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An Uncharted dev talks “grain sack tech” and the glories of old TVs

Uncharted 4 game director Bruce Straley strikes a pose in front of a poster for Nathan Drake's latest adventure.

Last week, we asked Gameological readers to submit questions that we could pose to developers on the E3 2015 show floor. We picked four of our favorites (and carried over one from last year’s batch); those questions constitute The Gameological Questionnaire.

Bruce Straley has been with Naughty Dog since 1999, working on everything from Crash Team Racing to Uncharted. He stepped into the role of game director on Uncharted 2, and, along with Neil Druckmann on the story side, headed up development of The Last Of Us. Druckmann and Straley have partnered for directing duty once again on Naughty Dog’s latest action spectacular, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, scheduled for release next spring. I caught up with Straley after seeing the game’s impressive demo, which disassembled a couple dozen fruit carts and nameless enemy mercenaries.


The A.V. Club: What’s one thing in your game that took a lot of work to get right but that players might not immediately notice?

Bruce Straley: One thing that took a lot to get right… fuck, man. Everything?

AVC: Yeah.

BS: I can’t say “everything.” One thing to get right. The grain sack tech was crazy. I don’t know if that’s immediately noticeable or not. That clothesline was ridiculous, that the Jeep drives through. You know, the little things, actually. Just to try to be mundane about it, like, literally getting pots to break in a way that you felt like, “That looks like a pot breaking.” It’s dumb, but it’s one of those little details that you spend so much time on and go, “That’s not right.” How do we get—what is it, particles? Do we have to create other foreground objects? What do we have to do? It’s just a pot! Can’t we get this right? That kind of thing, probably.

AVC: If you were to embed a playable retro title into your game, what would it be and why?

BS: Well, there’s actually been a conversation about if it were at all possible—which it’s not, let me emphasize—but we wanted to put a Crash Bandicoot game inside. Not gonna happen, though. Don’t worry.


AVC: Certain people would’ve loved that, though.

BS: Yeah. It’s not our title. Sony doesn’t own it, so we don’t have control.

AVC: If you had tried to make this game 15 or 20 years ago, what would you have had to do differently?


BS: We would be using a mouse, and we’d all have carpal tunnel from making a lot of pixelated art. That’s what we would do. Man, this would be awesome as a 2D, 8-bit game. Like an action-chase adventure with a turret-truck monster coming after you? Yeah, I think it would all be about fewer animations, fewer colors—you’d have 15 colors, and it’d be about dithering. That’s the problem with technology, too, man. New TVs, they don’t dither. They get every pixel correct. Back in the day, you actually exploited the fact that pixels would blend. Depending on the colors you put next to them, you could create new colors, and you’re like, “That’s awesome! I only have 15 colors, but it looks like I have 25!”

AVC: If my resume included a whole summer spent playing your game, how should I spin it as a valuable experience?


BS: Oh, you’re learning about—you have character relationships. You have good problem-solving abilities. You’re really good at jumping. [Laughs.] And climbing on things.

AVC: You probably learned a thing or two about cartography.

BS: You definitely learned about cartography, for sure, and navigation. Your navigational skills are getting way better. You can probably use that. I don’t know, what are you? You’re a courier who travels through the Himalayas? You’re a sherpa? What are you?


AVC: I don’t know.

BS: I don’t know what you’re going for, but good luck.

AVC: Last question. If your game were the main course of a meal, what would be the appetizer and dessert?


BS: Oh. What would be the appetizer…as far as other games, or within the game?

AVC: What food would be the appetizer?

BS: Okay. What would go fine with some Uncharted? Let’s see. It definitely ends with a cheese plate, for sure. Like a charcuterie plate, something like that, and a cheese plate for sure. Where does it start, though? It seems to start with—because this is true, like we even say this in production—it’s about meat and potatoes. Our core mechanics and how we exploit our core mechanics. So clearly we’re a meat and potatoes kind of meal, with some exotic spices in there.


AVC: Right. Moroccan spices.

BS: Yes. Definitely a lot of turmeric, you know? Yeah, so I think you have to go with some sort of a—maybe a hummus, tzatziki, kind of, pita bread kind of blend. Maybe something just as a nice appetizer. Some olives. Yeah, I like that to start. Then play some Uncharted, and end with a nice cheese plate, and I’m down.


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