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Are We Ready For Uncharted 4?

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Since 2007, one franchise in particular has been at the forefront of high-quality, action packed single player adventure. The Uncharted series has been a defining game of this generation, showcasing an immense technical prowess for the PlayStation 3, as well as bringing singleplayer gaming closer to film than any other franchise out there. The third instalment to the series was released back in 2011, and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was met with some criticism in regards to a potentially aging formula. Are we ready for an Uncharted 4?

When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune hit back in 2007, it was a breath of fresh air for the PlayStation 3. Sony’s next-generation console was slow coming out of the gate, and Naughty Dog’s first project for the new system represented a light at the end of the tunnel. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that the Indiana Jones inspired, third person shooter was ready to make its mark. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a showstopper, and demonstrated the potential of the PS3 better than any other Sony exclusive. Possessing some of the best graphics we’d ever seen on consoles, accompanied by real-time cinematic set pieces and smooth animation, Uncharted 2 had raised the bar for the action adventure genre. The story was tight, the acting was spot on, the characters were likeable, and the singleplayer delivered. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves went on to win numerous Game of the Year awards, and anticipation for a sequel was mounting.

The Spike VGA’s brought us the first trailer of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and no doubt the pressure was on. Naughty Dog had a hefty game to follow, and fans wanted bigger and better. A Naughty Dog team member promised that the famous train sequence and collapsing building of Uncharted 2 would be “child’s play” compared to what they had in store for the sequel. It was hard to believe that the Santa Monica team could outdo themselves. However, when fans were able to get their hands on the third entry to the series, it was met with a mixed response. Uncharted 3 was no doubt a critical success, but one thing kept ringing true across forums and press: “It’s not quite as good as Uncharted 2.”

Uncharted 3 offered bigger set pieces, an intense pace, and a more personal story between Nathan Drake and his best friend, Sully. The game was certainly a bigger project in terms of its ambition, and Naughty Dog were correct in their assessment of the train level looking like “child’s play”—certainly compared to a sinking cruise ship or a crashing plane. But were gamers expecting more than just bigger? If the Uncharted series is going to continue, Naughty Dog needs to take a good look at what the series can expand upon. The answer doesn’t lie in its setting, its graphics, or its action set-pieces. The problem lies at the very core of what Uncharted represents, and it’s for these reasons that the formula was inevitably going to grow stale.

The current design of Uncharted limits itself to a popcorn blockbuster that can be enjoyed for a first playthrough, but isn’t something that will resonate on any meaningful level.  It plays like an explosive action adventure movie, and it excels in this regard, but gaming as an art form offers more. Singleplayer gaming has the ability to exceed the storytelling prowess found in movies. We have choice, potentially deeper and richer worlds, and the video game industry is easily one of the most creative out there. Games such as Bioshock and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are excellent examples of how the video game medium can be harnessed by storytellers. And with all this choice and scope found in video games, Uncharted prides itself on playing out like a movie—something that a singleplayer game should be surpassing, not matching.

Even games such as Heavy Rain—which are labelled as interactive movies more often than not—actually provide a very personal experience that belongs to each individual. This unique element demonstrates exactly what video games offer that movies cannot, and this is why Heavy Rain will be remembered. But let’s get serious – we’re not asking Uncharted to become an open world, or even give you moral choices and interactive dialogue. Uncharted’s gameplay needs a gimmick; something that would separate itself from the competition, an element that would keep the experience fresh and distinct for the player to get lost in.

We see this in games such as Vanquish, Max Payne 3, Binary Domain, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Hitman. These games’ singleplayer experiences contain concepts that allow the gamer to explore and experiment with different approaches from their friends or next-door neighbor. Vanquish and Max Payne 3 offer an incredible amount of mobility and gameplay choice on the battlefield. Binary Domain, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Hitman are all home to unique abilities, such as transformation in the case of Fall of Cybertron, dismemberment for Binary Domain, and the wealth of multiple pathways and tactical solutions found in Hitman. These ensure that each player’s time with the game will be unique.

As much as I’d like to see Nathan Drake turn into a jet (we’ve had Drake on a plane), that’s not what my examples are trying to illustrate. All these games showcase something creative within their core mechanic that delivers more personal gameplay from player to player. Whether it’s multiple pathways, an inventory system, customizable weapons, or upgradeable melee attacks, Uncharted needs something to add fresh, new and invigorating energy to an already superb franchise.

With a separate team from Naughty Dog working on survival shooter, The Last Of Us, we can’t help but wonder what is left of the Uncharted 3 team. The success of their latest work has surely not gone unnoticed, and there have been whispers that Naughty Dog are working on a next-generation game. Were this to happen, I believe we’d see a repeat. The leap in technology might be enough to sustain the aging formula, but for just how long? One thing we can be sure of is this – Naughty Dog will deliver an impeccable, highly polished and action packed production, and I do not mean to diminish that accomplishment. However, in order for Uncharted to become a true classic that will stand the test of time, a personal experience that takes advantage of the video game art form should be the primary goal. Still, Drake turning into a jet would be classy. Desperate times, right?

Let us know what you think about Uncharted, its formula and where the series could head! Feel free to leave a comment below.

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“The Perfect Canvas To Build a Game World On”: Talking Hand-Drawn Horror in the Hills of Mundaun

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Mundaun

The Swiss Alps are best known as a holiday destination. Snow and skiing dominate the public imagining of the region, but horror lies in all hills. The folkloric horror game Mundaun promises to subvert the usual perception of the area.

The horrific twist on an idyllic locale is accompanied by an eye-catching art style like no other in gaming.

With Mundaun being such an intriguing prospect, OnlySP reached out to the game’s director Michel Ziegler to find out more.

OnlySP: Could you please begin by providing a brief description of Mundaun for any of our readers who may not be familiar with the game?

Ziegler: A [while] ago, I came up with the description: a lovingly hand-pencilled horror tale. I like the word tale, because it emphasizes the type of narrative the game is going for. It’s a first-person adventure game inspired by the dark folklore of the alps. The aesthetic is really unique, since I combine hand-pencilled textures with 3D. It’s kind of hard to be brief about what makes the game unique. I think it’s the combination of all the things in there, some pretty well hidden. Mundaun should be a mystery, an enigma.

OnlySP: Curiously, Mundaun is a real place. How accurate a recreation of the landscape is that found in the
game?

Ziegler: The levels are a condensed interpretation of the real thing. It’s more about how that place feels than accurate topology. The steepness of it, the objects and architecture you encounter that is very specific to that place. It wouldn’t be possible to meaningfully populate a large sample of the real mountain range. I want the give the player the feeling that in every corner there could be some small and unique thing to discover.

OnlySP: Do you have any personal connection to the real place? Why did you settle on it as the setting for the game?

Ziegler: My family has had a small holiday flat there since before I was born. I spent many summers and winters up there and so it became like a second home. Especially for a child, the nature feels huge and full of wonders. I would spend my days finding well-hidden spots and imagining adventures. I chose this setting, because it is dear to me and it is full of buildings that are many centuries old. It always felt like a timeless and mysterious place. The perfect canvas to build a game world on. Four years in, it still inspires too many ideas to ever fit into one game.

OnlySP: I’ve seen the game described as ‘folk horror’—following the likes of The Wicker Man and Children of the Corn. Would you consider that to be an accurate assessment of Mundaun?

Ziegler: I think so, even if my game isn’t inspired by those particular works. But I think there is a certain ambiguity to the scenario that makes people immediately think of fiction that has a similar feel in their cultural circle. Even if I draw much inspiration from things that are specific to where I live, I find that the world and tone of Mundaun resonates with people from all around the globe and from different cultural backgrounds. That said, the haymen that haunt you in Mundaun make the comparison to The Wicker Man an obvious one.

OnlySP: If so, what sort of local legends are you drawing on for the source of the horror?

Ziegler: Not really any specific ones. If I had to name one story that influenced the plot of Mundaun, it would  be Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider. The oppressive mood it conveys has always fascinated me. Also, I loved collections of small folk tales as a child and I think, I’m remixing elements from those, creating my own folk tale. I’m not restricting myself to only local influences at all though. I take everything that I think is interesting and fits the world and universe of Mundaun.

OnlySP: How does the monochromatic art style contribute to the player’s sense of tension?

Ziegler: For one, it invokes the aesthetic of old movies and photographs. For me personally, those often have a sinister quality, hiding something in the dark shadows. In addition to that, the hand-drawn textures give the game the quality of a darkly illustrated picture book.

OnlySP: Speaking of the art style, it certainly is one of the most intriguing elements of Mundaun. How did you come to settle on it, and what is the process by which you bring these hand-drawn artworks to life in the game? When you began, did you have an idea of how much work would be involved?

Ziegler: I just love drawing on paper. I’ve never gotten into drawing digitally much. For a small game prototype (The Colony) I made before Mundaun, I also applied a hand-made approach. I love the combination of hand-made textures with 3D, it’s a strange thing. Pencils just seemed a perfect match for a more dark aesthetic.

The process is similar to the usual 3D process, but with a small detour. After unwrapping the finished 3D model, I print out the UV maps. I trace the outlines to a new drawing paper and then I fill in the actual drawing with pencils. After scanning them back in, I apply them to the models. I probably didn’t properly anticipate, how many drawings I would end up making, because I underestimated, how much Mundaun would grow.

OnlySP: The puzzles that appear in the trailers seem to draw from an older tradition in games wherein they don’t necessarily feel realistic (although that interpretation is, admittedly, based on brief snippets taken out of context). Nevertheless, do you have any concerns that that approach might turn away some players?

Ziegler: Yeah, it’s a concern. I try to make the puzzles quite logical. Playtesting seems to be the key here. I’m not trying to break the flow of the game, the puzzles are just a great way to add detail and flavour to the world. I try to integrate them into the world and make them feel organic and unique to this place.

OnlySP: Aside from the puzzles, what else will players be doing in Mundaun?

Ziegler: Encountering, avoiding, or fighting off different types of enemies. Finding and talking to some of the eccentric native folk. Making coffee, smoking a pipe, carrying around the head of a goat. Driving a chair lift, a hay loader vehicle and a sleigh. There’s a whole lot of different things to discover. I think, the mix of high-stakes death threatening situations with more mundane activities is one of the most interesting qualities of Mundaun.

OnlySP: Explore” seems to be one of the keywords of the game. Does it feature an open-world design, or is it more of a level-to-level affair with expansive levels? And, in total, about how big is the game world

Ziegler: It features three discrete levels, each with their own flavour. You start in an area with meadows and trees and then make your way up to a more sparse, stony area. Then there’s the snow-covered summit region. The levels are quite sizeable and the player is given freedom to explore them, but it is not an open-world design per se. Each part, activity, and task is unique and lovingly hand-crafted.

OnlySP: How long do you expect the average playthrough to last? Or is it still too early to be able to say?

Ziegler: It is a bit early, but I think it’ll be 4-5 hours.

OnlySP: Speaking of, we first came across Mundaun about a year and a half ago. How long has it been in
development?

Ziegler: It has been in development for 4.5 years now.


Ziegler and his team at Hidden Fields are currently targeting a Q1 2020 launch for Mundaun on Mac, PC, and Xbox One.

If your interest is piqued, let us know either in the comments below or on our community Discord server.

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