Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is shaping up to be a breathtakingly beautiful finale to the Uncharted series. I was recently invited to preview the game, experiencing its Madagascan plains and getting the chance to talk about the series with Naughty Dog’s Director of Communications, Arne Meyer.
One of the first things you noticed about the game is how mesmerising the game’s world and graphics are. The plains were breathtakingly huge as there were moments when I could undoubtedly see the foreboding volcano in the distance as I drove through the lush desert jungle and climbed up muddy steep hills.
“We try to make [the environments] so grounded in the real world, even though everything’s stylised and we’re trying to avoid the uncanny valley feeling”, he said. “We want to make it immersive in the real world [by] having an attention to detail – things like the gas can rattling in the Jeep or the gear shift; but also having flowers and grass and the world starting to feel like this is a real environment rather than a game environment”.
“We’ve seen Madagascar – the plains and city – [and] there’s been a few glimpses of [Drake] being underwater and indoors in our story trailer”, said Meyer. “We’re definitely trying to put Drake in many different circumstances and environments as we can”.
“[In] the previous games, while [Drake] did travel a lot it was generally focused in one direction”, he said. “With what we can do with the power of the PlayStation 4 and Bluray and the fact that our story really give[s] us the opportunity to travel around the world, we’re trying to really provide a huge variety of environments”.
There’s a great sense of scale to A Thief’s End. I found myself getting sidetracked by slow cinematic pans of the area with flocks of birds flying in the air with the sun glistening against the golden brown mud, the wind blowing against the tall grass that I would soon plough through in my Jeep.
“[The car] is another tool for exploration, puzzle solving and traversal that we’re trying to introduce”, said Meyer.
The Uncharted series has always allowed some form of vehicle movement but said sequences have often felt boxed in and restricted. Uncharted 4’s Madagascan plains were a vast playground for Drake to drive through, traversing up slippery mountains by driving over hard surfaces like rocks – I even found myself stuck in a pool of mud at one point and had to winch the car to a nearby tree to free myself.
Meyer confirmed that the Jeep may not play a huge role in the game with only a few areas being as broad and expansive to allow for vehicular exploration.
“Some of the environments are going to feel a lot smaller because we’re doing a service to the narrative at that point”, he said. “There will be environments that’ll feel quite big but that might be because you’ll be on foot”.
“Our goal is to take you to areas and make them as broad and expansive as possible given our game design and narrative goals…”, he said. “…In the [Madagascar] section, every time you swing around [the environment], that volcano is always in the background. We’re always driving you towards a point”.
“Our goal is to take you to areas and make them as broad and expansive as possible given our game design and narrative goals…”
Much like the earlier Uncharted games and how they pushed the graphical capabilities of the PlayStation 3 in its early, adult and final years, Meyer believes A Thief’s End is pushing the boundaries of the PlayStation 4.
“[The game] is 48 gigabytes and it’s really pushing the amount of space we have on a dual Bluray”, said Meyer. “We’re trying to pack so much detail into everything”.
“There’s an incredible amount of textures and animations [in the game]”, He continued. “We’re trying to increase the fidelity and level of detail in everything that we can”.
The team were also able to take things that the player could only previously do individually as a combined action by the power of the new console’s technology.
“[With the Jeep, in earlier Uncharted games] you would only be able to be in the vehicle but weren’t able to drive or use it as part of problem solving”, he said. “We’re able to layer everything on top of [one] another [like with] the grappling hook, which you can now use in combat and when traversing the land”.
“There’s an incredible amount of textures and animations [in the game] We’re trying to increase the fidelity and level of detail in everything that we can”
Meyer also described the team’s experiences working with voice acting veterans Nolan North and Troy Baker.
“They’re basically two sides of the same coin”, he said. “ It was one of those kind of [situations] where you have two people who can be really quite adaptable and be a real chameleon; and letting them loose on these characters was amazing”.
“When we first started working with Troy in The Last of Us, he was basically Nolan Jr. at the time – he was really adept at voices, he was up and coming in the industry
[but] had already done some work in animation, particularly anime”, He continued. “He was basically a younger cardboard cutout of Nolan North so [the two] got to know each other really well in just being part of the industry”.
Meyer also commented on the genuine chemistry between the actors and characters.
“We really take care of the background of these characters and we work so hard on making these characters believable”, he said. “We hire actors who have chemistry with the existing actors as a part of our process for everything to start feeling really natural”.
“It really comes out in the performances, both in terms of how we capture everything in the same room – the physical certainty, the reactions to each other and ad-lib moments where you feel like, ‘oh these characters belong with each other’.”
Naughty Dog feel a lack of grief despite the long emotional journey they’ve gone through with the Uncharted series.
“It’s funny – there’s a part of it where it’s interesting knowing we’re closing the chapter here and the journey across these four games but because it’s a really great story, it [has] felt like we’re just making another awesome adventure”, Meyer said. “When you see the ending there is a feeling of how things are wrapping up so you feel that gravity behind it but as we were in the middle of developing it we were [just] wrapped up in creating a great story”.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is expected to release on the PlayStation 4 on the 10th May.
This feature was first published on the 11th of April 2016 by Press Start Australia.