UNCHARTED fans! As our beloved franchise hits its 15th anniversary this November 19, we, first of all, want to say a massive thank you to all of you out there who have supported the franchise. Whether you were there from day one, or just discovered the series this year with the launch of UNCHARTED: Legacy of Thieves Collection, we’re eternally grateful for and floored by your support. For years we’ve received letters, both handwritten and email, about how deeply the UNCHARTED games have impacted lives around the world. Everything from fan art to cosplay photos to hand-forged rings bearing “Sic Parvis Magna” make their way to Naughty Dog, reminding us that, even after FIFTEEN YEARS, Drake and his adventures live so far beyond when we first published each game.
While it’s been 15 years since we introduced Nathan Drake to the world, for some of our veteran studio members, they still remember our pioneering adventure into creating a realistic, third-person action-adventure title like it was yesterday. So, to celebrate the long-enduring legacy of UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune, we asked some of UNCHARTED’s original developers to reflect on heart-pounding moments, lessons learned, and the impact UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune had on the studio.
What’s one of your favorite memories from working on UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune?
Evan Wells, President: It's hard to believe how late in the development we decided to switch to a third-person aiming mechanic for the gunplay. It couldn't have been more than nine months before we shipped that we were still trying to make a lock on mechanic work. It literally was a game-changer, but it left us very little time to rework our combat setups. That being said, we didn't have a lot of working setups to begin with [at that time], so it actually made the remaining work easier to complete. A lot of UNCHARTED came together in those last nine months.
Erick Pangilinan, Art Director: UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune was a significant transition for Naughty Dog. As a studio, UNCHARTED pushed us out of our comfort zone of doing these stylized fantasy platformers like Jak & Daxter or Crash Bandicoot. It made us rethink all our systems and grow as a team to tackle more complex problems. My favorite memory was working on the Spanish fortress to establish the quality bar of UNCHARTED. We had to redo this level several times from scratch to get the right look and construction process. Ultimately, it became our vertical slice and ended up being featured on a magazine cover with Elena being a brunette!
Neil Druckmann, President: As UNCHARTED was starting to come together, whenever we got a new area or mechanic up, we would call others to our desk to playtest it. There would be a bunch of us huddled around a monitor watching, waiting. Then the discussion would start. What worked. What didn't. There was an energy around the studio that we were making something special. The passion and excitement was infectious.
Christian Gyrling, Vice President: I joined Naughty Dog about one year before UNCHARTED: Drake's Fortune was released. At the time, I was working on enemy behavior and their animations. I remember how the whole studio was rallying behind a single focus point to test out the experience of playing UNCHARTED. That level will forever be seared into my memory... Jungle-A-2.
Jeremy Yates, Animation Director: My fondest memory was working on Jungle-A-2 (Jungle Area 2), which was the short combat section about 10 minutes after Drake and Elena crashed their plane. It was one of the first levels in production that eventually evolved into our vertical slice, from which we determined the core gameplay loop of UNCHARTED. The area was peppered with old ruins of a stone structure and consisted of climbing, low cover, high cover around a number of arched columns, a traversal puzzle, explosive barrels, and pirates to fight. We spent several months developing that small arena, continuously fleshing out every player and enemy mechanic until we knew we had something really special. We built everything from scratch, including our animation tools and really, the entire pipeline. It was a fun time of challenges and discoveries.
Travis McIntosh, Programming Director: Near the end of the first Uncharted, many of the climbing sections were only sketched in. As they were finished, I would need to sit with the animators and code each new type of climb or jump that was made, implementing them as needed one at a time. It was hectic and last minute, but it was also thrilling, as we knew we were making something spectacular.
What scene or moment do you most love from UNCHARTED: Drake's Fortune?
Jeremy: If I had to pick one moment, it would be when the player shot the barrel from the back of a jeep, causing it to explode, flip into the air, and land between two rock columns, creating a temporary bridge for the player to cross. This essentially was our first “set piece” in the UNCHARTED world. By today’s standards, this kind of moment wouldn’t even be considered a big deal, but for us back in 2007, it planted a seed for what we could do to create cinematic moments during gameplay. The rest is history, as this little idea expanded exponentially each game, so much so that we formed an entire department on our animation team solely dedicated to creating these moments. Ultimately, giant action set pieces emerged as one of the signatures of the UNCHARTED franchise.
Erick: The one that sticks out in my head is when Nate and Elena were flying to the island. Their plane was shot down by pirates and they had to jump out of a burning plane. I really like that sequence because it is a classic pulp fiction action sequence that reminds me of Indiana Jones. The dialogue between Elena and Drake is so campy and lighthearted that it’s really fun to watch. Several departments were involved in making this scene, so there was a lot of love poured into this moment.
Evan: There are many moments from UNCHARTED that I love, but if I had to pick one it would have to be one with Eddy Raja. He's still one of my favorite characters from the franchise. He's an obvious villain in UNCHARTED, but it's clear that he and Nate have a history where they weren't always on opposite sides.
Christian: I love when you come across the submarine in the middle of the jungle. It's such a surprising moment.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned during UNCHARTED: Drake's Fortune's development?
Evan: The transition the studio made from hand-keyed animation to mocap was a huge lesson for us. The work that went into performance capture for our cutscenes set the standard for the industry so there was no blueprint to follow - we just stumbled along and learned as we went. In fact, on UNCHARTED: Drake's Fortune, we still weren't shooting mocap on a sound stage, so we had to ADR all the dialog on a second pass. We definitely learned that lesson, and in future games had a new stage built that would allow us to capture both the motion and the dialog simultaneously, which is now the standard way of doing things.
Jeremy: Embrace motion capture. When Naughty Dog initially started working on UNCHARTED, we were all coming from the very stylized and cartoony background of the Jak and Daxter franchise. This was our first time using motion capture, and it seemed incredibly expensive at the time. We shot almost all the mocap for gameplay in just a few days towards the beginning of production, hoping to cover everything we might need. Today, we are fortunate to have easier access to the mocap stage, so we shoot as needed in smaller chunks at a time. This helps remove much of the future guess work and makes it more likely to get it right the first time. Creating motion on the stage has become one of our favorite aspects of production.
Neil: From a gameplay standpoint, we were just figuring out verticality in combat and how to build spaces that leveraged Nate's traversal mechanics. We were also learning how to tell an intimate character-driven story in gameplay. Those early baby steps set the stage for what UNCHARTED 2 became!
Travis: I learned a lot about what it takes to polish a game to perfection. Although Drake's Fortune was arguably the least polished of any of the UNCHARTED games, it was still the most polished game I had ever made. Seeing the reaction it got, and how important the attention to detail was to our players, really made an impression on the whole team, myself included. It drove a lot of our decisions about what was acceptable going forward and made us want to push ourselves to produce finer and more focused work in later games.
Any personal or behind-the-scenes moments that really stick out to you when you think about the original UNCHARTED's development?
Jeremy: Creating our E3 2006 first reveal trailer was a particularly intense and exciting period of production. We were just starting to get the overall tone of UNCHARTED figured out. We wanted to use the opportunity to give the world a sneak peek of what we were working on for Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 3 console. We created a montage of moments that helped us set the bar both visually and thematically for the project. We were honestly just winging it, as we still had so much to learn and discover before actually turning this into a playable game. Most of what we showed was built and animated by a relatively tiny team over just a month or so before the debut. We hadn’t even settled on a title yet so for the audience, UNCHARTED was just referred to as “Naughty Dog.” The graphical jump from PS2 to PS3 was huge, and everything we were trying to do was uncharted territory. It was definitely an adventure in and of itself.
Neil: When UNCHARTED was starting out, I was actually on another project... a Jak and Daxter sequel for the PSP. I would constantly open the UNCHARTED folder on the network and see how the concept art or the teaser trailer were coming along. I was enamored with this ordinary man in a shootout in the middle of the jungle.
Travis: [I remember] sitting down with [fellow teammates] as we tried to figure out what the shooting mechanics of UNCHARTED would be. We started with lock-on aiming, no camera control, and clunky as all get-out target switching, like the Jak and Daxter franchise. We ended up with an actual shooter. We were a smaller studio then, and it felt like we were just a bunch of friends hanging around at someone's computer working out what would be cool. It was one of the most formative experiences of my career.
What does it mean to you to see the UNCHARTED franchise become so important to players since Drake's Fortune’s debut?
Erick: Nathan Drake has come a long way since being called “Dude Raider” but despite the early comparisons, we knew UNCHARTED was special and we just had to own the world we created. It felt like our studio grew up and had burst through new levels after each new release of UNCHARTED. Everyone on the team loved the franchise, and a lot of people joined us because they wanted to be part of this project. Until now, I get chills watching old trailers and demos we did, because those days were an exciting time to be a Naughty Dog.
Neil: It's such a joy whenever I attend some kind of fan con, seeing so many attendees dressed as characters from UNCHARTED. We made these games from inspiration of pulp action-adventure stories, movies, and other games. To see UNCHARTED have that kind of reach and impact is gratifying on a deeply personal level.
Christian: For me, UNCHARTED was a pivotal moment for Naughty Dog when we doubled down on story telling and bringing the player new emotional experiences that were uncommon in those days.
Travis: It is immensely satisfying. Moreso, because of how fun it was to make the original UNCHARTED. There were times, many times, during that game that we weren't sure Naughty Dog was going to be able to finish that game. It is still the hardest project I've ever worked on, and also one of the most satisfying. Seeing it come together, going from rough blockmesh to a finished project, the last few months of development was like witnessing a miracle.
Thank you for celebrating the 15th anniversary of UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune with us. UNCHARTED: Legacy of Thieves Collection is the latest adventure in the series and is available now for the PlayStation 5 console and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store.
Sic Parvis Magna.