Naughty Dog: "Bright Future" on PS4; Talk About Unlocking its Power, Uncharted 4, TLOU and Much More

By Giuseppe Nelva

August 19, 2014

We got no new information on Uncharted 4: A Theif’s End at Gamescom, but Naughty Dog hasn’t been completely silent, and they provided quite a lot of insight on their past and future in a lovely interview featuring Game Director Neil Druckmann and Lead Programmer Jason Gregory on the In-Game Chat podcast.

The interview  ranges between a wide variety of topics, and we start by learning that one of the reasons between remastering The Last of Us is that it was almost too big for the PS3, and the remastered version is really the way it was meant to be played.

Gregory explained that a lot of the code of The Last of us ported over pretty easily, but there were two areas that proved challenging.

The first is the GPU: every GPU is different and as they get more advanced they also get more complex. The PS4’s GPU can do over a thousand things at once, so trying to understand the complexities of the hardware and really “making it sing” and making it do exactly what you want it to do in the most efficient way possible was a big challenge, but a fun one.

The other was the difference in architecture. The PS3 had one main processors and six co-processors (the SPUs). They’re very powerful, but they have a very specific way that you have to talk to them. They also have their own private memory areas. Bringing the code over and having it run on six powerful main CPUs on PS4 was also a big challenge in figuring how to get everything to run in paralel.

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The initial work on the PS4 engine done over a year before shipping The Last of Us on PS4 was a bit problematic because there were no devkits. They had to work on PCs similar in architecture to what they knew would be the PS4. The team started working in full swing on The last of Us Remastered, actually making it run on proper devkits, six to eight months after the release of The Last of Us.

Gregory started working on it by himself at first, then more programmers were added and finally, near the end almost the whole programming staff was drafted to wrap the PS4 port up.

Naughty Dog has three projects in the works at the moment: The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, and “the next big game” which is in a “super-early” stage of development. Except for Uncharted 4, no game has a fixed team, and resources are shifted around as needed.The studio had a go at having two completely separate teams, but they’re so particular and selective on how they hire people, that the complete split was never fulfilled, so it’s more like they have “one and a half team” where people will shift around form project to project.

It wouldn’t make sense to have two full teams, as there are never two games in full production at the same time. One is either in pre-production or there are DLC being done after release, so in the end having one and a half team is a good balance.

The Last of Us Remastered was a special case, as it was technically a port, so while it was very heavy on the programming team, it wasn’t as demanding on the art side.

While a lot of the tech for multiplayer continues to work the same way from PS3 to PS4, and the PSN is fundamentally the same, some library and low level code provided by Sony,changed between PS3 and PS4, so some of the game’s code had to be adapted to talk to the new interface.

Part of the code was just ported over, and within a week of starting the initial porting effort a good chunk of it would actually compile properly and “sort of run,” but the graphics were just barely showing on screen, you could see elements but they didn’t look right and the framerate was terrible. From then on the team spent lots of time tracking down things that were different between PS3 and PS4, elements that they forgot to bring over or that were brought over but needed to be changed. At the same time the rendering team was hard at work basically redoing the rendering engine from the ground up, because the GPU is too different from the PS3’s.

On the PS4 there is a lot of memory, so the team didn’t have to worry about that at all. The CPU was more of a mixed bag, because while it’s more powerful, it took a lot of time to learn its ins and outs and how to praralelize all the processes.

As far as disk space goes, the team has a new compression system for cinematics and textures, so even if there’s a lot more data, it still left a small amount of space on the disk to include the grounded documentary and the commentary tracks.

Looking at the future, while the game is locked at 60 frames per second, most of the time it would actually run at 80, and there are still systems that could have been optimized more. Naughty Dog still didn’t run into any memory bottlenecks, even if Druckmann is sure that they will on Uncharted 4. Yet, there’s still a lot of power to untap.

Gregory remembers that with Uncharted 2 they claimed they had maxed the PS3’s SPUs, which was true at that time, but then they did Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us, and with each iteration they figured out new ways to optimize the code and squeeze even more out of the hardware. According to him with the PS4 there’s a “bright future” because there’s a lot of power that Naughty Dog still has to learn how to take advantage of and ways to optimize the code to make it even more efficient.

Druckmann also mentioned that there are discussions about remastering the Uncharted series, but now the studio is really focused on Uncharted 4. They made a promise with the trailer at E3 and they want to live up to it.

3D was never in the picture for The Last of Us Remastered. They did it with Uncharted 3, and it was a good experiment, but it wasn’t successful, so they decided the resources were better spent elsewhere. Druckmann also mentioned that “right now” there are no plans to have 3D in Uncharted 4.

He then explained that they never really think about tackling a specific genre, but they consider more what kind of character of story they want to tell, and usually that blends a bunch of different genres together. While he doesn’t know what the future holds, and there are all kinds of genres that he’s intrigued and inspired by, what’s more important is how they’ll combine them to tell a story.

With Uncharted 4 Druckmann and Straley are constantly jumping between discussions about story and gameplay, and at time one needs to give ground to the other, but at the same time they make each other stronger when they work together.

As for new information on Nathan Drake’s upcoming  new adventure, Druckmann mentioned that it’s going to come “soon.” I’m quite sure no one is surprised about that.

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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