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Interview: Naughty Dog On Refining Multiplayer In Uncharted 3

Gamasutra sat down with Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells to discuss how the studio plans to make Uncharted 3's multiplayer suite "competitive with the other top online games out there."

Brandon Sheffield, Contributor

May 9, 2011

8 Min Read

Naughty Dog's second Uncharted title brought a suite of multiplayer modes to complement the series' single player campaign. With the upcoming Uncharted 3, the company aims to further enhance the game's multiplayer to keep up with the industry's leading multiplayer shooters. In addition to the game's range of cooperative and competitive game types, Uncharted 3 will introduce new options for players to customize their avatar and unlock new weapons and aesthetic enhancements. In order to help change the flow of a given multiplayer match, the game will at certain points trigger events known as "power plays," which alter the scoring criteria for the winning and losing teams, allowing matches to remain competitive and unpredictable. Gamasutra sat down with Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells to discuss the studio's take on online multiplayer, and how the game promises to bring a more defined ebb and flow to traditional competitive online game types. With Uncharted 2, people weren't necessarily expecting a big multiplayer experience and it took people by surprise in a way. Is there external pressure from above for you guys to really make the next game the number one thing? It was definitely driven from inside the studio. I think we're always our harshest critics and we just want to push ourselves to try new things. I mean, we'd done single player for so many years; we were making games for PlayStation consoles for 15, 16 years, and with Uncharted 2 it was time to really tackle some multiplayer technology and cut our teeth, and I think we came out of the gates really strong. We got a really good community and now the first order of business is to try to take Uncharted 3 to the next level and not only fill it with all of the features that are going to make it competitive with the other top online games out there, but to bring across the elements that made the single player successful and exciting and cinematic, and apply those techniques to the multiplayer. In the single player, there's a lot of emphasis on making you feel like the hero and things like that. It seems like a lot of what you're putting in the multiplayer is sort of to that end. You've got your emblems and whatnot and things that'll try to make people feel individual accomplishments. Can you talk a bit more about that? Sure, I mean we're definitely adding in. We haven't talked about it much but there's going to be a player rating system, so you'll be able to climb the ranks in terms of your ability and be able to compare yourself to other players. We're going to have leaderboards. We definitely want to create that healthy love of competition in our community and we also want people to be able to personalize their experience, and that's where the customizable characters come in. We know people also want to play the hero characters and the villains, but when people go online they want to have that avatar, they sort of want to put themselves in some shoes that they get to design themselves. It seems that you're doing a lot to try to encourage cooperative play within competitive game types. What is the drive behind it? Yeah, there are lots of different kinds of players out there and we're trying to give people a lot of options and expose them to other types of gameplay that they might not realize they like. If we have the proper tools in place and we get them in and expose them to new stuff slowly over time they will learn to embrace it because their skill level will rise accordingly. You've got co-op which can bring across some single player guys into online, and then from co-op we can get your feet wet in competitive multiplayer by saying, "Look, you've got a buddy, you've got the buddy system, or you've got three team death match where it's 2v2v2." So it's not like you've got as many guys out there against you as you would in an ordinary team death match; you can focus on a more intimate experience, so we're trying to give a lot of different kinds of exposure to the online experience for different tastes. So it could be almost like a gateway for people that are more single player oriented? Yeah, like the gateway from single player to co-op, and from co-op to other online modes. One thing that I found curious was how the game helps the folks who are behind or who are not doing as well. It clearly takes a lot of tweaking and balancing to get things to where people don't feel like they're getting cheated out of their experience if they're very hardcore, for example. So how do you all approach that? Well, the way we look at it is it's as much an opportunity for the winning team to advance further by earning more cash or more XP as it is for the trailing team to catch up a little bit. We've been tweaking the experience so that if you've got the stronger team, they're going to win more often than not. We don't want to flip the switch so far that it becomes like a rubber band where you can kind of slingshot past, but the team that's ahead is going to earn more points during what we call a "power play" and it's a short burst - it's an event that lasts about one minute and it changes up the play styles of a given match. So even outside of the effect of having the trailing team catch up, it makes the experience more interesting. One of those power plays is called "marked man," during which one or two members on the leading team get marked, and if the trailing team can kill them, they'll get three points for that kill so it can help them catch up. It's a very interesting dynamic because as soon as someone gets marked, the opposing team can all see exactly where he is and the leading team gets to defend him, so it changes the experience for this short little burst. It becomes kind of like the Killzone game mode where you go from death match to capture the flag to territories and the like. Over the course of a 10-minute death match you'll probably only experience maybe one or two of these power plays but for those short bursts you get a different flavor. Yeah. It seems that you're putting more of that push and pull kind of play in the game, which is interesting because you don't often get a lot of peaks and valleys in multiplayer games. They tend to be pretty straightforward. You'll have moment-to-moment events that might be interesting, but it's hard to guide that kind of a rollercoaster experience for people. Yeah, it is tricky and we obviously have been doing tons of play testing. We have a daily play session where the whole company will jump online and play for a half an hour, and we've got some really hardcore people and people will definitely lose it if the power play stuff gets taken out to an extreme, but we also have the ability to dynamically update the game after its release, so if we can kind of dial that in if it seems the community is not feeling it. Of course there is the problem if there is any kind of exploit in there, because players will find it and they'll ruin the game for themselves. You've always got to watch out for that, but we're constantly on it; we have great communication with our community and they definitely keep us on our toes and keep us informed of any exploits like that. When I play Uncharted, I prefer the exploring, jumping around, and collecting treasure -- I like the exploration gameplay way more than the shooting gameplay. Could you ever foresee something that was more exploration-based then killing oriented? In a multiplayer type environment? It's interesting, we talked about a lot of different ways to expand the multiplayer side of things when we went from Uncharted 2 to Uncharted 3, but we knew that what we had to do was keep building up the most popular modes. Rather than shifting gears radically, we wanted to focus on what was getting played the most and we found it was death match and co-op, so we really wanted to focus on those and enhance those in ways that brought that single player experience into multiplayer. So when you say you like running around and looking for treasures, we added the treasures to multiplayer so as you're playing and killing people, you'll occasionally see a treasure drop and you'll get to run out there and collect it, and it becomes this game where you're trying to get all the pieces of these different treasure sets because that will help your level progression and unlock new items.

About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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