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Nolan North and Troy Baker are two of the most well-known voices in video gaming. North is known for his portrayal as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, while Baker is known for playing Joel in The Last of Us as well as Nathan’s brother Sam Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

OnlySP had a chance to sit down with North and Baker at Supanova Comic Con & Gaming this year. Check out the full interview and transcript below.


OnlySP: Where do people best recognise you from at these conventions?

Nolan North: Retro Replay; I’m on brand. There’s a little game called Uncharted [that] I did. But let me tell you about Retro Replay.

Troy Baker: There’s a little game called Binary Domain that three people played. I think GameSpot or EB Games made them buy it.

North: It’s a giveaway.

Baker: It’s a giveaway, please. That team’s gone, so I can talk about them. It is funny though, when we come here, we don’t think that people will know what Retro Replay is, but then we’ve seen people in shirts, we’ve seen people give us fan art here, people came up from the live show that we did.

North: Proper gifts. Mugs.

Baker: We got new mugs.

Uncharted 4 watch detail

OnlySP: Are you still feeling the impact of the Uncharted franchise all these years later?

North: Yeah, I mean, people like it. There are so many new games—great games—coming out, and people want a fifth Uncharted, but that ship has kinda sailed. It’s great that so many people all remember such an iconic franchise. I’m really proud to be a part of that kind of thing. But, y’know, actors are like sharks, you gotta keep moving or you die.

Baker: So what happens when a shark stays still?

North: Drowns. Just like that.

Baker: I’ve never heard of that before.

North: That’s how Jaws ended, the first one: he took a nap, and blood clot or something like that.

OnlySP: How did you feel returning to work with Ashley Johnson on The Last of Us Part II?

Baker: It was really cool, man, I’m not gonna lie. The first day we were on set was when we shot [the PSX reveal] trailer. We go through rehearsals and stuff, and we walk through it, and things get real serious all of a sudden, when we heard both of our voices. When you put everything together, that’s when Ashley goes away and Troy goes away, and you’re left with Ellie and Joel. And the mood changed on set. It was really cool.

It’s been a struggle. It’s been something that I think, when you walk in, there’s an arrogant part of you that’s like “Oh, you’ve gotta make sure that all the fans are happy, that they like this and that they think it’s as good or better than the previous.” We’re just focused on making a good game, telling a good story, and letting people decide if they like it or not.

North: Do you think people are going to be upset or surprised that it’s become a comedy?

Baker: People really liked the singing thing, so let’s double down on that. David’s back, doing the little can-can.

North: He’s got a pet monkey, it’s cute.

Baker: It’s tasteful, it’s within the world.

North: The big Clicker musical number.

Baker: It’s a showstopper.

The Last of Us Part II Joel Ellie screenshot

OnlySP: Did you think that you would be coming back for a second game?

Baker: I think, knowing Naughty Dog, they set up franchises. Neil [Druckmann, creative director] kept telling us “I’m just working on this game.” And it wasn’t until about six months after we’d released the game, we were in London for the BAFTAs, and Neil’s carting around all of the BAFTAs, and we stepped outside and he goes, “So I think I may have an idea.” Cut to now, four years later—after that moment, he walked us through the story that he had and I’ve seen how much it’s changed and developed since then. So I think we turn that part of our brain off, because if we focus on the sequel, we’re not focused on the game we’re making. That’s a really good piece of advice from Neil: just focus on this one.

OnlySP: Did it feel the same while making the Uncharted series?

North: Well there is no such thing as [Uncharted] 1, so we didn’t know there’d be a second one. I remember just being excited to do the second one, and when that one really took off, [Naughty Dog] pretty much knew that there’d be a third and a fourth. It wasn’t until the fourth one kinda started that there’s no fifth one, and you’re kinda going, “Okay, what’s next?” But you don’t want to jump the shark, as they say. It was bittersweet to end the franchise, but we’re proud of what we’ve made, and if that’s the way that Sony and Naughty Dog decide to leave it, then I’m fine with that.

OnlySP: You recently said that you would not be returning for Borderlands 3?

Baker: I didn’t say I wasn’t coming back. I said I would love to come back. They [Gearbox Software] said I’m not coming back. Their timeline tells an interesting story. I think it’s interesting that Randy Pitchford tweeted out that I turned it down, and then he said he heard that I turned it down. I would fact check before I tweeted out to the internet.

North: I am also not involved.

OnlySP: You’re not taking his role?

North: No, you don’t do that. God help the person who’s taken his role.

Baker: What’s his address? [laughs]

North: I was in Tales From the Borderlands.

Baker: You were!

North: Where’s me? Where’s Patrick Warburton?

Baker: Who knows?

Uncharted 4 Nathan Elena Uncharted 5 Nolan North

OnlySP: Is there anything else that you’re working on that you’d like to share?

North: Not Borderlands. Yeah, there’s a number of projects that we’re working on, that obviously with non-disclosure agreements we can’t talk about, but we’ve got a lot of great stuff. But Retro Replay has really been where our focus is, because we just enjoy it so much. We’re just having a good time, and [we love] getting in front of a camera and doing something that we’d do anyway.

Baker: [laughs] Getting in front of a camera and doing what we usually do.

North: Shirts and skins, let’s do this! [laughs] No, I don’t mean that. It’s late in the day, here in Australia. I’m suffering from jetlag. I don’t even know how this started.

Baker: We get to do stuff that not only we enjoy doing, but the best part has been watching this community that’s grown up from this. They’re latching on. “What is going happen” is one of our catchphrases, and that’s something that the community really responded to. They created it. So watching how they take what we do on a couch every Thursday and how that’s helped them to create this nomenclature—that’s the best part. The thirty minutes before each episode is my favourite part of every episode; YouTube has a Premiere thing were you get to chat before the episode starts. That thing has favourite thirty minutes, where we check in with all our friends.

North: And they check in with each other, too. The community is actually just feeding off each other. It’s been supportive, it’s been inspiring at times. It’s really cool. It’s nice to know that we’ve done something that’s actually turned into something that people look forward to. It lifts their week, sometimes. It’s been very rewarding, so we’re gonna keep making them.


For all the latest in single-player gaming, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and join the discussion in our community Discord server.

Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

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Interview

Arma 3 ‘Contact’ Project Lead Discusses Importance of Single-Player Content, Inspirations, and Plenty of Details

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Arma 3

Arma 3 ‘Contact’ delivers a new spin-off expansion for players to explore an unnervingly realistic interpretation of humanity’s first contact with an alien species. ‘Contact’ combines popular science-fiction with stunning graphics, realistic forested terrain in Livonia, real military general protocols for dealing with any unknown threat or situation to produce an authentic hardcore military sim experience.

In an exclusive interview with OnlySP, the expansion’s lead developer Joris-Jan van ‘t Land discusses influences, game development, campaign details, a new weapon—the ‘Spectrum Device’—and much more.

OnlySP: Arma has a strong history of hardcore realistic military sandbox sims. What made you want to take your formula and branch out into the sci-fi genre with ‘Contact’?

van ‘t Land: Firstly, we should make clear that we view Arma 3 ‘Contact’ as a spin-off expansion. It does not signal a new direction for the Arma series, which will itself stick to its authentic military sim-game core. Arma 3 being six years into its impressive tour of duty, we felt this was the right time to get a little more creative. We’ve supported the game with lots of free and premium content, features, and support. Now some of us wanted to explore something less traditional, while still doing our best to support the military sandbox as much as possible.

The ‘first contact’ premise is one many in our team have wanted to explore for years. Some know that during its pre-production stage, Arma 3 itself had some less conventional elements under its ‘Futura’ codename. We had done our own experiments with the topic on the side for fun, but now pitched it as an actual project, and were fortunately given the chance. Looking around at other sci-fi entertainment covering aliens, there are but a few approaching it from the viewpoint of contemporary (or rather 2039 Armaverse) military. We simply loved to theorize about how current armed forces might react to an extraterrestrial intelligence arriving on Earth. Nobody really knows what might happen, so it’s a conceptually interesting ‘what if’ setting to work with. ET adds a variable that nobody can really argue with: who knows what they are technologically capable of, what their motivations are, and what it would mean for humanity?

OnlySP: Has Earth’s first contact with aliens always been something that you wanted to do? Where did the inspiration come from?

van ‘t Land: Absolutely! Personally, it’s one of my favorite big topics in general, ever since being very young. I grew up watching movies like Independence Day, Contact, and later Arrival, following TV shows such as X-Files and Falling Skies, reading books like War of the Worlds, and playing games like XCOM. Since the Arma series (as Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis) entered my life, there have been many moments when I fantasized about building scenarios involving humans and aliens. That mostly did not really go further than hobby projects and quick experiments, until now. During the project’s concept phase I also had the chance to re-explore many inspirations, for example by reading lots of books, like Contact, The Black Cloud, and a lesser known hardcore military sci-fi series: Legacy of the Aldenata.

OnlySP: Given the time since Arma 3‘s full game was released. Why did you decide to create another expansion instead of Arma 4?

van ‘t Land: ‘Contact’ originated from our relatively small Amsterdam studio, a team which was formed to develop original ideas for Bohemia. That specifically meant doing less traditional projects, even if they were DLC or expansions to an existing game. Our first project—Arma 3 ‘Laws of War’also offered a non-standard perspective on armed conflict. Some of our team members have worked on Arma for well over a decade, and we were personally interested in doing something different. Initially ‘Contact’ was not even specified to be an Arma 3 expansion. We considered even a stand-alone game, but ultimately the benefits of the expansion route were far too great. It meant we could make use of a massive sandbox, and Arma 3 players would benefit from additions even if they do not care about the setting. Without ‘Contact’, there likely would not have been another official Arma 3 DLC or expansion, aside from our Creator DLC program of course.

I should also mention that we received very important support from other small teams in Bohemia, such as in the Czech Republic and Thailand. They helped to build the Livonia terrain and other sandbox content, while in Amsterdam we focused on the “First Contact” campaign, aliens, and defining the overall package. Other than that, it’s no secret that Bohemia has been working on its next generation in-house engine: Enfusion. It continues to mature and will power the next decades of awesome Bohemia games. We’re a pretty sizable company meanwhile, with various teams working on exciting things.

OnlySP: ‘Contact’ will get a single-player campaign, can you give any details of the campaign and how long it will be?

van ‘t Land: A big part of the campaign is about uncovering its mystery and exploring what is going on, so we’ll leave most details for players to discover for themselves. Known is that you will assume the role of a NATO drone operator, deployed to Livonia for military training exercises. Eventually our alien visitors arrive to the Area of Operations, and from there on out you’re part of an improvised reconnaissance operation to investigate what’s going on. The gameplay at its core is still Arma 3, but we’ve wanted to add some extra mechanics that are less directly combat-focused, such as Electronic Warfare. It’s largely up to the player whether they want to use more direct action or deceive their enemies using a new type of ‘weapon’: the Spectrum Device.

The length is always hard to specify, because it of course depends on each individual player, and how much they explore the terrain beyond the core objectives. We’d estimate normal play sessions lasting between 4 and 6 hours. And after that there’s of course a cool box of new toys to tinker with, including the rest of the new Livonia terrain. We also hope community creators get inspired to build their own alien scenarios.

OnlySP: Is the idea to produce a realistic version of what you think first contact might be like? Military robots, recon, drones and tactical planning?

van ‘t Land: Military and scientific authenticity were definitely our starting points when we kicked off the project. We scoured books and the Internet, spoke to various consultants, and tried to find out whether there even exist real-world ‘post-detection protocols’. There are bits and pieces out there, like the US military’s Seven Steps to Contact (1950), but also the usual conspiracy theories and questionable sources. We could not find a clear central and declassified playbook, so then you get to more general protocols for dealing with any unknown threat or situation. Much of that could be extrapolated to an alien arrival, so we quickly landed on themes like Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear defense, autonomous vehicles, and SIGINT (signal intelligence). These things just make basic sense: avoiding cross-contamination and taking extreme care in general. Another interesting analogue was how Navy vessels may react to a non-responsive ship at sea. How certain actions or inactions may trigger the wrong response. Not all of it is intuitive; a signal meant to communicate a basic message can easily be interpreted as hostile. And that’s between humans … who knows how aliens are and observe the world around them?

Setting out to depict this premise put us in a pretty challenging situation. We wanted to be authentic, but at the same time introduce aliens, whose level of technology can easily surpass our understanding. We approached it by setting ourselves the rule that the aliens were allowed one general super technology that they could use to ‘cheat’ our scientific knowledge, one magical ability if you will. The other parts of their tech should have a strong connection to how we think the universe works. And we are also still making a game, so along the way you can encounter gameplay situations that need to break with authenticity to preserve fun or player understanding. All in all, I would still say our interpretation is more down-to-Earth than many other sci-fi stories out there.

OnlySP: Can you reveal if any missions will take place on an alien spaceship? Or does humanity’s encounter with alien tech revolve around the orange levitating orb seen in the trailer.

van ‘t Land: What I’ll say is that you will not be leaving Earth. And there is more to the alien visitors than the Alien Flying Object and anomalous orb seen in the Announcement Trailer, but you’ll experience that when you play.

OnlySP: This expansion is adding five new weapons, all of them based on real-world arms. Will there be any weapons specifically designed for engaging alien targets? Did you ever consider adding in alien weaponry?

van ‘t Land: Perhaps not a traditional weapon, but the Spectrum Device is the player’s primary new tool. It lets you receive and transmit signals on certain frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, depending on the antenna you attach. This can be used for engaging in Electronic Warfare against human forces and technology, but perhaps also more. We based the device on real-world experimental drone jammers and how they might develop over the next decades. How capable the alien visitors are at defending themselves is something for players to uncover.

OnlySP: The environmental graphics in the trailer look amazing. The forest setting is an iconic setting for many alien stories and films. Were you consciously attempting to tap into the cultural heritage and atmosphere of the likes of E.T. with it?

van ‘t Land: Thank you! E.T. is another movie all of us saw growing up of course. I would not say we were directly trying to replicate its atmosphere, but now that you mention it, the mood of being alone in the dark with strange light anomalies, definitely is a huge part of the campaign. Another similarity with Steven Spielberg’s movies in general is subtlety. We quite quickly settled on wanting to focus rather on that as opposed to bombastic blockbuster scenes. Think Jaws and Jurassic Park more so than Independence Day. At the same time there are several events in the campaign that nobody has ever seen in an Arma game.

Livonia’s development history is not as straight-forward itself. The terrain started as a Research & Development project to incorporate more automated tools for terrain building, but after building a prototype that way, it did not have an actual project to finish it in. Then we kicked off ‘Contact’ and at some point the match was made. This turned into a rather massive effort to shape the foundation into Livonia, but having an actual narrative context and setting helped to flesh out its back story. It meant we started developing it as a fictional nation, with a history, flag, and armed forces. And we started incorporating wishes from the ‘Contact’ campaign team. It was no easy task, but the teams did a fantastic job, and it has also allowed the expansion to bring a huge new sandbox to Arma 3 players.

OnlySP: The forested area of Livonia looks like a closed landscape as it’s densely packed with trees. This is something quite different from vast open landscapes that we’ve seen in the past with sandy, grassy and dirty environments. Will players be forced into exploring different tactical options to cope with this?

van ‘t Land: The landscape indeed means not all tactics are suitable or successful. Especially in the mid-section of the campaign, the player has some freedom to explore off the beaten path, and choose to walk or use vehicles, employ direct action or pure stealth. Even so, Livonia is rather large, and there will be plenty of interesting places to explore beyond the campaign. We fully expect the community will create their usual assortment of cool scenarios and multiplayer modes to make the most of its rolling hills, fields, and forests. Some of them have actually already started to publish versions based on our Sneak Preview builds.

OnlySP: How important is the single-player portion of Arma 3, not just for ‘Contact’ but the game as a whole?

van ‘t Land: That’s going to depend a lot on who in the player community you ask. For some only multiplayer matters. They spend thousands of hours in mil-sim operations or on role-playing servers, and perhaps never touch any single-player content. And yet, I could personally not imagine an Arma game without a single-player component. It does not have to be a complex narrative-driven story, but could also be a more simulation-driven open world. The current Arma 3 library of content, whether official or user-generated, is vast. Pretty much everything is represented in one way or another. Going purely on analytics, it could be tempting to conclude that singleplayer does not matter nearly as much, but the data does not tell the whole story. Aside from curated content, there is another way to play Arma 3 alone: the editor. Many players love just throwing together a quick battle and seeing how it plays out.

Then you could argue that any playable content could be both singleplayer and multiplayer, but there are still many complexities that make it very hard to pull that off well. We’ve learned some of these lessons with our co-operative “Apex Protocol” campaign. Besides being technically much more complex and harder to test given all network situations, there are many storytelling difficulties when you have multiple players in the virtual world, starting with their individual pace. ‘Contact’ actually started out intending to be playable in both singleplayer and multiplayer, but we are really pushing the limits of our engine with the aliens for example. A few months in we made the call to go single-player-only, letting us focus on building the atmosphere we wanted without the worries of network synchronization.

OnlySP: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

van ‘t Land: Having worked on ‘Contact’ for some two years, we are very excited to finally let players experience it soon. There are not many companies like Bohemia, where such an unorthodox concept would be greenlit, so we’re very happy to have had the chance to make it a reality. We hope you all enjoy playing our take on this big human topic!

Arma 3 ‘Contact’ will be available on 25 July 2019 for PC.

For more on Arma 3 ‘Contact’ and from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. Also, be sure to join the discussion in the community Discord server.

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