Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era

I’ve always had an inclination toward Naughty Dog and their games. I first saw the Crash Bandicoot games around 2001-02 as a first or second grader at a neighbor’s house. I was a Nintendo kid growing up, but I liked going over to their house just to play Crash. I thought Crash was cool. Around that same time, the Jak and Daxter games were also being released. I mooched a PS2  off a different neighbor to play bits and pieces of that series. I’d also be introduced to other PlayStation classics like Sly Cooper and Kingdom Hearts. It was my early indoctrination into the PlayStation Nation. I’d finally get my own PS2 second-hand around 2007. The first games I bought were from those three series.

The next Naughty Dog game I’d catch a glimpse of would alter my attention toward the studio from a passerby to an active seeker. Probably around 2009, I saw a demo kiosk for a PS3 and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves inside a Target. I remember the demo vividly: It was the first section when you arrive in Nepal. A massive armored truck chases you down an alley while you run and shoot at its grill and engine. At the end of the alley, when I felt like I was running low on ammo, the truck burst into flames and I escaped. But I didn’t really do those things, the character (who I didn’t know at the time), Nathan Drake, did them: I just controlled it. I think a connection was made then and there. Instead of using a cutscene, Naughty Dog games let me control the action and the story unlike anything I had experienced before.

From then on I was trying to get my hands on a PS3 and was acutely aware of Naughty Dog’s next game. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was incoming and I could not wait. The reveal demo of the burning Chateau blew my mind. I wouldn’t get my own PS3 until Christmas 2011, bundled with Uncharted 3. I played the first few opening chapters before putting the game down, determined to play the series in order. I borrowed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune from a neighbor on Christmas Day. I played the entire game in one sitting the next day with my PS3 hooked up to my CRT television: I wasn’t even playing in HD! I’d then go out and buy Uncharted 2 and then finally play Uncharted 3.

A few weeks prior to that Christmas, on December 10, 2011, the Spike Video Game Awards revealed Naughty Dog’s next gameThe Last of Us. Leading into the awards, other teasers were dropped like breadcrumbs. I remember watching the cordyceps fungus video and seeing the cracked newspaper casing. I was hooked from the get-go, before Naughty Dog was even attached to the game. Finally having my own PS3 just a couple weeks later, I was eagerly anticipating The Last of Us. I went on a total media blackout for it, even hiding my eyes and plugging my ears during the trailer at movie theaters.

Naughty Dog was my reason to own a PS3. I remember reviews for The Last of Us dropped on my birthday in 2013. Reading Colin Moriarty’s 10/10 review on IGN was like unwrapping a birthday present. The game launched just over a week later on June 14, 2013. It is a time I will never forget.

I think the powerful allure of Naughty Dog games comes down to their uncanny ability to intertwine gameplay and storytelling. A saying that I’ve probably heard before, but it never clicked until writing this story, is “telling it on the stick.” Simply put, it is a design decision to tell as much of the story via gameplay as possible. Using the joysticks before text boxes or cutscenes to tell the narrative. This actively puts the player in the shoes of the character, creating a unique, empathetic bond. It clicks with players on an emotional level. It certainly has with me.

As The Last of Us Part II nears its release on June 19, 2020, I had an idea to write a history/editorial on the game. I had done so for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate; this seemed like a logical next history piece for me. I love looking back, gathering context, and analyzing how a game came to be. I find it educational and helpful to provide that information all in one place. My eagerness and drive quickly got the better of me.

What started out as an idea to explore the history of The Last of Us Part II has (in a Naughty Dog-like fashion) turned into something more ambitious than I anticipated. I want to take a look at Naughty Dog’s PS4 legacy; analyze their game design, explore their developmental history, and compile it all in one place. The Last of Us Part II didn’t just happen out of thin air. It is a sum of years of hard work, lessons learned, and the tireless pursuit of perfectionism.

Continue reading “Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era”

The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era

Welcome to the audiobook version of Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era.

What started out as an idea to explore the history of The Last of Us Part II has (in a Naughty Dog-like fashion) turned into something more ambitious than I anticipated. I want to take a look at Naughty Dog’s PS4 legacy; analyze their game design, explore their developmental history, and compile it all in one place. The Last of Us Part II didn’t just happen out of thin air. It is a sum of years of hard work, lessons learned, and the tireless pursuit of perfectionism.

How did Naughty Dog actually pull it off though? What lessons did they learn, implement, and explore on the PS4? What did it cost their team, both personally and professionally? How has their PS4 catalog defined the studio in a way no previous generation has?

Chasing the Stick is also available online at MaxFrequency.net and as an e-book. Check out the links below to download your preferred format for free.

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Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era

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ePub
Mobi
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Charts

Sony First Party Releases
Sony First Party Metacritic Scores
Sony First Party Metacritic Averages
Sony First Party Metacritic Averages with Three or More Releases

Sources

Raindrop.io Bookmark Folder with all cited sources

You may reach out to me on Twitter @MaxRoberts143 or via e-mail at max@maxfrequency(dot)net

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.

Chasing the Stick Announcement Trailer

Update (06/05/2020): It is live.

Chasing the Stick is the story of video game developer Naughty Dog. It tells how they make their games with the unified goal of telling the story on the joystick. From The Last of Us to the PS5, Chasing the Stick tells the story of one of the video game industry’s most renowned and prolific developers.

Direct Download – Apple Podcasts – Google Podcasts – SpotifyOvercastCastroPocket Casts – RSS Feed

A couple of months ago at the end of March 2020, I announced this new project called Chasing the Stick. It would be the definitive history of Naughty Dog and their time working on the PlayStation 4. Covering the years 2013-2020, I have researched, analyzed, and critiqued the catalog that Naughty Dog has developed within one console generation. My transcription skills have gotten pretty good, if I do say so myself.

The end of the project is in sight. I plan to click the publish button on June 5, 2020. I chose that date for two reasons: It happens to be two weeks before the release of The Last of Us Part II and it also happens to be my birthday.

Chasing the Stick has turned into more than a lengthy editorial for my website. I have also turned it into an e-book and audiobook. It has been completely self-produced and published.

It will also be entirely free.

You will be able to download the e-book as a .epub or .mobi file. These can be added to your phone or Kindle reader quite easily. The audiobook will be available as a podcast through major podcast providers and as a direct download. I narrated the entire audiobook. It is the same experience no matter where you read (or listen) to Chasing the Stick. Everything will be available on MaxFrequency.net.

Chasing the Stick is part essay, part research, part history, part editorial, and part critical analysis. It is a celebration of my favorite video game developer. I’ve channeled all my excitement and energy for The Last of Us Part II into this story over the past four months. I cannot wait to share this all with you.

Announcing Chasing the Stick

I’ve been writing the history of Naughty Dog during the PS4 era. It is far and away the largest editorial I have ever written. I’ve been working on it for a month now (two months if you count replaying the Uncharted series in my research) and still have another two to go, if The Last of Us Part II releases on time in May. I’ve wigged out my pal Logan by sharing the ever increasing word count.

It started out as “I should write a history on The Last of Us Part II.” Not an entirely foreign format for myself: I wrote a history on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and one for Super Smash Bros. before Ultimate released. I love chronicling and researching games. I’ve been doing it since I made Power Points to convince my parents I was old enough to play Zelda and Pokémon.

My curiosity swelled my ambition. So it has turned into a history, analysis, and commentary on my all-time favorite game studio and their development during the years 2013-2020. I can’t wait to share it with you around the time The Last of Us Part II releases. Thanks.