[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Uncharted franchise is one of the most awe- inspiring, yet frustrating series of games I’ve ever played. We all know about their award-winning singleplayer, but its the franchise’s multiplayer that has impressed me above all. As I’ve observed and participated in the progression of these games over the past 4 years it’s become obvious to me that Uncharted has the potential to be as big as a Halo or even Call of Duty. Here’s why:
// UNCHARTED 2
Untapped potential, that was my feeling after playing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Coming from a PC and Xbox background, it was the first PS3 game I really got into online. Of course the single-player experience was masterful from beginning to end, but it was the beta prior to release that had me instantly hooked on the multiplayer. I was simply blown away by how the balanced gameplay, map design, and the traversal elements coalesced in an impressive manner (even more so given that the original Uncharted did not have multiplayer of any kind).
Since I was a new PS3 gamer at the time I did not have any friends on PlayStation Network. For a solid 2 months I played the game by myself, but the MP was so fun and engaging I didn’t care in the least. However after meeting some people the experience was even better, as a result I’ve met some of my best friends through UC2 and I have countless unforgettable memories from when we played together.
[one_third last=”no”]I had no idea Uncharted worked so well in a competitive setting and it opened my mind to the possibilities the series possessed.[/one_third]
Nostalgia aside, I slowly got involved with the competitive side of Uncharted 2. It was active on MLG’s GameBattles and having become a skilled player, I was asked to join a top team. For a month I enjoyed some of the most incredible gaming I’ve ever known. I had no idea Uncharted worked so well in a competitive setting and it opened my mind to the possibilities the series possessed.
Then the unthinkable happened: the game died. Not completely of course, but enough to kill its competitive scene completely and drive thousands away from it entirely. The catalyst? A “title update”, version number 1.05. But 1.05 was not just any title update mind you, it turned the entire core of the game on its head. Some of it was re-patched later, but the most severe change has remained to this day; a small increase in weapon damage across the board (or a small decrease in health depending on how you view it). It may not sound like much, but it effectively made the game unplayable as it was not designed for what turned out to be such a radical tweak.
The community was in an uproar, and none were more outspoken than myself on the subject. The feedback against this adjustment was overwhelming, but developer Naughty Dog defended their decision claiming it was their “vision” for Uncharted 2’s multiplayer — a statement that alone raises a number of questions. Anyway, as a direct result legions of players left the game and before long the online population was just a fraction of what it was previously.
I can go on about this single topic for days but I’ll try to save you from an endless read. The bottom line is Naughty Dog took a major unnecessary chance, it backfired, and their response greatly hurt Uncharted’s community (not to mention themselves).
Regardless, a small loyal community continued to play the game. Even though it had changed for the worse, we could still glimpse the… “magic” at its core. We kept supporting the game and pinned all our hopes on its inevitable sequel.
Even though Uncharted 2’s life was essentially cut short, I still believed that Uncharted had massive potential as a multiplayer game.
// UNCHARTED 3
The third installment in the Uncharted franchise has had a very interesting journey. It’s had its share of successes, but at the same time has suffered problems of its own and while it’s taken steps toward something greater, it still fell short.
The first details about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception‘s multiplayer inspired mixed feelings among fans. On one hand many profound changes to the basic gameplay were revealed, causing many to wonder if the game would depart too far from the original Uncharted 2 gameplay they fell in love with. On the other hand Naughty Dog came out and admitted that the infamous update 1.05 was a huge mistake and that it was one of the most important things they learned from working on the game. Such surreal acknowledgement made us believe they were back on track and tentatively, some of our faith was restored.
[one_third last=”no”]Uncharted 3 launched with more problems than any game I’ve ever played.[/one_third]
However after one stripped-down beta and MP demo, Uncharted 3 launched with more problems than any game I’ve ever played. Staggering gameplay imbalances, connection problems, leaderboard exploits, endless glitches/bugs, and more plagued the game. Things that weren’t a problem in Uncharted 2 suddenly became puzzling issues in this new game and competitive play was crippled by a private game system that offered virtually no customization. Many of these problems were addressed in time but much of it was too-little-too-late and even then some them remain present today. Though it has attracted a larger audience than its predecessor, Uncharted 3’s launch failures definitely affected its long-term success.
As a whole, Uncharted 3 felt completely different from Uncharted 2 — and primarily in a bad way. Animations were clunkier, the aiming system was noticeably inferior, even the graphics were worse in some areas. Then there were the larger gameplay revisions, many which did not seem to fit Uncharted and appeared as if Naughty Dog tried to “Call of Duty-ize” the game to bring in more players/sales. Some of these changes would have worked too, if they had actually been polished. As it stands, in an apparent effort to be more accessible Naughty Dog only instead alienated many of its dedicated players by choosing a quantity over quality approach to Uncharted 3. This over-ambition is what hurt the game the most.
As it turns out, almost all of Uncharted 2’s development team went to work on a new project now known as The Last of Us, leaving a new team to craft the sequel. It explains why on the surface Uncharted 3 looked like an Among Thieves successor but did not feel like it.
Despite huge disappointments across the board, Naughty Dog began involving itself with the community more and worked on fixing as many problems as they could. There is still plenty of room to improve in that area, but it’s already night and day compared to the time during Uncharted 2.
[one_third last=”no”]…before long Uncharted 3 was the #2 most played game on the entire site across all platforms.[/one_third]
The unexpected success of story of Uncharted 3 however is that of its community. Uncharted has some of the most passionate, loyal, and interesting people I’ve ever met, and its their dedication to the series that has kept Drake’s Deception alive to this day. Community events, competitions, YouTube, facebook groups, and more have expanded the game in numerous ways to an impressive extent. But when it comes to realizing potential, nothing matches the cultivation Uncharted 3’s competitive side has achieved.
Starting in February of 2012, myself and Jason “sQuiiDx” Heitman (who you might all know) started an Uncharted 3 competitive league on the gaming site Fragged Nation. Given Gamebattle’s unwillingness to support Uncharted 3 beyond the first couple months of launch we saw a chance to give competitive Uncharted a home and see how far we could take it. Little did we realize how starved the community was for such a place as before long Uncharted 3 was the #2 most played game on the entire site across all platforms (6k members, 344 teams, 21k matches in 14 months, 4 major tournaments). Our goal was simple: define Uncharted’s multiplayer identity with balanced rules and a staff to impose order. Over the last year and a half it’s grown beyond even our most optimistic expectations. Teams play every day, competing in hundreds of matches per month across seasons, and vying for season-ending championship tournaments.
And all of this without any official support from Sony, Naughty Dog, or other third parties. Just the blood, sweat, tears, and desire from the community. More recently sponsors are beginning to notice what Uncharted is accomplishing and even now we have a $500 tournament taking place in association with Kelevra and Gamermodz. Not a huge reward by most standards, but it’s the first ever cash prize event for Uncharted and a first step toward a bigger stage.
Even though there is no spectator mode and many imbalances remain, Uncharted 3’s competitive community has done more with what it was given than most would believe. For a series that is considered by most to be a singleplayer experience it has some of the most activity relative to its size. In a recent tournament final, I had almost 300 viewers watching a live-stream of my match. Imagine the heights competitive Uncharted can reach with the full support of Sony and Naughty Dog.
It’s clear that Uncharted 3 was not the holy grail many hoped it would be, but inadvertently a lot of good has manifested out of it regardless. Uncharted’s potential as a major multiplayer game is beginning to materialize, but there’s still a ways to go.
// UNCHARTED 4
So now we come to the next Uncharted game. Yes, it has not been announced yet but we know it’s coming. Naughty Dog has clearly stated that Uncharted was “never intended to be a trilogy” and as the next-generation of PlayStation approaches it’s only a matter of time before we see what the Uncharted 3 development team has been working on (my bet is an E3 reveal).
Let’s look at Sony’s upcoming exclusive PlayStation 4 shooter lineup as of today: Killzone will likely be their first major shooter, but it’s still another FPS in a world of endless FPSs. inFAMOUS is third person but no multiplayer has been announced and its gameplay is drastically different from Uncharted. Metal Gear Solid 5 hasn’t been announced for PS4 and its gameplay is realism based. As far as we know there won’t be a new Resistance title for the foreseeable future.
[one_third last=”no”]…if done right it [Uncharted 4] could sell the PS4 in ways few other titles will be capable of.[/one_third]
In comparison Uncharted is completely unique in its blend of shooting and platforming, and unquestionably some of the best looking games ever. This is why Uncharted 4 will be a crucial game for Sony, not only because Uncharted is one of their best exclusives, but because if done right it could sell the PS4 in ways few other titles will be capable of.
With that in mind and without going into too many specifics just now, these are my keys for Uncharted 4 finally realizing the potential I’ve believed the series has had ever since I first played Among Thieves back in 2009:
So many of Uncharted 3’s problems could have been prevented early on. The beta it had contained so little content that it was impossible to give comprehensive feedback on balance. I know every developer tests their games internally along with a QA (Quality Assurance) team but it wasn’t enough for Drake’s Deception so why risk Uncharted 4’s fate as well? I can think of 30 people (not including me) off the top of my head that would die for an opportunity to alpha test the next Uncharted game — but more importantly, offer invaluable insight and feedback. This time period of development is the most crucial since it’s early enough that major changes can be made (which is all the more reason to focus test the people who know Uncharted). Too many games suffer because those designing them don’t actually play them, thus they lose perspective. As a developer, why wouldn’t you want criticism from the people who understand the game on a level you likely never will? Countless developers have been bringing in select individuals to playtest their games recently, Naughty Dog would benefit greatly from doing the same.
Taking the next step, have a closed alpha or closed beta to a small group of the community (including competitive and “casual” players alike). This would need to still be early enough to implement significant tweaks.
Lastly, have an open beta a few months from release where smaller refinements are made.
In regards to overall multiplayer design Naughty Dog must accept that copying other games will rarely bring in players the way they want. Instead focusing on what makes Uncharted special should be the primary focus. Furthermore, accessibility greatly harmed Uncharted 3 by how much the game concentrated on catering to new players/newbies. Games shouldn’t have too high of a learning curve, but Uncharted 3 actually punished good players and promoted unskilled play (almost the polar opposite of Uncharted 2). Needless to say, a shift in thinking must occur here. What many developers have a hard time realizing is that you can please both the hardcore and the casual at the same time.
If you think about it, the casuals breakdown into two groups: group 1 are the casuals that play a myriad of games and will only stick with a game to get trophies and perhaps the first batch of DLC. Before long they’ve moved on to something else. Group 2 are the casuals that play the game for an extended period but simply do not take the game very seriously as they “play for fun’.
Both groups, by definition of the types of players they are, will not care much about gameplay balance. Therefore designing from a top-down approach (i.e. balancing at the competitive level downward) ensures the hardcore/competitive players are happy with the casuals content as they typically are.
Few games have done this, but those that have turned out very successful. Halo, Counter-Strike, Gears of War, and ironically enough Uncharted 2 (pre-1.05) instantly come to mind.
It’s simple: happier players = more players, more word of mouth effect, more DLC purchases, lasting player pool. Why would you turn that down?
I don’t think any of us doubt that the next Uncharted game will have a quality singleplayer experience. But Naughty Dog and Sony need to prevent people from only thinking of Uncharted 4 as a singleplayer title which has been the case with the past two games. Thus a much greater emphasis should be placed on promoting Uncharted 4 as a serious multiplayer title. Trailers, articles, events, whatever it takes. Instead of partnering with Subway why not MLG/Gamebattles, Fragged Nation, TwitchTV, or other competition-oriented brands?
// COMPETITIVE SUPPORT:
Uncharted 3 has already demonstrated that there is a large interest in competitive Uncharted and by extension, an even larger audience. Without any formal support it’s grown into a thriving community of players, teams, and personalities that rival any number of other “serious competitive games”. That passion is a rare thing, it’s a unique spark you can’t afford to ignore.
Given the growth of competitive gaming as a whole recently Sony can’t really afford to ignore the market here. How many millions of people watched the recent Call of Duty Championships? How many copies of the game did its sell? How much DLC did it sell? How much interest did it generate for Call of Duty in general? I’d wager it translated directly into serious profit.
It’s no secret Sony has been playing second fiddle to Microsoft this generation in terms of competitive support, I believe Uncharted 4 is their biggest chance to turn that all around. Why? Because it’s different. No other competitive title today resembles Uncharted (with the sole exception of Gears of War but even then, the similarities are minor).
Not to knock Call of Duty (since I actually appreciate and enjoy it), but its gameplay is very straightforward. Uncharted’s is epic, dynamic, and requires more raw skill in my opinion (due to the higher health model ala Halo). If hundreds of thousands of people will watch competitive Call of Duty, just as many if not more would love watching competitive Uncharted.
How can Sony and Naughty Dog accomplish this?
The game needs to be designed with competition in mind (as per the above)
A quality spectator mode is a must as it allows for live event coverage
Online and LAN events should be organized from the outset (launch the game with a huge cash prize!)
Even if you’re not a “hardcore” player, you must understand that the competitive scene drives multiplayer overall. Thus, a strong competitive game helps all other aspects of its online play.
// COMMUNITY SUPPORT:
Naughty Dog has made noticeable headway in this department, but they haven’t quite reached the level of say, an Epic Games when it comes to community interaction, support, and communication. These elements are vital for a game’s community and Naughty Dog needs to ensure they commit to Uncharted 4 in this regard. Events, giveaways, expanding Uncharted TV, involving players on updates/patches, everything and anything. This kind of support does wonders for games and
// FINAL THOUGHTS
I love Uncharted, if I didn’t I would be this honest and dedicate myself to the franchise in my free time. I simply know it has what it takes to become something far more.
Uncharted has all the ingredients to become a major multiplayer presence. It’s just up to those in charge to recognize it and make it a reality.
It is up to Naughty Dog to learn from their mistakes with the past two games and for Sony to guide them toward turning Uncharted multiplayer into the next big thing. Competitively (and by extension its MP as a whole), Uncharted 4 has no limit to what it can achieve if Naughty Dog involves the community in development and Sony commits to supporting it. Anything can happen, it’s up to us to make ourselves heard and advocate for the greatness we want to see come to fruition.
And now here we are again, supporting Uncharted 3. Once again we wait for its inevitable sequel and we hope that this time our aspirations are fulfilled.
Much is unclear at this point, but one thing is certain: the 4th Uncharted is coming and it has a rare opportunity for the series to finally, realize its potential.
Visuals communicate far more than a novel of text, here are a couple relevant Uncharted videos you may enjoy: