As a project, Uncharted 4 hardly lacks for step changes, but one of the more obvious is the move away from rendered cutscenes. Running Uncharted 4’ s cinematics in-engine in realtime has meant character models have to be of cutscene quality throughout the game, hence the 800 animation bones in Drake’s face. As lead programmer
Christian Gyrling explains, the new generation means navigating the Uncanny Valley’s darkest depths. “You need skin deformation. If Drake laughs, you need the skin on the forehead to move a little bit, and if it doesn’t, it feels like he is not quite alive. The bulging of your skin under your eyes when you’re blinking, laughing or squinting – that’s the difference between talking to someone who has skin, [rather than being] made of plastic.”
The project has already involved a tremendous amount of work for Gyrling and the tech team, but the tools the studio is making for A Thief’s End will see them through the entire generation. That doesn’t mean, however, that the hard part is over. “We learn new things about the hardware every week,” he says. “Knowing what happened on PS3, that’s going to continue for four or five years. It just keeps on going.”
It was a painful start, too. Naughty Dog, a Sony subsidiary, spent the past generation working exclusively on PS3, and while it pushed the fussy Cell processor further than anyone, that counted for nothing when PS4’s specs came in. “If you’ve never made a console game before, or if you have a PC engine, it’s much easier [to develop for],” says Gyrling. “It’s a very developer-friendly console. But we had an extremely specialised engine for PS3, and we didn’t have a PC version. We had to implement one very, very quickly – we have 150 people on the other side of the building that need to be productive. It wasn’t that much fun, but it had to be done.”
Naughty Dog is no stranger to crunch. Staff spoke out about the brutal hours required to get
Uncharted 3 finished, and similar graft was needed to make the sequel’s PSX demo. One staffer explains that he shaved his head during the studio’s most recent spell of downtime; now it almost touches his collar at the back. You’d understand if morale were low. “Everyone was super-excited to be on PS4,” Gyrling tells us, “but while we were working on Windows, it didn’t really feel like a project that would ship. Morale and excitement definitely took a swing up when we switched. We have a game, it’s running on PS4, it’s starting to look beautiful, and we have a lot of time to keep pushing in all directions. It’s awesome to work with these guys. Every day I come into work, it’s fun.”
02 01 Lead programmer Christian Gyrling has been at Naughty Dog since 2006, working on
TheLastOfUs as well as the Uncharteds.
02 Environments will reflect the mood of the story. Here, Drake – waking up alone and empty-handed – has his misery reflected in the torrential rain.
03 Concept art iterations of the demo’s mountainous island setting show how Naughty Dog is using colour filters to generate a vibe