For many Sony gamers, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series delivered some of the most eye-popping and emotional moments of the PlayStation 3 generation – which is why it’s no surprise that PS4 gamers are already anxious for Uncharted 4. Announced on the eve of the PlayStation 4 launch, the Uncharted 4 teaser trailer was short on details but promised a tale of betrayal and revenge, one that would undoubtedly spell trouble for franchise star Nathan Drake and his team of treasure-hunting friends.
While no release date for the game was set, the title was confirmed as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, adding to the console’s list of next-generation first party offerings. However, months later, a number of high profile team members left Naughty Dog, most notably beloved series writer and director Amy Hennig, causing fans to wonder if they should be concerned about what Naughty Dog has planned for Uncharted 4. Now, studio co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra are clearing up rumors that Hennig, who is now working with Visceral Games on a new Star Wars title, was forced out by The Last of Us leads Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann as well as offering a few fresh details on what gamers can expect from Nathan Drake on the PS4.
Speaking with Game Informer, Wells and Balestra debunked prior reports suggesting that Straley and Druckmann were responsible for Hennig’s exit – asserting that several creative leads, writers, and even co-founders left the studio during the last generation. The pair added that any departures are not “statistically significant,” meaning that while certain news outlets were insinuating a mass exodus, the recent change-ups were just business as usual at the studio – where employees come and go (just like any other company).
Wells and Balestra do not (and have not) offered a clear explanation for Hennig’s exit and, no doubt, there’s probably more to it than they’re indicating here; still, they maintain the Uncharted 4 development schedule will not be affected by the changes. Assisting in the transition, Straley and Druckmann have taken a break from planning a Last of Us sequel (or all new IP) to oversee Uncharted 4 production.
Understandably, the news will only add fuel to speculation that the pair had a hand in Naughty Dog parting with Hennig but, rumors aside, The Last of Us directors are a fitting choice for Nathan Drake’s next adventure – since both of them have worked on Uncharted series entries before: Druckmann wrote on Uncharted 1 and 2 (and was a lead designer on Uncharted 2), while Straley was art director on Uncharted 1 and game director on Uncharted 2.
Speaking about the choice to shift Straley and Druckmann onto Uncharted 4, Wells and Balestra indicated that it was a natural decision, since much of the pair’s Last of Us team was already assigned to the next Uncharted project – promising that worried (or angry) players can rest easy, since Naughty Dog games are a collaborative effort:
Wells: I think it’s important for everybody to understand something that we’ve said all along: Everything here at Naughty Dog is done as a team effort across the board. Everybody has a huge creative input into everything that’s done. We never have operated on the “auteur philosophy” in any of our games in our 30-year history, where it’s just led by one person and if you remove that head it’ll come to a grinding halt. That’s not how we operate. So this is, again, business as usual.
Balestra: You know us. You know every time we talk about this to you, we talk about the team. There’s a reason for that. It’s not because we want to sound nice; that’s really how we work here. We don’t feel like we have changed. We feel we’re still the same. We have a crazy amount of talent on this floor and they’re really great at what they do. I think the best way to prove it is just to show people. Don’t worry – we’re doing great. Making a game, before anything else, is a team effort. And the team is –
Wells: Still here.
As for what gamers can expect from Uncharted 4, which many hope to see demoed at the upcoming E3 2014, Wells remained tight-lipped on the finer details but promised a “new way” to experience the characters and world of Nathan Drake:
Wells: We sure hope you’re surprised by how amazing it looks! It’s going to be an exciting story, and I think people are going to really buy into this one in a way that I think is consistent with the rest of the stories. It’s a stand-alone adventure like all of them are; we don’t expect people to have played the past games to enjoy the current one. But you’re going to get to experience Drake and his crew in a new way.
In the interview, Wells and Balestra reiterate a design philosophy that has been touted at the studio every time a new title is in development – specifically that the team is inspired by challenges. For Uncharted 2, the studio championed realistic water and wave physics, for Uncharted 3 it was ensuring that sand particles behaved naturally, and on the Last of Us, Naughty Dog focused on building a believable relationship between the player and an AI counterpart.
As a result, it will be exciting to see what challenges the studio intends to conquer for Uncharted 4 and Wells’ comment, “experience Drake and his crew in a new way,” certainly indicates that the next game has bigger ambitions than simply improving the visuals (again) by bringing Drake to the PS4 hardware.
It remains to be seen whether that “new way” is indicative of the story, which features a former ally or adversary left to “rot” for 15 years, and could show gamers a fresh (and darker) side to Drake – or, instead, is representative of a major next-gen feature that could drastically alter the series’ gameplay format. Without question, the power of the PS4 should open up a lot of new possibilities for the Naughty Dog team, both in terms of storytelling and design; still, while information is scarce, gamers should expect to get new details next week (from the time of this writing), when Sony hits the stage and show floor at E3 2014.
MORE: Uncharted 4 Teaser Trailer
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Uncharted 4 does not currently have an official release date but will launch exclusively on the PS4.
Source: Game Informer