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Focus testers originally disliked  Uncharted  Vita's female lead
Focus testers originally disliked Uncharted Vita's female lead
November 8, 2012 | By Staff

November 8, 2012 | By Staff
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During the development of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the developers at Sony Bend realized they'd gone down the wrong track with its leading lady -- "Almost universally, focus testers hated Chase, the game's new female protagonist," writes Bend's John Garvin, in a new Gamasutra postmortem of the Vita launch title.

"The problem, we discovered, was the writing. In the script, Chase's character was a bit of a smart ass and a little sarcastic," writes Garvin. Thinking "players were going to love" the Chase he'd crafted, Garvin was surprised when he found out "it didn't work out that way."

While the developers had initially resisted focus testing, they quickly moved beyond that and realized they had problems to solve.

On one hand, the Bend developers had perpetuated some unfortunate stereotypes. Players called her a wimp, which Garvin admits is a "fair assessment."

"For gameplay reasons, we constantly put Chase into situations where Drake needed to take action. Call it lazy if you want, but we ended up with a few 'Princess Peach' scenarios... It seemed that poor Chase was constantly being choked, shot at, knocked out, dragged around and kidnapped. We fixed that, as well as we could, by changing the scenarios to make Chase less of a victim."

In one key scene, Chase was passively strangled by a thug while Drake came to her rescue -- but in the rewrite, she kicked him and escaped, with Drake covering her. They also made her less of a whiner -- in the original portrayal, she'd been "crying out every time Drake fell victim to a rickety structure (which he was prone to do), or every time something bad or unexpected happened."

Though the developers had strived to improve their portrayal of Chase, they were running up against another problem -- players also labeled her a "bitch," which Garvin believes was "unfair".

"What's that old adage? If a man acts forceful he's 'take-charge and aggressive, a real leader' but if a woman acts that way, she's being 'pushy and a bitch' -- an unfair gender stereotype, but one we had to deal with," he writes. "How? By making her less aggressive and critical."

"By the time we got to our third focus test, the replacement lines were in and focus testers stopped complaining about Chase," Garvin writes.

You can read more about the focus testing process for Golden Abyss -- as well as much more about the game's overall development, co-written with his Sony Bend colleagues -- in the full postmortem, which is live now on Gamasutra.


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Comments


John Trauger
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As my old writing teacher said, "protagonists must protag." You don't make the protagonist passive unless there's a plot or character that requires it.

Try writing the script for a male lead with a female love interest then flip the gender(s) and fix the details.

Then, right before blessing a draft of the script as "ready", flip them back and see how well it plays.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Chris OKeefe
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I'm curious if they had any female focus testers, and if so, did they react the same way?

It might not be the job of game developers to change culture, but if the reaction really was based on popular sexist predispositions, I would have been far more impressed if they didn't make special effort to make her less intimidating to male players.

There are so many examples of unlikeable characters becoming fan favorites through character development and clever framing. But I can understand that when you are in the midst of game development, the less you need to rewrite to get a positive result, the better.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"What's that old adage? If a man acts forceful he's 'take-charge and aggressive, a real leader' but if a woman acts that way, she's being 'pushy and a bitch' -- an unfair gender stereotype, but one we had to deal with," he writes. "How? By making her less aggressive and critical."

Well, so which one was it, was she a forceful leader or aggressively critical?

Because forceful female leaders seldom illicit negative responses in video games, and certainly not the "bitch" stereotype (FemShep).
Being aggressively critical however does, and plays to the "bitch" stereotype (nagging housewife stereotype).

Mark Ludlow
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It's kind of interesting that they phrased it this way because in the feminist's view, the opposite holds true. If a male acts forceful and aggressive he's an egotistical, chauvinist pig, but if a female acts that way she's empowered and self-assertive.

I guess it comes down to knowing your audience because you are always going to have people who hold an opposing viewpoint.

Darcy Nelson
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"It's kind of interesting that they phrased it this way because in the feminist's view, the opposite holds true. If a male acts forceful and aggressive he's an egotistical, chauvinist pig, but if a female acts that way she's empowered and self-assertive."

Not so much. If someone's being forceful and aggressive as to appear a egotistical, chauvinist pig, it's probably because he's being forceful and aggressive at the expense of a woman or women.

Toby Grierson
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...

Jeremy Reaban
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I don't think constant sarcasm or complaining is likable in either gender. And it's completely at odds with being "take-charge and aggressive", instead of complaining, those types of people are doing. Leaders are not bullies, at least good ones aren't.

Eric McVinney
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Maybe they should take note on Bayonetta and Rayne (from Blood Rayne)...

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Darcy Nelson
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Dying to know what the composition of the focus groups were.


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