Uncharted: A Roadmap to Buried Treasure

Uncharted 4 is nearly upon us and we’ve had plenty of gameplay videos, trailers and a multiplayer beta to wet the whistle. The recent multiplayer beta was the first time players could get a glimpse of the game for themselves and it has only helped reinforce why we are so excited for this game.

Naughty Dog first announced Uncharted 4 in November of 2013 via a teaser trailer. The trailer showed a map tracing several locations while an unfamiliar voice spoke. The trailer raised many questions and concerns, but mainly it started to stir our expectations of finally seeing an Uncharted game on the PlayStation 4. It wouldn’t be for another year until Uncharted 4 would resurface with another teaser, this time giving a glimpse into what we could expect of the game. It shows the protagonist, Nathan Drake, older and greyer, bruised and bloodied lying in a river, slowly waking up and checking a gun while a voice over conversation ran of him and his friend Sully. Sully warns Nate that maybe he’s been out of the game too long, but Nate says that this is a sure fire plan. At the end of the trailer we see the title of the game, confirming many suspicions that this would indeed be Nathan Drakes last game in the series, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Again it would be another year until we saw something from Naughty Dog, but the wait would be worth it. In 2015 we were finally treated with a gameplay demo which, if I had to put into one word, was gorgeous. In classic Uncharted fashion it pushes the limits of what consoles are capable of, having dense crowds of people on screen at once, incredible AI, destructible environments and a world that genuinely feels like it is reacting to you, the player. However, before we lose ourselves on Drakes final adventure; let’s take a look back at the company that developed these incredible games and the games that came before Uncharted.

Naughty Dog was originally called Jam Software, when it was first created in 1984 by company founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin. Gavin and Rubin were high school friends who had spent most of their formative years experimenting with different programming languages. They used this experience to create their first game together, called Ski Crazed for the Apple II. They would go on to make several more games for the Apple II as well as the Atari ST, Amiga and the fledgling PC platform before they changed their name from Jam Software to Naughty Dog in 1989 in an attempt to distance themselves from their previous publisher. With a new name and a new publisher in Electronic Arts, they would go on to create two fantasy titles, Keef the Thief in 1989 and Rings of Power in 1991. Both games received mixed reviews but did well enough that Naughty Dog was able to produce Way of the Warrior for the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer in 1994. The issue was that Naughty Dog, as well as Gavin and Rubin, were now bankrupt. To combat their growing financial concerns they enlisted their friends to help with development, most of whom made up the cast of characters in game. During the development of Way of the Warrior Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin started throwing around ideas for three dimensional action platformer, what they didn’t realise was that those ideas would define one of the late 90’s most iconic gaming mascots.

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In 1996 Crash Bandicoot was developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for the PlayStation. You played as the titular character, Crash, who in an escaped experiment is given superhuman strength and intelligence. Your goal is to stop your creators, the evil scientist Dr. Neo Cortex and Dr. Nitrus Brio, from taking over the world as well as saving your girlfriend Tawna, another experimental bandicoot. While the game received incredibly positive reviews because of its graphics, unique art style and inventive level design, many critics felt it wasn’t overly innovative in its platforming and gameplay. Despite this, Crash Bandicoot was quick to become and still is one of PlayStations highest selling games of all time. Crash Bandicoot stemmed from Andy and Rubin’s love of platforming games such as Donkey Kong Country. They knew they needed a character worthy of such a game, eventually drawing inspiration from what Sega had done with Sonic the Hedgehog and Warner Bros. had done with the Tasmanian Devil and settling on a bandicoot. Keeping with the bandicoot theme, they set the games on a group of fictional island called the Wumpa Islands owned by Dr. Cortex, which in the game are a part of the Australian continent. With the success of the first Crash Bandicoot game Sony were fast to snatch the character up as a mascot for their console, which spawned a plethora of sequels, mobile games and even its own line of racing games. After the initial success of the Crash Bandicoot series, Naughty Dog was ready for the next step, and their next step came with a little game called Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy.

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After finishing the final game in the Crash Bandicoot series, Naughty Dog found it could not continue developing more Crash Bandicoot games due to the rights being held by the publisher. This lead to the company’s acquisition by Sony to avoid such legal issues in the future. The PlayStation 2 was first released in March of 2000. The team at Naughty Dog felt that with the release of a new console it was time to start thinking of a new game, a new character and if things went well enough, a new series.  Knowing that they wanted to break away from the style of Crash Bandicoot they developed a new engine from the ground up. While Crash Bandicoot had minimal story and individually loaded levels, Naughty Dogs new engine allowed a connected open world environment. With this game they wanted to focus on story and character development, creating something that people could connect with and feel for. In December of 2001, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was released to critical acclaim. Critics and fans gushed over the games graphics and how the game showed off what the PlayStation 2 was capable of. They lauded over the variety of gameplay, with smart puzzling and platforming sections and mini-games on top of regular missions as well as tight controls and fast action. However, what people loved most about it were the protagonists and the story. The game followed the titular characters Jak and Daxter, as Jak tries to find a way to help his friend Daxter who has been turned into an ottsel, a fictional hybrid of an otter and a weasel. While they a looking for a way to turn Daxter back they learn that they are the only ones who can stop Gol and Maia, two evil sages, from flooding their world with Dark Echo. The writing was smart, giving the characters their own personalities and traits and the game stood out because of its sense of humour and that it didn’t take itself too seriously. It was quick to rise to “Greatest Hits” status within PlayStation and was soon one of PlayStations highest selling games. Naughty Dog had previously stated that they wouldn’t commit to a new series unless the first game sold well and considering the reception Jak and Daxter received they were fast to plan a sequel. The game ended up spawning three sequels and two spin-offs, but its greatest achievement is what it allowed its developers to do next.

While the Jak and Daxter series started to wrap up, co-founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin decided to slowly step back from the company, eventually transitioning their positions over to a new generation of developers in the Naughty Dog team. Despite this it was business as usual. The PlayStation 3 had been released in November of 2006, and the team turned their focus to a new game for the new platform. They wanted to continue the strong character base and story driven theme from their previous games, but wanted to showcase the PlayStation 3s power. Instead of creating artistically stylised characters they decided to work on more realistic, human characters. They knew they wanted to keep the action, platforming-puzzler style, looking at old pulp adventure novels and Indiana Jones for inspiration. What they created is one of the most memorable characters in gaming history. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was released in November of 2006 to what would be some of Naughty Dogs highest acclaim. Critics raved over the visuals, citing a near photorealistic style that was beautiful to behold, as well as gameplay and controls that let the player feel like they were actually in a shoot-out on a tropical island. Though in the end it was the story and characters that everyone stayed for. Protagonist Nathan Drake is an everyday man that is easily relatable. He has an easy smile and sense of humour that charms the player as much as the other characters in the game. His relationship and banter with his mentor and friend Victor Sullivan is still seen as some of the best writing in a video game to date. His relationship with his enemies is even more interesting in that he is a man of the world, he has a history, he has crossed people before the game starts, and he pays for it during the game. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was such a success, it was quick to spawn two sequels and several spin offs. It allowed Naughty Dog to branch into the possibility of a new series found in another incredible game, The Last of Us, and it has cemented Naughty Dogs place as a developer at the forefront of current generation gaming.

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It is only a matter of weeks before Nathan Drakes final adventure is upon us and while the possibility of never again taking control of the smiling thief is sad, I’m sure Naughty Dog have plenty more incredible characters in their bag. While Nathan Drake may be digging for lost gold in these games, Naughty Dog has presented us with a treasure trove of character development and story lines. From Crash Bandicoot, to Jak and Daxter, to Nathan Drake, these are characters people love and care about. This is why I can’t wait for Uncharted 4, I’ve played all the games, I’ve bled, bruised, and been broken with Nathan Drake, and I’ve stuck with him to see him find a way out of those tricky situations, like climbing out of a fallen train only to have to face the hash cold of Nepal, or jumping out of a crashing plan into a barren desert. Uncharted 4 already looks like a major contender for game of the year, and I can’t wait to cause some trouble and go treasure hunting again.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will be available May 10, exclusively for the PlayStation 4. Stay tuned to Just Game for all things Uncharted.

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Samuel is a writing and philosophy student based out of Brisbane. When he’s not writing or theorising about the depiction of time travel in Star Trek he is a constant gamer, willing to play nearly anything anywhere. All disagreements can only be settled by Mortal Kombat.

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