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.
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.