In Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the treasure-hunting series is jumping into new territory, with protagonist Chole Frazer taking the reins on an excursion to India.
Tate Mosesian, art director for Naughty Dog's hotly anticipated new DLC, says that some of the design goals for The Lost Legacy were relatively straightforward. For instance, they wanted to stick to the visual look of the Uncharted series, including the expressive use of colors.
But they also had to tackle a challenge that the team didn't have to face on past Uncharted titles: this DLC was only taking place in one location, instead of spanning several continents. In a sense, the country-hopping in the other games made it easy to create what they call a "progressions of looks." For The Lost Legacy, the team had to try to make one single area feel much more diverse.
The location gave the team a gift however, in the form of the real-world reference point: what Mosesian calls the "really beautiful and intricate and stunningly awesome" Dravidian architecture style that developed thousands of years ago in South India.
The game's memorable structures and artifacts and obstacles are the result of carefully studying real world referents...but also knowing when to take liberties.
The team drew from the several distinct Dravidian empires from different historical eras: Pallava (AD 600-900), Chola (AD 848–1280), and the Hoysalas (AD 1100-1343). "We could use it, but we could also get variety out of it, and even move the story forward by utilizing the different variants of this particular architectural style," Mosesian says.
While their sources of inspiration were the cultural products and aesthetics created by real ancient empires, that's not to say that the in-game creations are a model of historical accuracy.
"There are no actual massive twin Ganesha statues anywhere in the world. But there is in our game world."
"There are no actual massive twin Ganesha statues anywhere in the world (that I'm aware of), but there is in our game world," Mosesian says.
"We take those artistic principles and apply them to whatever is it we're trying to do ... as long as there's consistency there, then generally speaking, the player will accept it as being plausible."
That trade off with reality also comes into play in another area of Uncharted games, as well: the decay and wearing of the ancient ruins that players explore. If everything was accurate to how the natural elements would interact with a structure, there might not be a whole lot left.
"It's good to have portions of a level that are accurately weathered," Mosesian says. "But you have to throw a little bit of that out for the sake of the visuals."
"Mosesian recalls getting feedback after the first Uncharted from somebody who was angry that the metal bars in prison should have long ago eroded away."
Mosesian recalls seeing feedback after the first Uncharted from somebody who was angry that the metal bars in an ancient prison would have long ago eroded away.
"OK fine, that's fine, but then...how do we keep Drake in prison?" Mosesian told them.
"It's those little things where you're like, some bizarre circumstance meant that this particular bar did not rust out, and you just kind of have to let go of those things and go with the suspension of disbelief," Mosesian says. "Just play the game and have fun."
Besides, he insists, "everything starts looking the same after 1000 years."
The Lost Legacy — which is releasing roughly 15 months after Uncharted 4 — had "little to no" pre-production time, something that Mosesian claims was the project's biggest challenge. Another limiting decision, however, actually worked in The Lost Legacy's favor.
"It just doesn't feel right to throw old assets into a new game."
"One of the reasons why we were able to make this game to the same quality of Uncharted 4, and visually speaking, even a little bit better in some cases, was that we said there would be no new tech on this project," Moresain says.
One of the great things about DLC, from a developer's point of view, is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. You can re-use technology, mechanics, locales, and characters that were created for the original title.
But the art team on The Lost Legacy didn't lean too heavily on recycled assets.
"We're crazy, we're nuts, so the majority of the stuff in The Lost Legacy is all made for this project," Mosesian says. "It just doesn't feel right to throw old assets into a new game." The team did reuse some elements, including a lot of Uncharted 4's foliage library. But even then, they had to make changes for it to fit into the terrain of India's Western Ghats mountain range.
"We always seem to end up making new brick walls, even though we have vast libraries of them ... we must have hundreds of brick walls at this point."
There's something else that Mosesian thought was fairly important for The Lost Legacy: players won't find a whole lot of “typical Uncharted brick walls” this time around.
"That may sound silly or trivial, but because our games take place in the locations that they do, we tend to have a lot of brick walls," Mosesian says. "Tons and tons of brick walls."
Wags may joke about the preponderance of masonry, but Mosesian insists that they still require a lot of work from Naughty Dogs' artists.
"We always seem to end up making new ones, even though we have vast libraries of them," he says. "We must have hundreds of brick walls at this point."
Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy have both drawn praise for their stunning graphics. Mosesian isn't satisfied, though. "You always want your games to look better than they do," he says.
"You always cringe when you send something out, because you think it could be better, you wish it were better, there are areas that you know are below par for a Naughty Dog game, but you have no choice but to send it out," he says. "I am very happy with the way it came out. But, there's always room for improvement."
"You always try to achieve the best you possibly can in that moment in time, and then just kind of ... wait for the next leap in technology," Mosesian says. "Then you take full advantage of that and wish that that was better too."