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Uncharted 3: 'Almost everyone at Naughty Dog is a game designer'

PSM3 talks to Uncharted's co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand...

Uncharted is one of this generations standout franchises, with each new entry in the series bettering its predecessor in writing, acting performance, technical prowess and gameplay.

With the critically acclaimed third entry currently storming the sales charts and making waves in the gaming world, we caugt up with Uncharted's co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand to talk about deleted scenes, his influences on Lara Croft and how it feels to have Indiana Jones play your game.

You left Crystal Dynamics for Naughty Dog back in 2004. How has your role evolved over three Uncharted games?

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I started work on Uncharted back in 2006, soon after we shipped Jak X: Combat Racing. A lot has happened in that time. In some ways things haven't changed much, but maybe that's because the change has been gradual.

The way that we work at Naughty Dog is kind of idiosyncratic and has contributed in a major way to the success of the games. We're quite famous for not having anyone with the formal job title of producer - the team produce themselves, and we're all responsible for organising our own work. We pick up jobs we care about and then run around and coordinate with each other.

I divide my time between working on the parts I've been given responsibility for and working with [creative director] Amy Hennig, [game director] Justin Richmond and [co-lead game designer] Jacob Meacock to make sure we're staying on top of the game design.
It can be challenging to be responsible for your own stuff and to give people notes on their own stuff.

Fortunately, because everybody at Naughty Dog is empowered to give each other notes that kind of spreads the responsibility a bit. I've often felt everyone at Naughty Dog, irrespective of their job title, is a game designer. We constantly have discussions across all of the different departments about what makes a game good or bad, better or worse.

We all go to great lengths to take each other's input very seriously about what's working and what's not. It's often pretty crazy and chaotic, it's very organic, but it's really good fun and really satisfying creative work.

What lessons have you taken from making the Uncharted games?

I think the single biggest lesson is that while it's good to have a solid plan, you shouldn't do too much planning. We kind of got into trouble in the pre-production phase of the first Uncharted by making plans that were too elaborate. That was partly a practical problem - we were building a game engine and working on a console that didn't yet exist.

It's best to do just enough planning and then start building. If you're doing a painting, start drawing, get some marks on the page; if you're writing a novel just write fragments even if they don't end up in the finished novel. It's the practical process that allows you to learn the lessons you need.

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You started work before there was a PS3 to develop for. Does developing for a console that doesn't exist cause problems?

We [weren't] realistic in our expectations about it, I can say that . We were planning to have all kinds of motion blur and crazy lighting schemes. The PS3 is an immensely powerful piece of computing equipment so I think it was less the performance of the hardware that hung us up and more the approach to our tools.

We tried to invent a set of tools that did everything - solving every problem every game developer had ever faced. We'd gone down a dead end, so we scaled everything back and started working.

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