You are, most likely, no stranger to Naughty Dog. Their resume is legendary - developers of such great hits as Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Drake's Uncharted series, and The Last of Us. They are known for creating some of the best-loved games of all time - and have nearly always been a step ahead of the curve. But with that pressure and pedigree comes controversy, delays, revolutionary ideas, and sometimes, just plain randomness.
Since they started in 1984, the founders of Naughty Dog, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, have focused on revolutionizing the gaming experience. Whether it be creating new programming tools or being some of the first to use motion capture and have character driven experiences, they are tireless in their pursuit of greatness.
The company has been bankrupt more than once - it has been bought, changed, forced into partnerships and more, but all that while, it maintained a steady course and an unwavering vision. So it's no surprise that there may be more than one skeleton in the closet, as well as a lot of general quirkiness.
So let's check out the 15 Things that we Never Knew about Naughty Dog!
15 For 25 years They Worked On Only ONE Game At A Time
Larger companies run many projects simultaneously - Nintendo could be working on several Mario titles, a new Super Smash Bros., and a Zelda game all at once without batting an eye. But not Naughty Dog. For a long time, they would only work on a single title franchise per console, a decision that fans lamented for years. This strange trend lasted all the way from 1984 to 2011 when they announced the Intellectual Property that would become The Last of Us was being helmed by a secondary team within the company. That game went on to be Naughty Dog's masterpiece.
One can easily see their thinking, however. A slower, more focused process of development generally leads to a better game. But, as Naughty Dog learned, you had to be ready for the criticism that inevitably comes from taking such a laborious approach to development.
14 Naughty Dog’s First Logo Was…Literal…And Very Weird
Naughty Dog's first official logo was nothing if not literal. The image features a strange, brown coated, very 90's looking pooch, with exaggerated features including a long, puffed up snout, steampunk glasses, sporting an awkward grin and holding up a gold plate with the word "Software" on it. Good lord, does it get any weirder?
Thankfully, they abandoned that sad pup (mostly) when Crash Bandicoot first came out, and chose to go with something a little more straightforward - leading to the black and white "Naughty Dog" with the red pawprint that you're likely more familiar with. Despite this, the dog face persisted throughout most of the nineties, just to the side of the wording, maybe just as a reminder of the weird days.
I wish I could fault them more for this, but heck, it was the nineties.
13 They Once Used Assassin’s Creed Artwork For An Uncharted 4 Trailer
In an early trailer for Uncharted 4, there is a picture that Drake is staring at. As it turns out, it's even less innocuous than it might first appear. The artwork for the painting was taken from concept art for Assassin's Creed. An image of a pirate was taken out and the picture was retouched, but side by side, there can be no mistake. Not one of their proudest moments, the team was forced to apologize to the public via blog, saying:
"In our eagerness to get the story trailer out we made a regrettable mistake and didn't thoroughly vet the art work used for an in game painting...We've already updated the trailer. We hold all artistry in high regard and take full responsibility for having allowed this to happen."
That this happened could have been nothing more than an oversight, but we don't really know. Somewhere along the line, a poor decision was made, and it certainly cost them. Uncharted 4 went on to receive critical acclaim despite the mishap.
12 They Don’t Like Middle Management
Naughty dog is famous for its eccentricity. It's part of the reason they are such a great and successful game developers, but that sometimes leads to interesting choices. Despite being owned by Sony Entertainment as of 2001, the game developers maintain a very streamlined office, with very little middle management between them and Sony. As such, the developers deal with Sony first hand, and they are given free reign as a result.
Most other developers have a top-down approach, where design changes trickle down from the higher-ups to the developers on the ground, building the game.
Naughty Dog's approach definitely has some caveats. Namely, that it's hard to enforce deadlines without streamlined management, which leads to longer turnaround times for games, (which I, for one, am more than happy to wait patiently for). This management style is undoubtedly part of the recipe for success that leads to titles like The Last of Us. When the developers and writers are in the driver's seat, you ultimately get a better, less compromised product.
11 They Have COMPLETE Freedom In Game Design
Every developer has some horror story about studio interference. They can be obtrusive to the process of designing a game, surely. But Naughty Dog, in their deal with Sony Entertainment, somehow scored the golden nugget of developers dreams - complete game design freedom. How did they score this? No one exactly knows, but it must have been one heck of a pitch.
As a result, once again, we see a slower turnaround from development to release. But the games speak for themselves. Having no corporate suit to look over the shoulder of developers, casting criticism and praise wantonly, obviously, has a big impact. Designers are free to follow their imaginations and go with the controversial decisions. For video games writers, it means that you have creative control over who lives and who dies, the arc of the narrative. Think Hollywood in the late sixties and early seventies, when studios took a back seat to a director's particular vision - the payoff was huge there, and it's been equally large for Naughty Dog today.
10 They Used To Be Called Jam software
Not the most interesting of titles, was it? Good thing, the name change, then. But it's true. Naughty Dog's founders first called their business Jam Software, back when they were building video games from their parent's garage. The first several titles were for the Apple II computer. They only renamed to Naughty Dog in order to end their relationship with Baudville, another game developer.
I suppose when you're nothing more than a couple geeky programmer kids with a big idea, a big name is in the back of your mind, and making games takes front and center over other aspects of the business.
9 Ready At Dawn, Makers Of The Order: 1886, Spun Off From Naughty Dog
Plenty of Naughty Dog employees have gone on to other projects - even one of the founders, for a time. But Ready at Dawn, the developing group responsible for God of War on PSP and for The Order: 1886, is likely the greatest success story to come from Naughty Dog. It was Didier Malenfant, a former developer, who teamed up with several other members from Naughty Dog, as well as Blizzard Entertainment, who formed Ready at Dawn in 2003. They were responsible for Daxter for the PSP, their first game, in 2006.
8 They Developed Their Own Programming Language
Both of the founders were renowned programmers, who helped pioneer the LISP system. The LISP language became the basis for a Naughty Dog original programming language called Game Oriented Assembly Lisp, or GOAL for short. It was written using a tool called the Allegro Common Lisp and used in development for the entire franchise of Jak and Daxter games. And it wasn't the only one, its precursor, GOOL, was created to be a basis for The Crash Bandicoot series.
Today, the studio uses C++ as the exclusive development language, in order to be more interoperable with their owner, Sony.
7 Andy Gavin, One Of The Founders, Is A Novelist And Startup Entrepreneur
Andy Gavin left Naughty Dog in 2004 to begin a new internet start-up called Flecktor with a former HBO executive and Jason Rubin, his long-time business partner. The concept was for a web app that could mash up one's profile -their videos, photo's, and music and go on to share it via email on sites like eBay, Facebook, and MySpace- and customized them with filters called widgets.
But Andy, ever the polymath, has also taken a stab at writing, with two novels under his belt. The first, a dark historical fantasy, is called The Darkening Dream, and was published in 2011. He went on to write Untimed, a story, unsurprisingly, about time travel, was released the next year.
6 They Have An “ICE TEAM” Designed To Help Developers Utilize Sony's Tech
Without getting too technical, the ICE team is basically a specialized group of programmers and developers who work under Naughty Dog to help optimize basic graphics tech for other Sony "first party" titles. This essentially means they construct graphic processing pipelines, low-level game engine components, and debugging tools for the benefit of these titles, to help them along.
That's just how good Naughty Dog is - they're helping the competition catch up! The end goal is to help other developers get an overall better performance on their PlayStation hardware.
5 Crash Bandicoot Made Naughty Dog The Most Successful Developer In The U.S.
If you haven't heard of Crash Bandicoot, you probably live under a rock. It was Naughty Dog's first major hit, and the franchise sold over 40 million units on PlayStation 1 and 2 worldwide over its run. So it makes sense that its success turned Naughty Dog into the most successful developer in the US during the entire run on PlayStation.
The series has been referenced in other franchises again and again, but most overtly in a break from a cutscene in Uncharted 4, where Nathan and Elena play a simplified version of it together.
4 The Founders Made Their First Game, Ski Crazed, When They Were 16!
Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin were only 16 when they completed their first game, Ski Crazed, which was designed to run on the Apple II Computer. They made the game in a family garage, and it only came about because Gavin had accidentally copied bootlegged games of another skiing game over the one in production. Thus, Rubin was forced to write another skiing game, and completed it over a single weekend.
Initially, the game ran very slowly, and needed to be thoroughly rewritten and programmed by Gavin. Its original name was Ski Stud, and Baudville bought it from the two friends, who were running their business as Jam Software at the time, for $250.
3 Ashley Johnson Is The Reason Ellie Is Such A Bad Ass
Ashley Johnson reportedly brought a lot of the sizzle to the role of Ellie in The Last of Us, taking the young character from more of a meek, damsel in distress figure to a post-apocalyptic tour de force in her own right. The game, which boasts stunning motion capture performances and a highly interactive story, weighs on her every move, and is as much her story as Joel's, for most of the narrative.
Given the Ellie many know and love, its hard to believe there was a time when the character in development was anything but a complex, resourceful kid with a smart mouth and a bad temper. Much of it has to do with Ashley's input, both in her mo-cap and her vocal performance, but the results, once again, speak for themselves.
2 A White Voice Actress Played A Black Character In Uncharted 4
Sadly, Naughty Dog is no stranger to controversy - what with the use of Assassin's Creed artwork in a trailer. Another massive controversy reared its head when it was revealed that a white voice actress was playing a black character in Uncharted 4. The character Nadine Ross, played by Linda Bailey, has maintained a strict silence about the affair, but the game's creative director, Neil Druckmann, certainly has not.
In an interview, Druckmann doubled down on the studio's position, saying:
"Your awkward appearance doesn’t matter at all. If it did, Troy [Baker] couldn’t play Joel in The Last of Us. Ashley Johnson couldn’t play Ellie. In a movie version they couldn’t play those roles, but they played them to perfection."
He adds to this that there is a black actor playing a white character elsewhere in the game, and that, despite pretty severe under-representation of ethnic minorities in the world of video game acting, Bailey was simply the best actress for the role. No one can really know in hindsight, but many fans were disappointed by this incident, and suggested that it only exacerbated the ongoing problem of under-representation in the arts.
1 The Last of Us And Uncharted Are Both Being Made Into Films
Yes, it's true. Both intellectual properties have been picked up by major studios, and are currently in the process of getting made - at various stages, to be fair. Sony has greenlit the Uncharted project, which is still unnamed, and filming is set to begin in Colombia later in 2017. We do not yet know who is going to play the eponymous hero, Nathan Drake, but names like Mark Wahlberg and Nathan Fillion have been tied to the project over the last few years.
As for The Last of Us, much like the stalled process Uncharted had (the movie was first pitched and a draft of the script written in 2009), the film has run into a bit of a quagmire. While this is all run of the mill for Hollywood, it may mean that fans are going to have to wait awhile before they will be able to see Joel and Ellie's epic trek across a pandemic-strewn America on the silver screen.