Part of what makes Uncharted 2 the game that it is comes down to the process of refining the gameplay experience - polish, as Richard Lemarchand calls it. Part of that involves getting gameplay tested as much as possible. The Naughty Dogs worked on the principle of testing each other's contributions to the game, but a fresh perspective on the work proved to be invaluable.
"In the course of Uncharted 2 we did more play-testing than we'd ever done before, running 15 play-tests over the last 10 months of the project compared with only seven throughout the whole three years of the developed of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune," shares Lemarchand.
"These were formal play-tests with members of the general public who played as much game as we had right through. Play-testing and metric data analysis have always been very important tools for us but they were very important in Uncharted 2 because the complex sequences of gameplay only came together very late in the project and in order to ensure we were not introducing any difficulty spikes we had to scramble to add additional 'sanity check' play-tests right up to just days before gold master."
As the play-testers ran through the game, metric data of their gameplay was phoned home across the Naughty Dog network: elements like how long it took a player to complete a part of the game, or how frequently they died between checkpoints.
"We put that data into a spreadsheet and looked at the maximum, minimum and median values for each point of data, colour-coding cells that had values above certain targets" Lemarchand continues. "Parts of the game that were potentially problematic immediately jumped out at us and we could then look at the gameplay vids we'd recorded during the play-test sessions to investigate each potential problem. One poor player had to play the train level fight 27 times before they finally beat it. That was horrifying when we saw that. Luckily we were able to spot that and fix it."
As the game's development progressed towards its eventual conclusion, levels were locked down and completed in groups rather than the whole game coming "due" on the same date.
"With a game as large as the one we were making it made sense to do this in order to have fewer moving parts as we moved closer to the end of the project," Lemarchand explains. "We'd always planned to have long alpha and beta periods of six weeks each. We simply needed that much polish and bug-fixing time for the game that we'd made and we're firm believers that allocating sufficient polish time can make or break a game's quality."
Uncharted 2 was completed on time and to schedule, with the gold master dispatched on August 20, 2009. The Naughty Dog team is firm in its belief that it has crafted the best game it has ever made, a state of affairs backed up by an enormous amount of Game of the Year awards: 33, when Lemarchand presented at GDC, but now 34 thanks to the addition of the Game Developer Choice Award. At the time of writing, it's gearing up for the BAFTAs in London on 19th March, where it's nominated for nine.
"At some point during the development of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves we started calling it Uncharted 2: Among Friends... just for a laugh really, and to keep ourselves geed up through all of this hard work we were doing," muses Lemarchand.
"But it also meant something deeper, at least it did to me. We work in a fast, loose seat-of-the-pants way that puts an emphasis on our team members taking responsibility for the production and organisation of their own work and the design of the game.
"We encourage our team to stay constructively critical and honest with each other at all times and to always keep an open mind about our design and production process to make sure we're always working in the best ways we can possibly work. We always take the time to listen to each other respectfully and we never make things personal.
"We always have to remember that we're all in it, working together towards the greatness of the game. Working in a way that builds strong collaborative relationships between our team members is the only way we can make a game like Uncharted 2. There is nothing as satisfying of course as the feeling that you're working at your optimal capacity with peers that respect and trust you."
After an intense hour giving his presentation, Richard has one final piece of advice to his fellow game-makers at GDC.
"If you're working on a story game, make sure your game is about something," he says. "Human experience is incredibly varied and complex and when we discuss it in our games with subtlety and nuance, people invest their most personal values and fears and hopes into the experience and it becomes not only more entertaining but more culturally valuable."