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The Fantasy Art of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves


UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves is the story of Nathan Drake, a fortune-hunter with a shady reputation and an even shadier past who is lured back into the treacherous world of thieves and mercenary treasure-seekers. The tenth game by premier PLAYSTATION 3 developer Naughty Dog, UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves allows players to take control of Drake and embark on a journey that will push him to his physical, emotional and intellectual limits to discover the real truth behind the lost fleet of Marco Polo and the legendary Himalayan valley of Shambhala.


In 1292, after spending nearly 20 years in the court of emperor Kublai Khan, Marco Polo departed China with 14 ships filled with over 600 passengers and crew. Eighteen months later, when Marco Polo arrived at his destination, only one ship remained and only 18 passengers survived. Although Marco Polo described every aspect of his adventures in detail, he never revealed what happened to these lost ships, passengers or treasure on board - even on his deathbed.

Drawn in by the potential riches to be found - but most inspired by the intrigue of the historical mystery - Drake embarks on a quest to find the lost fleet. He soon realizes that Marco Polo was hiding a much bigger secret - he had gone on a secret expedition on behalf of the emperor to find the mythical kingdom of Shambhala (otherwise known as Shangri-La) and to recover the legendary Cintamani Stone, the "wish-fulfilling jewel" of Buddhist mythology. The Stone is described by Marco Polo as a massive raw sapphire - if it truly exists, it would be worth billions of dollars today.

This discovery sets Drake on a new course following Marco Polo's 700-year-old trail through a diverse range of exotic environments to find out if the lost city of Shambhala, rumored to lie deep in the Himalayas, really exists. This quest also pits him against a new, more formidable adversary who is after the same artifact - a ruthless, rogue paramilitary leader with a private army and a relentless ambition to recover the stone for himself.

The Fantasy Art of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

To really go behind the scenes and gain insight into the art of Uncharted 2, including interesting commentaries on the development of the fantasy elements that had to be grounded in the real world and "believable", you may want to pick up Ballistic Publishing's The Art of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

It's packed with mostly concept art--If you were hoping for a book that explores the world of Uncharted 2 with great cinematic shots of the often it-looks-like-a-real-place quality environments, this book probably won't satisfy. "The Art of Uncharted 2" is probably more accurately titled "About the Art of Uncharted 2": While it's not as nitty-gritty-detailed as Character Modelling 3 (which occasionally drills down to the level of settings in the software used to produce various game models and effects), it does contain a lot of commentary on the key aspects of the art and art production. Here are a couple of examples:

On Shambala (p193): "... so I thought, let's take the base of a pyramid and wedge a square into it, and then give it an almost more Indian-style roof treatment. ... It combined elements in a unique way to make something that felt like it was somewhere new and undiscovered. That addressed the question of "What are we going to do to make this thing look wondrous and unique, but also believable?"

On Chloe Frazer (p67): "...when you start iconifying the features of a girl that make her more beautiful, you tend to choose similar things like a smaller chin, a more triangular face, and bigger eyes. With Chloe, I tried to push things towards the iconic features of a beautiful woman while trying to keep things real. Female characters are always the most scrutinized, the most challenged, and the most commented upon. One example of things that we considered while building the female characters was to omit the wrinkle maps for them. We have wrinkle maps for faces so when the character emotes you can bring in, for example, the forehead wrinkles, which adds more realness and believability to the characters. Even though it happens with real women, when we tried it with Chloe and Elena, they looked a little creepy. So you always have to walk the tightrope with female characters."

There's a lot of art in the book (and much of it detailing the interesting and beautiful fantasy locations in the latter parts of the game), and the commentary really adds insight and depth into what you are seeing, to make it more than a mere collection of artwork from game development. On Environments, Art Director Robh Ruppel comments (p91), ""Okay, we have a room with a hallway, that leads into another room. How can we make this interesting?" that's when we start doing the research and gathering reference. We'll do a few thumbnails, a few color sketches, talk it over with the designers and game director, and establish an emphasis for what needs to be conveyed. What do we want the player to feel here? What's going on here emotionally? Where are we in the story?... we just always want the visuals to enhance what's going on with the emotional beats of the story and gameplay. So if the design or goals change in a particular level, I have to make sure that the visuals are also in sync and doing their job."

One of the things you'll probably take away from reading The Art of Uncharted 2 is that being able to draw is not enough. When you take wider considerations into account, being able to draw starts to be dime-a-dozen. This book, then, is probably more for artists, especially artists thinking about going into the gaming industry. If you just love the world of Uncharted, or are hoping for lots of pictures of the hotties Chloe and Elena (and there are a few excellent, very-high-quality and high-detail renders of the key characters), you may want to flip through the online book previewer first.

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