Naughty Dog Says Train Level Almost Broke Uncharted 2

Russ Pitts

The Boss of You
May 1, 2006
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Naughty Dog Says Train Level Almost Broke Uncharted 2

Calling fully-movable and transformable set pieces like Uncharted 2's train and hotel levels the "holy grail" of action games, Naughty Dog's Co-Lead Designer, Richard Lemarchand, says that the team's decision to incorporate such elements into Uncharted 2 [http://www.amazon.com/Uncharted-2-Among-Thieves-Playstation-3/dp/B001JKTC9A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1278970263&sr=1-1] was both the reason for the game's phenomenal success and the straw that almost broke the game's - and the company's - back.

"We really wanted to create ... a fully-playable version of a big summer blockbuster action/adventure movie which kept the player in moment-to-moment control ... as drama exploded around them," says Lemarchand.

In order to realize this dream, Naugty Dog had to pursue one of what he considers the most important, and never-before-achieved design elements: fully traversable set-pieces.

Naugty Dog calls the result their "Dynamic Object Traversal System," and it's what makes it possible to conduct a running gunfight across the top of a moving train, for example, or duck and roll through an open window while the hotel you're standing inside of comes crashing down around you - both levels that Naughty Dog dreamed up very early in the game's production cycle, and what Lemarchand calls "a handful of ideas that [were] simply too good to not include in the game." Lemarchand warns developers who might be inclined to follow in Naughty Dog's footsteps that such levels are "amazingly complicated."

"The set pieces had taken much longer to create and polish than we'd anticipated," he says, and he offers advice to those who'll be looking to set the mark further with their own games:

"We know that a lot of developers who enjoyed Uncharted 2 are probably going to be aiming high now in terms of their own set pieces. So another important take-away from this ... is a warning about just how long it takes to get that stuff right."

Among the bugs caused by the decision to make the train fully traversable were that grenades thrown by the player - at first - would simply fly back in their faces and the targeting was lagging a frame behind the on-screen action, causing your gun to aim not where the enemy was currently standing, but where they had been standing in the previous frame. Considering the enemy was standing on a train moving at a simulated 60 miles per hour, this meant that the game's auto-aim feature was causing the player's aim to be about 2 meters off target. None of this, obviously was acceptable.

But the problems didn't end there. According to Lemarchand, one of the biggest problems faced by the team was that the game's frame rate was taking a massive hit from all of the moving objects and detailed scenery.

"Nine months before launch we suddenly realized that our frame rate was - to put it bluntly - pretty crap," he says. Naugty Dog buckled down and made solving the frame rate problem a "huge focus."

"The only way that we were able to tackle it was to regard it as a very serious problem that we simply couldn't let slide. ... In the Spring of 2009 ... we realized just how big of a game we had bitten off and ... we were either going to have to chew extra hard or make some cuts or choke."

The next several months leading up to Uncharted 2's launch, says Lemarchand, were among the worst he and the rest of the team had ever experienced as game designers, surpassing even the most brutal crunch periods any of them could remember. He admitted that the stress was ultimately self-deating, causing further stress, illness and reduced productivity, but he offers that they simply had no choice.

"Even though ... the way we work may seem like a pretty seat-of-the-pants way to do things," he says, "we think that it's the way that a lot of game developers [work] and that we just have the courage to make it an official part our our process. ... It's really only because of our ability to work together without much friction that our games always come together on time."

To date, Uncharted 2 has earned 33 "game of the year" awards for 2009 and has sold over 3.5 million copies world-wide.


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Turtleboy1017

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Nov 16, 2008
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I'm not quite sure I understand...

What do they mean by these fully moving pieces? I have played games in the past where I am on a train, or a crumbling building, and still managed to interact with other things around me... Can someone shed some light on the subject for me?
 
Apr 28, 2008
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I can only imagine the nightmare of trying to get the AI to work on the train. Would have probably driven lesser men insane.

Turtleboy1017 said:
I'm not quite sure I understand...

What do they mean by these fully moving pieces? I have played games in the past where I am on a train, or a crumbling building, and still managed to interact with other things around me... Can someone shed some light on the subject for me?
In those games it was merely an illusion. The actual platform or train the player was on wasn't moving, the rest of the world was.

Hope that sheds some light on it.
 

Mukiwa

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Sep 4, 2008
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I can imagine. Those scenes were simply astounding! That collapsing hotel part stunned me into silence with its sheer awesomeness.
 

Tuddle

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Nov 12, 2009
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Wait, I have a PS3. Why haven't I bought this game yet? I GOT TO GET THIS GAME!
 

AkJay

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Feb 22, 2009
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I really enjoyed this game, I beat all of it in 2 days because I was so immersed, so it's cool to get a look how big a pain in the ass it was for the developers, haha.

On another note, Russ, you really need to read this through. There are a lot of noticeable spelling mistakes which make the article somewhat difficult to read, or maybe it's just me.
 

Tuddle

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Nov 12, 2009
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Korten12 said:
Tuddle said:
Wait, I have a PS3. Why haven't I bought this game yet? I GOT TO GET THIS GAME!
*grabs sword* you say you havent yet..?
I would buy it, but I just don't have the money.
(PS3 I wonder why)

also I have not finished the first one.
 

tetron

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Dec 9, 2009
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I watched a video of the train level and it seems like a useless "we did it to brag about it" feature.
 

MetaKnight19

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Jul 8, 2009
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The train level is one of my favourite levels in games as a whole, let alone in Uncharted 2. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of stress those guys were under when trying to perfect that level, ultimate kudos to them for making an awesome level and an awesome game in general.
 

Casual Shinji

Should've gone before we left.
Legacy
Jul 18, 2009
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It's a good thing they went the extra mile, because that train level was fucking amazing.

Had they cut it, the game would've seriously sufferd. And I'd rather have the developers suffer instead of the game.
 

Snotnarok

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Nov 17, 2008
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tetron said:
I watched a video of the train level and it seems like a useless "we did it to brag about it" feature.
That's all Uncharted 2 was, it was "look what we can do" While that's a bit of a mean way to put it the game was a LOT of showing off but to it's credit my jaw was firmly planted on the floor. It was quite a game, I won't play it again for a few years but I enjoyed my run through it.
 

Onyx Oblivion

Borderlands Addict. Again.
Sep 9, 2008
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Tuddle said:
Wait, I have a PS3. Why haven't I bought this game yet? I GOT TO GET THIS GAME!
Because you don't like Nolan North?

OT: I loved the in-store demo, when I get a PS3, I'm SOOOOOOOO getting that game.
 

Aesir23

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Jul 2, 2009
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Tuddle said:
Wait, I have a PS3. Why haven't I bought this game yet? I GOT TO GET THIS GAME!
You don't have the game, yet you have a PS3? This is blasphemy! The Uncharted games were the first ones I got after I got my PS3.