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A Brain Dump of What I Worked on for Uncharted 4 (allenchou.net)
304 points by phodo on May 12, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

Actual article : http://allenchou.net/2016/05/a-brain-dump-of-what-i-worked-o...

Interesting comment : "Yes. We don’t have specific titles and do whatever is needed."

In reference to employee titles / roles.

8 mentions of Last of Us shows how influential some of the mechanics in that game were for future games - this is obviously especially the case for Naughty Dog themselves, but there were so many innovative takes on that genre in Last of Us that I'm sure many other dev studios have been impacted by the ideas and near flawless execution.

Haven't played Uncharted 4, but Last of Us is a masterpiece.

> but Last of Us is a masterpiece

Really? I bought and played that game on the PS3 and thought it was pretty good and that's about it. I didn't think any part of it was especially novel.

It felt like playing an interactive movie to me. There was nothing particularly amazing about the gameplay, but everything felt right in that game. There was nothing I could fault in it (from memory, so within reason).

I still remember my room mates watching me play from the other room like it was a TV show they were invested in. One of my favourite all time games.

> like it was a TV show

It was plotted like a TV show and so rather than feeling fresh, I felt like I already knew what would happen. It was too predictable.

For example, at one point Ellie gets caught and wakes up in a cage. I couldn't help but roll my eyes and thing "gee, I wonder if she'll escape".

Like I said in another comment, I think the hype surrounding the game had set my expectations way too high and I ended up being disappointed in what was really a good game.

At another point, she hops down onto a bus fording a canal and runs halfway across it and stops. I immediately thought "as soon as I approach her a cutscene is going to start where the bus is swept away or something". Yup.

I think it was an okay game, but it was definitely overhyped.

Sounds like you'd be difficult to please in general.

No, not at all. Last of Us was very good and a lot of fun, but it wasn't a masterpiece (IMHO). If I were to compare it to Uncharted (for example), I wouldn't say it was wildly better.

When I say the game disappointed me, I only mean in relation to the hype at the time. Some people have gone as far as calling Last of Us the Citizen Cane of gaming.

Well, it's subjective, of course. What was novel to me was the listening-for-sounds system which really made the stealth parts far more immersive and enabled them to play with dark and cramped stealth levels without it becoming impossible to beat.

Also I felt it was the pinnacle of Naughty Dog storytelling, driven by the lessons they had learned in the excellent Uncharted series. The fact they were able to create a game in which nearly the entire time is spent side-by-side with an AI-driven character you start to really care about was quite an accomplishment.

One more thing that sticks out for me is that I'd say Last of Us has the most gripping prologue / first ten minutes I have ever seen in a video game, and that that narrative is held quite taut throughout the game.

The game has an average rating of 95 on Metacritic, so I realize this is the mainstream take on it, but I still think the hype is justified in this case.

> I still think the hype is justified in this case

I think the hype played a part in my feeling let down by the game. I was expecting to be blown away and so merely enjoying my time with the game was a bummer.

I wouldn't begrudge anyone holding this opinion - I would struggle to point to any gameplay element as a true breakthrough - but the polish, quality of storytelling (that prologue!), and first rate acting/animation really set it apart for me. Like everything Naughty Dog, I would rate it as a lot closer to a "Steven Speilberg" level of cinematic/dramatic presentation, whereas most AAA games I can think of (Fallout 4, Starcraft II and GTA:V come to mind) are closer to schlocky B-movies IMO. Ultimately, that's not a gameplay feature, but I think it provides a compelling sense of motivation that makes playing their games uniquely immersive.

> that prologue!

As someone who had just become a father less than a year before TLoU came out the prologue was literally the most emotional moment I had as a result of playing a video game in my life. I've had others, the end of HL2: Episode 2 struck a pretty big chord for me as well in particular, but I think it will take a long time for another game to come out that can make me feel something like that again.

Overall I'd agree with your assessment (and really, it applies to ever modern Naughty Dog title) - the gameplay is above-average but serves more as a vehicle to drive the story, but unlike many other "cinematic" games it doesn't detract from it and make the whole of the work feel half-baked.

The prologue was very good. I'm normally hammering away at the buttons on the controller trying to skip the cut scenes (I'm looking at you Metal Gear Solid), but that one I watched.

> Metal Gear Solid

I can understand wanting to skip past the lengthy dialogue, but you're missing out on a lot of the kooky fun of the MGS franchise if you just skip past the cutscenes. If it's not your thing that's totally fine, but the MGS story is best enjoyed when not taken too seriously and just as a fun ride, and I'm guessing that might be your issue with it (please, correct me if I am off base here!)

My problem with the cutscenes in MGS was the quantity and length of them. I realize it's totally subjective, but I just wanted to play the game. I never did finish though, that game was too long.

BTW, that's another thing that Last of Us got right - the length of the game was perfect (for me).

Fair enough! I find the opposite issue with most MGS games, personally, they are often rather brief (MGS4 excluded, the cutscenes in that took forever) - though that's an advantage in my eyes since I'm easily able to replay them in a night or two when I feel like.

I have to agree, there wasn't anything particularly innovative in terms of gameplay or experience. I actually went out and bought a PS3 just so I could play Last of Us. Mechanically it's not much different than other games in the genre. It was great because it presented a story that made you wish you didn't have to put down the controller, and made you wish it didn't end. That is not to diminish the work in making the game play well, if the mechanics were shit I likely would have not liked the game as much.

I'm not sure that you can take that as an example of how influential TLoU is (disclaimer, I played Uncharted 1-3 and TLoU but not yet Uncharted 4). Technically, TLoU wasn't that impressive (just look how Ellie used to hide in plain view of enemy humans and zombies).

The impressive bits were IMHO the setting and the story.

They decided to sacrifice verisimilitude for upholding what I call Tails's Law: A game that features AI companions should never allow AI stupidity to severely compromise the player's ability to progress. I call it that because back in the time of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, before the franchise shat the bed, the developers at Sega were canny enough to make "Tails" effectively invincible, as well as make him always follow the player and "catch up" with his helicopter tails -- so that the player need not feel responsible for escorting a character with wonky AI, nor guilty for leaving him behind or accidentally imperiling him. If the actions of an AI character can significantly impede your progress, then you've lost control and that's a frustrating situation to put a player in.

We all know what happens when this rule is not followed. See: Daikatana. Another example: the companion Lydia from Skyrim is basically programmed without any idea of stealth, subtlety, or nuance in combat situations and routinely charges headfirst into battle, putting herself at great risk of getting killed as well as compromising your position.

Generally in The Last of Us, a companion character being killed is a game over condition. If enemies were sensitive to their presence during the stealth bits, they would either have to use the environment and available cover absolutely perfectly, or they would put the player in jeopardy of a game-over without them doing anything to warrant it. The player already has enough to think about. Having to worry about what Ellie is doing and whether she fucks off someplace, attracts a Clicker, and gets bitten while not being able to do anything useful about it is a burden the player can't handle.

At least you can order Lydia around, or send her home. No such option exists with the TLOU companions, and you're stuck with them. I forgive Naughty Dog for putting gameplay above absolute realism.

>just look how Ellie used to hide in plain view of enemy humans and zombies

I loved TLoU, so I might be biased, but I tend to be pretty forgiving of companion weirdness in games -- I can appreciate how hard it is to make that work.

Fallout 4 has similar problems, but they've at least made it harder for your dumb old companion to ruin your life -- before, Dogmeat (a companion German Shepherd) would just wander through tripwires and lasers and stuff. Now, they still act a little wonky, but they don't call attention to YOU while they're doing it. That was pretty annoying.

The gameplay and tech behind the two game franchises is closely intertwined. The gameplay of Last of Us requires the high quality animation and cover systems built for Uncharted 1 and the melee combat system added with Uncharted 2. Now we see Uncharted 4 take some of the improvements to friend AI and dialog from Last of Us and push that forward.

I played Crash Bandicoot in Uncharted 4, it is a recurring theme of them reusing game mechanics

I love the way this article is written. Sometimes these types of articles go deep into personality and politics and you really get that anywhere you go. Here you get a peek into the nitty gritty while keeping it at a layman level. Plus, it gives you a chance to imagine how you might solve the problems he faced.

This looks like a CV to me that he can use in the future whenever he applies for a job/promotion

This is probably the best type of CV imaginable - actual project work for a AAA game title, with screenshots and easy to understand commentary on what worked and what didn't.

FWIW, the dev cross-posted to r/gamedev:


Interesting tidbit: ActionScript was his first language and he still uses it to prototype tools.

This article is great. I've played through most of the game at this point, and I've really been noticing how good the single-player AI behavior is. Your AI buddy is pretty good about picking places to go, when to follow, when to lead, finding their own routes up cliffs and such that have multiple choices, etc. About the only oddity I've noticed is in combat areas, your buddy sometimes moves from cover to cover in full view of enemies or otherwise hunkers down in cover in a position that's actually in view of an enemy, and it doesn't matter (presumably enemies simply don't ever see your buddy unless they've already seen you). From a gameplay perspective this is absolutely the right choice, and it's such a minor thing that I really only noticed it because I looked specifically for it, I'm just kind of amused.

Someday I sincerely hope to publish a game. When I read articles like this, though, I begin to realize just how little I understand about working on a project like that. I can't even begin to understand how they make all these systems work together in the same environment.

Just had to chime in and say thank you for such an amazing two games. Loving Uncharted 4 so far. I know you worked on mostly NPC AI, but this is the most beautiful game I've played and my PS4 sounds like it's about to die.

Those identifiers in the screenshot look lispy... wonder if their tooling is still in lisp even though they switched to C++ for the engines?

I don't play games but have always been into 3D graphics and Visual Computing. Interesting read and watching the gameplay trailer afterwards was fun and very impressive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sB0xy74Zrj8

So, is this guy supposed to be secretly kryptonian or something? Because bullets, body armor, fences etc seem to be a non issue.

To complement this, I found this video interesting in demonstrating some of the technical achievements and flourishes in Uncharted 4:


Is it still commonplace for them to get a percentage of sales as a bonus?

I know someone who worked on Tomb Raider 2, 3 and 4. he's not poor.

Royalty payments work somewhat like the music industry where your publisher "advances" you the ~40M+ gamedev budget + 40M+ marketing budget. Once the game has made more than ~80M is when you start to see royalties.

Don't go into game development looking for a good wage, industry usually pays 60-70% what you see for equivalent SE jobs.

I don't think that's ever been commonplace. The games industry is known for long hours and relatively low wages

It was commonplace when I was in the games industry (1996-2006). I never saw a penny, that is also commonplace.

I once got a $25 Starbucks giftcard for pulling an almost 48-hour epic coding session to fix some major issues right before a large trade show(we were blowing the 64 open file handle limit, so I completely rewrote our audio system to stream from the texture cache instead of individual files).

That's all the bonus/royalty/atta-boy I ever saw in my times in games. The 90/10 rule is in full effect in that industry where the top 10% make 90% of the profits.

I work in a large games studio and any developer that's been here for 15-20 years is getting royalties from titles released ages ago. But I don't know of any current project where royalties are/will be paid. Maybe some people have contracts like that but I haven't heard of that actually happening.

I work at a medium-sized game studio, and we have a profit sharing system, but my understanding is that it is rare in the industry. We are essentially self-publishing, so that helps.

I did not know that had all changed, we reckon he must have got £250,000+

Royalties were fairly common in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. My own experience was from a game dev owned by Sierra/Vivendi and we not only received royalties for our games, but were given bonuses for games (namely Diablo and Half Life) under the larger umbrella. But as someone else mentioned it's not a straight % based on sales - they only kicked in at a certain point. And most games never hit that threshold.

These days royalties are pretty rare I think. But it's common to get stock and/or profit sharing in the form of annual bonuses based on how the company as a whole did. That's how EA works, for example.

What does "going gold" mean in the videogames industry?

Releasing the final contents of the disc to manufacturing. Think 'gold master'.

gamasutra provides a link to the blog post where this actually came from. i just want to say that his blog is one of the best i have ever seen and that you should check it out. it has tons of posts that are just as interesting as this one except about getting hired at naughty dog, implementing a physics engine and much more.

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