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Uncharted 4's Neil Druckmann: 'We are bringing closure to Drake's journey'

GameSpot speaks to Naughty Dog's creative director at E3 2015 to discuss the final chapter in Drake's tale.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End will close the curtain on the story of Nathan Drake, and if you hadn't have already guessed that from the unambiguous subtitle, then you probably would get the hint watching it in action.

The development team at Naughty Dog appears to be throwing everything at this finale, with action scenes that are so ridiculous you wonder whether Nathan Drake will jump the shark before his closing scene with us.

GameSpot sat down with Neil Druckmann, creative director at Naughty Dog, at E3 2015 to discuss the final chapter.

From what I've seen, with all the crazy set-pieces that you're throwing into Uncharted 4, it feels as though you're designing it as the final game in the series. Would that be a fair assessment?

Druckmann: Well, our approach has been, the first three games were the setup, and if we were to do one more, how would we top it all off? How would we bring Nathan Drake's journey to a close? Everything we're doing is constructed towards that; bringing closure to a very long journey.

That journey isn't about just chasing treasure, it's also about your relationships you have formed along the way.

Is that what interests you most about Uncharted 4, the relationships?

Druckmann: I think as far as the story goes, relationships are the most important. In terms of what interests me the most, that fluctuates a little. Even with something like this, which is a stylised reality, with the classic "good guys versus bad guys," you can still tell a human story.

Yeah, you would think that, and at first it was an adjustment. After Uncharted 2, I thought I was done with the series. Bruce [Straley, co-director] probably feels the same way. But our bosses asked us to come direct the game and, it was like coming home to something really special. And we didn't realize how much we missed it, because The Last of Us is such a different game, and we had a team that worked so hard to tone down all the bombast that Uncharted is so well known for.

Please don't take offense at this, but were I in your shoes, I think I wouldn't want to make a fourth Uncharted. The third game ended so cleanly, and then The Last of Us happened, which was your chance to build a new story, and to create a new world, and everyone went bananas for it. I just think, the most amazing possibilities had opened for you, and then you had to go back and make another Uncharted.

Druckmann: So, that was the constraints of The Last of Us, and working on Uncharted 4 in some ways is freedom. As you can see in the demonstration, we can really go big and just have fun with it. In the real world, being dragged along by a jeep would probably kill you, but in Drake's world, he lives off of this stuff.

Speaking of that spectacle, you're adding so much craziness into the game, so much razzamatazz, that I wonder, how far can you go without jumping the shark?

Druckmann: Well, we have a core team of designers who are always talking and keeping each other in check. We have people who are constantly asking the right questions [about] tone, and there are occasions [when] we've decided something is too big, so we tone it down. It doesn't always have to be on 11.

How much more effort is required in the transition to next-gen?

Druckmann: Oh, well it's a nightmare, right? We were finally coming to grips with working on the PS3, and then the rug was pulled from under us and we get whole new hardware to try and understand.

With the PS3, so much of the limitation was memory, and on PlayStation 4 we have so much of that, the new limitation is how can we get so much of that information from the disc to RAM as quickly as possible.

So different bottlenecks become apparent, and the world now is so big that we are driving through so much content that needs to be created. So to give you an example of how we simplify things, we tag certain materials in broad types, so you're not creating every single asset from scratch. A building is made from certain groups of materials, which lowers the processing load, which means we can create lots more content much more quickly.

This is your first attempt at a PlayStation 4 title, from scratch. How would you summarize working with the hardware?

Druckmann: I guess that working on The Last of Us Remastered really helped us. It allowed us to port our engine over. Because the hardest thing with working on new hardware is it takes so long to get something on the screen, and then get something on the screen at a good enough frame rate so that we can analyse how it plays.

So, just doing The Last of Us Remastered helped. I mean, Uncharted 4 was rough at first, but now we feel we're at a good place. There's still a few more things we have to still add in, but most of the mechanics are in, and we're now iterating on them.

It was interesting to see in the trailer that Nathan appears to take one of several routes in his Jeep. How open-world is this game?

Druckmann: Yeah, I mean the term we use is wide-linear. It's not open-world, because we wanted to tell a very specific story, with very specific tension. The thing I have a hard time with, in open-world games, is that there's a lack of tension. Say if my ally's life is in jeopardy; I can still go off and do five different side-quests, and I don't believe that jeopardy. So I feel we need some way to control the pacing, and it needs to be ways where you are still active as well.

For us, the story is king. I don't mean writing, and I don't mean script. What I mean is, there's a certain experience we're trying to make, and that's going to trump the gameplay, that's going to trump the graphics. This high-level experience we create should, eventually, win that argument of what this game is going to be.