Naughty Dog Retrospective

April 22, 2015 Written by Tyler Treese

NaughtyDog

Naughty Dog started out as two friends, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, who wanted to create video games. The two high school students could never have imagined what Naughty Dog would become as the game industry was far different in 1984. Jason and Andy decided to share their magic and created what would become one of the most iconic North American game studios of all time.

A Brief History of Naughty Dog

Initially named as JAM Software, the company’s first projects included Apple II games called Math Jam and Ski Crazed. These titles, alongside an Adventure game that was developed in 1987, were enough to catch the eye of publisher Electronic Arts. EA would then work with the newly renamed studio called Naughty Dog on two separate role-playing games. 

Despite having their Genesis developed RPG, Rings of Power, published by Electronic Arts, Naughty Dog was in financial trouble. In a last ditch effort, Naughty Dog created a fighting game called Way of the Warrior. This title was published by Universal Interactive Studios for 3DO.

While Naughty Dog’s contract with Universal Interactive Studios initially kept the developer in business, it would also lead to the studio’s first hit. Crash Bandicoot, which was published by Sony Computer Entertainment, was Naughty Dog’s first attempt at a platformer and was a huge success. In what was jokingly called “Sonic’s Ass Game” by the designers, was an innovative, fresh platformer that showed off the strengths of Sony’s new platform. 

What would follow would be a series of sequels as Crash Bandicoot 2 and Crash Bandicoot: Warped were just as well received as the initial game. Naughty Dog then tried something new with Crash Team Racing, a kart racing game based off their successful series. 

Naughty Dog

2001 would be a banner year for the company as Naughty Dog, who already had a close working relationship with Sony Computer Entertainment, would be acquired by the console maker and become a first party studio. This led to the release of their first PlayStation 2 title, Jak and Daxter. This colorful platformer was a natural evolution from Crash Bandicoot and later spawned two sequels that grew progressively darker as the games progressed.

In 2004, both Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin would leave the company that they founded. While the developer was still filled with talented employees such as Hirokazu Yasuhara, Amy Hennig and Neil Druckmann, uncertainty surrounded the developer for the first time in a decade. Naughty Dog’s first release after the departure of its founders was Jak X: Combat Racing, which, while still critically successful, was not viewed favorably to their past titles.

The studio would release its first PlayStation 3 title, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007. This cinematic action-adventure game was a technical marvel and proved that Naughty Dog was still a developer to be trusted. The popular series would spawn two sequels afterwards allowing the studio to continue to grow in size.

After the successful launches of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Naughty Dog would release their first new IP in six years. Titled The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s next project took a much darker and mature tone than previous games the studio had created. The change was a huge success, though, as the 2013 release was a huge success both commercially and critically for the studio.

Gameography

Key Employees Past and Present

  • Andy Gavin is one of the founders of Naughty Dog and was the ‘A’ in JAM Software. Andy largely worked as a lead programmer and was involved with all of Naughty Dog’s releases until his departure in 2004. Since leaving video games, he has written two novels.
  • Jason Rubin is the ‘J’ in JAM Software and a founder of Naughty Dog. He directed all four Naughty Dog developed Crash Bandicoot games and last worked on Jak 3 before leaving the studio. Recently, Jason was the president of THQ before its closure in 2013. Now he currently works for Oculus VR.
  • Mark Cerny has a résumé that puts most game designers to shame. His name has been attached to greatness since his early work on arcade titles Major Havoc and Marble Madness. Since then his name has been attached to Sonic 2 and hit series such as Crash BandicootSpyro the DragonJak and Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. He most recently worked as the PlayStation 4’s system architect and directed PS4 launch title Knack.
  • Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra are currently the co-presidents of Naughty Dog. Evan worked on ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron and Gex before joining Naughty Dog to work on Crash Bandicoot: Warped. Christophe Balestra worked on Jak II and Jak 3 before becoming Co-President.
  • Bruce Straley joined Naughty Dog in 1999 to work on Crash Team Racing as an artist. He would later work as an artist on all three of the Jak and Daxter platformers. In 2007, he was the art director on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Now, Bruce has moved up to game director having directed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, The Last of Us and currently is directing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
  • Neil Druckmann’s first project with Naughty Dog was working as a programmer on  Jak 3. He would later work as a designer on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Druckmann found critical acclaim as the creative director behind 2013’s The Last of Us and is currently working on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
  • Amy Hennig worked for Electronic Arts and Crystal Dynamics before joining Naughty Dog.  Her most notable credits are directing Jak X: Combat Racing and the first three Uncharted games. She left to join Visceral Games in 2014. 
  • Hirokazu Yasuhara is one of the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog and worked with Sega until 2001. After leaving Sega, Yasuhara joined Naughty Dog to work on Jak II as a game designer. His last work with Naughty Dog was on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Hirokazu Yasuhara now works for Nintendo.

Naughty Dog

The Future

Since the launch of the PlayStation 4 in 2013, Naughty Dog has seen some key departures (including Amy Hennig) and has not yet produced a new title for the system. That doesn’t mean the developer hasn’t been busy though, as 2014 did see the developer get its feet wet by producing a remastered version of The Last of Us for Sony’s latest gaming console. 

The studio is currently working on the fourth installment of the Uncharted series — Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End — which is currently set for release in 2016. 

Naughty Dog has produced AAA quality games since the 1996 release of Crash Bandicoot and it seems that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. With talented directors such as Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann on board, the future is once again bright for the Santa Monica-based developer.