Uncharted: Hennig's Departure
This has been a great time for the industry, hasn't it? Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is having complaints of its length being thrown every which way (some justified, others not one bit,) Irrational Games shut down and left dozens jobless thanks to Ken Levine's random change of heart, and now, Amy Hennig is leaving Naughty Dog, amid reports that she was, in fact, forced out. Wonderful. Hennig was the creative director of the first three Uncharted games, and the writer for both Drake's Fortune and Drake's Deception.
Of course, as with any major shake-up in the VIDYA industry, there are opinions splintered every which way about this, from doom n' gloom forecasts for all future Naughty Dog projects, to joyful cheers because Hennig wrote one thing people didn't like, which obviously means she deserves to be out of a job. So because I love playing the shit-stirrer, here's another opinion.
Uncharted is one of my favorite series. Hands-down, no questions asked. Maybe the narratives aren't the deepest, or the characters aren't the most original, but for what it's worth, they're entertaining little romps with pretty set-pieces, great gameplay, and fun dialogue. That is, the first two and Golden Abyss are. The third, however, delved into Nathan Drake as a character. It tried to find out what made him tick, explored his mysterious past, what his relationship to longtime buddy Sully actually meant, and several other unexpected twists. This was thanks to the craftsmanship of Amy Hennig, who resumed lead writing duties after doing more of a supporting role in Among Thieves (which she directed.) To me, it's the most underrated of the first three titles, and easily has the best narrative out of the trio, providing much needed canon information and attempting to make the characters more than just archetypes.
That's why it's upsetting that Hennig might have been "forced out" of Naughty Dog. While I'm trying not to jump to any conclusions, I can't help but feel that this has something to do with the rollicking success of The Last of Us. Sure, it's a fantastic game, and was my personal GOTY of 2013, but it was written by Neil Druckmann, who also penned Among Thieves. This is important because both TLOU and U2 are, arguably, Naughty Dog's most popular games of the PS3 era, not to mention the most warmly received. Perhaps with these two games under his belt, Druckmann pulled rank and tried to take over the Uncharted franchise more entirely, and thus made Hennig feel more unwelcome. Honestly, I don't know. This is all speculation.
What's not speculation is the fact that Hennig is now out of the picture. It's a done deal, and a disappointing one at that. However, given her track record as one of the most respected writers and directors in the industry, I doubt she'll have trouble finding work, and whatever she does next, I'll be right on board to support. The biggest concern, for many, is where this leaves Naughty Dog. With The Last of Us, and to a lesser but still laudable extent with Uncharted, this is a developer who, along with Telltale, has helped progress the trend of convincing, compelling female characters that are more than just eye candy or romantic interests. Many extremely vocal bloggers and gaming journalists alike have lamented Hennig's departure as a sort-of end times for their atypical characters, compelling dialogue, and overall treatment of women as (gasp!) actual people.
What do I think? Well, quite honestly, I think it's overreacting to the umpteenth degree. Whether or not Hennig was forced out because of some type of sexism within Sony, or Naughty Dog, I don't know. But neither do the people who fall on the other side of the argument, and until the details are out, I think it would be wise to not bring that dog into the fight. Furthermore, that concern could also be dampened by the fact that Hennig had nothing to do with The Last of Us, which still upheld the developer's track record of having positive female characterization and overall great storytelling. The notion that Hennig not being a part of the developer will kill the studio is, quite frankly, silly. Do I feel as if the quality of the games will be affected? Yes, certainly, as she has been a driving force behind their games for years. Do I feel like Naughty Dog is suddenly a collection of bad developers who only want to objectify women? Nope, not at all, and I don't think that will ever be the case; if it is, I'll eat my hat, then stop giving them money.
Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that this is neither the end for Naughty Dog, nor is it the great thing some people say it is. Some argue that Drake's Deception was awful, and that Hennig deserves to be put out of a job for it. This is entirely subjective, and wishing ill will on anybody because of your personal opinion of a fucking video game is shitty, and you should feel shitty for doing it. Other argue that the developer's future endeavors are going to be terrible without her, and that this is an example of sexism. Given that women's treatment in the game industry is something I care deeply about, I would be the first to chide Sony for unscrupulous practices, or a decrease in quality of Naughty Dog's female characters. However, as we don't know what really happened yet, and that making that assumption is undermining the hundreds of talented men and women who work for the company, I would argue that side isn't entirely just either.
The answer, as usual, most likely falls somewhere between the two extremes. Naughty Dog is going to be affected by this loss, no questions asked. There's no doubt in my mind that the Uncharted series might stumble slightly without Hennig's direction, as the series has essentially been her baby. However, I also feel that they will continue to make quality products, written by very talented individuals who are interested in portraying all types of people in complex and interesting ways, and not cave to the dude-bro atmosphere that permeates far too many games today.
And if I'm wrong, well, my hat-eating offer still stands.