Naughty Dog's Evan Wells Finished
Hello and welcome to Eurogamer's Live Text Interview with Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells! Unfortunately you're a bit late for the actual interview, but never mind because you can read over the entire transcript below and see what the Uncharted developer had to say about a whole host of things, including the possibility of Jak for PS3. And why he hasn't got a proper job yet.
Don't leave it there either - turn your attention to the latest Eurogamer TV Show for more on Uncharted.
Our live coverage has now ended. Here's what you missed: Updating...
Tom Super Moderating Hero Bramwell: Hello everyone! Evan's ready to start, and will get us underway by telling you all a little about himself. Evan! Tell us all a little about yourself!
Evan Wells: Sure. I'm the Co-President of Naughty Dog and my background comes from the design side of the industry. I started with Naughty Dog back on Crash 3 as the Lead Designer. Before that I worked at Crystal Dynamics on the Gex games. And my first job in the industry was working on ToeJam and Earl on the Sega Genesis.
Was Uncharted a deliberate attempt by Naughty Dog to move away from the cartoony/comic past of the Crash and Jak games? Is this sense of realism something you think appeals more to current PS3 owners versus, say the PS2 or Wii?
%A% Evan Wells: Yes, it was a deliberate decision. We wanted to make a game that took full advantage of the hardware and we felt if we stuck with what we knew and made another Jak game that we wouldn't have pushed ourselves hard enough and would have ended up with something mediocre or just okay.
Nathan's animations in Uncharted are simply amazing. They look natural and do not feel akward like so many other games in the same genre. Do you think there is potential to improve on what you achieved with this game?
%A% Evan Wells: Absolutely. We really are only getting started with our understanding of the PS3 and more importantly the programmers and the animators that worked on this game have learned so much. It's going to be great to be able to go into producion on our next game with all of the knowledge that we gained from this project already under our belts.
Given the somewhat disappointing critical reaction (compared to initial expectations) of other high-profile PS3 exclusives like Lair and Heavenly Sword, did you and your team feel under more pressure to ensure that you delivered a truely console-defining experience with Uncharted?
%A% Evan Wells: I feel that most of the pressure we feel at Naughty Dog comes from within. Everybody is very passionate about what they do and nobody here is willing to settle for anything mediocre. Our co-workers pushed each other and we weren't really feeling too much pressure from outside.
Any chances of a Jak PS3 game?
%A% Evan Wells: Sure. Everybody here would love to do a Jak game on the PS3. However, I'm not sure about the timing. We want to stick with only working on one game at a time to maintain our focus. Everybody is taking a much deserved vacation right now and we will decide what we're doing next when people get back.
Would you ever consider working on a PSN title?
%A% Evan Wells: I think the PSN has opened up a lot of interesting opportunities for us as well as many others. I think it could come in handy during some of the transitional roll over periods between games if there hasn't been enough preprodution work done to get started on the next big project. I think it would be fun and definitely something we're interested in.
What has been the most influential game of the last few years to you personally as a designer?
%A% Evan Wells: Well it's becoming somewhat of a cliche answer, but I'd have to say ICO. That game has so much style and heart that I think it has influenced the entire industry.
In terms of meeting expectations, what matters most; Developer, Publisher or Consumer?
%A% Evan Wells: Absolutely the consumer. It's something that we are always asking ourselves... "How is this going to affect the play experience or the player?" We put a lot of emphasis on our animation system and pretty early on we had some great looking stuff. But it felt like shit. It took months and months of tweaking and interating to finally get something that looked and FELT good.
Uncharted seems to be the overall name of the series with Drake's Fortune the subtitle. Does this mean that future titles in the series would centre around a protaganist other than Nathan Drake?
%A% Evan Wells: Definitely not. The subtitle was supposed to have the double meaning of Drake referring to Sir Francis Drake or Nathan Drake and the Fortune could mean either wealth/money or destiny. We thought we were being pretty deep :)
If you could work with any film license, what would it be?
%A% Evan Wells: That's a tough question. I really prefer to work on our own IP. The team has so much more passion when working on charcters and a universe that they created. And ultimately IPs created from within the video game industry have a much better track record of success. But if you insist, I'd have to say Die Hard. I love that movie.
Was Nathan Drake based on any character in particular? He does look a lot like Frank Lampard.
%A% Moderator informs Evan who Frank Lampard is.
%A% Evan Wells: He was based on an amalgamation of many famous actors as well as some ordinary people. But we were driven largely by the concept art that our team created. In the end I've been told that he looks like no less than three dozen different people... from actors, to neighbors, to boyfriends, and now a football player! So I guess we succeeded in creating our everyman :)
How hard would it be to port Uncharted to the Xbox 360? I'm not just talking storage constraints (Blu-ray). Could Uncharted be faithfully recreated without the use of Cell?
%A% Evan Wells: I won't say that it would be impossible, but it would be very difficult and we most certainly would have to make enough concessions that it would start to feel like a different game. One thing that would be particularly difficult would be keeping the game load-free. The HDD really came in handy and allowed us to have pretty big open levels with lots of detail.
Have you considered tackling any genres Naughty Dog hasnt tried before, maybe a Survival horror, FPS, Racer?
%A% Evan Wells: Well we have done a couple of racers. Don't forget CTR (one of my favorite games to have worked on) and Jak X! For a while we had some interest in doing a FPS, but it's such a crowded market and everybody it doing it so well now, I'm not sure the world needs our take on it. But we're always open to trying something new. We don't like things to get stale around here.
One criticism I've heard levelled at Uncharted is that, given the high quality of its graphics and art direction, the physics in the game sometimes stands out as lacking (e.g. when objects hit the water). Given this observation (and by all means feel free to refute it), what are your thoughts on the place of physics in modern games, and do you feel that it generally contributes more to gameplay or aesthetics?
%A% Evan Wells: In certain sandbox style games I think physics can contribute to gameplay. But in more structured/directed games like Uncharted I think physics are better left as aesthetics. For example, often, when something blows up you need it to end up in a predermined way so that you can use it to continue to traverse forward. In this case, you're better off just animating the physics.
But I actually think that our physics engine is pretty good. Our ragdoll I think can stand up with the best of them especially as they interact and the dead bodies float on the water.
Uncharted hasn't received quite the same amount of media attention/hype as a number of recent titles. In your experience, does hype help or hinder the development process?
%A% Evan Wells: We were definitely in an awkward position. If I had to do it again, I'd certainly change a few things. The videogame industry is unique in that we are forced to show our unfinished product 10+ months (sometimes years) in advance of it being complete. There isn't a single other industry out there that does this. So with Uncharted, I think we ended up putting the game in people's hands a little bit earlier that we should have. Our control still wasn't as tight as it needed to be, and we knew that. But we had to get the hype started so we went for it anyway. Then we spent the next six months trying to convince journalists who got an early taste for it, that we had addressed this issues. Fortunately it all looks like it's turned out okay.
What aspect of the game are you least happy with and why?
%A% Evan Wells: Well this is going to sound strange because it looks so nice, but I'd say the water. And not because there is anything wrong with it but very early in our design stages we wanted to do a lot more fluid dynamics that really affected gameplay. It was cut from the plan very early because of the technological challenges that it presented. But it's something that we want to take another stab at in a future title.
As a developer, do Naughty Dog feel that optimising code to get rid of immersion-breaking anomalies like tearing etc are high on their list of priorities?
%A% Evan Wells: Hah! I knew the screen tearing question was coming! We obviously take the look of the game very seriously and we want to create the most beautiful experience possible. So we walk a very fine line. We try to put as much on the screen as possible which of course has an impact on the framerate. If the game occasionally slips below 30FPS we have a choice to make... do you want to drop the framerate down to 20FPS or let the screen tear momentarily. We opted for the latter. It happens very infrequently and we feel that the increased number of polygons and effects that we can use outweighs the occasional artifact.
Clearly Uncharted has been in development for quite a while, but there are some parallels between the combat/cover mechanics it offers (which are great, by the way) and those from last year's Gears of War. Was this a conscious effort to take what Epic did and hone it to perfection, or was it just a case of two separate development houses arriving at the same control scheme as a logical solution for similar gameplay/control requirements? Also, what's your favourite colour?
%A% Evan Wells: We had been working on our cover taking mechanics for 6 or 8 months before we saw Gears. We were initially attracted to the idea after seeing it in Kill.Switch. We felt that it really helped create the feeling of being pinned down and we thought that would suit our pulp action/adventure genre nicely. Of course when Gears came out and we saw what a great job they did with it really raised the bar on what we had to achieve and we were definitely pushed to step our game up. And I like Green.
Given the answer to [an earlier] question you are in agreement with Denis Dyack [of Silicon Knights]. Ideally games would not be shown till they are complete and would be held back once finished to allow for maketing?
%A% Evan Wells: I don't know if I want to be compared to the guy who is suing Epic :) (actually I know Denis from back in the Crystal days). But I'm not sure if I know how we can or should change the way things are done, I just think if I could go back in time on Uncharted, the first few public showings of the game I would have kept the controller in my hands and given demos instead of handing it over to journalists. Early in development it's sometimes easier for the designer to show the game off and make it look good instead of somebody who hasn't had time to practice with the still far from final control.
Drake's Fortune has a more mature feel to previous Naughty Dog games. Is this game aimed at people who've grown up with Crash and Jak, or are you expecting an entirely new audience?
%A% Evan Wells: I hope that Naughty Dog fans keep following our games. We as developers are maturing (or at least we like to think so) so our interests are changing and evolving as I'm sure our fans' are. I also hope that we are reaching a wider audience with Uncharted due to the deep and involving story and characters. It passed the "girlfriend" test with my wife... she and her friend were totally engrossed watching me play it when I brought it home one night. It was like they were watching a movie and didn't want to get off the couch to go to the bathroom :)
Is Uncharted going to be patched for Home goodies, when that comes?
%A% Evan Wells: We really hope so. We included our Medal points with the expectaion that we could attach those to Home eventually. We are talking with the Home development team and looking forward to working with the SDK when it's available.
How do we know if anything you've said today is true and if I find out you've lied, what do I win?
%A% Evan Wells: How do you know I'm even Evan?
Do you expect to release a game every year this generation like in the PS2 Jak days? Or do the additional development costs and time mean we may be waiting somewhat longer this gen between ND releases?
%A% Evan Wells: That's hard to say right now. Even on the PS2 we took two years to develop Jak 1 and 2. It wasn't until later in the generation that we had enough tech built up that we could get the production down to one year. I imagine things will be similar this time around.
Any chance of a 'Hat and Whip' patch in future for us Indy fans? ;)
%A% Evan Wells: We have a lot of great unlockable costumes, but no "Hat and Whip" (that's the truth!) For the truly hardcore we have a treat. If you collect all 1000 medal points you can unlock "Doughnut Drake" and I won't spoil what that is, but it's totally worth it.
What did you think of the Manhunt 2 ban? Do you think that the violent nature of this game in particular justified the degree of censorship (even gameplay mechanics were altered)?
%A% Evan Wells: I don't think that video games should be treated differently than other forms of media or entertainment. I think there is a place in this world for titles that should only be played by those over 18. Our problem is right now is that we [in America] don't have any retailers who are willing to sell those games, therefore you end up "banning" the game by giving it such a rating. However, I really don't see the appeal of the game and I really do think they are just using the shock factor to try to sell a mediocre (at best) game. I would much prefer to see somebody make something with a little more substance that still pushed the artistic boundaries of our industry.
Have you got anything planned for the PSP?
%A% Evan Wells: Not right now. And honestly I'm not sure any time soon. We want to focus our attention and technological efforts on one platfrom and one engine (the PS3 if that isn't clear).
Why do you think other developers have seemingly struggled to get to grips with the PS3 dev kits, whilst Naughty Dog has managed to put together what appears to be a polished and seamless game, with no obvious technical faults?
%A% Evan Wells: I don't think it's problems with the PS3. Next-gen game development is tricky business. I think you're seeing a lot of developers struggle with the Xbox as well. It just so happens that the 360 has been out there for more than a year longer and people have had more time to work with it.
Isn't it about time you gave up all this videogame nonsense and got a proper job?
%A% Evan Wells: Mom? Is that you?
No, come on, do you still get that thing where people ask what you do, you explain, and they go "oh"?
%A% Evan Wells: What I get is... That must be so much fun! You get to play games all day long! Of course that couldn't be further from the truth. Everybody is suprised to find out that we typically work 80-90 hour weeks for the last 6-12 months of a project!
%A% Tom Super Moderating Hero Bramwell: Aaaand that seems like a good enough point at which to let Evan go. Anything to add Evan?
%A% Evan Wells: Thanks for all of the really great questions! This was a lot of fun!