The history of Uncharted according to Naughty Dog: from inception to Deception

Uncharted 2’s story eventually catches up with itself in a breathless train-crash set-piece that would grace the climax of most action games. And that’s why Naughty Dog built what the team refer to as the ‘Peaceful Village’ – the small Himalayan settlement in which Drake wakes after his ordeal. “The game had come to a real crescendo,” explains Lemarchand, “and we really wanted, having gone all the way up to 11, to bring things back down to a three or a four again, to give the game somewhere to go.”

Lemarchand is proud of this small but memorable section, and was heavily involved in ushering it through development. “The Peaceful Village was very important in setting up the emotion of the next sequence of the game” he says, explaining the work that went into creating that crisp afternoon. The idea being that, “when calamity fell on the village and it was invaded by Lazarevic’s troops, you’d really feel strongly that you wanted to protect it, because you’d seen what an idyllic place it was.”

Lemarchand also reveals a fascinating fact about how gamers reacted to the level during early run-throughs. “I noticed in an early playtest that players were rushing straight up to the first NPC that they saw and swinging a punch at them,” he says. Others might have dismissed the incident as typical of certain gamers, but that’s not the Naughty Dog way. Convinced that his guinea pigs were simply trying to interact with the locals rather than attack them, Lemarchand and his team re-coded the level. “We hooked it up so that if you did swing a punch at the villagers, Drake would shake them by the hand instead – and in subsequent playtests I saw the look of delight on players’ faces when this happened.”

The spectacle of the train and the daring quiet of the village are indicative of the leap Uncharted 2 made over its predecessor, and of Naughty Dog’s ability to blend huge technological triumphs with innovative experiences. This, Lemarchand says, is what he’s proudest of; “the way we worked together as a team to create a game with such diversity, and yet which was so coherent, which hung together so well as a piece of interactive entertainment.”

Naughty Dog, you sense, must be a hell of a place to work. Both North and Lemarchand fall over themselves to give credit to the team during our interviews – to Amy Hennig, Gordon Hunt, Jacob Minkoff, Justin Richmond, Neil Druckmann, Bruce Straley, Eric Baldwin, Taylor Kurosaki and Josh Scherr. Their shout-out-to-minute ratio is the highest on record, and reaches right up to Naughty Dog co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra. “They don’t micro-manage anything; they’re as much part of the process as the heads of the process,” North enthuses. “They can be leaders without being…” “…hierarchical,” Lemarchand interjects. “Without trying to impose structure on people. They’re all about empowering the individual developers at Naughty Dog to do what they know how to do well. It’s such a terrific place to work.”

That explains Lemarchand’s answer when asked what the feeling was among the team on the eve of Uncharted 2’s release. “It came together so beautifully, I think there was a good feeling of quiet confidence,” he remembers. “I have to say that that’s generally been my experience at Naughty Dog. I think we’re very lucky to have each other as team-mates.”

And for all the studio had learned by the end of production on Uncharted 2, and how it had met the challenges of this more complex generation of hardware, the English designer doesn’t think Naughty Dog has changed its core approach. “We’d learned so much in the production of the first two Uncharted games, in terms of our production methodology and the performance capture process, that I think we certainly felt we’d come a long way,” Lemarchand says. “But we kept our essential character, which is to be a studio that keeps striving to reach greater heights of quality, originality and innovation.”