Active Cinematic Experience
Lastly we wanted to tightly integrate our combat encounters with our storytelling. Creating the "Active Cinematic Experience" was a central goal in the development of Uncharted 2: put simply, we wanted to tell as much of our story as possible in-game rather than resorting to cinematics. To facilitate this, the tone and mood of the combat had to strongly support where the player is in the story arc.
Creating a mood and feeling through our encounters and our environment was a key point we wanted to drive home. Using lighting, time of day, color palette, weather effects, tight vs. open space, and ambient sound in conjunction with the style of a combat encounter helped to strengthen the emotional attachment of the player to the characters and what they were going through. A great example of all of these things in action is the progression Drake takes through the war torn streets of Nepal:
- Near the beginning of the area Drake meets up with Chloe. It's bright and sunny, and this helps give the feeling of kicking off a great adventure. A few challenging combat encounters occur, but they're nothing too overbearing that they can't handle together working cooperatively.
This helps to support the feeling of getting to know and care about Chloe. At one point when they reach the top of the hotel, storm clouds can be seen off in the distance foreshadowing darker times ahead.
- This eventually leads to a very high-energy combat sequence with the helicopter chasing them through the collapsing building and across the rooftops.
We build up tension with an overpowering force (the helicopter) that is relentless in hunting Drake down, forcing him to find shelter. We build upon this to increase the payoff moment when Drake can finally confront the helicopter and take it down.
- This high-energy climax then allows us to bring the pace back down as they meet up with Jeff and Elena to make their way to the temple. It's now becoming a little bit overcast, tension is building up between Chloe and Drake with the introduction of Elena and Jeff, and the spaces are becoming more cramped and closed in (going from the open rooftops to alleyways).
There's light combat here to just keep up the sense of being hunted, but allowing emotional space to play up the drama brewing between the characters.
- The combat encounter uphill against the machinegun turret provides a short spike of intensity, and being an uphill fight helps continue along the lines of being pinned down and closed in upon.
- Once Drake and Chloe get to the map room in the temple, they have to fight their way out as Lazarevic's men have entered the scene. What's happened to Jeff and Elena is unknown as the soldiers would have had to make their way past Jeff and Elena at the temple entrance. Deep underground, the only way out is through the incoming soldiers, giving the sense of being overrun and oppressed.
- The combat is designed to feel like having to dig your way out of the temple as the soldiers take up strong positions in your path. We use this to build on the tension that Drake really wants to get back to Jeff and Elena.
- Once they exit the temple, the rain has arrived. It's now very grey and overcast, adding to the desperation of seeing Elena and Jeff pinned down in the temple square. Snipers peering through the windows from the high ground, along with a fairly overwhelming force help support this. This also foreshadows the coming conflict between Chloe and Drake regarding what to do with the injured cameraman.
- The fight of escorting Jeff through the alleyways continues to build upon the tension between Chloe, Drake, and Elena. Drake is also very limited in his ability to move while escorting Jeff, giving a sense of helplessness and reinforcing the tension. The combat puts pressure on the player around every corner, building to an overwhelming crescendo of rocket launchers and trucks with turrets.
- The climax of this whole sequence is when Chloe is forced to turn on Drake and Elena to save herself. This is also setting up the first face to face meeting with Lazarevic. This creates a feeling of complete desperation -- that this could be the end.
These are only a few examples from the game of how we tried to use combat to help support the arc of the story. It's not about just putting in combat for its own sake, but to also try and tailor combat scenarios to fit in with the mood and moment of the game.
It's a balancing act of making sure we have elements that let the player use what they've learned, introducing new elements to challenge the player, introducing new weapons and abilities to add to the player's toolset, and making sure it's all done in a way that strongly supports the story.
Alrighty! That concludes this first section in this series. The remaining sections will cover:
- Our development process at Naughty Dog in how we create an encounter from top to bottom
- The technical side of our AI and how they work, along with the tools we use to control and craft our experiences
- Techniques and tips that we've used
- The lessons we've learned
So until next time...