Exploring Development Time for Naughty Dog’s PlayStation Catalog

While writing Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era, I noticed that Naughty Dog has not had an unannounced project since Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Shortly after Uncharted 3’s release, The Last of Us was announced. Then Uncharted was teased for PS4 alongside The Last of Us: Left Behind’s trailer. Then the studio confirmed DLC for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End before its release in May 2016. That DLC turned into Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, which was revealed alongside The Last of Us Part II. For nearly a decade, the public has had some inclination of what Naughty Dog is working on.

I thought it’d be interesting to explore the length of time between announcement and release for Naughty Dog’s games that I cover in Chasing the Stick. Then I thought why not include all the PS3 generation titles. Then I just decided to do every Naughty Dog PlayStation title. There is quite the range…

Some factors that played into how I came to these numbers:

  • These numbers are not indicative of total development time. It’s purely reflective of the time from public announcement to public release.
  • As far as I could tell, every game up until Jak 3 was announced at E3, typically the year of its release. This naturally creates a shorter period of time.
  • For those E3 reveals, I simply chose the first day of E3 that particular year. Locking in a specific reveal date became much easier the closer we got to the mid 2000s.

From the PS1 generation through the PS2 generation, Naughty Dog was consistent at shorter turnarounds post-announcement. It wouldn’t be until the PS3 with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune that the time to release would more than double. The choice to completely recreate their game engine for the PS3 alongside the learning curve of the hardware itself obviously lent itself to this increase. Naughty Dog was doing something they had never attempted before.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception have much shorter turnarounds, presumably due to fitting into a groove, having an engine in place, and a focus on where to take the game instead of trying to actually build the game. Looking at Uncharted 3 next to The Last of Us can give us a rough idea of overall development time though. Both games began their development at the same time since the studio split into two teams after Uncharted 2. New IP on the PS3 took an extraordinary amount of time compared to PS1 and PS2 development.

The sudden drop in time is The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4. Naughty Dog used this as a project to port their engine over to the PS4 from the PS3, instead of recreating an engine just for the PS4. This project was announced not long before release, which gives it the lowest date range out of all Naughty Dog’s titles.

The PS4 was a generation where Naughty Dog was completely transparent about what they were working on. They may not have kept fans up-to-date regularly, but there was never a question of what game the studio was working on. Due to this transparency, the range in days once again nearly doubled. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was riddled with challenges during development. While not reinventing the Uncharted franchise, the team did have to beef up their engine and create entirely new elements, assets, and mechanics. This was no ordinary sequel like Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 were.

On the flip side, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was like Uncharted 2 & Uncharted 3 in the sense that the elements, assets, and mechanics were mostly there. This allowed the team to create a game in nearly one third of the time.

And now for The Last of Us Part II. This game has an odd accumulation of factors. It’s a new console generation sequel, like Uncharted 4 was to the PS3 trilogy. Unlike The Lost Legacy, it appears that most of these assets were made specifically for The Last of Us Part II. The sequel was also revealed the same night as The Lost Legacy, so when that development demanded more of the Naughty Dog team, work on The Last of Us Part II slowed. The Last of Us Part II also has the advantage of any previous development lessons learned so far in the PS4 generation. The game also seems to embrace the widest design of a Naughty Dog game yet. The bigger the game, the more time it should take.

This exploration of development didn’t make it into Chasing the Stick—I just thought of it this morning. But I thought it’d be a fun thing to dig into before I publish my full history this Friday, June 5. I go over Naughty Dog’s entire history from 2013 to today, talking about their developmental timelines, work place practices, and leadership changes while sprinkling in my own editorial thoughts and comments. I am stoked to share it all with you very soon.

For the record, from announcement to publication, Chasing the Stick will be 74 days.