Uncharted director criticizes triple-A development, says it can 'destroy people'

"It's an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people."

GameSpot staff
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GameSpot staff
4 min read

Industry veteran Amy Hennig has spoken up to criticize the nature of triple-A development, specifically calling out the periods of "crunch" that can exist on a project. Crunch is the industry term for when a team works extended hours at the end of a project to finish it.

As part of the newest Idle Thumbs' Designer Notes podcast, Hennig recalled her time working on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and how stressful it was to get the game out the door.

"The whole time I was at Naughty Dog -- 10-and-a-half years -- I probably, on average, I don't know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week," she said, as reported by GI.biz. "There were exceptions where it was like, 'OK, let's take a couple of days off,' but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day."

It wasn't just Naughty Dog developers at Hennig's level pulling long hours, Hennig explained, stating that "a lot" of employees regularly worked weekends.

"I mean, Naughty Dog is pretty notorious for the amount of crunch, but obviously in a leadership role you try and do even more," she said.


In May, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End director Neil Druckmann told Rolling Stone that the game's themes were inspired in part by crunch.

"We've all joined this industry with the hope of affecting people, touching them in some way," he said at the time. "Which is why we work so hard, sometimes to destructive outcomes. So in this game, I really wanted to explore that. To kind of use the pulp action-adventure story as a backdrop, but it's all kind of a metaphor for our life's pursuit."

Looking back on her time at Naughty Dog, Hennig said she wouldn't do anything differently knowing what she knows now. However, that experience seems to have changed her outlook on triple-A development. Asked if working on triple-A games was worth it, from the perspective of the toll it can take on a person's life, she said, "I don't think so."

She added that some people working in the triple-A space "never go home and see their families."

"They have children who are growing up without seeing them," she said. "I didn't have my own kids. I chose my career in lots of ways, and I could be single-minded like that. When I was making sacrifices, did it affect my family? Yes, but it was primarily affecting me and I could make that choice. But when I look at other people...I mean, my health really declined, and I had to take care of myself, because it was, like, bad. And there were people who, y'know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That's not OK, any of that. None of this is worth that."

She added: "We have to get our act figured out as an industry, and the problem is that the ante keeps getting upped...It's an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people."

Hennig isn't giving up triple-A gaming, of course, as she is the creative director on Dead Space developer Visceral Games' unannounced Star Wars game. She said she's now focused on figuring out how triple-A games can be made in a way that is "sane and responsible and ethical."

That's, "Because we're not doing it right now," she said.

Unlike the film business, the video game industry is largely ununionized. What impact a developers' union could have on crunch or some of the other issues Hennig brought up remains to be seen.

The subject of crunch made waves earlier this year. Developer Alex St. John -- a longtime member of the industry, one of the creators of Microsoft's DirectX, and the founder of game network WildTangent--dismissed concerns over crunch, deeming those concerned with fair wages and working conditions as having a "wage-slave attitude."

Hennig directed the original Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and was the creative director for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. She was the director on Uncharted 4, but was eventually replaced by Druckmann and Bruce Straley. Before joining Naughty Dog, Hennig worked at Crystal Dynamics, producing 1999's Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

She joined EA in 2014 to become the creative director on Visceral's Star Wars game. In Septmeber, Hennig revealed that the game, like the films, will make the protagonists feel like underdogs, overcoming odds seemingly stacked against them.

"They have to work together and they have to be cleverer than their enemies," she said. "Therefore, how do you turn that into gameplay? How do you take that idea and then deconstruct it as mechanics, sequences, that then play to that core principle? That's the challenge of making these kinds of things."