Two weeks before last Christmas, Ng Aik Sern received a call from a company that almost all game developers dream of – Sony, the maker of the PlayStation 4 gaming console had been contacted by developer, Naughty Dog because they needed help finishing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, a game of such scope and size that the release date was already pushed back once.
For Ng, who’s the president of Kuala Lumpur-based Passion Republic Sdn Bhd, the call was a dream come true as it was a chance to be a part of a game franchise that many consider to be one of the best.
Passion Republic was started by Ng and just six artists in 2006 and while their early work was for bread-and-butter animation projects for advertisements (most notably a disposable diaper advert), the team’s real passion is in games.
With that in mind, the team members decided to invest a large portion of their own savings into creating an animated cinematic reel to be presented at the Game Developer’s Conference in the US.
They received positive feedback and interest from various parties, but the phone calls just didn’t come in.
That didn’t stop the developers – after working hours, they pooled their talents to work on another cinematic based on a battleship theme.
This landed them a job to create a cinematic for Battleship – The Game (which is a game based on the movie based on the board game).
From there, the jobs slowly started coming in.
Passion Republic has in recent years racked up an impressive list of jobs, including creating 3D models and assets for high profile games like The Order 1886, Batman: Arkham Knight, Mortal Kombat X, Dark Souls III and Shadow Of The Beast.
The call from Sony was to enlist Passion Republic for “firefight” – a term that is used when a studio needs urgent help to complete parts of a project that it has no time or resource to do on its own.
With the release date looming for Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog had called on parent company Sony to get a third-party developer to help create more assets such as treasures, artefacts and other collectibles that are part of the Uncharted games.
“Our team was extremely excited to get the call, but then we heard we only had six weeks to complete it!” he says.
That may sound like a lot of time, but Naughty Dog, like every game developer, has its own tools, art direction and workflow which Passion Republic needed to be familiar with before starting work.
“As asset creators for many other games, we’re used to learning new ways of doing things but it usually takes about a month,” says Ng.
“Naughty Dog sent us 5GB of data to go through and we had a week to learn it!”
Deciding that the opportunity was too good to pass up, Ng accepted the job and proceeded to almost double the number of artists that Naughty Dog asked for from eight to fifteen.
“We needed to learn on the job. While the modelling artists were building models, the texturing artists were researching and training to use the tools used by Naughty Dog,” he says.
Fortunately, Naughty Dog’s asset creation tools, while sophisticated, were very flexible.
For instance, once texture had been created for one asset, it could be repackaged for others.
Ng and his team, led by lead modelling artist Kok Yip Sun and lead concept artist Tham Hoi Mun, delivered the first batch of “treasures” to Naughty Dog and so impressed was the studio that it asked them to work on even more assets.
Fortunately, the team managed to obtain breathing room to work on the assets – at the risk of incurring the wrath of gamers waiting to play the game, Naughty Dog made the difficult decision to delay the game again, giving Passion Republic nine weeks to finish the assets.
“We worked all the way before, during and after Chinese New Year to complete the project,” says Ng.
Ng also says Naughty Dog’s art director Erick Pangilinan worked closely with the team to ensure they completed the project in time.
All in all, the team worked on the treasures, artefacts, paintings and illustrations – Ng has lost count, but he reckons that the team worked on a little over 100 in-game items.