Focus Group Testers Hated Female Lead In Uncharted: Golden Abyss

By William Usher 2012-11-08 17:53:18 discussion comments
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Designing a big budget launch title for a brand new platform using an established brand while introducing a brand new character and trying to cater to a prescribed market demographic must be a nightmare for some developers, and this is exactly what Sony Bend ran into with Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

GamaSutra has a really lengthy, postmortem rundown of the development cycle, ups and downs for the PlayStation Vita's exclusive launch title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

In the interview, Sony Bend's John Gavin admits that...
"Almost universally, focus testers hated Chase, the game's new female protagonist,"..."The problem, we discovered, was the writing. In the script, Chase's character was a bit of a smart ass and a little sarcastic,"

That didn't work out so well when they coupled that sarcastic character with being a bit of a wimp and a punching bag for all sorts of scenarios, to which Gavin states that they wrongly gave her a bit of a “Princess Peach” complex, saying...
"For gameplay reasons, we constantly put Chase into situations where Drake needed to take action. Call it lazy if you want, but we ended up with a few 'Princess Peach' scenarios... It seemed that poor Chase was constantly being choked, shot at, knocked out, dragged around and kidnapped. We fixed that, as well as we could, by changing the scenarios to make Chase less of a victim."

In one key scene, Chase was passively strangled by a thug while Drake came to her rescue -- but in the rewrite, she kicked him and escaped, with Drake covering her. They also made her less of a whiner -- in the original portrayal, she'd been "crying out every time Drake fell victim to a rickety structure (which he was prone to do), or every time something bad or unexpected happened."

Honestly, I haven't played Golden Abyss so I'm completely unfamiliar with the character as she stands in finished form, but I'd imagine that given that every other character out there who gets dumped into a perilous situation in the world of video games just shoots their way out and kills everyone in sight, I'm not sure why the same couldn't be applied to Chase? Unless they were trying to avoid a video game stereotype by using a real-world stereotype?

Anyway, after tweaking her personality, modifying the gameplay so she was more of a heroine and less of a “victim”, the second round of focus group testers proclaimed that Chase had officially become a “bitch”. So how do you fix that? (In all honesty, focus group testers be damned. I would have given up on the testers and just went the gung-ho, kill e'm all route and let people sort their social issues in their own basements.)

Gavin took a diplomatic route to fixing the problem, saying...
"What's that old adage? If a man acts forceful he's 'take-charge and aggressive, a real leader' but if a woman acts that way, she's being 'pushy and a bitch' -- an unfair gender stereotype, but one we had to deal with," ... "How? By making her less aggressive and critical."

"By the time we got to our third focus test, the replacement lines were in and focus testers stopped complaining about Chase,"

Ahahaha, that's hilarious. Tweak until you make the complaints go away: Focus Group Testing 101.

Anyway, apparently Chase is okay in the books of gamers now, though many still prefer Uncharted mainstays Chloe and Elena, who many feel were more charismatic and engaging. I'll be honest, I didn't know much about Chase until today, so yeah...

You can learn more about the design process and the good and bad about designing the challenging, blockbuster action-platformer, Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the PlayStation Vita over at GamaSutra.
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