The history of Uncharted according to Naughty Dog: from inception to Deception
While the early development went smoothly, there were new challenges for the team. The cartoon-style visuals of Naughty Dog’s previous games – most notably Crash Bandicoot and Jak And Daxter – had all been hand-animated. But Uncharted’s sophisticated mix of story and gameplay required something else, and for the first time the studio was getting involved with motion capture and live actors. Fortunately, one of those actors had a little experience.
“I’d done NBA ‘06: Featuring The Life for Sony,” says North, before a quizzical look leads him to add, “Yeah – I wasn’t the one actually dunking the ball.” Instead, North was the “Jerry Maguire-type agent” leading the player-character through a career from rookie to all-star. “This one was ahead of its time,” he says, speaking highly of NBA director Brandon Akiaten, now a producer on ModNation Racers. “He was a film student, a really great guy with a great mind for games. But Uncharted went to a whole different realm.”
To secure passage to that realm, North first had to audition. Even this initial part of the process signalled that Uncharted would be different. “For most videogames you go in, and you lay down a voice and they’ll show you some pictures. I walked in and there were a bunch of people in this small space, no bigger than this room,” he says, waving his arms around the cosy games setup we’re sat in at Sony’s UK HQ in London.
The crowd included Hennig, Gordon Hunt – a veteran TV and film director who’d also worked on Soul Reaver – and some executives from Sony. “I remember looking around going, ‘Well, where’s the script?’ and they were going, ‘No, we just want you to kinda…’ I didn’t know I was supposed to be off-the-page, so I had no idea what I was doing.” Even so, the actor made it through to the next stage.
“Fortunately, whatever I did at the first audition got me to the second one,” he says. “I remember just being in a great mood – I understood what it was. They were inviting me to play, which was the most interesting thing. And I did – at one point I ran across the room and slid. I remember it was a hardwood floor, a dance studio-type thing, at the Sony offices in Santa Monica. I had a pretend gun – it was like being a kid again.”
Although Lemarchand wasn’t part of the Uncharted team at this point (“I was probably still tuning racecars for Jak X”) he does remember seeing Nolan for the first time, on a tape of these auditions. “I had faith in the guys, always, that they’d find really terrific people,” he says of his initial reaction to the casting. “And it was just one of many points where you could really see the project gelling, all the way down the line.”
While Nolan was a veteran of videogames and, in the eyes of Hennig, a natural fit for Nathan Drake, the casting of love interest Elena was rather more unexpected. “The most interesting part of it was that Emily Rose was the reader,” remembers North. “She wasn’t even in consideration at the time – she was just reading with anyone who came in.”
Rose played through the script with North and the pair worked so well together that she was hired ahead of everyone officially auditioning. “Her career’s really taken off,” says Lemarchand, referring to Rose’s lead role in US television drama Haven. “And I think the chemistry that emerged – probably in that audition – between the two of you was a big part of the success of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.”