The Making of Uncharted: Golden Abyss «

The Making of Uncharted: Golden Abyss

In Spring 2008, Sony’s top PlayStation executives gathered in an offsite management meeting to plan their second portable game system. Ask Sony’s head of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida about it, and he’ll give you a 700-word answer like it happened yesterday; however, the part that excited him most was what he learned about the role his teams would play this time around.

In that meeting, PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai said that he wanted the company’s first-party studios to play an active role in designing the system, which may not seem like a big deal to an outsider, but Yoshida characterizes as “a total change” to how the company had gone about things previously. “There was very limited communication in the past, especially when it came to new hardware, because of the secrecy involved,” he says. “[SCEI] had very tight security in terms of sharing information with us up through the PS3 days, so I saw a big sea change of culture and process.”

Shuhei Yoshida is the current president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios division, covering all first-party PlayStation development.

Sensing a need for someone to facilitate that process, Yoshida — who at the time lived in the U.S. — offered to return to Japan to be a middleman between SCEI’s hardware division and Sony’s development teams. “That [relationship] has to be developed,” he says. “It just doesn’t happen when Kaz says ‘You two, talk!’ It’s not like that, so someone like me needed to be embedded in Tokyo and attend every platform discussion meeting… They might talk about, ‘Oh we have this new technology that might be great for the next thing,’ then I could relate them to the proper Worldwide Studio teams.”

One of those first teams was Bend Studio, to whom Yoshida reached out shortly after the initial offsite meeting and who would go on to develop what most people consider the most ambitious and technically demanding launch game for the system, now known as PSVita: Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

Meanwhile, in Bend…

 

At the time, most of the Bend Studio team was back in Oregon — the team is named after Bend, Oregon, the largest city in the relatively unpopulated state center — developing Resistance: Retribution, their fourth PSP release in four years and their first non-Syphon Filter game in 10.

John Garvin (left) and Christopher Reese (right) head up Sony’s Bend Studio as writer/director and technical director, respectively.

Led by co-directors John Garvin and Christopher Reese, they’ve long been one of Sony’s most critically acclaimed teams (winning IGN’s PSP game of the year award two years in a row). Yet they’re also one of its lower-profile ones, doing less publicity work than studios like Naughty Dog — as evidenced by their website, which as of this story going live hasn’t been updated since June 2010 — and making a decision years earlier to work on portable games in part so they could keep their staff numbers down.

“We’re pretty small at 43 [people] to be making AAA third-person action games, especially in the genres that we like,” says Garvin. “It’s one of the reasons we moved to the PSP from PS2…we didn’t really want to grow into the type of huge team that it takes to build next-gen games, and you could build a PSP game, a great one, with a small team. Then Sony went and made a next-gen handheld, so now we’re not going to have much of a choice. [Laughs]”