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  • How Level Flow Works In Uncharted 4 And The Last Of Us

    - Trinh Nguyen

  • 6.1 - Demonstration: Flow Gone Wrong, how to recognize the designers intentions. The good, the bad.

    To demonstrate on how you can used your now new profound knowledge to recognize flow elements in other games, I will dissect a level section (between 8:49 and 10:50) in Uncharted 4. (Chapter 2: Infernal Place)

    Steps performed by the player: 

    1. The player sees a tower and grapple hook his way towards it.
    2. He proceeds to climb up the tower with use of the grooves.
    3. Climbs inside of the tower.
    4. Walks around the plateau.
    5. Falls in the ocean, trying to find a pathway.
    6. Re-spawn

    Can you recognize what goes "wrong" in this small section? What do you think caused the confusion by the player to suddenly fall off the map, into the ocean? Was the player misinformed, weren't there enough flow elements?

    To my observation, they placed a lot of flow elements to guide the player but because of a few poorly placed assets. It unintentionally outweighed the other flow elements placed by the designers.

    The cues that should had helped the player

    • Direction

    This wooden bar seemed to afford to be hooked. It doesn't, but it does points towards the objective.

    • Direction & Shape Language

    A pointy triangular rock. Points & triangles can be seen as arrows, arrows indicate direction. In this case this rock is telling us to go upwards.

    • Color

    These grooves have a light yellow rim. In example 2.3, I explained that Uncharted 4 likes to use color to indicate towards the player, that it affords something.

    • Text & Speech

    Nathan knows something you don't know. "Onward and Upward" he says. He hints to keep going up. This is a critical cue that gets triggered a bit late.


    With so many flow elements, the player shouldn't had to be confused right?

    The reason for the confusion was likely because of two elements.

    • The doorway
    • The wooden balcony

    When we convert the picture to black and white, we can see that the difference in contrast makes your eyes focused on the doorway and the wooden plateau.

    The doorway affords to be walked through, gates are strong methods of guiding the player. They have a strong attraction to them. You want to walk through it to see whats on the other side. The imbalance between the contrast in shape, lighting and color made the doorway and wooden board pop out more than intended.

    A solution?

    A potential solution to this problem would be to highlight the grooves a bit more. With use of decals, color or by perhaps destroying part of the construction. Any kind of additional indication that tells the player that they can climb the tower.

    But nonetheless, without applying my potential solution. You can also jump of the cliff and the game would re-spawn you on a spot with a nice view of the wooden bar. It almost seems like they intended you to struggle.

    Is this the real reason?

    It almost seems like they intended you to struggle.

    Another theory of mine is that the designers at Naughty Dog planned this all along and this part was supposed to play out like this, to slow down the pacing of the player. Showing them that it is important to look around the environment to find clues. There are really uncountable ways to guide your players.

    We might never know the truth. ;) 

    LinkedIn: in/trinhleveldesigner/


    Disclaimer: At the time of writing this article, I am a 4th year level design student at the Breda University of Applied Science (NHTV). I have no affiliation with Naughty Dog. This article is my own view on their awesome level design. Thanks for reading!


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