While Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was a massive success for both Naughty Dog and Sony, some might not have known that it had a pretty rocky development time. Former directors were fired, a bunch of people left the studio while it was being developed and all.
Now, though, we have more info on Uncharted 4’s troubled development. As part of Kotaku’s Jason Schreier’s book, "Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Trubulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made," a chapter focuses on Uncharted 4’s development history with a few specific details now coming to light. It’s a very interesting read that goes on how former Uncharted head Amy Hennig didn’t meet with Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann, and how the duo wanted to end the franchise and more. There are some choice excerpts which you can read below courtesty of Reddit user wellgun3.
"In June 2013, when The Last of Us came out, fans and critics wouldn’t stop raving. It was the most successful game in Naughty Dog’s history, turning Straley and Druckmann into game development rock stars and ensuring that they’d be project leads at Naughty Dog for as long as they wanted to be.
During those same years, from 2011 to 2014, Amy Hennig spent her days working with a small team on Uncharted 4. They had some ideas for how to switch things up. They wanted to add vehicles, for one. Maybe a grappling hook. And, most surprisingly, they wanted to have Nathan Drake go half the game without picking up a gun.
Critics had called out previous Uncharted games for the dissonance between their stories, in which Drake is an amiable fun-loving hero, and their gameplay, in which Drake can murder thousands of enemy soldiers without missing a beat. Hennig and her team thought it might be an interesting twist for Drake to stick to melee for a while, to show that the puckish adventurer could change his ways.
Uncharted 4, as Hennig envisioned it, would introduce the world to Nathan Drake’s old partner, Sam. We hadn’t seen Sam in previous Uncharted games, because for fifteen years Nathan had thought he was dead, left behind during a Panamanian prison escape gone awry. In Hennig’s version of Uncharted 4, Sam would be one of the main villains, bitter toward Nathan for leaving him to die.
Over the course of the story, as Nathan tried to pull away from his roots as a treasure hunter, the player would find out that he and Sam were actually brothers. Eventually they’d heal their relationship and unify against the game’s real antagonist, a nasty thief named Rafe (voiced by the actor Alan Tudyk) who had served time with Sam in prison.
There are conflicting perspective on what happened next. Some say the Uncharted 4 team didn’t get the staff and resources it needed to survive, because The Last of Us and Left Behind had vacuumed up so much of Naughty Dog’s attention. Others say that Amy Hennig had trouble making decisions and that the nascent game wasn’t shaping up very well. Some who were working on Uncharted 4 wished that there was a more cohesive direction. Others thought it was perfectly understandable, considering how small the Uncharted 4 staff was, that the game hadn’t coalesced yet.
One part of the story is indisputable, however: in March 2014, after meeting with Naughty Dog’s copresidents, Wells and Christophe Balestra, Amy Hennig exited the studio and didn’t come back. Hennig’s creative partner Justin Richmond left shortly afterward, as did a few other veterans who had worked closely with Hennig. “It’s something that happens at different levels,” said Wells. “It happened to happen at a fairly high level. But we have turnover for various reasons throughout the studio. And Amy’s a friend of mine, I really miss her and I wish her well -but things weren’t working out. So we went our separate ways, and we had to pick up the pieces.
Several people who have worked for Naughty Dog say Druckmann and Straley stopped seeing eye-to-eye with Hennig, and that they had fundamental disagreements on where to take the Uncharted series. When Hennig left, she signed a nondisparagement agreement with the studio that would prevent both her and Naughty Dog from making negative public comments about what had happened, according to people familiar with the arrangement. (Hennig declined to be interviewed for this book.)
Immediately after Hennig’s departure, Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra called Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley into a meeting to tell them that she was gone. Both Druckmann and Straley wanted to work on other games they’d been playing around with prototypes for a sequel to The Last of Us and Straley in particular was feeling burned out. But when asked to lead the development of Uncharted 4, they said they’d do it on one condition: they needed full creative control. They weren’t interested in finishing the story that Hennig had started, and while they’d try to salvage some of the characters (like Sam and Rafe) and environments (big areas in Scotland and Madagascar), they’d also have to throw out a lot of work that Uncharted 4’s team had done so far.
They would need to scrap a great deal of cut scenes, voicework and animation, which the studio had spent millions of dollars developing. They wanted to recast the major roles, which would mean ditching Alan Tudyk as Rafe and Todd Stashwick as Sam, and other voice actors who had already recorded lines.
Right away, Druckmann and Straley made a decision that they thought might cause controversy: Uncharted 4 would be the last Uncharted game, or at least the last one starring Nathan Drake. The studio had been mulling this option under Hennig, but now it was official “We looked at the previous games,” said Druckmann. “We looked at the arcs, looked at where Nathan Drake was at, what kind of stories are still left to tell, and the only one that came to our mind was the final one, how do we take him out?”
Fortunately, the author himself, Jason, went on the same Reddit thread and said, "Glad people are enjoying the book enough to want to share this much on Reddit! Hope you all check it out and enjoy," which leads further weight to the report.
Did any of this come as a surprise to you? Are you happy with how the game turned out or did Hennig’s original vision sounded more appealing?