The early days of Uncharted were a really dark period for Naughty Dog

When Naughty Dog showed the first trailer for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune at E3 2006 (where it shared the stage with Giant Enemy Crab (opens in new tab)), it was a sharp turn for the Jak & Daxter studio. Naughty Dog had traded cartoony action platforming for a modern-day Indiana Jones adventure, complete with a roguishly handsome new hero and cover-based gunplay. But people on the outside weren’t the only ones taken off guard by Naughty Dog’s sudden transition.

Jeremy Yates, lead character animator for the Uncharted series, told us that Naughty Dog had remarkably low employee turnover before it ramped up production on Drake’s Fortune. As work progressed slowly on “Jungle A2” – the waterfall segment near the middle of Chapter 4, and Naughty Dog’s first big push into active development on Uncharted – many of the new hires tapped out.

“It was actually a really dark period of Naughty Dog,” Yates said. “During that time, that second year into it on that jungle level, we were getting to the point where all these new people just lost faith. They were like, ‘We’re never gonna finish this game. You guys are screwed. You’ve bitten off way more than you could chew.'”

“I think over the course of a couple months at least 30 people quit. It was disheartening in some senses, but then some of us that had been there for a long time, it was like… We know that it’s hard. We know that the first game of a franchise is really hard. It was the first game on a system. It was gonna be a challenge but we kinda knew that we’ll pull this off, we don’t know how we’re gonna pull it off, but we’ll pull it off. It’s gonna be awesome.”

And Uncharted was… pretty good. Maybe not awesome, but pretty good. More importantly, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the seventh-best game of all time (opens in new tab), never would have happened if Naughty Dog hadn’t sharpened its machete and kept hacking away at Jungle A2.

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