Recently, in an interview with Game Informer, Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells confirmed the directors to shepherd Uncharted 4 are Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, the directing team for the hit game The Last of Us. The news comes after a controversial exit from the company for longtime Naughty Dog mainstay and Uncharted creative director, Amy Hennig. It was recently announced that Hennig had joined Visceral Games and is now hard at work on a new Star Wars title. Despite the exit of longtime franchise creators, this is not necessarily a reason to panic. The Uncharted franchise appears to be in very good hands.
While Amy Hennig was one of the main visionaries behind the franchise, she was not the only one. Franchise and game developers tend to change and evolve over time. That’s the way of the industry. Shinji Mikami eventually moved on from Resident Evil. Bungie moved on from Halo, and 343 Industries basically took over development for the franchise for Microsoft. It did not spell death for either.
Druckmann and Straley are both talented game developers who have history with the Uncharted franchise. They have paid their dues and put in the work at the studio. Straley was co-director on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, my personal favorite in the franchise so far. Druckmann was a Naughty Dog designer as far back as Jak X: Combat Racing. The Last of Us was a tremendous accomplishment in a marriage of great gameplay with a tremendous, cinematic quality narrative. With all that in mind, Druckmann and Straley deserve the benefit of the doubt for the next installment of the Uncharted franchise.
IGN first reported the news of Hennig’s departure from Naughty Dog and Uncharted 4. The IGN report states that sources claimed Hennig was unceremoniously “forced out” out of Naughty Dog due to Druckmann and Straley’s influence. IGN later updated its report with statements from Naughty Dog presidents Evan Wells and Christoph Balestra, saying, “As co-presidents of Naughty Dog, we are responsible for all studio affairs.” They also denied that Druckmann and Straley had any involvement in Hennig’s departure. Now, is that the truth? Who knows. As the old cliche goes, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. But that does not mean any one party was necessarily wrong. In the same report, Sony development head Scott Rohde quite accurately pointed out, “Things change, and sometimes change involves very high profile individuals. That’s all that’s happened here. There’s nothing else. There’s no more to dig at.”
The fact is that development companies constantly change staff over time. People and leading voices come and go, much like corporations. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is part of the business. This does not confirm Uncharted 4 will be a definitive home run either. However, at this point, with the way Naughty Dog has handled the franchise thus far, the game is one of its crown jewels. And while there is a bit of sadness to Amy Hennig leaving the franchise, it is also very encouraging to see the directors behind The Last of Us overseeing the next sequel.