Wednesday, January 6, 2010

EXP Podcast #59: Uncharted Territory

The best games of 2009 have been selected and I have joined an unsurprising chorus of individuals who laud Uncharted 2: Among Thieves as their experience of the year. Such a title, however, with its unapologetic approach to cinematic game design, may hold untold dangers for the medium. So begins this week's conversation about the successes and failures of Uncharted 2. Once again, Scott and I focus on one single game we have recently played, reflecting on Naughty Dog and the future of game design. For those who have played the game, and those who have not, we encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Warning: This podcast contains spoilers for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Some discussion starters:

- First off, what are your thoughts on Uncharted 2? What did you find distracting or engaging?
- What are the extremities of linear-narrative game design? What are the consequences of exploring the boundaries of the medium?
- What other games have existed in these "dangerous game design" borderlands for you?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking the title. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 32 min 59 sec
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Oh man, I had a huge response typed up only to find out it's over Blogger's comment limit.

    I'll see if I can chop it down some and post it tomorrow, for now though I need to go. To say I enjoyed that podcast though is an understatement...

  2. Barely interactive movies have their place... but not in my game library. To each their own, I suppose.

    That said, I'm trained to make movies (my BFA is in computer animation for film), but wound up in games. I still see a clear difference between the two, and have little reason to mash the two together. They are fundamentally different mediums, and I don't turn to one expecting the other. Maybe that makes me a snob or oddball purist, but when I play games, I want control. If I want to sit back and be entertained, I watch a movie.

  3. @Steven

    I look forward (somewhat fearfully) to your epic comment! Maybe you can turn it into a post? Get a little cross-blog action going on?


    In that case, you'll probably agree with the post I have lined up for tomorrow...

    Out of curiosity, was there a specific event that inspired you to get into games rather than film? Do you think you would ever go back to working in film?

  4. I would still love to work in film. I'm trained to do Pixar-level work, and would enjoy doing so. It's just not feasible to work in California, so I wound up taking a job locally in games.

    I've always liked games, too, and my art specialty fits either well enough, so it's not a huge stretch... I just have experience with both mediums, and have seen the differences both as a fan and on the production side. I really think that games need to embrace their strengths, not try to be Film Lite. There's a niche for that, to be sure, and things to learn from film, but I think as a medium, we're going to progress more if we don't aspire to be cinema.

  5. Though I clearly enjoyed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves more that Scott I agree with his sentiment that it's potentially dangerous for games as a whole. I also think Demon's Souls is equally dangerous and it's been getting its fair share of GOTY awards also.

    Among Thieves is a highly linear, constrained, experience with only the slightest room for the player to actually play. On the other hand Demon's Souls does little more than repeatedly punish the player for failing to learn and then when the player finally stops being punished all they've actually learnt is how to finish that specific game, a skill required nowhere else in the field of human experience.

    I see Demon's Souls being on the other extreme of the continuum of games more than I do Far Cry 2, and I think focusing on either extreme is a dangerous path to follow. However I do think Scott almost nullified his own point later in the podcast by pointing out how much time and money were required to produce it. It’s unlikely Among Thieves will be directly copied simply because doing so would cost so much.

    I don’t have a problem with the filmic nature of Among Thieves, I think calling it a “movie” is a cheap shot, even a little agency immediately makes a HUGE difference when compared to cinema.

    I fear a future where developers continue to ape traditional media but just as much I fear a future where developers ignore all the incredibly important lessons that traditional media have to teach; lessons learnt over decades if not centuries of development. Dickens was dealing with sweeping narratives full of varied characters from every section of society a hundred years before Rockstar North created Grand Theft Auto, and yet still too many developers are acting like such traditional media have nothing to teach.

    Anyway this could easily become a much, much longer rant. Suffice to say I think I agreed with both Scott and Jorge equally.

  6. @Justin

    How very diplomatic of you. But seriously, we all know that you love me best. ;-)

    I agree that we shouldn't be too glib about dubbing games "movies." I've even written about how dynamic space is often overlooked in linear games. For some reason, possibly because of the strong filmic techniques used to develop its characters, Uncharted 2 just rubbed me the wrong way.

    With all the talk of Demon's Souls, I'm really interested to play it. I'd like to see how that "specialized game-skill" approach to design feels; perhaps it will give me flashbacks to the 8-bit days?

  7. @ Scott

    Ahem, I believe he likes me the best, thank you very much.

    In general: While I agree Justin that no great game will ever come from solely mimicking success of other medium, extreme cases, including Demon's Souls, such ventures will teach us something about what we DO want to integrate.

    I'm just not scared of extremes. It seems most consumers are perfectly happy with the norm. Why would a few high-selling outliers shift game design all that much?

  8. @Jorge

    I see what you're saying, but I think there's historical precedent for "high-selling outliers" to shift game design. Just in recent memory:

    - Mario 64: Continues to act as the template for most 3D platformers

    - Ocarina of Time: Introduces "lock-on" targeting in 3D environments

    - MGS: Popularizes stealth dynamics in a wide variety of games

    - Gears of War: Cover for everybody!

    I would argue each of these design choices is "extreme" to a certain extent, as the games would not have been drastically different (if not unrecognizable) without them. Each of these design choices went on to have enormous influence in subsequent games.

    So basically what I'm saying is: Sometimes, certain design choices in high-selling outliers catch on. Sometimes it's a good thing (lock-on targeting), sometimes it's a less than great thing (quick-time events).

    My fear is that games like Uncharted 2 represent another design shift; perhaps a more complex shift than my single-mechanic/dynamic examples, but a shift nontheless.

    It's hard to predict what will catch on, but I think (what I perceive as) Uncharted's neglect of gameplay in favor of presentation is a scary prospect.

    Then again, as is becoming a theme of this site, I seem to be fear-monger. Now where did I put my tinfoil hat?