Uncharted 3: Interview with Creative Director Amy Hennig

Uncharted 3 Interview Amy Hennig

During the Uncharted 3 ‘Play It First in 3D’ Event, Game Rant was treated to a ton of new Uncharted 3 promotional materials including a multiplayer tournament, tons of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the epic launch trailer for the game.

Not to be out done, many of the Naughty Dog staff was on hand to give gamers their first hand impressions of working on this highly anticipated game, and to answer fan questions.

Among those in attendance was Amy Hennig, Creative Director for Uncharted 3, who was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of our own questions.

While Hennig clearly wanted to avoid spoiling the game’s key moments, she did share her thoughts on the creative process, living up to fan expectations, the game’s villain Katherine Marlowe, and what ideas an Uncharted 4 would explore.


Game Rant: How did you approach this sequel to a property that is so important to so many fans and that has knocked it out of the park with its first two iterations?

Amy Hennig: The mindset is to try and figure out how to give people the same kind of experience that they love and still surprise them. And that’s really the goal with anything; they say ‘art is surprise’, and that sounds really trite but I don’t mean it that way. It’s true; the unexpected within the context of the familiar is what people love the most. They don’t want to feel like they’re completely, like if we changed it up and that characters weren’t themselves and it wasn’t the same type of game, we would have bait and switched everybody.

But at the same time, you’ve still gotta come up with something new. So everything we judge is judged against that metric. A lot of times what happens is that the technology you’re building is only just ready for go time at the end of the project and you’re like “Oh my god we pulled that off,” and then you’re anxious to say, “Well now that we’ve got that in the can, now we can actually build something else.” That was the thought with the whole collapsing high rise in the second game or the train level; the idea that we could do gameplay moving objects with full physic simulation, we thought well how can we do that even bigger and better?

So the two things we started with, before even worrying about story yet, were the cruise ship and the cargo plane, just because they exemplify that kind of spectacle that you might see in an action movie, but doing it in a way that we couldn’t have in Uncharted 1 or 2 because we didn’t have the tech to really do it. So you’re approaching it from that sort of philosophical angle and a very pragmatic angle at the same time.

GR: You have this world and all these beloved characters, but it also has this overrunning theme of deception. Do you ever feel like you’re bound by the confines of keeping your characters likeable or noble, and them not ever being able to step outside themselves?

AH: Well you hope what you do is put some colors in them that we’re bound somewhat by our genre, in a good way. The reason we picked this somewhat pulp adventure is that it has a little bit of a romantic angle to it. No one else was going there; everything else was so cynical and dark and monochromatic, so we thought no one else is making this game we want to play, so we’ll make it. In this genre, the difficult part is that there’s an expectation that the characters are larger than life; people would be so disappointed if these characters suddenly behaved differently. The idea is that characters don’t have to be completely likeable to be relatable; you want to be able to interpret them like real people and make sure that there are some kinds of nuances that you might find in a film. There’s only so far we can go in our genre.

GR: How closely do you work with the actors before you create their story beats? How much collaboration is there before you put anything to paper, or do you think you know the characters the best?

AH: I probably know the characters the best because I live with them the most, but the characters evolve based on who we cast. So the more we work together, it’s been over 5 years now, you can see that a lot of their personalities are in line with the characters. I didn’t know who I was looking for, but watching them and listening to their idiosyncrasies and stories makes them feel much more invested in the dialogue and closer to their characters. I think the idea though is that. It’s hard for me to ask for and idea, but it’s more like I walk into rehearsal day and say this is what we're doing. But the point of rehearsal day is to walk in and tear it apart, and they just start playing with it. And then I go back that night and mush it together, and then I go back the next day and that’s what we shoot. So we don’t start with a blank page together, but we start from the 1st draft.


GR: For each game, you have created villains that are pretty unique. The villains in this game are a completely different take; could you talk more about them? 

AH: Well, what’s hard is, it's hard to do stories in video games to be honest, because you have to honor the fact that it’s a game. You want the villain to reflect or provoke something in your protagonist in a way that reveals something about them. And I felt that because video games have to have guys that you can shoot, it gets a little military, which is fine because you need that for multiplayer, but Lazarevic (the villain from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves) wore his threat externally, and so you felt that just by looking at him. I thought we should do the opposite of that this time. I thought, lets make a villain who is a threat because they can get in your head and know exactly what button to push. And the fact that she’s female creates a different dynamic as well. What it did was let us explore vulnerabilities in Drake that we couldn’t when the villain was an externalized force and let us take the story in a completely different direction.

GR: How do you see the series evolving past the 3rd iteration? What types of ideas would you like to explore with the Uncharted universe?

AH: I’m not sure if we are doing a 4th one; there are lots of decisions to be made there. But what’s nice is that it’s the kind of genre that is meant to be serialized. You can start a new story with the same character. I think I would want to continue exploring facets of Drake that we haven’t seen; how you do that is putting people in his world that inspire or provoke different aspects of his character that we haven’t seen yet. One of the reasons that people are fans is that there is a sort of genuine interest or affection in these fictional characters, and that feels like an incredible responsibility. I can’t make some cavalier decision about what happens next.

As you can see, there is no outright confirmation from Hennig that an Uncharted 4 is even in its earliest stages — although we expect that to change once first-week sales numbers come in.

Now with a little bit of context, and a better understanding of what, at least for Hennig, makes an Uncharted game so fascinating, we hope that gamers who pick up the game tomorrow will hold a greater appreciation for the product they are exploring.

What facets of Nathan Drake’s personality would you like to see a future Uncharted title explore? How do you think the character of Katherine Marlowe stacks up when compared to the franchise’s other villains?

Uncharted 3 releases tomorrow, November 1st, exclusively for the PS3.

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