Santa Monica-based game studio Naughty Dog has a reputation for creating very cinematic experiences, from the moody drama of The Last of Us to the fast-paced adventure of the Uncharted series. Unlike more recent titles with very detailed and “next-gen” characters, such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the hero of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End isn’t a scan of an actor but a fully invented creation who had to be sculpted into an older, more world-weary Nathan Drake by a team of designers, artists and animators.
For anyone interested in the fine details of game development (or anyone who just wants to know how they get Nathan’s chest hair to blow majestically in the wind), it’s worth taking an hour out to watch the ‘Modeling Nathan Drake’ panel from Sony’s recent PlayStation Experience event, which gets very up close and personal with the Nathan Drake that was seen in the recent gameplay video and the game’s first trailer.
From Nathan’s iconic half-tuck to the new wrinkles in his face when he smiles or pouts, the panel is a pretty fascinating look at the process of creating a video game character, from the initial concept art to the finalized 3D model that was handed off to the animators. As lead character artist Frank Tzeng notes, it won’t always be possible to see all of this detail in-game since lighting conditions won’t always allow for it, so the behind-the-scenes video footage presented at the panel is the best possible opportunity to see every pore and wrinkle (the team are a big fan of wrinkles, in both clothing and skin).
Admittedly there’s something appealing in just having an excuse to stare at drops of sweat on Nathan Drake’s neck for a while, but the panel also included some interesting insight into the thought process behind making a game character look “cinematic.” For example, Nathan’s clothes and holster are designed specifically not to stand out too much or distract from the character’s face and what he’s doing in the context of the story. One holster was rejected for looking too complicated, since while it might make for great cosplay it would divert the player’s attention too much in-game.
It’s somewhat fascinating that so much effort and detail was put into this aspect of design while simultaneously trying to ensure that players wouldn’t consciously register any of it. The costume design in shows like The Walking Dead and movies like The Bourne Identity is cited as an inspiration, due to how natural the clothes look on the characters. While an argument can be made against the drive to make video games look and feel more like movies, there’s definitely a niche for that and Uncharted 4 looks like it could hit that niche perfectly.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is set to release next year for PS4.