This project expanded so fast that I think it never would have seen the light of day if I had planned out all this scope from the get go. What started out as an idea to just chronicle the history of one game turned into the history of four. I wish I had kept track of the time I spent on Chasing the Stick. I replayed Uncharted 2 through The Lost Legacy. I earned the platinum trophy in both The Lost Legacy and The Last of Us. All of the gameplay alone has to be around 100 hours. If playing games doesn’t really count in your book, then I know I spent months waking up early to work on the story before having to go to work. Researching articles, listening to interviews, watching documentaries, writing, rewriting, reading drafts out loud, editing, creating assets. I have easily spent hundreds of hours making this project come to life. I don’t say all this to brag: I think it is just super rad.
I wanted to share a behind-the-scenes post about the making of Chasing the Stick. I share all the apps I used, the locations I worked in, the tools I used, and creative decisions I made to make it a reality. Hopefully it answers any questions you may have.
Why write all this?
I sort of briefly explain it in the preface of the story, but I’ve always had a drive to do tons of research and then present that information in some sort of package. I made Keynote presentations to convince my parents I was old enough for Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda. I’d fill up physical folders of printouts and research. I have fun doing it!
Why record an audio version?
When the scope of Chasing the Stick became more clear, I asked Abby if she’d be willing to read through it and offer her thoughts/comments. When she struggled to get past the beginning of Uncharted 4’s section, I knew this would be a lot to read for people.
While I love long-form stories, it has become a harder and harder product to have people engage with. Videos and podcasts have transformed the video game coverage I grew up on. I know producing an audio version would be a much easier thing for people to consume and engage with.
Why publish it now? The PS4 era is not over yet.
All in the timing of the release of The Last of Us Part II. I went back-and-forth on whether to release this story before or after the game’s release. Heck, I think Naughty Dog’s next game will be revealed later this year. But I know the conversation will be at its peak around this game’s release. So I figured my story had the best chance of reaching people now instead of this Fall or Winter when the PS5 is released.
Will you update the story throughout the year?
No plans to do that. If I ever update this story, it would likely be as a second or expanded edition.
Why not cover all of Naughty Dog’s history?
That work has pretty much been done already. I recommended quite a few histories already produced about Naughty Dog in the recommended reading and viewing section of my own story. There’s not much else I can add to that conversation without speaking to the developers and people that were there during those times. Maybe some day.
Why give it away for free?
I’ve had a few people actually ask me this one. I just wanted to share this story and my work on it. I felt that way from the beginning. I wanted to make the definitive history of Naughty Dog during the PS4 era. I wanted to make the best audiobook and e-book I could. I did that. That’s enough for me.
It took a lot of tools to make this come to life too. I always enjoy reading about what tools people use to make their work a reality, both to look into for myself or to simply learn about their creative process. I wanted to offer that kind of resource for Chasing the Stick as well.
Below you will find a list of all the apps, tools, and set-ups I used to make Chasing the Stick. There will be some sort of description of how I used each bit, along with some ancillary story about the creative process. I’ll provide links to what I can. Hopefully, this can help you make something too.
The proverbial dumping ground for ideas, questions, and ramblings. Super handy when lying in bed and a sentence that would be just perfect pops in your brain before drifting off. Having it sync between my phone and my laptop was handy. Here is an image of the notes, if you are curious.
Audio Hijack by Rogue Amoeba is an audio app for Mac that uses dark magic. It allows you to record any audio from any app, source, etc. in a clear and clean interface. It has long been in my sights and I finally bought it on sale last year. If you need to manipulate audio on a Mac, there is no other choice.
Forecast was the spark to record Chasing the Stick as an audiobook/podcast. It makes chapter markers, chapter art, and links within .mp3 files a breeze for podcasts. It is a Mac app that is beta, but is used by plenty of podcasters that I listen to. It is a focused app that gets the job done quickly and efficiently.
iTube Downloader is a Mac app that makes downloading YouTube videos a breeze. I used it to download video and audio from interviews, documentaries, and more. It definitely helped taking audio and then adding it to my podcast app so I could listen during my 2+ hour commute.
Logic Pro X is Apple’s pro audio application. It came bundled with my copy of Final Cut Pro X through the student bundle. Logic is certainly overkill for my audio editing needs. I had never used it before though and took this project as an opportunity to learn some of the basics with the application.
MarsEdit is the app I use to draft and upload posts to Max Frequency. I find the interface is much cleaner than WordPress’ backend and I try to spend as little time fiddling around with that as possible.
It certainly is no Microsoft Excel, but Numbers makes better looking charts.
Overcast (w/ Premium Subscription)
Overcast is my podcast player of choice. Besides giving me the layout and settings I prefer for actually listening to podcasts, as a premium subscriber, I can upload my own audio files to the server and listen on my phone. This made listening to those ripped YouTube videos possible. It also let me test my podcast out that I whipped up in Logic and Forecast. This was much easier than trying to upload to some public podcast feed or using iTunes.
Pixelmator Pro is my image editing app of choice. It offers all the features and power I would use Photoshop for and all for a one time fee, instead of forking out $20 a month. I picked it up on sale for $20, but it is normally $40. I would happily pay $40 for it. I get all the features I want and then some.
I was able to make the logo I envisioned for Chasing the Stick and well as the e-book cover. The logo was done by using a combination of masks. It took me a while to nail the look I wanted, but I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
Raindrop.io (w/ Premium Subscription)
Raindrop was essential to creating Chasing the Stick. This cross-platform bookmark manager gave me the power to organize over 220 links, of which I actively cited and shared over 130 of them. Raindrop gave my research structure, searchability, preservation, and accessibility.
I do wish the RSS feed it made for the cited sources actually looked and ran decently on mobile browsers, which I assume most people will be on when they click the link. It looks good in the app and in a desktop browser, but the mobile version of the feed is janky.
Scrivener has been my main word processor / writing app for years. My Dad discovered it back when I was in high school. I have used it to write every single IGN wiki guide that I worked on, news articles for DualShockers, and personal projects. It allows me to organize my writing in a way that works with my brain. It also has the ability to compile and export writing as an .epub and .mobi file, which encouraged me to try making this an e-book as well.
If Apple Notes was the dumping ground, Tot was the scratch pad. It’s a free Mac app that gives text a temporary home. I used it when transcribing quotes. A small, but mighty app that was handy.
Tweetbot is my preferred Twitter client. When news broke, there is a 99% chance I saw it on Tweetbot first.
While I solely use Tweetbot for my perusing of Twitter, I definitely used Twitter’s advanced search feature to seek out specific tweets.
WordPress is the host of Max Frequency. You are reading this thanks to WordPress! Cool!
All the actual hardware I used from my laptop to my printer/scanner combo is actually already listed on the site here.
In the beginning of this project, I did almost all my writing before work. I’ve wake up at 4:30 AM, make a cup of coffee, sit on the couch and then research, write, watch videos, and play the Naughty Dog PS4 games until I had to stop and get ready for work at 6:00 AM. That hour and a half were my favorite time of the day. I’d get to through words down on a page (digitally or physically) and get my brain thinking about this story. The foundation of this story was built then.
In the evenings and on the weekend, if I was working on Chasing the Stick, I’d do so at my desk. This became the permanent place to work once I entered the editing and review stage. I also did my audio editing at my desk. It’s a more structured location for more structured work.
I turned out closet into a recording studio. I put my 21’’ monitor on a shelf, grabbed a black metal folding chair, a small wooden TV dinner table, and mounted my microphone stand to a small wire shelving unit. I placed two nails above the door and draped a blanket over the door. I put my laptop outside the closet one another TV dinner table so that the fans would not be picked up by the mic. I did all my recording in there to make it the best I could with the equipment I own. It’s hot in there. I blame Marco Arment for the idea.
So the logo idea came to me when I was away from my notebook, so I doodled it on a post-it note. It was one of those moments where it all just clicked. The name of the story became locked in and then it was obvious that I could mirror the Naughty Dog logo styling for my own logo.
The other art of the story came much later. Near the end of the project was when I decided how to break the story into chunks and sections, specifically for the web version. After previewing the post, it clearly needed a visual break to clearly define sections in the well of text. I had been collecting concept art throughout the whole process, so they made for the perfect candidate to provide that break.
I installed an italicized version of the logo’s font and used it to stylize the text. As for choosing which art to use, I focused on finding high quality art for each game title that reflected the section. I was semi-surprised to find that my review for The Last of Us included a gallery of high-quality concept art. That’s where I found the art of parts one and two.
The art for the Uncharted 4 part is my favorite. I think it captures the madness of that game’s development. I love it.
Parts four and five were pretty easy to pick. The Lost Legacy is about Chloe and Nadine. I wanted to use the gatefold of The Lost Legacy vinyl soundtrack, but it didn’t look quite right after editing the image to remove the text and fold. So I ended up with the chosen image due to its higher resolution. The Last of Us Part II’s art was practically locked in when I saw it. I think Ellie looking off at the smoke reflects Naughty Dog looking ahead at the game’s development.
Part six for the conclusion took the longest. I originally had some concept art from The Last of Us Part II that showed fires engulfing a parking garage. That wasn’t giving me the proper pairing to the more hopeful ending I had written. It wouldn’t be until the “Inside the Details” video on May 28 that I’d find the right art. Ellie on the horse in the overgrown Seattle area, set on the right side of the frame, was the perfect counter to the rougher concept art of Joel on a horse in the forest that I had previously chosen for the introduction. From an outline to a clear picture, my history of Naughty Dog had come to be.
The epilogue was easy peasy, especially since I used the epilogue music from Uncharted 4 in the audiobook during this portion as well. Speaking of which…
The audiobook version of Chasing the Stick features three songs. They are The Last of Us (Cycles) by Gustavo Santaolalla, A Thief’s End by Henry Jackman, and Epilogue by Henry Jackman. Instead of just pulling the songs from the internet, I decided to add a more personal and analog touch to the production.
I just so happen to have the vinyl soundtracks for all those songs. Logan snagged me the E3 exclusive record for The Last of Us (Cycles) back at E3 2018. I bought the Uncharted 4 vinyl when it was released. So I hooked up a sound recorder to my record player and captured the songs. You can hear the arm click both at the beginning and the end of the audiobook. It was a fun way to add real world texture to the audiobook.
I did a buttload of searching, reading, and note taking for this story. I cracked open a small Moleskin notebook I hadn’t used and poured all my notes into it. I filled the notebook with quotes, timestamps, ideas, formatting, math, Post-It notes, and regular old-fashioned note taking. It kind of became my physical dumping ground for any idea. It allowed my to focus on videos and podcasts for notes, instead of using a phone or laptop that has apps and all sorts of distractions.
This process required a ton of coffee, reading, watching, and time. For self-editing, I went about it three different ways.
- I would simply read it in Scrivener and edit as I went along.
- I printed out the entire story and manually edited with a red pen. You see things differently when it is printed on the page.
- I would read the story out loud. Especially after I decided to pursue the audiobook/podcast route, this became essential. I try to not write like I speak, too many errors and leaps in logic can occur, but I would tweak the writing if another option sounded better and still kept the heart of the idea.
The most important editorial step was asking my pal Logan Moore to edit it. Logan and I have edited and reviewed each others work for seven or so years, but never to this scale. Logan is the Managing Editor at DualShockers. A huge part of his job is to edit and review the staff’s work. I was asking Logan to do his job, off the clock. He graciously accepted with no hesitation. Be able to bounce back and forth made the story the best it could possibly be.
I previously described the set-up , but I learned a lot from the actual process. I kept my mouth 4-6 inches away from the mic, being closer made me sound like Billie Eilish in !!!!!!!; way too keyed up. In hindsight, I probably should have tweaked my Yeti’s gain and gotten closer.
Our apartment’s A/C unit is inside by our front door. Not until it was all said and done, I realized I should have probably shut off the unit while recording. When bumping up the volume, I could hear the low hum in the background. It was the only noise consistently running throughout my recordings.
I used Audio Hijack to record the files. I’d just read sections of the story until I felt I had nailed it and would continue. I truncated the files by the sections I had created in the written story, that way I had a natural start and stop for each file. I’d trim the bad takes out and piece together the final product.
That’s all I can really think of to explore and explain. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out on Twitter @MaxRoberts143 or via email at max@maxfrequency(dot)net. If you read all this and have not read or listened to Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era, I’d love it if you gave it a look.