retr0spective: Naughty Dog (Part Three)

Eight months before the release of Team Racing, ND had begun the pre-development phase on what was then known as “Project Y”. However, because most of the team was so busy working on Team Racing, only two programmers were put on the project while the rest of the studio finished up Team Racing. It was only after ND had made the decision to let Crash go and the release of the PlayStation 2 that the rest of the studio had came onto the project. Soon, Sony managed to whip up a little demonstration featuring a character of theirs that they called “Boxman”, and showed it to Sony. Impressed by what they were soon, Sony green-lit the project, and development of the game REALLY started.


Wanting to make unique and recgonizable characters for the then-just-released PS2 in the same fashion that they did with Crash, the folks at ND brought Charles Zemballis on board once again to design the protagonists and help develop the world and aesthetic of the game. While they went with a more victorian/steampunk look at first, the game started to resemble its’ final form with they went with a more tribal look and feel. Finally, they decided to go with something along the likes of a Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy world, which ended up sticking. It was at this point as well that the characters’ designs were finalized, and were named Jak and Daxter respectively. During the development, ND had developed the game using an engine which was used for the first Crash game and was dubbed as “GOAL” and made several little tweaks to it, which resulted in the game having no fog or loading times whatsoever. Originally, there was also going to be a third character who would accompany Jak and Daxter throughout the game, and was even said to play in a “Tamogatchi” style. However, the character ended up getting scrapped after ND decided to just focus the gameplay on Jak and Daxter only. After several months of hard work and blood, sweat, and tears, the game was finally completed and ready for released, and hit the store shelves in 2001 under the name of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy.


The game’s story revolved around the titular Jak, an elf/humanoid thing, and Daxter, an ottsel and former human, as they embark on an epic journey throughout their world to reverse Daxter’s condition and stop the evil Gol and Maia from drowning the world in Dark Eco – the same substance that caused Daxter to transform into an ottsel in the first place. Throughout their adventure, they’re accompanied by Samos, a cranky elderly sage, and his daughter Keira, an inventor, as they must collect Power Cells and Precursor Orbs to advance through the world. When it was released, the game performed PHENOMENALLY, receiving several near-perfect scores as well as being a huge commercial success, selling over one million copies. At this point, a sequel was a definite no-brainer, and ND had yet another franchise on their hands – and if that wasn’t enough, there was no middle man in the equation this time around! Soon, the game went on to spawn two significantly darker sequels as well as two spin-offs, one of which is centered around Daxter himself. During this time, after making a speech at the D.I.C.E. Summit that caused him to gain quite a bit of flak, Rubin had decided to move on from Naughty Dog along with Gavin, leaving behind the company that gained them fame and fortune as video game developers, leaving it in the hands of Christophe Balestra and Evan Wells.


During the ongoing development of the PS3, Naughty Dog wanted to make a next-gen Jak and Daxter game in the same fashion that Insomniac would eventually do with the Ratchet & Clank games. While it did have the working title of “Jak 4”, it was not set to be a sequel to any of the previous games – in fact, it was going to be a reboot. This can be seen by just how non-cartoonish and realistic the character design is. Not even the characters themselves were safe from radical differences, as Daxter, who is often considered to be one of the funniest video game characters of all time, was going to be mute. Needless to say, when some of this information was revealed to fans long after the project’s cancellation, it didn’t go down so well. A few years later, a new Jak and Daxter game titled The Lost Frontier was released; unfortunately, it wasn’t developed by ND (some of the people that work at the company that developed it are former ND members), and is considered to be a huge disappointment. I share these sentiments, as I do find it to be pretty bland compared to the first three games.


At this point, things aren’t looking so good for ND. While they were still financially stable, they still had a cancelled project on their hands, as well as the fact that their founders had left them behind. After taking some time to recover, they had decided to shift focus back on a project that they were developing which was code-named “Big”, and soon, their “fortunes” would turn in their favor…


To be concluded…


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