The history of Uncharted according to Naughty Dog: from inception to Deception
In issue 64 of Official PlayStation Magazine UK Nathan Ditum sat down with Uncharted star Nolan North and lead game designer Richard Lemarchand to talk about the history of the series. From it’s inception, and through its development to the present day. This is what they had to say…
It’s a little-known fact that Nolan’s been in every videogame released since Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.” Richard Lemarchand, the eloquent lead game designer of Uncharted 3, is teasing the smooth, smart-mouthed star of his game, Nolan North, for also being the star of many others. North is joining in: “I’m Lara Croft. I’m Mario. I’m characters who don’t even speak.”
The pair have an unexpected chemistry, Lemarchand’s effusive British wit complementing North’s dry one-liners. Above all, as they speak to us about the origins and crafting of the Uncharted series, they’re enjoying themselves – and reflect frequently on the importance of having fun while creating entertainment. Before all that, though, we start with a question.
“Where did the name come from?” Lemarchand repeats after us, trying to remember the first time he heard the monicker that’s become so central to his career. “It was probably Amy Hennig,” he continues, crediting the series’ story guru and creative director. “Yeah,” agrees North. “Amy had the idea that it was a descendant of Sir Francis Drake.”
This was back in 2005, after Lemarchand had spent a decade at Crystal Dynamics with Hennig, making games such as Gex and the ambitious Soul Reaver, and just as Sony was gearing up to unleash its hugely anticipated follow-up to PlayStation 2. “I was working on Jak X: Combat Racing at the time, which was kind of a transition project for us,” Lemarchand says. “A few of Naughty Dog were working on the very early stages of development on the game that became Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. We knew it as ‘Project Big’.”
Richard Lemarchand, lead designer
At the very beginning, Drake didn’t even have a first name. “I remember the email thread, where people were suggesting different ideas – like John, for a kind of generic feel,” says Lemarchand. “But Nathan eventually felt like the right kind of name for the guy.”
What was always certain was the platform that the game was intended for. “It was always going to be for Sony’s next-generation games machine, which we knew was called PlayStation 3,” Lemarchand continues. “But we didn’t know the full story of the hardware. We knew ballpark figures of what it would be able to do, and we started planning for this huge jump forwards in terms of graphical fidelity.
We also started planning, of course, for how we were going to evolve the kind of gameplay that Naughty Dog has always been interested in – character-action games that, as closely as they can, integrate terrific cinematic action with really great, classic gameplay.”
Nolan North, the voice of Nathan Drake
At this stage, most of Naughty Dog was still concentrating on Jak X, making sure that the studio delivered “something really great”, Lemarchand says, for what it knew would be its last PS2 title. When he stepped over to Project Big, the team was still tiny. “If you count Evan Wells – one of our co-presidents – and Amy Hennig, I think there would have been six of us altogether. They had laid a really solid foundation, the idea of this contemporary reimagining of the great pulp action-adventure tropes. We really hit the ground running.”