Interview with Uncharted novel’s Chris Golden
It seems no amount of Uncharted Material can sate fan’s appetites. We caught up with Christopher Golden, whose new novel Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth takes Drake on yet another globe-trotting adventure, and spoke with him about inspiration, Naughty Dog’s input and more.
Official PlayStation Magazine UK: What inspired you to choose the Uncharted series?
Christopher Golden: That’s sort of the reverse of how it usually works in a case like this – the publisher who had acquired the rights from Naughty Dog approached me. Having done a number of high profile media tie-in gigs over the years I’m approached fairly regularly for things like this and 99% of the time I say no. But in this case, I’d been intrigued by Uncharted. I hadn’t played the game at that point and when they called me I immediately said ‘let me go play this game!’ I went and played, and totally loved them. What I loved – and the reason I said yes – was that I felt really strongly the people who were writing and designing the game shared a lot of the pop cultural touchstones and literary touchstones that I have in my favourite frame of reference. So that’s what turned me on – the historical, folkloric and pulp adventure elements of the story all weaved together and hit my sweet spot. It was one of the things, like ‘I’ve got to say yes to this.’
OPM UK: How involved were Naughty Dog in the process?
CG: At the beginning, I gave a plot outline and then we had this conference call where Amy Hennig (Naughty Dog creative director) and my editor and chatted. We went back and forth on the elements of my idea to make sure I didn’t do certain things, to steer clear of elements that would be too close to the games, and obviously there are rules of what I can and can’t do with Nate and Sully. The best part of that call was how compatible we were. It was such a great, smooth process. I had email contact with Amy throughout if I had questions. The best part of it was getting a message after reading the manuscript and she talked about how happy she was to have gone on an adventure with Nate and Sully where she didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
OPM UK: The three existing games already contain so much back-story – it must have been a complicated process fitting in the elements of the story you created with the games?
CG: The unique challenge was to try to invent something that could stand apart so that this story could take place between games two and three, or it could take place prior to one. Wherever the reader wants to slot it, that’s okay. That was the challenge, to create something that would be similar in tone and spirit and feel like the game, but also get a little bit more into the characters while not mimicking. Yet, also, try to invent something that would stand on its own, have its own characters, its own setup. The difficult thing with any tie-in is it’s like borrowing someone else’s favourite toys. You can do anything you want with them, but you have to put them back in the box the way you found them. And that means that there are a lot of things I couldn’t do and couldn’t say with the characters. Anything to do with their personal history that hadn’t been created by Naughty Dog or approved by Naughty Dog, I could not invent. And that’s the difficult thing. Yet I was able to give a little bit more depth I think to the relationship between Drake and Sully, and a few hints of other elements in Sully’s life or relationships of his that are introduced in here that are new to the universe; that was fun.
OPM UK: The locations in the book are as exotic if not more than those in the games – how important were those location choices to you?
CG: Well part of that was plot driven. Once I knew what the story was going to be, there were certain places in the world where the historically accurate ‘ancient labyrinth’ spots would be, so we had to visit those locations. And frankly, the beauty of things like this is, when you’re doing research on labyrinths and you find that one of the historical labyrinths was apparently in the ‘city of crocodiles’ in Egypt… well, you’re gonna use that. The place was called Crocodilopolis – you can’t not use that! That was great, there were a lot of things like that that came together. However at the same time it was very important to me that we had certain locales that were unlike things that had been done in the previous games. I don’t want to get into too much detail because the final big set-piece locale is a destination I’d rather leave the readers to discover.
OPM UK: Games and novels tell stories in very different ways. Did you feel you had to match the game’s level of action and gunplay, or focus more on adventure and relationships?
CG: The interesting thing about the Uncharted games is that they’re so very cinematic. There’s so much more depth and texture and story to unravel than in typical videogames. What I’ve done is given breathing room into a story- I do believe you could take the fourth labyrinth and make it into a game – I don’t think it’d be difficult at all. But a lot of the down time, the interstitial material that’s done in one cinematic that takes 30 seconds in a game takes two chapters to really explore, and flesh out, and figure out how the characters feel about things and get the description on the page that you’d see in one second of looking at the game. It isn’t a question I don’t think of there being less action in the novel, I think we had more time and space to breathe into it all of the other things around the action. And as far as whether I felt any pressure to include those scenes – not at all. When you’re telling a story that’s about these characters and you’re dealing with one of their adventures and the dangers involved those action scenes… anyone who tries to write a full-length story about these characters that doesn’t involve people shooting things and interesting ruins and exploration and traps and treasures and things like that clearly doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing!
OPM UK: Was there anything you wanted to include in your story that got a flat refusal?
CG: There were some things I was hoping to do with the character’s history and their relationships that I was asked not to do for the reasons that we discussed before. If those things are going to be discussed, they’re going to want to do them in game – do them themselves. But otherwise no, again the touchstones of the conversation, the characters and the books and the pulp and movies that influenced the games are very much things that I loved to begin with. I majored in history in college and I’ve been writing folklore-related stories for 20 years as a professional and so these things are sort of my life blood. So no, although there are other stories that I came up with that I would like to do with these characters in the future if the opportunity presented itself.
Christopher Golden has written books in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars and Hellboy series. His new novel, Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth is available now.
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