Uncharted designer’s departure from Naughty Dog raises questions about series’ future

After eight years with long time Sony partner Naughty Dog, Richard Lemarchand is leaving the studio to work with the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. His last game with the company was 2011’s divisive Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, which he worked on as co-lead designer.

Gamasutra reported on Lemarchand’s departure in a Monday report, discussing his new job with USC. The program Lemarchand will be teaching in is the exact same one that graduated Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago before those two went on to form Thatgamecompany, creating Flower and Journey. “I’ll be surrounded by awesome people, talking craft and philosophy, and building strange new things!” said Lemarchand.

Starting with Naughty Dog’s final PlayStation 2 game, Jak X: Combat Racing, Lemarchand helped steward the Uncharted series from its 2007 debut Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune onward. He worked as the lead designer on that game, helping to build the tools Naughty Dog used to make the game as well as laying out levels and designing enemy encounters. He also worked as the co-lead designer on series pinnacle Uncharted 2: Among Thieves alongside Neil Druckmann, the creative director of Naughty Dog’s upcoming post-apocalyptic survival game The Last of Us.

“I’ve always been a very hands-on game designer, and I’m a big believer that no matter what level you’re working at on a project, it’s a very great thing to be able to stay connected to the practical process of building out a game,” said Lemarchand of his personal style. That style was a credit to the Uncharted series and will no doubt inform the styles of those students Lemarchand works with at USC.

It’s wonderful that such a powerful creative is helping to build the next generation of game makers, but it also indicates that Naughty Dog’s relationship with the Uncharted series may indeed be over. The Vita launch title Uncharted: The Golden Abyss was developed by Sony internal studio SCE Bend, and the dip in quality from earlier console entries was glaring at certain points. Naughty Dog is also hard at work on the aforementioned The Last of Us, which means that for the first time more than half a decade, its primary resources are devoted to developing a game that isn’t Uncharted.

Uncharted’s director and Naughty Dog creative director Amy Hennig remains with the company so if Naughty Dog does indeed make another Uncharted, it will at least retain its distinctive voice. The departure of Lemarchand leaves it without one of the primary minds behind its play though. Uncharted without Naughty Dog is hardly Uncharted at all.

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