On paper Naughty Dog's Uncharted series is as generic as it gets. It's about a good looking white, heterosexual man going on exciting globe-trotting adventures, killing bad guys and wooing a spunky blonde reporter. On this level, it's functional at best and banal at worst. But dig deeper and it becomes clear that Naughty Dog's bombastic blockbuster series quietly had a profound effect on the medium's development over the past several years.
At what point does a remaster become a remake? Remastering involves improving video or audio quality, but fundamentally it is still derived from an existing source. The definition of a remaster in the gaming space is a little vague, but it rarely involves much in the way of new, creative work - it's about enhancing what's already there via higher resolutions and frame-rate boosts. But the release of the latest Uncharted: the Nathan Drake Collection story trailer demonstrates that developer Bluepoint Games is indeed improving and remaking swathes of Naughty Dog's existing assets, respectfully enhancing even incidental detail. The evidence suggests that this isn't just a simple port we're dealing with here - new art or geometry is commonplace in virtually every shot in this latest trailer. Bluepoint Games is well known for its accomplished work in converting classic games to new platforms but with this new collection, we could well be looking at its best work yet.
In order to better understand what has changed, we took the time to go back and re-create the entire trailer using the original PS3 software. It's important to remember here that the vast majority of footage in this trailer is comprised of scenes that were originally pre-rendered on PlayStation 3 - which begs the question: are they still pre-rendered on PS4? 1080p60 video eats up a lot of disc space - perhaps more than a standard Blu-ray disc can provide. Are we looking at a multi-disc collection here? Have these scenes instead been re-tooled to operate in real-time? It's not clear yet, but we're looking forward to finding out.
Regardless of whether they are pre-rendered or not, a lot of work has gone into to every one of these scenes. As noted above, many assets are improved, sometimes surprisingly so, resulting in richer, more cohesive storytelling across all three games. For instance, the original character models used in Drake's Fortune look rather dated next to those used in Uncharted 3. It makes sense to create a more coherent look across all three games by upgrading the models, and based on what we've seen in the trailer, that's exactly what has happened.
"Why is Nathan Drake a mass murderer?" Oh I don't know, but it's the question not the answer that's important. It symbolises a seismic shift in attitudes towards games that may mean, "possibly even for the very first time", that the next generation of consoles also becomes "the next generation of game design".
Nottingham doesn't have the swagger of Los Angeles or the neon allure of Tokyo, but it can boast a games show that puts E3 and TGS to shame. GameCity is a festival in the truest sense of the word, a celebration of a community and a culture that's sadly all too often swamped by corporate concerns.
At Eurogamer Expo 2011 Naughty Dog delivered a world exclusive gameplay demo of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, a game sure to be one of the PlayStation 3's biggest hits. Nathan Drake actor Nolan North and co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand wowed fans with the premiere, and offered insight into the development of the game.
There can't be many lead actors and writers in the games industry who know each other so well they practically finish each other's sentences. But then, how many can say they've been working together on their latest project almost every week since last June, let alone for large, intensive chunks of the past five years?
Digital Foundry is currently en route to GDC 2015, so there won't be a new article published today. However, as we make the long journey across to San Francisco, we're reminded of the first - and possibly the best - GDC talk we saw. That would be then-Naughty Dog Richard Lemarchand's hour-long journey into the making of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, a title that remains one of the greatest games released in the last-gen era. A remarkably insightful talk that gave us fantastic background into the way Naughty Dog worked, we couldn't help but think that the presentation would translate into a great feature - and to this day this remains one of our favourite pieces. Originally published on the March 20th 2010, this is an article we're happy to share with you again.
"Man only interested in the climax. You must be a real hit with the ladies."
I didn't fully appreciate how good Uncharted 2 is until I played Halo 3: ODST. "Naughty Dog" is about right. The studio did, after all, ruin a game I'd been looking forward to all year. Bungie wasn't to know I'd play ODST right after the return of Nathan Drake, of course. But boy, that was a mistake.
One day some brave developer is going to include a competitive multiplayer element in its game without using the word "Deathmatch". While running around and shooting strangers may be fun (in a strictly virtual sense, right kids?) it's a gaming trope that has long since slid into hopeless cliché. The margarita pizza of online gaming, it's something you consume almost without thinking - we multiplay, therefore we deathmatch.
We don't normally interview developers the day their game comes out. And to be fair, we didn't exactly speak to Naughty Dog just now - we've been sitting on this for a couple of weeks. But we did speak to them after we'd made up our minds and given Uncharted 2: Among Thieves a honking 10/10 review.
Platform games have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Remember when this was all just 2D side-scrolling fields? Now there are huge 3D environments to explore, combat that involves more than jumping on enemies' heads and storylines that aren't just about rescuing princesses. In fact they're not even called platform games any more - it's all action this and adventure that.
Once upon a time, the beta stage of software development was kept firmly behind the velvet curtain of industry secrecy. Then some cunning soul realised you could get the customers to help test the game, and build some early marketing buzz at the same time. Now it seems like no multiplayer game with any sort of profile can make it through development without throwing beta keys around like candy.
The downside to this welcoming gesture is that it can build expectations a little too high, turning something into an event that would otherwise pass without comment until review time comes around. So it is for Uncharted 2, still several months from release, but already sharing a slice of its multiplayer component.
This isn't to say that Uncharted's dip into online waters is a bad idea, just that the result seems to be the sort of multiplayer experience that might extend your entertainment for another week or so, but nothing to make you gasp in astonishment.
Surprises don't come often in this job. Whether it's down to leaks, or rumours, or press cynicism, or PR plans that slow the flow of information from a trickle to a drip - or just the fact that so many games developers so reliably do what exactly you'd expect them to - it's rare to see a games journalist raise an eyebrow, never mind gasp in shock. So it was with great satisfaction that Naughty Dog stunned a room full of us, from all around the world, with its Uncharted 2 presentation in baking-hot Los Angeles last week.