The lights are on
the news broke that Naughty Dog's acclaimed writer and creative director Amy
Hennig has left the company. While we don't know what her next project will be,
it seems like an appropriate time to look back at the accomplishments of one of
gaming's most respected developers.
got her big break in the game industry as an artist on a little-remembered EA
game called Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City, a 1994 platformer designed
to capitalize on the enormous popularity of the Chicago Bulls superstar. From
these inauspicious beginnings grew a career that would include some of the
best-loved games of the past two decades.
leaving Electronic Arts, she landed at the upstart studio Crystal Dynamics,
where she began work in innovative storytelling and game design that would come
to define her career. I interviewed her in 2013, and she recalled the early
days at Crystal Dynamics:
think we could all see all the potential, so there was a lot of energy and
enthusiasm around where the console market was heading," she said. "It seemed
kind of new, you know? Management really did encourage us to work things out.
There wasn't a lot of producers or overhead or anything like that. It was just
everybody was knuckling down, working on the projects. There was a lot of
things going on, too, because we had external developers [and] internal
developers. I think that creates a certain level of energetic excitement, too.
That's a huge variety of things all happening at once, as opposed to this one
monolithic project that everybody's on - that sort of creates its own energy."
of Hennig's early accomplishments at the company was working with Silicon
Knights, which was creating Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, which would be
published by Crystal Dynamics. Behind the scenes, she worked to help polish the
game, and many people involved credit her with turning the project into a
As a result, when Crystal decided to develop the next Legacy of Kain game
internally, she was given the lead role on the project. However, Legacy of
Kain: Soul Reaver actually started as another, unrelated project.
"A few of us came up with [a project] that was codenamed Shifter, which would
have been an awful name," Hennig said. "It was not even associated, initially,
with the Legacy of Kane franchise. It was just a concept. We had this
character...a strange, post-apocalyptic archangel; he's a fallen angel and he's
trying to revert. It was very similar to Soul Reaver, but it was based on this
idea that we were going to have this open world with streaming all of the level
data constantly off the disc, and do the morphing between the material and the
spectral worlds. We were sort of naive that we thought that was going to be
easy. I remember when we pitched it, everybody loved the idea, but they were
like, 'Oh my god, you're crazy. How on earth are you going to do that?' But we
did. I'll confess that I think the streaming wasn't working until about two
months before we shipped."
on the success of Soul Reaver, the Kain franchise became a staple franchise for
Crystal Dynamics and Eidos (which acquired Crystal Dynamics in 1998), spawning
three sequels. After completing the last, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, Hennig
reunited with former Crystal Dynamics employees Evan Wells and Bruce Straley at
Naughty Dog. Armed with Naughty Dog's world-renowned engine technology, Hennig
would create a new franchise and set new standards in video game storytelling.
Hennig arrived at Naughty Dog, she went to work on the then-in-development Jak
3, which would be the final of the studio's PlayStation 2 platforming trilogy.
Her next project would redefine Naughty Dog as a company, and set the bar for
PlayStation 3-era action games.
Drake's Fortune released in 2007 and was among the early highlights of the
PlayStation 3 catalog. The game introduced gamers to adventurer Nathan Drake, a
descendant of Sir Francis Drake and a professional treasure hunter. In many
ways, the game was a modern-day update of the Indiana Jones films, and mimicked
that series' wry humor, globetrotting adventuring, and huge action set pieces.
It was widely acclaimed and helped establish Naughty Dog as a studio that could
make games aimed at an older audience than its previous franchises Crash
Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter.
as the main writer, won acclaim for the game's infectious, natural dialogue and
charming characters like Drake's mentor Sully. However, she also had a major
hand in the design of the game as well. Her expertise in all areas of game
design led her toward an approach to game writing that put gameplay first. This
philosophy played heavily into her approach to creating the much-anticipated
a creative standpoint, especially for an action-adventure cinema narrative, a
lot of times you start from this idea of, 'What are our big set pieces, what
are some of the things that we really want to hang our hat on?'" observed
Hennig. "When I say set pieces, it could be all kinds of things. It could be a
vehicle sequence; it could be like our capsizing cruise ship or the train in
Uncharted 2. It's not unusual as a writer to say, 'This would be awesome,
right?' Actually if you go back and look at the Raiders of the Lost Ark story transcripts you'll see Lucas and
Spielberg doing the same thing. It's kind of how you operate. For instance, the
train level was the very first one we started and the last one we finished in
2: Among Thieves, released in 2009, improved upon the original in every way,
fixing the few gameplay and design flaws and delivering a more epic story. From
the opening scene, which featured Drake hanging over a cliff from the wreckage
of a train to a stunning sequence that had him on the run from a helicopter,
the game was a big-budget Hollywood action film come to life. It also featured
some real depth in the writing, particularly the relationship between Nathan
Drake and plucky love interest Elena Fisher. It would earn a perfect 10 from
Game Informer and other video game outlets.
Jak and Daxter, the Uncharted series would close out the PlayStation 3 era as a
trilogy (not counting the PlayStation Vita title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss which
Hennig did not write). Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception was another fantastic
title, and featured a story that lent some emotion to the relationship between
Nathan Drake and his sometimes-untrustworthy father figure Victor "Sully"
Sullivan. Along the way, gamers got a glimpse into Drake's past - as well
as another serving of incredible moments such as platforming out of a sinking
a trilogy, Uncharted was Naughty Dog's masterwork, in large part due to
Hennig's writing and vision. Again, her holistic approach to game design and
writing seemed to pay off.
said, "When people play the Uncharted games they
just get caught up. They don't want to put the controller down. Some of that
has to do with working on the pacing and making sure that there aren't dead
points or frustration points, but a lot of it has to do with wanting to see
what happens next because you care about the characters. So I think it's that,
it's looking at how story and gameplay can be integrated as a singular goal. So
that we're not just saying, 'Here's our story breakdown, then here's our
levels.' It's not something that can be broken apart and reorganized in any
order. What's happening in the game is happening because it's being driven by
the story, and what's happening in the story is being driven by the gameplay at
the same time."
After Uncharted 3, Hennig stepped back to begin work on the
PlayStation 4 reboot of the series. In the meantime, Naughty Dog once again won
acclaim with The Last of Us, a game helmed by Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann.
Now, as we've learned, Hennig has left Naughty Dog - and there are reports
that the parting was not amicable. What this means for the future of Uncharted,
which will likely be revealed at E3 this year, and Naughty Dog as a studio
remains to be seen. We do know with certainty is that the studio has lost one
of the most talented people in the game industry. We can't wait to see what she
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