After the completion and release of Jak 3 (though not very long after Rubin and Gavin’s departure), ND immediately gathered up its’ staff to begin the pre-development phase on their next big project, which was then known at the time as…well, “Big”. While the Jak series still had a somewhat cartoony look to it (even in the follow-ups), ND wanted to take the realism even further, opting to go for a much more photo-realistic route and to push the boundaries beyond any of their previous games’ visuals. Wanting to create something that was “fresh and interesting” and unlike anything they had ever done before, they drew inspiration from a plethora of pre-existing material, such as classical adventure serials, pulp magazines, National Treasure, Indiana Jones, and shockingly NOT Tomb Raider.
During development of the game, ND had went through, as one of their lead designers said, a “really dark period”. In addition to the fact that they had their first ever cancelled game on their hands AND the fact that their founders had left them behind, many of their employees were growing dissatisfied with the direction the new game was taking, and one by one many of them were jumping ship, proclaiming that the game would “never be finished” and that ND had “bitten off more than they could chew”. To solve this problem, they decided to split up the company (or for a better term, what was left) into a total of two teams: the first one being the ones who “wanted to make it work” and the others being “the ones who wanted to make it awesome”. Regardless, ND pushed on, and it wasn’t long until the game was ready for release AND was given its’ official name: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
The game’s story revolves around Nathan Drake, a sarcastic adrenaline junkie and apparent descendant of Sir Francis Drake, as he embarks on an epic journey to discover the mythical lost city of El Dorado as well as the treasure located deep within it. Along the way, he’s aided by his father figure and mentor, Sully, as well as a journalist by the name of Elena Fisher.
When the game was unleashed onto store shelves in Thanksgiving of 2007, it was met with unanimously positive reception, with many of its’ praise going to its’ near-lifelike art style, lovable characters, great writing, well-thought out platforming, and exhilarating action sequences. The game was also a major commercial success, selling a total of 2.6 million copies. In the wake of the game’s success, three sequels and a spin-off for the now pretty much-dead PS Vita were released, with the former receiving just as much praise and success as Fortune did, while the latter just received good, but not “OMG GAME OF THE YEAR”-level reviews, but was still met with commercial success nonetheless.
In 2004, Neil Druckmann, one of ND’s most well-known employees, was attending Carnegie Mellon University. During that year, the university held a contest in which several students were to conceptualize video games of their own. The concepts would then be shown to George A. Friggin’ Romero, who would then choose the concept that he liked best. Druckmann’s concept was something along the lines of “Ico meets Night of the Living Dead”, in which a police officer similar to that of John Hartigan from world-famous comic book artist Frank Miller’s Sin City would have to protect a young girl during a zombie apocalypse. While Druckmann’s idea didn’t end up getting chosen, he still kept it fresh in his mind even after joining Naughty Dog.
In 2009, shortly after the release of Uncharted 2, ND had decided to put development of the inevitable third game on hold in order to put focus on what was then known as “T1″…or was it “Project Thing”? Whatever they called it backed then, I guess. It was at this point that Druckmann’s concept was finally started to be realized, albeit not quite how he started it. For starters, the main character was no longer a policeman, and the zombies were instead made into horrifically mutated fungus zombies called the Infected. Taking inspiration from Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us and historical deadly epidemics such as the 1918 flu pandemic, the game was set to be a dark and dramatic tale about the desperation of survival, hope, redemption, love, and loyalty. Certainly a far cry from the days of yellow-skinned scientists with giant Ns on their foreheads and orange marsupials that go about spinning into wooden crates and collecting made-up fruit, isn’t it?
After spending three years in production and an added extra month following a delay, the game was released in 2013 for the Playstation 3 as The Last of Us.
The game’s story takes place twenty years after an outbreak of a fungal virus across the USA, as Joel, a bitter middle-aged man, must escort a teenage orphan immune to the virus named Ellie to safety. Along the way, the two end up forming a strong father-daughter-esque bond, and soon end up discovering what could possibly be the key to reserving the outbreak. When the game was released….to say that it received universal acclaim would pretty much be the same as saying…well, ANY obvious statement. I mean…LOOK AT THESE SCORES!! SIX OF THEM ARE PERFECT!!!! The only one that isn’t giving it massive praise is Polygon, but even then a 7.5 is still considered a decent enough score! In terms of sales, the charts were utterly topped, as the game sold 1.3 million copies about seven days after its’ release. “Impressive” doesn’t even begin to describe that…
Following the game’s illustrious performance, Sony immediately jumped on ship to turn it into their next hit video game franchise. Although it has yet to get a sequel, the game has received merchandise a plenty, DLC, a comic book, and a film adaptation! The latter of which will probably never happen…but still, with all of the attention that the game has gotten, it’s a sure-fire bet that we’ll be getting a follow-up sooner or later.
Naughty Dog is often considered by many to be one of the greatest video game studios of all-time, and it’s not easy to see why. Through all of the troubles and events that they’ve gone through, their stupendous efforts and contributions to the gaming industry are not in vain. They have given us some of the most iconic and beloved video games ever created, as well as being partly responsible for making Sony a force to be reckoned with in the video game market. From their relatable, sympathetic, well-written, and all-around lovable characters, from their well-crafted production and gameplay practices, and the many ways that they’ve took storytelling in video games, for a lack of a better term, to the next level, their tale is quite frankly one of video game legends, and it continues to grow stronger and stronger with each game released. Hats off to you, ND.
* I did not make this video. It was done by fellow YouTuber zapidante.*
What is your favorite Naughty Dog game? Be sure to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below, and thanks for reading!