retr0spective: Naughty Dog (Part One)

Greetings again, my fellow retr0pians, and welcome to the very first edition of “retr0spective”, a segment where I take a look at the histories of video game characters and companies of all types. And for my very first topic, I’ve decided to look no further than one of the most beloved and prominent developers of the modern age of gaming, Naughty Dog.

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Currently in their thirty-second year of existence as of 2016, the company, owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment, have given us some of the greatest and most well-known video game franchises of all time. But how exactly DID they manage to get to this point? That, my friends, is what you are about to find out right now…

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The year of 1984 was one of the biggest ones for entertainment imaginable. It was during this year that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their debut (and a quite brutal one, for that matter) along with the Transformers, the Gremlins, the Ghostbusters, T-800, Freddy Krueger, and various others would make a name for themselves in multiplexes around the globe, and Saturday morning cartoons still reigned the airwaves. In the midst of all this, high school pupils and longtime best buds Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin had gotten into the prospect of making video games of their own; a prospect that didn’t take too long to blossom, as they would soon found Jam Software (ND’s original name) and went on to release three computer games over the course of three years, before they were finally renamed as Naughty Dog proper when they released their fourth game, Keef the Thief (a game which I haven’t played, but from what I’ve seen looks to be a humorous adventure/role-playing game in the vein of Monkey Island without the point and click elements), which was published by Electronic Arts in 1989. This wasn’t ND’s only game with EA, as they had also made one more game with them for the Sega Genesis, Rings of Power (an isometric fantasy role-playing game) in 1991 before breaking ties with them completely. It was at this point that ND was on the verge of closing their doors, as Rubin and Gavin were in college, leaving them little to no time for game development, and were also bankrupt. In a desperate last resort to save the company, Rubin and Gavin noticed the popularity of fighters at the time such as Street Fighter II and Way of the Warrior, and decided to make one of their own, the end result being one of the more well-known games for the immensely unsuccessful 3DO, Way of the Warrior.

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Seeing as how ND was, all things considered, on the brink of shutting down, it was clear that WOTW’s development wasn’t going to be a day at the beach. And, rather unsurprisingly, it was. As ND was bankrupt, the game suffered from a myriad of budget issues which affected the overall development, which meant that Rubin and Gavin were not able to afford any kind of proper backdrops as well as proper costumes (it doesn’t help either that while Rubin and Gavin were in the process of filming the characters, their neighbors thought they were making a snuff film). Fortunately, things ended up working out rather well in the end when reviews of the game, while mixed, managed to gain enough interest to make the game a success, thus keeping ND afloat. Being satisfied with the success of the game, Mark Cerny, the then-CEO of the now-defunct Universal Interactive Studios, signed a three-game-deal with Rubin and Gavin, and soon enough brainstorming for the first game in the deal was underway. Taking advantage of the fact that there was really no such thing as a “3D platformer” at the time (DKC had 3D graphics, but it wasn’t a 3D platformer in the traditional sense), Rubin and Gavin decided that they would make one of their own…and with that, PlayStation and platformer history was made, in the form of 1996’s Crash Bandicoot.

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To be continued…

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