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Naughty Dog has had a long history of game development which led to its successful franchise, Uncharted. However, every successful game had its beginning somewhere, and for the Uncharted series, it started with its original pitch, Project BIG.
Naughty Dog has been around for over 30 years and has a very rich and colorful history of games, but its first breakthrough was in 1996 with the Crash Bandicoot series which eventually had 18 published games and 40 million copies shipped worldwide. After that the Jak and Daxter series came along in 2001 which eventually sold 12 million copies worldwide. Then, in 2007 came along Uncharted which became Naughty Dog’s first serious blockbuster hit, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
As the first game in the series, was the exact type of game that Josh Scherr, writer for Naughty Dog, wanted to make. At 10 years old he saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in the movie theaters and fell in love with it. This “romantic adventure style” was what he wanted to create, however, before they could make it, they had to sell the idea to Sony.
This is where the original pitch called project BIG came in. Project BIG was incepted in 2005 when Naughty Dog decided to stray away from their typical cartoony games and make something that was more serious, was packed with lots of action, and had a human lead – and that’s exactly what project BIG set out to accomplish. There are a number of things that are different about BIG and Uncharted, but at the core of it, they both are an adventure with strong characters and action.
Scherr said that Naughty Dog wanted to put a focus on the characters and storyline from the start because back then around 2005, 2006 those two factors (in his opinion) were an afterthought in a majority of video games. They tried to make something that could be relatable to the player, have entertaining characters, and a story that draws you in.
Animation was one of their ways of pulling the player in. The characters in Uncharted have extremely expressive faces that show a wide range of emotion with little changes in their face, such as a raised eyebrow or lip curling. To add to this, additive animation was introduced. Depending on the context of the situation, the character’s movements will be affected. For example, with Drake, if he is not around danger he will sprint with full confidence whereas if he’s being chased by enemies and shot at he will duck and flinch as he sprints.
Project BIG VS. Uncharted
In Project BIG, Drake was based off of Johnny Knoxille of Jackass. This Drake was a bit comical and to get fully away from their cartoony style of the past, they made a more handsome and serious version of Drake for Uncharted.
Also, the contextual battle system, where Drake can fight multiple enemies in hand-to-hand combat at once, wasn’t used until the third Uncharted. So not everything seen in the project BIG video was implemented into the Uncharted games but they were a huge point of inspiration for the Naughty Dog team.
Voice Acting and Motion Capture
Nolan North was chosen out of 20-30 voice actors that auditioned for the role of Drake. Scherr said when Nolan came in it was clear that he would be the one. Not just that, but he was funny as well, performing part of his audition as Christopher Walken.
In addition to his voice acting skills, North had physical acting skills too. Uncharted was the first game made by Naughty Dog that fully utilized motion capture and they wanted someone who could fit both roles. Scherr felt t would have felt off if it was two different actors.
Obstacles with Development
With the studio moving away from cartoony games to a realistic action title that involves shooting people, people on the team left because they didn’t like that idea. At the same time resources were being split up because the studio was working on a Jak and Daxter game for the PSP. This was thrown into the trash so that the full team could focus on Uncharted.
Even with this, there were still some close calls. Scherr said one of the most epic levels in the game, where Drake is on a jet ski and being chased and shot at by enemies, was designed and built in less than one month. It barely made it to the final product. It was terrifying he said.
Uncharted: A Blockbuster Success
All the work and struggles led to an extremely successful franchise. Collectively, the three Uncharted games have sold over 20 million copies which led to the development of the incredible masterpiece known as The Last of Us and the release of the final title in the series, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Who knows what other great game Naughty Dog will come out with next.