Legacy of Gaming: Naughty Dog
Developers constantly strive for immersion within their games. After the release of Half-Life in 1998, ‘immersive’ games have featured much more interactive storytelling and less forceful cut-scenes. There are some developers; however, who decide to go against the grain, that decide that the road to immersion lies in perfecting the cut-scenes that “Half-Life” did without. If you’re on a quest to find the Holy Grail of these tear-jerking cinematic set pieces, you need look no further than Naughty Dog.
Originating from a garage development duo, the company changed their name from “Jam Software” to “Naughty Dog” in 1989. The men behind the name, Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin began developing moderately successful games shortly after this. After developing “Way of the Warrior” for 3DO they gained the attention of Universal Interactive Studios and were advised by Mark Cerny, programmer at Sega to focus on developing 3D platformers for the upcoming generation of consoles. As a result, “Crash Bandicoot” landed on the PlayStation in 1996.
Throughout nearly all the years since this release, Naughty Dog have stuck to the philosophy of devoting all their time and resources into one franchise per system, a decision that’s been criticised by many fans as a cash grab, building on an accepted formula. True to this Naughty Dog proceeded to fill the PlayStation’s catalogue with more “Crash Bandicoot” sequels and spin-offs, until the launch of the PlayStation 2. Building on the 3D platforming experience gained in the previous generation, Naughty Dog released “Jak and Daxter”. Following the successful launch of the series, Sony expressed interest in Naughty Dog and in 2001 they were enveloped into PlayStation exclusivity.
It wasn’t until the launch of the PlayStation 3 that the company developed their first “killer app”. Starting a series that has sold 17 million copies total over it’s lifetime, Naughty Dog released “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” into the world in 2007. Those cut-scenes I spoke of? This is where they hit-home. The Uncharted Trilogy spanning four years has garnered much praise among fans and critics alike for including fluid controls, skilful writing and voice acting, and incredibly graphical and life-like cut-scenes.
The only game, which has broken the one-franchise trend of Naughty Dog, was their latest title, “The Last of Us” for PS3. This is the game, which invokes the legacy; this is the game that will ultimately be remembered for the longest. When we talk of making immersive, artistic titles, which blur boundaries between film and games, this really is the Holy Grail. With this title being listed as a franchise in Sony’s books, we can only wonder if Naughty Dog’s latest venture is about to cross systems.
Invoking a spew of racing, platforming and party spin-offs, “Crash Bandicoot” was Naughty Dog’s first golden baby. Since developing it the series has gone off on it’s own to other developers and across multiple platforms. Originating as a platformer, the series is set on a fictitious island just below Australia. Following Crash the Bandicoot and his friends, players can jump, climb and fly through an array of colourful and vibrant settings.
The game itself is listed as the seventh best selling PlayStation game of all time and it definitely gave elements of platforming to the titles we see today. The level design and 3D environment has inspired many more platforming titles to do more than just go straight up against a set of different backgrounds. For PlayStation, the series was a huge boost, providing a child-friendly mascot to parade across television and convention floors. Since leaving Naughty Dog “Crash Bandicoot” has spiralled out of success with the recent titles looking less and less like the original. Crash…you will be missed.
The “Uncharted” series is a bookmark of the point where Naughty Dog came into it’s own. The style, gameplay and narrative have echoed into the company’s recent title, and have set a gaming landmark for all Action-Adventure games to chase after. Following Nathan Drake, the player will explore ruined temples, forgotten jungles, sprawling deserts and incredibly emotional set pieces.
The cut-scenes and quick-time set pieces are what really stand out from “Uncharted” above all else. If your looking for something that the industry has taken out of Naughty Dog, that would be it. It’s fairly ironic however that the greatest footprint “Uncharted” had upon the gaming world was probably the shaping of Naughty Dog’s own style than anything else. Without “Uncharted”, we never would have had “The Last of Us”, and the story and emotional grasp of gaming would have been setback immensely.
The Last of Us
So, we get to “The Last of Us”. The game which makes grown-men cry, which has left gamers stumbling around their living rooms aimlessly searching for the meaning of life. Our very own Eric Jackson has already dissected this title philosophically so I won’t aim to do that here. Despite all it’s incredible features and critically beloved immersion, the actual legacy of, “The Last of Us”, is very hard to figure out. Its cut-scenes and voice acting have been critically acclaimed as second to none. It’s currently the fastest selling PS3 game in the consoles history, and as we move into the next generation, I doubt anything will steal it’s thunder.
Whether Naughty Dog decides to continue this epic with a sequel is still unknown, but as for its impact upon the rest of gaming, it’s very simple. When developers want to create an immersive experience, they’ll look to this, when film directors want to interact and engage with their audience, they’ll look to this, and when gamers are deciding which adventure titles to buy in the generations to come, they’ll compare them to this.
From “Crash Bandicoot” to “The Last of Us”, Naughty Dog has given Sony something to be proud of…hell…they’ve given the games industry something to be proud of. They’ve shown us that amongst the ‘sequel eat sequel’ corporate world out there, a triple A title can still make us cry. Their story-telling, stellar casting and action-packed environments will be influencing games for years to come. So for what you’ve done up to now, and what your going to do in the future, Naughty Dog, we thank you.
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