In the Uncharted series, protagonist Nathan Drake gets a lot of bumps and bruises to help offset his rugged good looks. But, according to the team over at Naughty Dog, there’s one injury that he’s never had — a bullet wound.
According to animator Jonathan Cooper, when he joined the team at Naughty Dog one of the first secrets he was let in on was that in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End there’s no damage indicator. Yes, there’s a red indicator at times when Drake starts taking accurate fire, but it’s not a damage indicator. Instead, it merely indicates his luck running out.
That’s a mega-swing! Sidenote I learned on joining the team: Drake doesn’t ever take bullet damage. The red UI that shows ‘hits’ is to represent his ‘luck’ running out. Eventually enemies will get a clear shot and kill him if he takes enough near-misses. https://t.co/byzVKYXVe7— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) July 8, 2018
It’s astonishing that, given the thousands or rounds of ammunition sent his way over the course of four video games, he’s never been hit by one. But game director Amy Hennig confirms it’s true.
“That was the original intention,” Hennig said on Twitter, “to stay more aligned with the spirit and tone of the films we were homaging.”
Seen from that perspective, it sort of makes sense. When’s the last time you saw Indiana Jones take a bullet, anyway?
How to handle player damage is a game design problem as old as video games themselves. The Doom marine has both armor and health points while the Master Chief has a regenerating shield that comes back online if he sits still long enough. Meanwhile, games like Uncharted 4 and Brother’s in Arms: Hell’s Highway use luck. Things are just going really well for the player character, until they aren’t. It’s one of many tricks of the trade that designers have employed over the years.
Nevertheless, some folks on Reddit seem genuinely upset.
“Why couldn’t they just call it a middle ground,” asks one redditor, “and say the bullets were at least grazing him with his luck coming into play? Saying he takes NO damage until he dies seems even more silly. Plenty of people get shot and live, you could at least let it slide for a video game instead of just calling it luck and he’s not getting hit at all which makes no sense contextually in-game with how it actually functions.”
Whatever the narrative or mechanical reasons for Drake’s fortune, Uncharted 4 reviewed well, earned a place in many top-10 lists when it came out in 2016. Here at Polygon we gave it a 9, calling it a “a thrilling, moving conclusion to the series.”