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Armageddon Q&A - Keith Guerrette

Uncharted 3 - Drake's Deception

With the ever popular Armageddon hitting Auckland this weekend, we caught up with Keith Guerrette, the Lead Effects Artist on Uncharted 3, which releases exclusively on PlayStation on November 3rd.

The highly anticipated Uncharted 3 hits these shores next week - tell us what to expect from it.
We've been focusing hard to make sure that Uncharted 3 can live up to the pressure and expectations from its predecessor - bigger adrenaline pumping set pieces, more emotionally involved, depth filled story and character plot points, refined and polished gun, melee and stealth combat systems, and a vastly expanded multiplayer system will make this the most exciting cinematic gaming experience of the franchise.

You worked on the last Uncharted - how does this one differ when it comes to the gaming experience?
From the project's conception we were feeling the pressure from the success of Uncharted 2, so we had to look long and hard at the specific things that people loved, that people hated, and all the other cool ideas and improvements that we had intended. 
When speaking about the technology, Uncharted 2 was our proving grounds .We spent the entire two years of development making the tech behind the collapsing building and train sequences work, but we'd barely been able to take advantage of it.  This was huge for us as we began to plan out this next game, because we were able to pull together some of the most complicated and epic dynamic set-pieces ever seen in video games, and we had time to focus on keeping them fun for a player with no appreciation for the tech to experience.
On the other hand, the largest focal point for Naughty Dog while working on the Uncharted series has been the story  Within Uncharted 3, we've turned to the journeys of Lawrence of Arabia and his search for the Iram of the Pillars (or Atlantis of the Sands) for our historical context, and found a wealth of mystery and intrigue to weave our gameplay fiction around.
But beyond that, the characters, and their complex relations, are where our viewers find most of the charm and like-ability.  Within Uncharted 3, were looking more closely into the father/son relationship (or bro-mance) between Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan, as well as Drake's curious past.  Everyone's favourite ladies, Elena and Chloe will of course be playing important roles as the tale unfolds.

And in terms of the developing, how did it differ this time around?
As I mentioned above, there were two real driving factors behind our development this game:  We knew we had to make something even bigger and better than Uncharted 2, and we knew that we had a wealth of technology already developed and ready to go.  We immediately set off in almost every direction, building and inventing everything that we could possibly think of, and then reeling it all together to fit into the story as it was growing across our two year development. 
Where last time, our attitude was simply to make a game that we were proud to put out in the market, and call a Naughty Dog game, the pressure of this development defined the entire process, and left us with an air of motivation and desire to make everything better - Is this good enough?  Is this better than last time?  What else can we do to make it better?  How the @#$% do we do this in 2 years?

How did you look to develop the epic side of this game?
Over the course of the last two projects, Naughty Dog has developed such a wealth of technology and workflow techniques that we'd barely even begun to take advantage of.  From the start of this production, we'd been jokingly telling ourselves "More EPIC!!  We need more EPIC!" 
And so all of us sat down and started working out every awesome set-piece scenario that we could think of to drag Nathan Drake through, some well-grounded and plausible, others completely and absolutely ridiculous.  Meanwhile, Amy and the writing staff were developing a story-arc, and beginning to work with us to utilize, or modify to fit, all of the ideas we were pulling together. 
Unfortunately, concept was only a small part of the execution - for almost every set-piece in the final version of Uncharted 3, all of our departments spent hundreds of hours building and iterating on new art, new tech, and new design to make the sequences as enjoyable and edge-of-your-seat intense as we possibly could.

What do you personally look for when you're involved in a development like this?
Naughty Dog is filled with some of the most talented and motivated people in the industry.  Several of our employees have been working in games since I was a child, and for all of us, making the best game that we possibly can is an extreme passion. 
Day in and day out, we go into our studio, sit down at our desks, and push each other to better our art, our tools, our design, into something that we are all excited by.  It's one of the greatest feelings in the world when a set-piece comes together, usually last minute, and after dozens of hours of stressful work. 

What are you most proud of in Uncharted 3?
It's honestly difficult to say - I'm extremely proud of the story that Naughty Dog has instilled across this game, and the emotional journey the player will experience to receive it.  For my involvement personally, there were so many HUGE visual effects tasks - I'm so incredibly proud of the FX team and all of the crazy work we've done, from the fully dynamic stormy ocean and the rushing water simulations, to the French chateau burning down around Drake, to the subtle sand interactions while Drake stumbles around lost in the Rub a Khali desert - each had their own tremendous challenges and unique solutions. 

It sounds like a tough question, but what do you wish you could have included in it? And is there even something or did you get everything in you wanted?
It's always a painful process to cut ourselves off from adding more features, refining more art, and otherwise not letting go.  With this project in particular,  because we started off with so many crazy ideas, the entire development was about choosing and prioritizing where we truly wanted to spend our energy.  Every step of the way, we had to make the decision to let go of some tasks in order to properly support others, and even so, we were adding and polishing bits of the game up to the day we went Gold, and our bosses came by and said, "That's it, we can't change anything else!" 

It's almost cinematic in look and feel throughout how do you feel about comparisons to Indiana Jones for your lead character
Honestly, it's flattering - every movie, game, television show out there has to solve a lot of the same challenges that we do.  We love to look at their solutions and techniques to see what they're doing well, what they could improve, and what we can learn from their attempts. 
Making a cinematic game definitely means that we have to learn all the tricks from the film pros, and shift them to make them work within a game presentation.

There's also been talk of an Uncharted film - who would you like to see take the lead role and why?
Learning about the movie has been an odd experience for us at Naughty Dog - we're so far removed from the entire process, that we actually receive our information from the same news outlets that everyone else does. 
I honestly don't want to comment on who I'd like to see, but I do sincerely hope that the entire production doesn't push us into the very crowded group of video-game based movies that are super cheesy.  It's going to be very interested to see where it goes, and if they can successfully capture the experience that we've worked so hard to keep across the Uncharted franchise.  Fingers crossed!
What's next for you?
My career at Naughty Dog is far from over - its such a privilege for me to work with a studio that is so willing to spend time and energy advancing the entire industry, and is always ready to take creative risks. As for the Uncharted team, we only just finished up the game a few weeks ago, so we're all trying to relax and enjoy some time off.  We honestly don't know what we're going to be doing next. Whatever it is, we want to make absolutely sure that it's something completely worth our time and dedication, and hopefully worth playing!