Interview with Naughty Dog staff
Arnold K. (SolidSnake)
Answers by Naughty Dog staff:
Evan Wells, Co-Designer
Greg Omi, Programmer
Didier Malenfant, Programmer
Q: First and foremost, I absolutely must congratulate the whole Naughty Dog crew for crafting what is certainly the best adventure game on any console to date! Now, to the interview: Describe how Naughty Dog felt in regards to putting Crash Bandicoot in the hands of another developer, and how many boxes of Kleenex had to be used when the team said 'goodbye'?
A: (EW) There was never any doubt that with the new generation of console, Naughty Dog would move on to a character. Crash Bandicoot was created for PS one, and Naughty Dog wanted to create a character specifically for the PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system. It is of course hard to say goodbye to a character that has obviously been such a big part of our lives, but it was time to move on.
A: (GO) Although I was sad to let Crash go, I think it was time. We had pretty much done everything we wanted to with him. It was time for us to move on to something new.
A: (DM) I think it was a bunch of mixed feelings, excited to get a chance to create new characters, obviously a little nervous in that we were moving away from the familiar world of Crash. It was sad to see Crash go, but we knew what we had to do and were all focused and excited to get a fresh new start. We knew we had a winner with Jak & Daxter: ThePrecursor Legacy..
Q: Exactly how long has Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy been in development? How has the game evolved over the course of its development to the final product available now? Did Jak and Daxter (the characters) look different initially than they do now, or was their image the same from day one?
A: (EW) Work was officially started in January 1999. The team then consisted of only two programmers while the rest of the team was developing CTR. A full team effort began in January 2000.
The game design itself pretty much maintained a steady course from inception to the final product but Jak and Daxter themselves definitely went through some changes. Early on, our design actually called for there to be a third main character. Beside the main hero, and his sidekick, there was to be a cute pet-like creature as well. We wanted to evolve the pet like a tomagochi. Depending on the way you played the game, the pet would grow up to be a different creature. We quickly decided that our time and energy was better spent concentrating on developing just two strong characters.
Jak himself also went through several looks (and probably as many names!) before we reached the final version you see in the game. Initially we thought about exploring chain physics on our hero, so some of the early designs had ponytails (up to three!). We also didn't settle on the long-eared elfin look for sometime either. We went through some very animal looks early on; some even resembling the Thunder Cats!
A: (GO) The game was in development for three years. For the first year it was Andy Gavin, and Stephen White doing most of the programming with me working half time on the background engine and half the time on CTR. Eric Iwasaki was doing art support at that time. There was no Jak or Daxter in the beginning, there was box man. He was designed for us to be able to test the animation engine. After that we had a test character which we showed to Sony Computer Entertainment. This character actually had joints and was animated using our animation blending system. Finally we did lots of drawings and came up with Jak and Daxter.
A: (DM) It's been in development about three years altogether, although the team ramped up from three people to 36 in that timeframe. Jak & Daxter initially looked like what we called "The adventures of Boxman in Column-world" because that's what we had as a test-bed before all the artists came on board. When the character design process started, the look was very quickly locked in after a lot of feedback from the US, Japan and Europe.
Q: Jak and Daxter's visuals are some of the most impressive, diverse and lush on any console right now. How did Naughty Dog manage to develop a graphics engine that features absolutely no pop-up, draw-in, loading times, and manage to retain a perfect frame rate of 60, and feature some very high-resolution textures?
A: (EW) It certainly wasn't easy! Naughty Dog has the most talented team of programmers in the industry hands down. They worked for years writing and rewriting the Jak and Daxter graphics engine. There are at least ten different specific renderers to create the various background elements, characters and effects. Each of these renderers went through several rewrites and optimizations to squeeze as much power out of PlayStation 2 as possible.
A: (GO) The final game engine has about nine different renderers, each is optimized for its specific task. This is how we get such good performance. We don't waste cycles on features that aren't being used. We achieved this by only hiring top programmers and artists. In fact to get the eight programmers on the project we had to interview hundreds. Keeping the frame rate up is a combination of clever programming and beating up the artists and designers when they go crazy with their work.
A: (DM) Loads of work. The engine is in fact a collection of engines which each got re-written a bunch a times until we got them just right. I think what makes all this possible is that we set the bar so high for ourselves to begin with and everybody at Naughty Dog is very critical of our own work, which makes for very interesting meetings but also shows in our results.
Q: Describe the influence behind Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. What is the one particular goal Naughty Dog hoped to achieve with the game?
A: (EW) Specifically from a game design stand point, we were trying to achieve a combination of the kind of platform gaming found in Banjo-Kazooie, the epic adventure feeling found in the Legend of Zelda, and some of the do-or-die excitement from the Crash Bandicoot series. We then wanted to incorporate Disney-quality animated cut scenes to tell the story. What we accomplished I believe will raise the bar by which future games of the genre will be judged.
A: (GO) My personal goal as an engine programmer is to make the other developers cry. I actually think that is every engine programmer's goal. You want them to say "How did they do that?" And you want their managers to say "Why can't we do that?"
A: (DM) One goal was to make our entrance into free-roaming platforms games and remove the load times to make the world seamless. We also wanted to push the power of PlayStation 2 and do things that we couldn't do on last-generation platforms.
Q: Where was the influence of both characters (Jak and Daxter) drawn from? Any specific cartoon or movie? And the same question pertains to Jak and Daxter's world.
A: (EW) There were no specific movies or cartoons that influenced the character or level design. We were hoping to create a style and feel that had both Western and Eastern appeal. To that end, there was definitely influence from anime and manga, but also Disney. Jak and Daxter's world was heavily influenced by actual Japanese landscapes. We collected as many photographic reference books as possible, and tried to create a fantastic world that still had roots in reality.
A: (DM) The world has some influence from the French comic book Asterix et Obelix because of the villages. Jak is a mixture of a lot of ideas that people had about the main character and Daxter comes from what was initially just a small animal living in the world. We loved the drawing that Rob Titus made of him so he evolved into the sidekick.
Q: On another note; how does Naughty Dog now feel as a wholly owned property of Sony? And how did both parties come to an agreement of the acquisition?
A: (EW) We were all excited when the partnership with SCEA moved to the next level. Though not much of the day-to-day relationship has changed, we look forward to even more sharing of technologies and in forging the future of entertainment…together.
A: (DM) Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin (the co-founders of Naughty Dog Inc.) spoke to the entire company about this in the Fall of 2000. What was weird was that we'd had such a close relationship with Sony up to that point anyway that nobody felt like it was that big a deal to make it 'official' and be part of Sony as a subsidiary. The relationship hasn't changed, we still deal with the same producers, the same PR and marketing people at Sony, and so far they still love our work so I guess it's been a very good thing overall.
Q: Back on subject. 'IF' "Jak and Daxter" does well on the sales charts (which I hope it does), can we expect a sequel to the best adventure/platform game to date? Or is one currently in the planning stages?
A: (EW) We're hoping that the game does well too. Everyone at Naughty Dog is really proud of it and is looking forward to the chance to expand upon the world in a sequel. Let's hope it's a big success and the start of another franchise.
Q: Would you consider incorporating co-op play if a sequel to J&D arrived?
A: (EW) Sure! Daxter is chomping at the bit for the chance to show Jak up!
Q: Is Naughty Dog currently tinkering with other genres at the moment? Say, RPG or maybe even a new kart racer, or some sort of party based title?
A: (EW) Naughty Dog is a one-team company. Everyone in the company has one focus. So, no, there isn't a Jak Team Racing in secret development (and if there was, I couldn't tell you anyway!)
A: (DM) Jak & Daxter is already a great mix of genres so it's pretty interesting and allows us to explore many different types of gameplay.