Another example of game systems being tightened across the board came about through Naughty Dog's multiplayer code. Genuine concerns from gamers about the single-player experience suffering owing to the inclusion of network play turned out to be unfounded based on the quality of the final product. Indeed, from the team's perspective, incorporating multiplayer added to the polish of the single-player experience.
"Some internet-posting fans of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune were concerned that our single-player game would suffer as a result of the attention that we'd have to give our multiplayer game," remembers Lemarchand. "Even though we did have to do a lot of hard work to realise our ambitions it turned out that the multiplayer actually helped the single-player game.
"We had to tighten up the player mechanics and make them a lot snappier once we'd got them into the multiplayer context. That actually fed back into the single-player game and gave it a much better, tighter feel. These are the kind of synergies we love to find when we're building a game and we're always on the lookout for them."
The basics of the multiplayer mode were incredibly straightforward - Drake's move-set from the single-player game was dropped straight into the new networked modes and as Lemarchand notes, "it immediately felt right". The baseline net code itself was written by one of the Naughty Dog co-presidents, adding to his already considerable workload.
"Christophe Balestra wrote all of our networking code in-house from the ground up," shares Richard Lemarchand. "He gave us a very solid base to build our multiplayer game on and he was able to support us throughout the whole of development even though he had a lot of other responsibilities."
Naughty Dog hired a dedicated multiplayer designer in August 2008, and as the multiplayer game took shape, half-hour playtests were scheduled daily in the Naughty Dog kennel, with the whole office invited to participate.
"The short, often very heated discussions that would take part after the playtests were vital in helping refine the multiplayer gameplay and troubleshooting," notes a smiling Lemarchand.
Co-op missions set in what the team call "alternate realities" of existing single-player missions were also scheduled, but this only came about some time into full production and in retrospect, the Naughty Dog team felt that at this point maybe they were beginning to push themselves too far in terms of the torturous workload. As 2009's E3 drew closer, the developers started to feel the harsh realities of getting stages of the game in a state fit enough for public consumption.
"About two months out from E3 last year we started to organise what we were going to show at the event," Lemarchand remembers. "We had two big deliverables: a playable demo of a section of the game in our fictional Nepalese city and a movie-style trailer that would show a lot of different parts of the game.
"However, while we had started work on everything we wanted to show, a lot of the assets and gameplay were going to need a great deal of polish if they were going to be as impressive to E3 attendees as we wanted them to be. We often do this with our projects at Naughty Dog: using a deadline showing our game to the public to drive production. The raw terror this inspires certainly gets us to buckle down to some serious polish!"
The E3 demo of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of the undoubted highlights of the Sony presser, notable in that instead of relying on canned footage, Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells gave what Richard Lemarchand describes as "an amazingly sure-footed live drive" on stage during the event. The accompanying trailer that was released at the event also put the scale of the task in finishing the game into perspective for the developers.
"The next time you watch that E3 trailer, bear in mind that the things you see in there were almost the only things finished to that level of polish," shares Lemarchand. "If the camera had turned just a metre to the left or the right, you'd have seen behind the scenes - and not in a very good way. Making the demo and trailer was very useful. It told us exactly how much work we'd have to do to get it up to a level of polish we were happy with. We found out that was a lot of work."
Despite the long hours being put in by the Naughty Dog team, the scale of the task facing the team remained colossal.
"It was around this time in June 2009 that we realised how much game we'd bitten off. We'd either have to chew extra hard or make some cuts. Or choke," says Lemarchand.
"Between multiplayer, co-op and the single-player mode, we'd been really ambitious, probably over-ambitious. In particular, even though we'd tried to plan for them, the set-pieces in single-player mode took much longer to create and polish than we'd anticipated. Putting them together was immensely difficult - far worse than some of us had experienced even in our most brutal crunches."
Naughty Dog's solution was to streamline the game without unduly affecting its flow.
"We set about seeing where we could make some cuts and reduce the scope of the game," explains Lemarchand. "We managed to make layout reductions to several levels early enough that we hadn't invested that much in terms of art resources in the affected levels. We'd also lived with the prototype block mesh versions of the levels long enough that we could see fairly clearly what we should keep and what we should cut."
There's no mandated crunch at Naughty Dog, but as Richard puts it, "we have hired people with personality types that make them hard-working, willing to accept responsibility, and perfectionist."
Downtime became a very precious and rare commodity as the Uncharted 2 development cycle drew to a close and lessons were learned in how the team plans to approach the final months of its next game.
"While we don't think we'll ever be a studio that works nine-to-five year round, we do take the threat that crunch presents to the integrity of the studio and the wellbeing of the Naughty Dogs very seriously," observes Lemarchand.
"We're continuing to discuss ways so that we can avoid ever having to repeat the experience of Uncharted 2 in terms of the toll that the project's crunch took. We know that we have to become more disciplined about setting and hitting internal targets as well as external ones to get more traction on our projects earlier. We're going to try other approaches like putting mandatory limits on the amount of time people can spend at the office."