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Analysis: Design Lessons For  Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Analysis: Design Lessons For Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Exclusive

August 13, 2009 | By Manveer Heir

August 13, 2009 | By Manveer Heir
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[In this column, Raven Software lead designer Manveer Heir analyzes the monsters of Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and gleans some design lessons for how to improve them.]

Monsters are a key part of our culture. Whether it's vampires, werewolves, zombies, or any number of weird creatures we've created in video games, monsters have always been a huge draw. Much of Greek mythology revolves around the slaying of monsters such as the Hydra and Medusa.

The concept of something wholly sinister, wholly inhuman, and wholly foreign to us scares and enthralls us. These creatures don't exist in the real world, so instead we read about them, watch them on film -- and of course, kill them in video games.

The thing about monsters is they often represent something very supernatural and different. As a result, they can act any way we want them to and players will buy it. A monster can fly, teleport to any location, or turn you to stone by looking at you and players are willing to suspend any disbelief because monsters don't need to act like humans.

However, when we put monsters in a game, this freedom can pose a problem. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, by Naughty Dog, exhibits this problem towards the end of the game with the introduction of monster enemies.

Design Lesson: When introducing new enemies, it's important to build off of the original strategies of combat instead of creating a completely different style of combat that is at odds with the player's original combat strategies

That's a long way of saying "don't make me change the way I play your game completely when you've taught me to play a certain way for the last six hours." Uncharted: Drake's Fortune spends a lot of time teaching you to use cover. It teaches you to stay behind cover, to move from cover to cover, to pick your shots and execute them carefully. It's not Halo, where you run around circle-strafing and firing from the hip.

That is until you get toward the end of the game and the monsters show up. Let's ignore the fact that monsters didn't fit my narrative view of the game world (I viewed the game world as being a realistic world, whereas I've had friends tell me that they viewed it as more of an Indiana Jones-style world where monsters do exist).

The issue is that the monsters' behaviors and the optimal way to defeat them is completely at odds with the combat for regular enemies.

The monsters have a melee attack only, and frankly it's rather powerful. They also have a tendency to swarm you and move fast, making it hard to aim and take them out methodically. They will attack you at once and kill you fast. You cannot sit still. The monsters encourage a frenetic set of behaviors. In fact, they encourage behaviors that are the exact opposite of what you do the rest of the game.

The first time I encountered the monsters, I tried to line up my shots and aim faster, not moving much from where I was. I died an awful lot doing this. Then I picked up the shotgun, started to run around in circles and fired from the hip instead of aiming, letting the auto-aim take control.

This is how I succeeded. Combat completely changed with these enemies. There I was running around in circles like an idiot just firing over and over until everyone was dead, instead of jumping from cover to cover, thinking about how to flank the enemy, and being patient.

So why is the run and gun strategy to kill the monsters so bad? Because nothing in the game ever prepared me for this style of combat. In fact, the game actively discouraged this style of combat, by killing me if I tried to run and gun.

I was taught, and fast, that I needed to be cautious. Instead of having their monsters build upon the basic behaviors and strategies I had already learned, Naughty Dog opted to have me change the way I played the game dramatically.

Instead, it would have been better for the game to encourage new behaviors and strategies that built upon the previous ones. For example, the monsters could required me to quickly move between cover and take shots instead of being cautious and biding my time, due to a ranged attack they have.

This would still have me using cover, trying to take the careful shot, but make me do it at a far quicker pace and up the tempo of the game. Or the monsters could have been used in conjunction with other enemies to make them stronger and more powerful, making it so I needed to take out the monsters first to make my own life easier. The game would force me to prioritize my enemies due to threat.

There are a number of ways the monsters could have been implemented better in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It's a shame that they weren't. Fortunately the monsters aren't introduced until late in the game and they aren't too prevalent even late. It certainly didn't ruin the game experience, but there was potential to take the game to the next level and I think the game missed that potential with their decision.

Having the monsters' AI force the player to build upon already taught strategies would have made the enemies more fun, engaging, and fit the game better. Instead, they feel out of place. Hopefully, this will be fixed in the upcoming Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Until then, I can only hope any monsters reading this column will heed this advice and try to “play nice” with the rest of the game.

[Manveer Heir is currently a lead designer at Raven Software. He worked on the upcoming first-person shooter Wolfenstein and is currently on an unannounced project. He updates his design blog, Design Rampage, regularly and frequently discusses game design on Twitter. He is interested in thoughtful critique and commentary on the gaming industry and helping advancing the medium to the next level.]


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