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Uncharted 4 will end the story, but not the action

Following the Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta, we sat down with the lead multiplayer designer to discuss future plans and the Uncharted legacy.

In March, Naughty Dog will release the last game in the iconic Uncharted series. Aptly subtitled A Thief's End, Uncharted 4 will see the last glimpses of protagonist Nathan Drake, bringing an end to his globetrotting adventures. However, Uncharted 4 will also play host to Naughty Dog's newest iteration of competitive multiplayer.

Last week, we spent time with the closed multiplayer beta, trying everything from the in-game acquisition store, to the Mystical abilities available for each character class.

To get a closer look, however, we sat down with Robert Cogburn, Uncharted 4's lead multiplayer designer, to discuss beta feedback, future plans, and the Uncharted legacy.

GameSpot: Now that the beta has been in players' hands for a while, has Naughty Dog seen any trends it can work with? Do you have enough time to implement any changes? Release is only about three months away.

Robert Cogburn: I shouldn't even be here right now. [Laughs]

What do you do two months out from launch? What do you do six months out from launch? We're finishing this game, we finished a lot of stuff, and we're trying to ensure that we take the best step forward. As soon as we launch, we have things in place very soon after to keep people engaged. It's a deep, deep planning process.

It's interesting to see people's perception change over time. At first, they said, "I don't like the Mysticals." Then it's, "Oh, no, the Mysticals are pretty cool." Then people said, "I don't really like the sidekicks." Although feedback on the sidekicks has been mixed and we're definitely going to start addressing that.

You talked about the Mysticals. Can you talk about the decision to include these supernatural powers in multiplayer? All three previous Uncharted games end up taking these weird supernatural twists. Is this your effort to carry that between the two modes?

Absolutely. It was something we intended to do from the very start. The Mysticals span the entire Uncharted universe, not only from the games, but from the books and the comics and such. The elements that they bring into the moment-to-moment multiplayer really mix things up and they can be used in such a tactical way that they're not overpowering. None of the Mysticals are a one-hit kill.

From the start, with this sort of being our last game, it was really something we wanted to try to pull off in terms of fan service, and it just gave us a lot more flexibility that we didn't have previously. In Uncharted 2 and 3, it was a pretty grounded experience. For Uncharted 4, we wanted to make sure that we elevated the action. Mysticals really helped us do that.

Uncharted is primarily a story-driven, single-player experience. Has there been strong demand to include multiplayer in 4? Or is that something Naughty Dog just decided to have by default? Is it an integral part of the Uncharted experience?

Definitely. The studio embarks to create experiences that we want to play. And Naughty Dog has an internal multiplayer team. We're given the reigns to create the multi-layer experiences we're interested in. That's what led to Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3, and that's what led to The Last of Us. We're seeing our community grow. Our player population from Uncharted 2 through The Last of Us has been continually expanding. We're not going to let that go. We want to create experiences that are unique to competitive games and the more we try it, the more we iterate on it for the future.

And is there a demand for it? There a lot of people that play our stuff. I think the engagement rate from the beta, which has been going up and to the right consistently, is a sign of that. Hopefully, we're going to draw more people in.

What about future plans with Uncharted 4? Are there overarching plans to support the game in the months after release? Maintaining a solid player base is a lot harder than many might realize.

This is going to sound so generic. But the mentality is just, "How do you keep engagement?" You keep engagement through updates, you keep engagement through listening to the community. I think when we reveal more about how the whole progression system's going to work for multiplayer next year, people will be able to see glimmers of how we can keep that engagement month after month.

We have some really cool plans in the future, outside of some of the obvious things like new Mysticals, new sidekicks, new weapons and whatnot. Hopefully, we'll be able to execute these plans in the future. They're a little ambitious. We're trying to be conscious of feedback throughout the process, and implementing changes based on it.

We're not going to ship Uncharted 4 and call it a day. Not at all.

What's it like coming off of the last Uncharted game, working on it, and seeing the series come full circle?

I'm a huge fan of the franchise, it's the reason why I started working at Naughty Dog, because of Drake's Fortune. In terms of multiplayer, [Uncharted 4] gives us the chance to maybe introduce aspects to the Uncharted universe that we wouldn't otherwise have opportunities to do.

Have you looked hard at 2, 3, and The Last of Us to see what you could do better or avoid with 4's multiplayer?

We wanted to facilitate teamwork. That was one of the goals from the start. In Uncharted 2 and 3, one of the big hurdles, particularly in 3, was that teamwork was possible, but it was incredibly hard to facilitate. To work as a team took a high level of coordination.

What we've really tried to do with the systems we've created in 4, like the Mysticals and Sidekicks, when you get teams that are combining those things, you get a lot of synergy with those systems. If someone throws a Wrath of El Dorado, or chases their opponents with the Spirit of the Djinn, then someone can throw a Brute down, or a Savior to revive some of their buddies. Teamwork was one of the things that I didn't feel was as strong in the previous games and we've really tried to do that here, while ensuring that we keep that high adventure Uncharted is known for--that fast and fluid movement.

The Last of Us had a really grounded story that carried over into the multiplayer. With Uncharted 4, though, you have more creative leeway, considering the series' fantastical aspects. Does this give you the opportunity to get weird?

[Laughs] It's going to be fun to consider which direction we take things. We've got some sick ideas.

Is there anything you want to add before you get back to work?

The team has been working really hard, and we're excited to release the game. We have some ideas we haven't shown yet, and we're excited to get them out there.