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Could Uncharted 4 be in trouble? Signs point to "yes"

Something's going down behind closed doors at Naughty Dog, and it doesn't bode well. It all started with the departure of Amy Hennig in March, who had been the writer and director of the Uncharted series; she's now working on an unannounced Star Wars project at Visceral Games. Later that month, Justin Richmond, the game director on the upcoming Uncharted game for PS4, left Naughty Dog for Riot Games.

Today, we're hit with a one-two punch of troubling Naughty Dog news: Nate Wells, the lead artist on The Last of Us, is moving to indie developer Giant Sparrow, and the only known character confirmed for Uncharted PS4 has been recast, following the departure of writer and actor Todd Stashwick, who will be joining Hennig at Visceral. It all begs the question: Just what in the hell is going on over there?

Without an inside source, I can't say for sure--but my guess is that Uncharted on PS4 is the cause of the turmoil within the development staff. In a blog post from November of last year, Naughty Dog's community strategist Arne Meyer wrote that "Amy [Hennig], Justin [Richmond], and the team are hard at work on an amazing new installment of the Uncharted series to be released exclusively on the PlayStation 4 system," adding "We can confirm that the voiceover is performed by Todd Stashwick and he will play a character in the game." Six months later, every team member mentioned in that statement--all of them playing an integral role in Uncharted on PS4--is now gone.

People typically don't depart a company in short succession when they're satisfied with their job. For that many creative leads to all jump ship within the same two-month span can't be a good sign, and may indicate internal conflict over the direction of Uncharted for Sony's newest console. Perhaps demands were made of the project that Hennig and Richmond couldn't agree with; Hennig has been with the series since its inception, so for her to leave so abruptly could be an indication that something is going very wrong.

Or maybe achieving Uncharted's signature setpieces on PS4 is proving to be a nigh-insurmountable challenge. After Uncharted 2 hit it big, co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand revealed that "The set pieces [took] much longer to create and polish than we'd anticipated." Between the scale of the project and framerate issues that needed to be ironed out, Uncharted 2 resulted in a soul-crushing crunch period at Naughty Dog. "We realized just how big of a game we had bitten off and… we were either going to have to chew extra hard or make some cuts or choke," said Lemarchand. Perhaps that same excruciating amount of demand is being made of the current Uncharted staff, enough to make some team members reach their breaking point. Regardless, if you were hoping for Uncharted on PS4 within the year, you should probably temper your expectations.

This all feels like déjà vu--a company going through team-wide exodus right after coming off a wildly popular triple-A game. It was only this past February that Irrational Games disintegrated following the success of BioShock Infinite, a move that stunned many gamers into appreciating the creative tolls that come with developing big-name games for years at a time. With Naughty Dog's current state of affairs, it seems to me like half-a-year's work (at the least) for the fourth Uncharted installment may be all but abandoned.

If the people still working at Naughty Dog want to shake off any doom-and-gloom rumors, they need to hit E3 2014 hard with some Uncharted info that's more substantial than a teaser trailer. When game development veterans like Amy Hennig exit a project on unclear terms, it's bound to create a crisis of confidence for the game currently in development. And the thought of Naughty Dog losing its footing after putting out GamesRadar's best game of 2013 is troubling indeed.

15 comments

  • gtaforlife - May 4, 2014 6 p.m.

    It would be a shame if Uncharted is affected negatively due to this mass exodus. Uncharted 4 was to be the reason i finally upgrade to a ps4.
  • ultimatepunchrod - April 23, 2014 9:42 a.m.

    I am concerned about Uncharted 4 with Hennig's departure; however, I think Nate Wells may just be leaving because The Last of Us was his project, and it's doubtful that that particular series will continue. He may have just left ND like he left Ninja Theory after Enslaved in order to work on a new game. I am legitimately concerned about what's happening at ND though.
  • bbreakervideo - April 23, 2014 3:28 a.m.

    Thats okay, Sony can just focus on Infamous, and crazy open world titles. Im fine with that. Also bring back Pandemonium....
  • SnakeinmyBoot - April 22, 2014 10:13 a.m.

    People might be blowing this out of proportion a little bit too much. But yeah, even Naughty Dog is hitting that feasible graphics ceiling other devs are getting serious concussions on. The are still plenty of people well versed in their craft and the Uncharted IP working at ND. We won't know until well after this E3 how much these losses affected them. That said I haven't really cared for Naughty Dog's games in a while. Uncharted 1 and 2 were fun Indiana Jones styled adventure game when you weren't in a 3rd person shooter fire-fight. The 3PS gunplay was good, but it just seemed more like I was following a soldier's story not an archaeologist that wouldn't dare take on 10-20 well equipped and trained mercenaries every chance he got. The Last of Us just disinterests me because of overused zombie apocalypse plot that game devs need to drop for a few years. Even going back to the Jak series, I didn't play Jak 3 until the HD re-release came out because I felt they ruined a new fantasy world they just started building by taking the second game to a almost post-apocalypse setting and putting guns in it. They've just been losing their touch since the Crash days, with spikes back to the glory days every 3 or so games. Maybe this shake up can open their eyes and they'll work on a new IP (or return to Jak and Daxter and take that in a better direction). What they (and other developers/publishers) do need to do is look at the scope of a project they are considering and listen to someone's idea's for a different IP or overall scope that better fits the typical development schedule with the current hardware. Too many devs and publishers have went under or downsized in recent years right after a critically praised game. And, with the demands for the prettiest graphics, that sad trend probably won't change just because everything except the Wii U is now x86.
  • Shigeruken - April 22, 2014 7:05 a.m.

    It really depends on when Naughty Dog started development on the game, and what process model their team as a whole follows. It's likely that most of the work these people were needed for has already been completed. It sounds to me like ND would be using some form of rational unified process, in which case depending on when development started, and how much time ND typically allocates to design related phases, there may not be cause for concern.
  • CitizenWolfie - April 22, 2014 4:22 a.m.

    While it's probably a big blow for the team (and a big coincidence that it's all the members mentioned in the press release) I wouldn't have thought a handful of staff leaving spells doom for Uncharted 4. If anything I don't mind waiting if it means the quality will be good. UC3 seemed to come along quite quickly but I felt like it was missing something so hopefully 4 will be the AAA title that UC2 was. Besides, Naughty Dog are just cooling down after a huge new hit last year. Sometimes it can be bad if the same people work on a series too long. They start to repeat ideas that previous games did better within the context. Bioshock Infinite and it's DLC could have become something truly special but the devs can't keep away from Rapture.
  • Divine Paladin - April 22, 2014 2:14 a.m.

    Naughty Dog is terrible with the number four, arguably worse than Valve is with three. Their franchises always tend to fall apart for some reason (licensing for Crash, Naughty Dog's inability to find a sensical plot for Jak 4 after typing up most loose ends and fixing Jak II's mistakes in the third game), and always right after 3. I wouldn't be surprised if we get a really mediocre Uncharted 4 that closes off the series in a lackluster manner. I don't think Naughty Dog's higher-ups wanna lose the company over any one series.
  • Eightboll812 - April 22, 2014 1:30 a.m.

    I agree that does sound worrisome. The cause could simply be poaching talent. Sort of like when a sports team wins a championship, every player is suddenly wanted by other teams, even if they weren't the star of the team. I think a lot of studios would be stupid to not want a piece of the Naughty Dog talent pool. But that still doesn't bode well for upcoming games. I suppose it was an uphill challenge anyway. I've not seen too many franchises be able to keep making each sequel better than the previous. At some point they peak and fade. That might be the case with Uncharted. Sad, but inevitable, IMO.
  • shawksta - April 21, 2014 11:02 p.m.

    Who knows what happens what with all these shifting and leaving, but we can only hope for the best and ponder how the future will turn.
  • wedgie - April 21, 2014 8:45 p.m.

    I can't speak about the actor who is leaving, but at the same time I feel like this is all being blown way out of proportion. From my understanding (which comes from my cousin, who worked on Rage for ID and now works at Treyarch in CA, a move that happened within 2 years) the video games industry is as volatile as the movie industry, in which once a project is finished, it is time to get a new job. With all of these people leaving, I don't know why and can't comment on the situation. But from my understanding, it does not seem that 3 people leaving is that big of an issue, and is in fact pretty common. The lead artist for Last of Us who left was only there for a year, and brought in mid project, and has been at about 3 studios in the last 2 years. But everyone blew that up as well. Right now I think a lot of these websites are hoping for hits, and with Naughty Dog being so high profile everyone is reporting on it. I am sure it is happening at other studios too, but just not being reported. While Naughty Dog is in my top 3 studios, and I wish them well, knowing this information does not concern me as much, and all these doom and gloom articles I have been taking with a grain of salt.
  • WrathLord03 - April 21, 2014 9:07 p.m.

    I think this opinion is the result of not knowing how an industry works. It's absolutely fine for GamesRadar Staff to talk about best characters and storylines and whatever because they're on the consumer side of the equation, but if they're going to talk about industry-workings, they'd better know what they're talking about. Based on your comment, it doesn't look like they do, and I don't think investing in an industry specialist commentator is a very good idea, since their job will be limited. I think it'd be safer to just stay out of this altogether. Regarding Uncharted 4's future, I'm thinking they'll still be going for an October/November release date this year, as they have done with Uncharted 2 and 3 before it. They've had plenty of time to work on it, and I'm relatively sure that Hennig left Naughty Dog after the story was already written, so to say that Uncharted 4's in trouble is definitely taking it too far.
  • Divine Paladin - April 22, 2014 2:39 a.m.

    The moves of some members is common, but a huge core of the studio's bigger names leaving in a short span? Unlikely. Firing a main character as well? Hell no, unless a massive direction change happened.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - April 21, 2014 8:28 p.m.

    I wonder if it's common for people to quit game companies all the time, but maybe we're only starting to read about it recently with the advent of up-to-the-minute video games news sites.
  • winner2 - April 21, 2014 6:54 p.m.

    I agree Lucas, it's not looking too good right now. There's some kind of trouble at naughty dog, I just hope they can pull out of it soon.
  • Vonter - April 21, 2014 5:02 p.m.

    The headline sounds sensationalist, a bit too dramatic, considering we haven't seen anything from this new game. In regards to the article, it could be many things, from added work hours due to new tech, better job offers (or even interest in smaller projects, and better working conditions), but my favorite assumption is that the project might be a really expensive endeavor that could at risks some positions, because that has been the stigma of big budget AAA games. Anyway it's still better ending at least with a job than just being let go.

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