It's unreal that it's been a decade since Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception was released. We're honored that so many have played and celebrated Nathan Drake's third foray into high-stakes fortune hunting over the years. We sat down with studio leadership to chat and reminisce about developing Uncharted 3, and much like Nathan's journey, making the game was an adventure.
What’s your favorite memory of your time working on Uncharted 3?
Evan Wells, President: I really enjoyed working on the multiplayer side of things. It was a very small, scrappy team that was building on our first MP outing that we had in Uncharted 2. So many new features were added, we greatly improved our map designs, and did some very early live updates with limited time modes and even experimental maps that we rotated through called “The Lab.”
Christian Gyrling, Vice President: The game was almost done. We had sent most of the team home to play the game as we were only a few days away from submitting the final build to Sony for manufacturing. I myself brought the game home and started playing the game from the beginning. After a few hours of playing, the game started having glitches. The glitches got worse and worse until enemies would be invisible, the ocean became blood red, and levels would be outright missing. I freaked out, and the next morning, I walked into Evan's office saying, “We can't ship the game like this.” Playing the game for a few hours on older PS3s would in almost all cases result in a broken game experience. I had, however, come up with a hypothesis about what was going on with the game. I sat down with the senior programmers and discussed the issue and my proposed solution. They agreed that we should make the fix, but we needed to know if it really did fix the issue. I made 2 versions of the game. One was the current “broken” version of the game but with some debug text printing on the screen. The second version was the “fixed” version, and it also had debug text printing on the screen. If our hunch was right, we would be able to see that from the numbers printing on screen for the two versions. We had two of our QA staff play through the two versions of the game side-by-side. We all stood there watching them play, and lo and behold, the numbers started confirming the hypothesis. After an hour, the one tester that was running the “broken” version of the game started seeing glitching, the other one did not. We ended up putting the fix in and shipping Uncharted 3 with this critical bug fix just 2 days later.
Kurt Margenau, Game Director: Definitely building the Cargo Plane sequence. It was the first time in my career getting to really bring together something like that. It was truly a collaborative effort with animators, programmers, sound designers, and anyone else who cared to contribute. It started with an off-the-cuff idea of, “What if you could chase down a plane on the tarmac and board it,” which turned into, “Ok, what if the plane crashed while you were in it?”, and then figuring out how that could even work and be playable. I think coming off the high of the success of Uncharted 2, we all thought the sky was the limit, and we could achieve whatever wild-ass blockbuster idea we could think up to one-up ourselves. Our tech and excitement were really firing on all cylinders, but it still took the bulk of the two-year production time to really make that sequence into a reality. I was making little models of trucks on my desk to figure out how the player could climb on these things as they’re hanging out of the back of the plane. Jeremy [Yates] was doing wire-work on the mocap stage to capture climbing on a cargo net blowing in the wind. We had to implement some old-school perfectly seamed-up infinitely scrolling backgrounds to make the desert able to move infinitely below the plane (while the plane actually stood still. shhh). We even had a fully playable zero-g sequence inside the plane that we cut at the last second! There were just a ton of new innovations and fun problems to solve every step of the way and I will always love that feeling of creatively solving them. I’ll always remember my time on that set-piece and the people I worked on it with so fondly. It’s such a surreal feeling now seeing that Uncharted 3 Cargo Plane scene inspiring the one in the upcoming Uncharted movie, and I’m so excited to see their take on it!
What is your favorite scene from Uncharted 3 and why?
Evan: I have so many! It’s hard to choose. Of course, I do love the entire cargo plane set-piece, but I’ll give a little love to the sequence that follows it – Drake lost in the desert. The contrast of the slow pace and desperation from the high action that you just went through finally gives you a chance to breathe, and getting to experience the hallucinations of Sully I think really connects you to Drake’s emotions in the moment.
Christian: I love the overgrown Chateau. It was one of the first levels where I really felt that "This is Uncharted."
Kurt: Maybe I’m biased because I also worked on it, but I like what the “Lost in the Desert” scene was trying to do. Our Lead Designer Richard Lemarchand really wanted to capture the epic cinematic scale of the desert and feeling of being lost, the way Lawrence of Arabia [1962 film] did. So, we were playing with these ridiculously wide shots with the camera hundreds of meters away from Drake, like a helicopter shot and still allowing the player to be in control. I remember experimenting with all the different fades and how to advance the sequence in these non-traditional ways; how to tell this little mini story of Nate completely lost, at his lowest point and make the player feel that aimlessness. We drew a lot from the language of film, and even tried real-time playable cross-dissolves, where control of Drake shifted from one scene to the next as the image faded between them. Turns out that wasn’t really in the cards for the PS3 to be rendering the scene twice every frame, so it didn’t make the cut, and we ended up transitioning the scenes on fade-to-white or fade-to-black instead. But I love that we tried it, and the team was dedicated to making such a non-traditional sequence work. In the end, I’m proud of that scene and think it stands out in the game full of otherwise high-action moments.
What is the biggest thing you learned while working on Uncharted 3?
Evan: Announcing your ship date the day that you announce your game is not a great idea! Our reveal trailer included our release date and sticking to that was extraordinarily difficult. We had to pull most of the (already very limited) resources from early development on The Last of Us, and it was still a challenging development process for us.
Christian: Together we can achieve anything.
Any behind-the-scenes nuggets or personal memories associated with Uncharted 3?
Evan: When we had our press event for the multiplayer reveal we had double- and triple-checked that the venue had a solid and fast internet connection, and they assured us that it was “T1” which we thought meant “very fast”. When we got there and set up, nothing was working. We couldn’t figure out what the problem was. The press was going to be arriving any minute and we couldn’t get a match going. We soon discovered the problem was that we were streaming too much data (we had “Uncharted TV” that was streaming highlight reels from YouTube in the lobby), and we were choking the bandwidth. Christophe [Balestra] began furiously trying to rewrite the backend server code as the press started to gather in the adjacent room, while we had programmers back in the office racing to send over an updated build that disabled the streaming. In the end, the updated code arrived minutes before the event started and the rest of the day went off without a hitch. Later we discovered that “T1” didn’t mean “very fast” and only guarantees 1.44mbs!