In the run up to Uncharted 4's release, Naughty Dog's hinted that this will probably be their last Uncharted. Also, it's kinda in the title. "A Thief's End" is a little, you know... final.
I asked lead game designer Robert Cogburn why Naughty Dog's saying they're gonna hang up the half-tuck after Uncharted 4 comes out, and he told me there are a bunch of reasons. First off, Uncharted's universe is relatively realistic — modern-day Earth, technology mostly like ours, normal-ish people, etc — and it's getting harder and harder to expand it without straining credulity.
"This will be our fourth Uncharted game," Cogburn told me during an interview at PSX. "These games are hard to make. Particularly with a character like Nathan Drake in a world that's fairly grounded, it's a challenge to consider how much more we can expand the universe while adhering to those sorts of rules."
Naughty Dog is also aching to stretch their wings mechanically. Uncharted — while obviously a huge and multi-faceted undertaking — has become a box for them over time. They want to break out of it.
"You struggle with having to answer the same questions over and over again in any franchise," said Cogburn. "This is gonna be the fourth time we start answering stuff like, 'How do we make hand-grabs visible? What do we do to scale the combat experience? What are the interesting puzzles we can be introducing in the moment-to-moment as the player's experiencing this narrative?' That's not to say the questions will be the same in games we make going forward, but as a studio we grow tired of answering those same types of questions in the same fiction. It's gonna be fun for us to really embark on new ideas and start fleshing those out [in a new series]."
I asked him if The Last of Us functioned as a kind of litmus test for all of this, and he said it probably factored to an extent, but it wasn't a make-or-break thing.
"If The Last of Us had done terribly, sure, things might've been reconsidered," Cogburn admitted. "I struggle to say how big of an impact The Last of Us had on us in that regard, though. I can say that it made us realise as a studio that we're doing it right."
Jokingly, I added that I suppose this means we'll never see the natural next evolution of Uncharted's pulp adventuring: Uncharted Goes To Space. Cogburn replied that Naughty Dog actually had considered it.
"We've definitely had brainstorms on that idea," he said, "but no."
Still, we can dream. And so can Cogburn.
"I can already see the scene," he said, chuckling. "Elena says, 'Where do we go now, Drake?' And Drake's like, 'THE MOON.' And then Sully's in the background saying, 'You're goddamned right we're going to the moon, kid.'"