Sony decided to close out its E3 press conference this year with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. After a brief cutscene played, Nathan Drake was supposed to start moving through a crowd...but he just stood still...for a long time. That’s when co-director Bruce Straley started panicking.
If you read my E3 demo piece from last week, you know not all of these demos are played live on stage—some are just video. In this case, though, Naughty Dog really was trying to play its game in front of a real audience. It’s a gamble, since an unfinished game could unexpectedly break.
In this case, Uncharted 4 didn’t crash, but that didn’t stop things from going awry.
Straley was the one holding the controller on stage and guiding Drake.
“I didn’t do any the run-throughs or dress rehearsals,” said Straley during one of Sony’s live shows during E3 . “I start heading out onto the stage in complete black.”
He walked out with a stagehand named Bill, who was holding the stool he’d eventually sit on. While that was being taken care of, Straley realized the PlayStation 4 controller was missing.
“Uh oh,” he said.
As Straley looked for the controller, Bill was simply trying to do his job and get the stool set.
“I’m like ‘uhh, okay, sorry.’” he said. “Let me get out of this guy’s way.”
The controller was eventually found, and Straley began double checking the situation at hand. Controller on? Check. Blue light on, signaling the controller’s connected? Check. Straley was even able to start the demo with the controller, which gave him a chance to relax a tiny bit.
“I’m hitting the analog stick and he’s supposed to respond,” he said. “This is gameplay, this is what happens when you’re playing a game. [laughs] Nothing happened! Nothing happened.”
Not only did Drake refuse to budge, but Straley’s wasn’t able to control the camera, either. At this point, hundreds of thousands of people watching live were waiting for the demo to start.
Straley’s brain started shutting down, as he scrambled for an alternative. He found another controller, wondering if the wireless had simply gotten messed up.
“Nothing’s happening whatsoever,” he said.
It’s at this point Uncharted 4’s other director, Neil Druckmann, began losing it, too.
“I walked out to the front,” said Druckmann, “and I’m looking at him going ‘Walk! Bruce, why aren’t you walking? Walk!’ I started spinning. I don’t know what to do. [laughs]”
Druckmann started shouting at anyone around him to switch over to the backup unit. There was another PS4 on stage with another copy of the demo, just in case something like this happened.
Straley gave up on the first PS4 and headed to the backup unit. There’s no way for him to communicate with the people running the show without leaving the stage, so he has to hope everyone picks up on what he’s doing. He transitioned to the other PS4; the demo loaded up a second time. After the same cutscene played a second time, Straley held his breath.
“Luckily, he moved,” he said. “The crowd went wild. Nate’s actually moving! It’s the game. This is awesome. [laughs]”
From what I’m told, if the second PS4 didn’t work, there was a video backup. This isn’t shocking, as just about every game at a press conference has a video backup. In this case, they didn’t have to resort to video, and Straley was able to play his game on stage for everyone.
Just writing this story stressed me out.
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