"Uncharted" fans, it's time to get excited.
Sure, it's been three years since the last entry in the action-adventure series, which is designed to make you feel as if you've stepped into the main role of an Indiana Jones movie. And, yes, the next title — "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" — isn't due out until the first quarter of 2016. But those eager to get a glimpse of what's coming are now able to do just that, thanks to an open public beta of its multiplayer mode that's available now until Dec. 13.
The team has learned a lot from the multiplayer modes it's created for other games, said Robert Cogburn, lead multiplayer game designer at Naughty Dog, the developer of "Uncharted." For instance, the game's developers have looked at how people play off each other in "The Last of Us," another prominent studio title, and tried to cater to different types of players in the next "Uncharted," Cogburn said. Some people, for example, may like to brawl, while others prefer long-range play or like to heal their teammates. With the benefit of hindsight on "Uncharted 2" and "Uncharted 3," they also included elements that made those games' multiplayer modes fun.
"It's a culmination of all those lessons, all smushed together into something that's fast, fluid and fun," he said.
The beta is open to anyone who's bought a copy of "Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection," a compilation of the single-player campaigns from the last three games that's exclusive to Sony's PlayStation. There should be a lot of players — InfoScout reported that the PlayStation 4 bundle that came with the collection was the item that brought in the most money for Best Buy on Black Friday, probably buyers who wanted to prep for the next game while getting to replay the classic series.
There are some basic new features the studio is introducing into the multiplayer portion of the game. For one, players are able to spawn sidekicks with special skills to augment their own play. They'll also be able to generate in-game money throughout that match, which can then be used to purchase mystical objects that can execute powerful attacks, buff allies or weaken enemies for short periods of time.
The mystical items illustrate how the team worked hard to reference the franchise's history, adding extra layers of fun for those who've been fans of the series from the first title. For example, designers raided that game's own backstory to get those objects. Cogburn said he even looked to the comics and books based on the franchise to sketch out the concept for one of the items, the golden staff of Ayar Manco.
The team also carefully wrote the dialogue for each character, to get personalities of the characters boiled down into the few lines they say while in multiplayer fights.
"One of the core tenets of the game from the start was a deep amount of fan service -- and I mean that in the best possible way," he said. "We wanted to incorporate the feeling of high-adventure, which is something we're known for, while also dialing in on things that would allow high levels of teamwork."
Drama is another focus of the mode, Cogburn said, and he's eager to see how players take advantage of their new tools to build the tension over the course of a multiplayer battle. Because players earn money as they play through a match, they become more able to purchase the best items and abilities. So toward the middle or end of a bout, those features really come into play to make it more than just a high-octane shooting match.
"It's crazy to feel the way a match scales over time," he said. "As the match progresses, you see these systems being leveraged at peak points. There's a great level of escalation, and we hope that resonates with people in the beta."
Even though the team does its own daily play tests at the studio and with focus groups, Cogburn said that his team is eager to get it in the hands of real players, which he's certain will unearth ways of playing the game that the developers never imagined.
"We want data, data, data," he said. "When the doors blow off, the thing we're hoping for from the beta is to see combinations that we hadn't thought of."