's our creativity," said Druckmann.[26] While the team initially aimed for the entire game to run at 60 frames-per-second,[22] restrictions in the environment limited the single-player mode to 30 frames-per-second; the multiplayer mode runs at 60 frames per second.[28]

The game's texture resolution is at least four times larger than Uncharted 3's, while a physically-based shader was developed to create more lifelike materials. In previous games, Nathan Drake's body skeleton consisted of 250 bones; in Uncharted 4, his face alone consists of 800 bones.[22] The team found that the fidelity of the technology allowed close-up shots of the characters' faces to show emotion during cutscenes,[18] demonstrating subtleties such as wrinkles and skin pores.[14]

The team tried to "add dimension and complexity" to the climbing and traversal systems by including more problem-solving elements which did not interrupt the pacing of the narrative.[8] The game world was also significantly increased from earlier entries in the series; technical art director Teagan Morrison estimated that the game features "maybe ten times the size ... of explorable space".[29] A larger area allowed the team to create several paths for players to follow in order to complete objectives, though they faced difficulty in ensuring players remained focused on the overall goal of the area.[30] Druckmann describes the game as "wide-linear", noting that "it's not open-world, because we wanted to tell a very specific story, with very specific tension". He feels that open world games often lack tension because players possess the freedom to lose focus on the main objective; Druckmann prefers to "control the pacing".[31]

The team's interest in featuring Crash Bandicoot (1996) in the game was initially met with legal disapproval; the team began working on a "different old-school game" in its place, until negotiations were made to include Crash Bandicoot.[8]

Art designEdit

When redesigning Nathan Drake for Uncharted 4, the team attempted a look akin to an adventurer, seeking inspiration from fictional characters such as Indiana Jones. In regards to Nathan's equipment, including his holster and pouch, the team aimed for subtlety, ensuring that they do not "steal the scene".[32] Throughout development, Straley regularly worked with the designers to create the architecture of the environments, and the concept art department for the coloring and shapes of the game world. Several downbeats in the story are contrasted by bright colors; Straley wanted players to feel the juxtaposition.[18] User interface designer Alexandria Neonakis was tasked with designing both Nathan's orphanage and Cassie's bedroom in Uncharted 4, placed at the beginning and end of the game, respectively. She worked with Druckmann to establish the lighting and dressing of the rooms. They were designed to contrast each other, to represent their different upbringings; while Nathan's room was designed to be stark and empty, Cassie's room has soft lighting and is full of posters and childhood items.[33]

Music and sound productionEdit

The game's original score was written by Henry Jackman, with additional music by Alex Belcher, replacing former series composer Greg Edmonson. The score was co-produced by Jackman and Sony's senior music manager Jonathan Mayer, and was recorded with an orchestra at AIR Studios in London.[34][35] The official soundtrack was released digitally on iTunes, Amazon Music, and Google Play Music alongside the game's launch on May 10, 2016, physically on vinyl by iam8bit on May 12, and on CD by La-La Land Records on May 17.[34][36]

The game features about 55,000 lines of recorded dialogue, and its cinematics run for approximately 165 minutes in length.[37] For the game's environment sounds, the team performed outdoor recording; they ensured the environments "felt alive but not overbuilt" by introducing several ambient changes as players progress through the locations. "It's not a very static world at all ... the emotion is built up within the ambience," said audio lead Phillip Kovats.[37] The sound also changes in respect to the background foliage; for example, when players walk through a bush, the sound may vary depending on the players's speed and the type of bush. The variation of in-game locations introduced several challenges for the team, as they attempted to make each location very different for players to feel as if "they were being propelled to different locations across the world". The game also uses quadraphonic sound, which senior sound designer Jeremy Rogers described as more "intricate" than previous games, due to availability of memory while developing Uncharted 4.[37]

The team found the sound design of the in-game Jeep challenging. They traveled to California and Nevada, where they recorded sounds of a Jeep traversing through terrain. They also recorded the sound of tires on several surfaces at a foley recording stage.[37] Each tire of the Jeep interacts separately with a surface, dependent on elements such as the type of surface and pressure of the tire, thereby allowing several simultaneous sounds during gameplay. Each sound effect in the game has metadata instructing the engine to play the sound in a specific manner.[38] When designing the sounds of the grappling hook, Rogers recorded the sounds of a bullwhip crafted by David Morgan, responsible for the bullwhips used in the Indiana Jones franchise; he considered the sounds to be an homage to the franchise.[37]

BusinessEdit

Announcement and delaysEdit

2016 Taipei Game Show
Uncharted 4 was marketed at several gaming events and conventions.

Several journalists speculated the development of Uncharted 4 before its announcement, citing job listings at Naughty Dog and apparent leaks from retailers.[39][40] The existence of a new entry in the Uncharted series was officially acknowledged by Sony on November 14, 2013, with the release of an official trailer.[2] The game's full title was unveiled on June 9, 2014, at Sony's E3 2014 press conference.[41] In September 2015, Naughty Dog announced that Uncharted 4 would miss its intended release date of late 2015, delaying it until March 18, 2016 to allow further polishing for the game's ending.[42] In December 2015, the game was delayed until April 2016 for further polishing.[43] In March 2016, the game was delayed a final time, to May 10, 2016.[44]

On April 26, 2016, Amazon began prematurely shipping copies of the game.[45] The following day, Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony's Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment, stated that copies of the game were stolen while in transit to retail in the United Kingdom.[46] Naughty Dog employees expressed disappointment in those sharing spoilers online.[47]

Release trailersEdit

The game was extensively marketed through video trailers. The debut trailer was released along with the game announcement, on November 14, 2013, featuring the voice of Todd Stashwick.[a] The trailer shows an ancient map of the African continent, stopping at Madagascar, where Île Sainte-Marie is marked.[2] A trailer was unveiled at E3 on June 10, 2014, showcasing the game's concept, returning characters, and setting.[49] The first game cinematic was showcased at E3 on June 16, 2015, depicting a scene in which Nathan and Sully are ambushed by enemies, before making chase to reach Sam.[50] An extended trailer was showcased in private, depicting Nathan reaching Sam, and the two killing and outrunning the enemies on a motorcycle before meeting Sully and Elena;[51] the extended trailer was released on July 1, 2016.[52]

A trailer for the game's online multiplayer mode was released on October 27, 2015, as part of Paris Games Week, depicting its various game modes and features; the multiplayer was playable at the PlayStation Experience in December.[53] Two further multiplayer trailers were also released for the PlayStation Experience on December 3.[54] A game cinematic, introducing Nadine Ross, was shown at The Game Awards on December 4, 2015,[55] followed by an additional clip of Nadine and Sully at the PlayStation Experience on December 5.[56] A cinematic depicting Nathan and Sam's reunion was also showcased at the PlayStation Experience, introducing the game's branching dialogue options.[57] A trailer titled "Man Behind the Treasure" was shown before select screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and published online on December 21, 2015; it features a piano version of the Pixies song "Where Is My Mind?".[58] A behind-the-scenes video of the game, which also played before screenings of Star Wars, was also published.[59]

The game's story trailer, which Druckmann considers "the best trailer in Naughty Dog's history", was released on February 24, 2016.[60] Upon its release, Ubisoft's Aymar Azaïzia noticed the use of a piece of art from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2013); Naughty Dog replaced the art in a new version of the trailer, and released a statement apologizing to Ubisoft.[61] A trailer titled "Heads or Tails", depicting Nathan contemplating his choices, was released on March 25, 2016; it was shown before select screenings of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 10 Cloverfield Lane (both 2016).[62] A trailer for the multiplayer mode Plunder was released on April 22, 2016; it was playable at PAX East on April 22–24.[63] The final pre-launch trailer was released on April 25.[64]

Other marketingEdit

A Sony marketing manager said that Uncharted 4 was "PlayStation's largest ever software investment".[65] A beta for Uncharted 4's multiplayer mode was included with all copies of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, and was available from December 4–13, 2015.[66] An open beta was later available from March 4–7, 2016, to all users.[67] To encourage pre-order sales, Naughty Dog collaborated with several outlets to provide special edition versions of the game. The "Special Edition" includes a Steelbook case, a hardcover art book, and unlock codes for additional content in the multiplayer mode. The "Libertalia Collector's Edition" contained the same content, in addition to a statue of Nathan Drake.[68]

Editions of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End[68]
Features Standard Special Edition Libertalia Collector's Edition
Game Blu-ray disc Yes Yes Yes
Steelbook case No Yes Yes
Mini art book No Yes Yes
Sticker sheet No Yes Yes
Additional content Naughty Dog points No Yes Yes
Multiplayer outfits and skins No No Yes
Nathan Drake statue No No Yes

The game's cover art was unveiled on June 3, 2015, featuring Nathan Drake.[69] Sony released a 500 GB PlayStation 4 console, which includes a copy of the game and a set of Uncharted 4-branded DualShock 4 controllers. A pair of Uncharted 4-themed PlayStation headphones was also released.[70]

Attrition at Naughty DogEdit

An extended crunch schedule of 12-hour and up working days toward the end of development of Uncharted 4 caused significant attrition at Naughty Dog, according to a report by Kotaku's Jason Schreier. 14 out of 20 non-lead designers credited in Uncharted 4 left the company after the game was released, the departure of 70% of the team. Straley was quoted as saying that he "would never want to do Uncharted 4 again... Because now we've lived through that".[71] Straley also left the company shortly after release, following a sabbatical. Schreier suggested that development of Naughty Dog's next project, The Last of Us Part II (2020), was adversely affected and slowed due to the enormous turnover of employees, with few veterans left on the team.[71]

ReferencesEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Todd Stashwick was originally cast as a character in the game, and was involved in the development for six months; he left the project in April 2014, following the departure of Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond from Naughty Dog.[48]

FootnotesEdit

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