30 in 30: Naughty Dog
6th Dec 2011 | 17:40
Naughty Dog is known for creating some of the most iconic PlayStation characters of all time, but it started life as a tiny dependent studio named JAM Software.
Founded by aspiring game developers Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin back in 1986, the pair knocked together a number of little-known titles on the Apple II and Amiga before changing their company's name to Naughty Dog. In 1994 the firm was on the verge of bankruptcy when it struck an arse-saving four-game deal with Universal Interactive Studios, starting with Way of the Warrior - a Mortal Kombat-style fighting game for 3DO created using footage crudely filmed in an apartment.
Although Way of the Warrior would disappear into history along with the 3DO, Naughty Dog's second game with Universal would propel it to stardom. That game was none other than Crash Bandicoot on PSone.
Things took off for ND when its charismatic marsupial became a huge hit on the original PlayStation. Remember, this was the the era in which every console had a mascot in the form of a platforming star. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic and Sony's new start-out console had just got its leading face thanks to Naughty Dog. Bandicoot.
Recognising talent worth holding onto, Sony wrapped its corporate arms around the studio with an acquisition deal in 2001. ND got to work on its next icon for PS2. Jak and Daxter were born.
Naughty Dog, it seems, is as good at dreaming up new blockbuster adventure franchises as Sony is at making consoles. Fast forward to the present era, and although both of its founders have moved on to new ventures, Naughty Dog remains the name on the box of one of the PS3's biggest exclusive franchises. Uncharted's unrivaled cinematics and truly breathtaking set-pieces demonstrate a fantastic developer working at the absolute peak of its creative ability.
We can only dream of what Naughty Dog will come up with for PS4.
Location: Santa Monica, California, US
Killer Quote: "I see sequels as a good thing, because a lot of times sequels are actually the realization of the vision of the original game, but they just didn't quite have time to put together." - Evan Wells
Co-president of Naughty Dog (alongside Christophe Balestra), Evans has had an illustrious career that stretches way back to Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron for the Sega Mega Drive, for which he was a level designer.
Wells went on to join Crystal Dynamics to work on the Gex series before making the jump to Naughty Dog to begin work on the Crash Bandicoot games with Universal Interactive as publisher.
Wells has poured his creative talents into not just the Crash series, but the Jak & Daxter games for PS2 and now the excellent Uncharted series on PS3. Despite taking up the senior seat as co-president of the studio following the departure of both its founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin, Wells maintains a consistent presence at press events and expos and is a leading creative voice for the studio with media.
Amy Hennig probably looks familiar to you for her appearances in Uncharted-focused developer diary videos, and she deserves all the recognition she gets. As creative director and script writer on the Uncharted series, she's responsible for arguably the most crucial elements of a series that does cinematics and plot better than any other in the industry.
Like Wells, Hennig also has Crystal Dynamics on her CV (with script work on the Legacy of Kain series), although her earliest gaming ventures were with EA as an animator and artist on games including Desert Strike.
Her first foray into game direction was on EA's Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City released on Super Nintendo in 1994. After her stint with Crytal Dynamics Hennig took up her seat at Naughty Dog and began working her magic on the Jak & Daxter series.
Hennig asserted some four years ago that the prominence of graphical advancements in video games would subside as more mature forms of creative expression takes precedence. We would say her predictions are already true.
Naughty Dog Games we Love
The original Crash Bandicoot was one of the most important games on the original PlayStation. Not only did it give the then faceless platform a much-needed mascot - and one with bags of charm - but it also really showed what this powerful new CD-based console from Sony could do.
Crash Bandicoot looked incredible. Super Mario 64 may have wowed us all with its revolutionary open worlds while Crash stuck to the confines of side-scrolling or forward-moving levels, but Crash's linear platformer was bursting at the seams with colour and detail. Crash showed off his advanced animation with a loud shriek at the title screen, followed by a cheeky grin and a raise of an eyebrow before spinning off into a richly detailed jungle.
The catchy music still chimes away in ours heads today, the comedy death animations, the wacky enemies and fascinating variety of worlds - Crash Bandicoot was utter genius. And hard as NAILS too. If you've never played this gem, grab it on PSN now and test your mettle.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Nintendo had Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie. Sony needed its own open-world adventure, and Jak & Daxter was Naughty Dog's answer.
Jak and Daxter's first quest was another technical masterpiece from ND, who'd managed to create an impressively large and detailed world that stretched into the distance without a need for fogging to hide pop-up, as even Mario 64 had. Clever streaming tech also meant the game had no load times, as the PS2 would pull information from the disc as players ran around.
Jak and Daxter stuck rather closely to Nintendo's 3D platform formula, demanding the player gather up a great number of collectibles while exploring sprawling worlds and taking on giant bosses. For a first foray into the 3D platform world, Precusor Legacy was an excellent effort.
We absolutely adore all three of the Uncharted games, but it's the second one that will probably be the most memorable to us for its utter mastery of the action adventure.
If you break down the core gameplay mechanics of Uncharted, it doesn't do anything you haven't seen before. It's a third-person action game with a Gears of War-like cover system, Halo-style recharging health and an Indiana Jones-like treasure hunt plot. But Naughty Dog managed to tie all these elements together into an adventure with cinematics and breathtaking set pieces vastly superior anything else like it.
Once again the developer had squeezed more out of a platform than most can manage. It's detailed environments serve as elaborate and spectacular climbing frames for Nathan Drake - possibly the most impressively animated and lifelike character in video games today. And the action scenes rival that of Hollywood's finest.
Uncharted is a blockbuster movie that you control. It raises the bar in visuals, video game storytelling, action and all round production values. It'll go down as a staple of the current generation and everyone with a PS3 should own it.
Where are they now?
Having just released Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog has recently told press that it doesn't "know at this moment" what its post-Uncharted 3 project will be. There are plenty more stories in the [Uncharted] universe," said game director Justin Richmond, keeping fans' hopes up for an Uncharted 4.
The studio says it will create more Uncharted so long as fans still want it. Well, do you?