A few months ago the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood hosted a Making of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune talk, titled An Evening with Naughty Dog. The guest speaker was Richard Lemarchand, the lead designer for Uncharted. An excellent speaker, he opened by shining some light onto the environment of Naughty Dog. I wasn’t just there for the free booze and pizza — I also took some notes.

  • Produced by Artisans. Everyone on staff at Naughty Dog actually has a role in making the game. No-one only does management. NO PRODUCERS (sounds like heaven to me). The people with responsibility are creatives that are making the game.
  • Disciplined leads should know how long tasks should take to be completed because they do the same work themselves.
  • Give people responsibility. Trust the members of the team to have good judgment and make the right decisions.
  • Face-to-Face communication. Less disruptive than e-mail. Builds teamwork/camaraderie.
  • Short meetings. Keep them brief to get the message across and to stay productive.
  • Cross-functional team.
  • Allocate work to those who are passionate about it. That’s where the magic comes from.
  • Do-acracy — individuals choose tasks for themselves.
  • Never get personal w/criticism. Don’t get bent out of shape.
  • Micromanagement is usually the enemy of excellence.
  • Waterfall development process from software development doesn’t necessarily apply to game development.
  • Games are like painting. Before painting you make sketches, research, rough in charcoal, etc. before even touching a brush.
  • “Method” – Mark Cerny lecture w/ Michael John (link currently broken 🙁 )
  • Pre-production.
    • The time to innovate. Push limits to “capture lightning”.
    • Process of managed chaos.
    • Initiated by a core group of seniors.
    • Drake’s pre-production team size ~15. Led by Amy Hennig, Bob Rafei.
  • Publishable – first playable. I believe he mentioned this to highlight how important it was to get the first couple stages running so they define what the game would be.
  • Macro game design.
    • Designing the game by looking at the big picture — as if looking at a map of an entire country. You only see major cities and major landmarks.
  • Game macro spreadsheet. Richard showed examples of the macro spreadsheets from Uncharted. Which were Excel documents that laid out the details of each level, divided into segments. The game mechanics that were to be introduced and explored, the ideas and feelings that were meant to get across for the section of the game.
  • Micro design. He referenced Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers by comparing it to laying down track, while you’re on the train.
  • Solid pre-production saves a screwed production.
  • Get it in the game quickly. Getting on w/making the game is the best way to make it.
  • Don’t wait for tools, convoluted approaches. Build barebones and expand. He told a story of how they wasted a lot of time building convoluted tools that needed to be remade anyway. In the end they used barebones, ugly tools that did what they needed to do — get the job done.
  • Fail early, fail often.
  • Iteration. If you’re aiming for excellence, you better iterate.
  • 30% usability, 70% iteration. On the importance of usability vs. iteration time with tools. It’s more important for you to be able to iterate game changes faster than it is to have prettier tools.
  • Driven by frequent deadlines. Major deadline every 4-6 weeks. Once you get into the mindset of slipping, it’s hard to get back.
  • Hard Work. He told the story of Walt Disney always telling artists to “Plus it!” — no matter how good it was it could always be better. I’ve been reading The Illusion of Life, which details the history of Disney animation. An incredibly inspiring read.
  • Motion capture was used mainly for the nuance detail in the animation, which is the hardest to animate.
  • Levels are fundamentally expressions of game mechanics.
  • “Easy to learn, difficult to master.” — a good game.
  • Check out a Jeremy Yates lecture on Uncharted from GDC 2008.

All in all, this talk inspired the hell out of me. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, it’s worth signing up for Gnomon’s newsletter. They have these kinds of events on a monthly basis, great for networking and inspiration.

About the author:
Bryson Whiteman (http://www.sonofbryce.com)
Bryson is the guy behind all of the Sokay creations. Heading artwork and development, he's determined to make sure each game has a "distinctively Sokay" quality to them. He's always looking forward for a chance to experiment with new technologies to explore exciting ways to achieve fun.