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PS3 Fanboy interviews Uncharted's Amy Hennig

[Update: We're currently revising a few mishaps that occured during the transcription of the interview. Please stay tuned for an updated interview. Sorry for the mishap!]
Amy Hennig, lead designer of the upcoming PS3 adventure game Uncharted, sat down with PS3 Fanboy to talk about her upcoming game. Inspired by the old Indiana Jones of yore, she wants to bring much more than "Tomb Raider with a guy."

Uncharted is Naughty Dog's most ambitious title yet. Although its scale is larger than any previous game for the team, has anything been lost during the game's development?
Always. You start off with a very ambitious plan, and think "well, that would've been nice," but "we'll do this." But, I think unless you shoot for the stars, you don't get here. I think there's a lot of features that we're going to include in the next one, if there is a next one. I'd like to do a lot more with physics, a greater variety of gameplay.

Would you consider Uncharted to be an interactive movie?
Well, that's got a stigma to it, doesn't it? When people say "interactive movie," it seems like it's not really an interactive game. We try to steer away from that. We sometimes try to steer away from the word "cinematic" because its pejorative. I think it's a video game: it's a video, and you play it. Hopefully, we straddled those definitions that people can appreciate.

Gallery: Uncharted

You get sex and love in movies, but not in video games.
Well you haven't seen the whole thing! There could be sex in there! In the grand finale? The thing is, it's hard. Games are supposed to fit an "E for Everyone" mentality, or that they're toys. On the other hand, some of the things I see people put in games is gratuitous. It's like, "oh well, we're all grown up now" so we can swear and be gratuitously violent or sexual. It's just juvenile. So what I'm more proud of is that we're trying to tell an actual mature, in the proper sense of the word, story. There's some depth and some credibility. It's the same kind of story that you would write for television or film. Not just because it's a game -- it's not written as a game. I think there's some subtlety to the characters and the way they interact that people don't really see in video games.

I think one of the ways we accomplished that was our process. We hired not only voice actors, but because you need that skill, but were also on-camera actors and were willing to do the mo-cap. It was a huge job, and we worked with them for over a year. It's almost been a full-time job. What they brought to it was a sort of realism and authenticity that you would only see in a stage play or a scene in a film. They modified the lines, and improvised, or stumbled on each other's lines. You wouldn't have gotten that if you didn't act out the lines as if it were a stage play, and I haven't seen that in a game yet myself so I'm very proud of that.

How much would a project like this cost?
You know what, I probably don't know. I don't want to know, it would probably make me sick. We're talking two digit million -- over $20 million.

Many people have been calling this game the male version of Tomb Raider. What do you have to say to that?
I get that all the time. It's the silliest thing, isn't it? What blows me away is that there's somehow room for only one adventure game in video games. Especially when we see so many first person shooters and military shooters and WWII shooters, and nobody says "this is another just a such-and-such." It's such a rich tradition, the action adventure genre, and there's so much room for different interpretations of it. Even on face value, he's a completely different character -- and that's something we set out to do. We wanted to make him a more ordinary guy; she really is a completely aspirational fantasy, which isn't a negative thing. It's just a choice. She's sort of perfectly acrobatic and graceful. Our guy gets stumbles around, and sweats, gets dirty, swears, and gets afraid, and gets pissed off. Our game is a lot more about that visceral hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay, with a tone that is nothing like Tomb Raider's, which is much more about exploration and solitude in a way. Once again, I love those games. It's not a criticism. It feels almost dismissive when people say "It's just another Tomb Raider game."

As a game director, do you have to get involved with any of the coding?
I couldn't do any coding, if my life depdended on it. They wouldn't let me near it! I'd ruin the whole thing.

How did you start your career in game design?
My background was virtually in art, but when I say art, I'm talking about 1989. I'm talking about little pixel men, so art with quotes around it. And then I quickly moved into game design. It's been kind of pseudo art direction and game design for most of my career, about eighteen years. It's management, but someone's got to keep a holistic eye on the whole project, make sure all the disciplines are working together to create something that'll actually have a gestalt to it. Everyone's focusing on their piece, so the director's job is to make sure all the pieces fit together.

What feedback have you taken from the E3 build?
We love when we can see people's feedback. It's far more valuable to get critical feedback than to hear any praise, in many ways. That's why we have a lot of focus testing in-house and out of house. We read everything when we have a public demo of the game. Obviously, we've adjusted the aiming settings quite a bit, and aiming assistance. We've changed the enemy AI and how they interact with the aiming, so they're not fighting the player's controls. We added variety to the enemy behavior, and some dynamic difficulty adjustment. We added some new weapons, like the sniper rifle. I think the main things we got out of the feedback was with the gunplay and the aiming.

You mentioned dynamic difficulty. Does that mean the game will adjust its difficulty automatically?
Yeah, so that it always maintain a challenge for the player. We want it to be a satisfying experience for all players, so that it's not punishingly difficult for some, and not ridiculously easy for others. It's a tricky thing to come up with the right algorithms to work that out and make it feel fair and right. If we can get that fine tuning right, it'll be a satisfying experience for everyone.

How much gameplay are you aiming for in the final game?

Well, there's a lot of accomplishments the gamer can unlock and share with the online community. Like, how fast you get through certain areas or how many one-hit kills, things like that. There's also hidden treasures in the game and seek out. If we do our job right, then people will hopefully want to go back and play it again.

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Reader Comments

(Page 1)

1. I'm going to be so broke come november!! LoL This game looks like its got some serious fun factor to it!! I can't wait!

Posted at 11:53AM on Sep 15th 2007 by Byron517

2. If I could have only one game this fall(ya right) it would be this one.

Market this to death Sony, Market this to death its a system seller!

~Also I love the idea of dynamic difficulty. As long as you can override it (make it easier or harder) than I think its great.


Posted at 12:01PM on Sep 15th 2007 by Andy

3. @2

Alright ANDY!! LoL I just bought my new Sony SXRD 1080p 50 inch and im' loving it!! You should see Heavenly Sword on that bad boy!! LoL

Posted at 12:04PM on Sep 15th 2007 by Byron517

4. "Well, there's a lot of accomplishments the gamer can unlock and share with the online community. Like, how fast you get through certain areas or how many one-hit kills, things like that. There's also hidden treasures in the game and seek out. If we do our job right, then people will hopefully want to go back and play it again."

Hints at Home achievements...Hopefully since this game is set for Novemember 29th release and should be around the time that Home puclic/invite beta is out.

Posted at 12:29PM on Sep 15th 2007 by haiddasalami

5. this is a big game for me too, definitely a reason to own a PS3

Posted at 12:49PM on Sep 15th 2007 by doug

6. I was looking at that tv but it would be too big for my room. By the way anyone looking for a tv this is the time because they are clearing out all last years models to make way for this years models. And most of the models arn't that different.

Posted at 12:54PM on Sep 15th 2007 by Andy

7. This game sounds awesome. I's curious about a non obscene hot coffee bonus. ^_^

Posted at 1:20PM on Sep 15th 2007 by ruibing

8. chiming in on the tv thing. i have a dell 2407 wfp monitor. it costs ~$550 and has a resolution of 1920x1200. 1080p and amazingly sharp and beautiful with the ps3, and a huge monitor for my laptop to hook up to. 24" i can't recommend it enough. even has hdcp so you can watch blu ray in 1080p

Posted at 2:45PM on Sep 15th 2007 by chaod

9. With all this talk about 1080p, I feel ashamed of my 32' 720p :(

Posted at 4:07PM on Sep 15th 2007 by J_Swayze

10. Im getting this. Another suprising title that came out of nowhere.

Posted at 5:44PM on Sep 15th 2007 by heh

11. @10

Came out of nowhere. This one was of the reasons I got a PS3 over a Wii or 360. And I got my PS3 in December.

Posted at 6:02PM on Sep 15th 2007 by Andy

12. @11

Sorry I am really on edge right now. Ever since the 1.93 update I cannot connect my PS3 online. Whats even more maddening is the demo I was downloading is at 98% and I cannot download it because the internet isn;

Posted at 6:12PM on Sep 15th 2007 by Andy

13. is this game going to have online matches or just online leaderboards and achievements also anyone know how long the game is? and lastly what makes this a system seller or such a great game i think its a bit boring but then again i havent played it so take my opinion with a grain of salt. for me the only system seller on the ps3 is GOW3 and MGS4 if i didnt already have a ps3 that is oh and final fantasy , and a great old game legend of the dragoon on the psx wich they should remake on the ps3 in glorious 720p (cause i dont have 1080p :( damn it)

Posted at 6:51PM on Sep 15th 2007 by gone with the wind

14. @12

Do you by chance have a Linksys router? I had to scrap my WRT54Gv8 Linksys after the 1.93 update. It simply was not working with my PS3, and it wasnt all that reliable prior to the update.

I ended up ordering a Cisco 851W ... I am tired of dealing with low quality and feature limited consumer market routers. Obviously its not a good solution for everyone, but I work with Cisco equipment on a daily basis so it should be great for me.

Posted at 6:54PM on Sep 15th 2007 by JerJerBinks

15. Reading her talk about this, I'm very excited, because someone is at the controls who is aware of the need for more thematic elements and the kind of character development and interaction that we have traditionally seen in films, in gameplay RPG's come to mind... of course, these guys are pros at epic-story action games, but it feels like they've confidently stepped up to next-gen.

I especially like what she said about difficulty-- this is another new-gen thing, I'm not aware in the past that we could do that, except for a setting of easy/medium/art, another thing I see more with new games that really is making games a lot funner, for me.

So dynamic difficulty sounds great-- I'm so through with games where you have to do something 10-15 tries to get past it, by that point the story is ruined. Having this with Ratchet and Clank Future in the library is going to be a very sweet thing.

Posted at 11:25PM on Sep 15th 2007 by John

16. @ JerJerBinks

I have a linksys router WRT54Gv5, and at first the router owned my PS3. But then i found that if you open the right ports, and keep... sorta... resetting waiting, and crossing your fingers, it might work =P. Thats what happened to me! Haha.

Posted at 1:41AM on Sep 16th 2007 by Dahk

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