A Brief History of Naughty Dog


Conor Hutton

Writer and Storywriter


Welcome to A Brief History of. As you may or may not know this is Pure PlayStation, ok you probably didn’t know that as we’re pretty much the newest kids on the block. We’re a dedicated PlayStation website and we thought it might be a nice idea to do a brief history of all Sony’s first-party studios in order to familiarise ourselves and our growing audience with the PlayStation family. The plan is to post a new entry to the series on the first Monday of every month until we’re out of first-party studios to look into. This week, as the title implies, we’re looking at Naughty Dog.

A Brief History of Naughty Dog

Naughty Dog were founded in September 1989. Scratch that. Jam Software was founded on September 27th, 1984, by Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin. The two founders were childhood friends from the US of A. Gavin was behind the programming, and other such technical things that I don’t understand, while Rubin acted as director. The two young founders sold their first game in 1985, which was called Math Jam – yes this studio goes on to make Uncharted. They then progressed to make other games, such as Ski Crazed in 1986 (which they sold to Baudville for $250), Dream Zone in 1988 and Keef the Thief (which was published by EA). They made a few other games as Jam Software, but as this is a Brief History I’m going to keep it short and just give a more basic rundown. If I mentioned every detail you’d be reading for a bloody long time!
In order to break off their relationship with Baudville, Gavin and Rubin renamed the company and Naughty Dog was born. Naughty Dog’s first game was published by EA in 1991, it was called Rings of Power and it was released for the Mega Drive/Genesis, however you’d be forgiven for never hearing of it as the game was badly received by critics. Naughty Dog became bankrupt, but they were crazy enough to keep going, so even a complete lack of funds couldn’t stop them. They somehow convinced Mark Cerny (yes that Mark Cerny) to sign them up to for a three game deal with Universal Interactive Studios. The first game they made under this partnership was Way of the Warrior, but again their game was badly received. However, that still didn’t deter the studio’s founders and they came up with a plan for their most ambitious game yet.

The studio founders chilling with Crash.

The studio founders chilling with Crash.

That game would go on to sell 6.8 million copies making it the studios first breakout success and won them a place in the hearts of gamers worldwide. You can probably guess what game that was, but just in case I’ll tell you it was Crash Bandicoot. Let’s backtrack a little. Production for the game began in 1994 and during its 14 months in development it was simply known as “Sonic’s Ass Game.” Why? Well because the game was being made to compete with Sonic and because the camera was always behind the main character the player would constantly be looking at their ‘ass.’ Personally I have to say I’m glad that name didn’t stick. After the game was finished Naughty Dog showed it to Sony Computer Entertainment who were very impressed and agreed to publish it. The game was shown off at E3 1996 and released in September of that year, at least in North America. They moved onto to make two more Crash Bandicoot games and Crash Team Racing, Bruce Straley would actually join the studio in 1999 to work on Crash Team Racing. As the last paragraph mentioned, they had signed up with Universal for a three game deal, which meant they did not own the rights to Crash Bandicoot.
As a result they decided to abandon Crash to Universal and began working on the PlayStation 2 classics Jak and Daxter. It’s at this point in time they became a Sony owned studio. While Universal only signed Naughty dog into a three game deal, Sony would outright buy them to make sure they wouldn’t jump ship in the future.
The original Naughty Dog logo.

The original Naughty Dog logo.

Jak and Daxter would be the final Naughty Dog series to be created by the co-founders Gavin and Rubin. The first game in the series was released in 2001. Then Jak II was released in 2003 and Jak 3 in 2004. Just like with Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter also received a racing game, it was called Jak X: Combat Racing and it came out in 2005. All of the games in the series were released on PS2, however an upgraded HD version of the games was released on the PS3, it was called The Jak and Daxter Collection, but unfortunately it didn’t include Jak X.
However, in 2004, before the release of Jak X in 2005, studio co-founders, Gavin and Ruben, left Naughty Dog to start a new company. Naughty Dog was left in the competent hands of Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, who both remain as the studio’s co-presidents to this day. It’s worth mentioning at this point that a certain Neil Druckmann joined the studio, in 2004, as a programmer on Jak 3 and Jak X. As you probably know by now he’ll become a pretty important part of the studio’s history. Another thing worth mentioning before I move on is that Jak II actually began to mark the studio’s transition from kids games to darker more mature titles, however their sense of fun remained right up until 2013’s much darker The Last of Us and even that game has a sense of humour.
Naughty Dog's finest.

Naughty Dog’s finest.

Throughout gaming’s history many people have compared the medium to cinema, however claims like that only began to gain weight with the release of Naughty Dog’s 2007 game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I think it’s fair to say that Drake’s Fortune was one of the first, if not the first, cinematic experiences in gaming history. It combined stellar action gameplay with motion captured cut-scenes and top-notch writing to keep players guessing around every corner as they scooted closer to the edge of their seats with every heart-pounding set piece. Then time rolled on and 2009 came about and with it came Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves, which is arguably one of Naughty Dog’s finest games. The Uncharted sequel was actually penned by Neil Druckmann, Amy Hennig and Josh Scherr, while Bruce Straley and Hennig directed. Then came 2011 and with it came yet another award winning Naughty Dog game – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Just like Jak and Daxter Uncharted also got a rereleased collection, this time on PS4, which was called Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and it contained all three Naughty Dog developed Uncharted games.
Now I know what you’re thinking: the Naughty Dog pattern goes three games and then a racing game. However, we never got Unkarted. Instead the studio broke into two teams, while Hennig was heading 2011’s Uncharted 3 Druckmann and Straley were working, in secret, on The Last of Us. The Last of Us was released in 2013, since then it’s been rereleased on PS4. The game came out to mass critical acclaim and many gamers consider it to be one of the greatest games ever made. The Last of Us was actually based on Cormac McCarty’s book The Road, which I highly recommend. Sequel rumours have been dropping like flies lately, but we’ve yet to hear anything official from Naughty Dog.
Straley (left) and Druckmann (right).

Straley (left) and Druckmann (right).

While Druckmann and Straley worked away on finishing The Last of Us Hennig, and the other team at Naughty Dog, began working on the next Uncharted game. However, the studio hit a few bumps in the road during early 2014 and as a result Hennig and a few other key members left. Hennig actually joined EA to write an unannounced Star Wars game. Druckmann and Straley had to take over development on Uncharted 4, joining back up both Naughty Dog teams. We now know the full title of the game will be Uncharted 4: A Thieves End and we hopefully know the final release date, which should be April 26th, 2016. Although there has been a series of delays, so fingers crossed that there’ll be no more.

There you go, a very brief history of Naughty Dog from its founding to the present. Trust me this is as brief as I could make it while still being informative, you could write a book on this studio if you wanted to (@Naughty Dog: in fact I’d be happy to write your bio for $1,000,000… or just like a copy of Uncharted 4 or something). Check back on the first Monday of March for a Brief History of Guerrilla Games, and keep a bookmark on Pure PlayStation for everything PlayStation.

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