Uncharted’s story campaigns are always the main draw, but the franchise has also been offering enjoyable and addicting multiplayer for years now.
Despite the constant focus on the games’ stories, developer Naughty Dog still continually spends precious time and resources on making the competitive multiplayer a robust and meaningful element in its games. I spoke with Erin Daly, Naughty Dog’s Lead Game and Multiplayer Designer, to find out why.
“Lack of inspiration or drive is never an issue for us, it’s rather the opposite, that our ambitions are always outstripping our resources and time,” said Daly. “Even though we all know that single player is the big draw of Naughty Dog’s games, we also know that each one of these games is a great opportunity to provide something more—another way to have fun in these worlds and with these characters.”
Naughty Dog treats multiplayer development with the same care as it does with making the campaigns. Some story-driven franchises, like Bioshock, introduced then immediately did away with multiplayer, failing to grab players’ attention. But for Naughty Dog it’s important it keeps raising expectations with its online content, Daly said.
“We’ve also seen how interest in multiplayer continues to grow, from our dedicated The Last of Us community, to the huge number of players we saw who played our Uncharted 4 beta and network stress test,” said Daly. “We know both from these numbers, and all the feedback we got that people care quite a bit about our MP. If there’s any fear it’s just whether we can live up to our own high expectations.”
Uncharted’s online gameplay retains the same fast-paced action and stunning level design found in single player. In Uncharted 4, players can compete in 5 vs. 5 deathmatches and games of plunder (capture the flag) replete with climbing, customization, sidekicks you can summon to help you, and mystical power ups that hark back to Drake’s old adventures in earlier Uncharted games. You can use Uncharted 2’s Cintamani Stone to automatically revive team players, for example.
The core essence of what makes Uncharted’s campaigns so fun to play is seamlessly transferred over to multiplayer. The map designs encourage vertical thinking; Uncharted 4’s Rooftop map has you continually swinging from your rope, jumping from different roofs, and is littered with structures to climb. You can goofily taunt players, and your character always has something clever and funny to say. Multiplayer also gives you myriad ways to customize your characters and mod your weapons. But even with this core gameplay intact, Naughty Dog had to find ways to innovate.
NEW TRICKS FOR A NAUGHTY DOG
“Initially we explored some pretty radical concepts, but we kept coming back to what we loved about Uncharted multiplayer,” said Daly. “Things like the fast pace, the fluid movement, and the verticality were all key elements we knew we needed to deliver on, but we also wanted to bring some new ideas to the table.”
The studio kept getting back to the two main pillars of Uncharted multiplayer—“High Adventure” and “Camaraderie.” The former pillar consists of intense gunfights and set-pieces littered throughout the campaigns. The latter pillar deals with teamwork and co-op gameplay, as Drake is rarely alone in his escapades. Naughty Dog knew it had to deliver on both.
“One day during Uncharted 4’s development Robert Cogburn (Lead Multiplayer Game Designer) pitched us on the idea of using the mystical elements in the Uncharted series to create new player abilities,” said Daly. That helped fulfill the first pillar—high adventure.
The answer for the “Camaraderie” pillar came in the form of the new sidekicks you can summon, and the ability to revive teammates who’ve been defeated. For the first time, you can call a deadly sniper who’ll dish out serious damage for you. Balancing this new feature proved difficult—they toyed with giving the computer-controlled sidekicks additional powers, like grenade launchers, which proved too powerful.
”Needless to say, that mod never saw the light of day,” Daily said.
THE ‘LAST OF US’ EFFECT
When Naughty Dog’s comparatively smaller multiplayer team (compared to the team that builds the story missions) starts work on the online components for each Uncharted title, the biggest inspirations come from what the single-player team cooks up. The cargo plane sequence in Uncharted 3’s airport map, for example, is a direct callback to one of the campaign’s memorable sequences, where Drake accidentally crashes a commercial plane, and desperately hangs on for dear life.
“The art style and setting from the single-player environments is used directly to create our multiplayer maps,” said Daly. “We usually start a new multiplayer map by playing through the single-player levels in that setting, looking closely at the type of traversal gameplay, the environmental progression and variety in scenery, and if there are any specific set-pieces or iconic imagery that we could leverage in the multiplayer map. That usually gives us a lot of inspiration for the multiplayer map, which we combine with our own design goals and requirements.”
The revive mechanic was taken from The Last of Us’s more slowly-paced and tactical online gameplay. You have to continually build items, lay traps, and sneakily move around the levels without getting spotted by the opposing team. It’s vital that your team sticks together and communicates. That was a huge influence on Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, Daly said. Naughty Dog started exploring different roles for players who might not enjoy always fighting. Reviving team members, the ability to mark enemies on the map, and summoning a medic sidekick are some ways to mix up gameplay.
The Last of Us also influenced Uncharted’s map design. “We knew we wanted more teamwork in Uncharted 4 and part of achieving that was creating maps that allowed for longer combat engagements,” said Daly. “The earlier Uncharted games featured maps that were quite porous, arena-style spaces where players could attack and be attacked from a huge variety of different locations. While this style of map design has its own appeal, often giving players a greater sense of personal agency by offering more paths and traversal options, combat engagements are often quite short and usually involve only a few players.”
“Using some of our learnings from The Last of Us, we found an approach that created a mix of the slower, more front-based layouts from The Last of Us, with the faster more porous maps of the previous Uncharted games,” he continued. “The maps became less permeable than those in the earlier Uncharted games, but they gained more intentionality and combat spaces that allowed for some great team vs. team battles.”
With Nathan Drake’s story supposedly over and done with now, Naughty Dog still plans on supporting Uncharted 4’s multiplayer well into 2017. New maps, game modes, mysticals, skins, and even co-op are all on the way, and they’ll all be available for free. And it looks like a lot of players will be glad.
Aleksander Gilyadov is a freelance writer with an eclectic taste in film, music, and games. He believes Breaking Bad is the greatest show mankind has concocted, and that The Sopranos is actually a bit overrated.
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