Richard Lemarchand, the always-passionate University of Southern California Professor and former Naughty Dog game designer, talks past (Uncharted and The Last of Us design choices), present (how to share his development experience with students and developers) and future (Uncharted 4's prospects, future of videogames and players) in the interview we filmed in Barcelona, during recent Gamelab event.
Lemarchand left Naughty Dog at the end of April 2012, after being lead designer or co-lead designer on the whole of Drake's trilogy. Now he wants to share some of his fond memories of that time, and explain the way he tries to teach game design based on what he experienced:
"The things that I teach everyday at USC are really things that I learned in all the wonderful companies that I was lucky enough to work for. Naughty Dog was kind of like a graduate school for me, I think. I learned so much there from people like Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra - who are the co-presidents of Naughty Dog - and from my colleagues Amy Hennig, Bruce Straley, Neil Druckmann, Josh Scherr... and all of the other amazing people I was lucky enough to work alongside. And now, all of that knowledge about good ways to develop games, is stuff that I try to pass forward to my students at USC. I think that Naughty Dog really know how to make games right, so that they work smart and they stay constantly adapting to the new realities of the games as they discover it each day".
On a particular design choice about gameplay, Lemarchand picks up an interesting example:
"Oh, wow, let's see... there's so much to choose from, I mean, every day was another adventure at Naughty Dog", recalls the Professor with enthusiasm before pointing at the Peaceful Village sequence in Uncharted 2 as a tool to "help to reset the rhythm of the game". According to Lemarchand, it's a quiet section which "shows us some possible new directions for gameplay that we might see on this next generation of virtual reality".
Being crucial to the design of the first three Uncharted titles, Lemarchand is obviously excited about the next entry for the PS4, and even confesses that he took part in the project. Now it's clear Uncharted 4 has been in development for more than two years:
"I got to do some early work on Uncharted 4, so it's going to be interesting and exciting to me to see how it finally turns out in the years since I left Naughty Dog", he explains while keeping "finger's crossed" that A Thief's End is not the last entry.
So, what does one of the main designers of the whole franchise ask for from the fourth entry in the main series? Here's the deep answer in full:
"With every game that we made (when I was at Naughty Dog) we learned a lot more, and I feel that in the creation of The Last of Us, Naughty Dog's latest game - an amazing game - I think that, you know, the team of Naughty Dog was just building on the skills that they'd acquired until that point, with all these other great games they made. They did some cool new things, both in terms of gameplay (I really like the crafting system in The Last of Us, I think that worked really well) and they sort of went with that style of experiential gameplay that we began to experiment with in the Uncharted series, and use those techniques of sort of just ambient, exploration, discovery and storytelling in the environments to really good effect. I'd love to see lots more of that kind of stuff in Uncharted 4".
Watch the whole interview for more comments on what it is it like to go from triple-A development to indie and University life. There's also clues on "possible futures of games and players" and what they will be according to the Professor.
Apart from Virtual and Augmented Reality, Lemarchand is interested in "gamers as performers, whether that's through Let's Play videos or new kind of games that take place here in the physical world and maybe have some relationship to theatre". He even believes writing will connect games to other artforms like "theatre, literature, maybe poetry and dance, even architecture, study of nature".