Naughty Dog’s Second Game in 4K

Ski Crazed, 1986 Apple II – 4K CRT Footage with MiSTER FPGA | Chasing the Stick by Me on YouTube

As I figure out writing Chasing the Stick as a real life book, I have begun slowly gathering my own footage and photos of the games in as high of a quality as I can. This is why I bought and built a MiSTer FPGA console!

So a couple weeks ago, I tested recording my CRT in 4K while playing the second game published by Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin – Ski Crazed for the Apple II. I don’t know quite what to do with the footage, so rather than sit on it, I decided to upload it to YouTube and learn from some mistakes I made.

One setting I need to lock down is the ISO. I had it set to automatic, which led to the blowouts between screen transitions. Also, the audio may not be synced up properly. That’s because I was capturing the audio digitally through the MiSTer’s HDMI port, but I was not capturing the analog sound. So there wasn’t a clean way to sync the two. My apologies.

I’m not confident in the framerate selection either. My Canon EOS 90D captures 4K30. The game runs at 60fps. So do I sacrifice the frames for resolution or give up the 4K dream in favor of a more accurate framerate? I am not sure yet; after uploading and thinking about it, I am sort of leaning toward the frame rate option. We shall see!

That’s No Moon Studio Announced, Former PlayStation Devs Behind It

Game Veterans Establish New Indie Development Studio by Trilby Beresford for The Hollywood Reporter

That’s No Moon Entertainment is led by CEO Michael Mumbauer, former head of PlayStation’s Visual Arts Group. For its debut action-adventure project, the company is backed by a $100 million investment from South Korean developer Smilegate, creators of the CrossFire first-person shooter series.

I have never heard of CrossFire, but Michael Mumbauer’s name is familiar. Mumbauer was the head of PlayStation’s Visual Arts Group, which operates as a support studio. Mumbauer reportedly wanted to remake The Last of Us as a way to get Sony’s attention and pursue standing out as its own team, remaking games and creating new ones. That did not fly. Mumbauer left Sony by the end of 2020.

This is apparently what he has been up to.

There are quite a few PlayStation dev alums at That’s No Moon. Four of the 29 current team members alone are from Naughty Dog. More hail from PlayStation (possibly the Visual Arts Group itself), Sony Santa Monica, and Bend. Others come from Bungie and Activision.

My brain immediately went to what if PlayStation entered a second-party relationship with That’s No Moon, but that sort of seems farfetched, considering how Sony treated Mumbauer’s ambitions for the Visual Arts Group. Maybe if the check is big enough and That’s No Moon keeps creative control. Whatever their game becomes, we won’t see it for a long, long time.

The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook: Naughty Dog Co-President, Evan Wells

The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook: Naughty Dog Co-President, Evan Wells

Ted Price chats with Naughty Dog’s Evan Wells about his path towards the games industry, Naughty Dog’s early years, their studio culture, thoughts on leadership and studio growth, their approach to storytelling and how they’ve raised the stakes over the years.

Downloaded and ready to listen. This episode ought to be good.

PlayStation’s Blockbuster Garden

Sony’s Obsession With Blockbusters Is Stirring Unrest Within PlayStation Empire – Bloomberg: by Jason Schreier for Bloomberg

Interesting article to kick start the day. Never a dull moment with Schreier’s reporting.

Sony’s focus on exclusive blockbusters has come at the expense of niche teams and studios within the PlayStation organization, leading to high turnover and less choice for players. Last week, Sony reorganized a development office in Japan, resulting in mass departures of people who worked on less well-known but acclaimed games such as Gravity Rush and Everybody’s Golf. The company has informed developers that it no longer wants to produce smaller games that are only successful in Japan, Bloomberg has reported.

The practical shutdown of Japan Studio was surprising initially. Then Sony confirmed that Team Asobi, those responsible for the highly impactful and successful Astro Bot games was remaining intact. Sony is looking at the numbers, cutting costs by trimming the fat, and leaning into teams and products that generate huge returns on their investment.

That comes off cold and calculated, especially when games can be artistic, quirky, and so on. Sony has contributed to the indie and smaller game scene for decades. It feels strange to see them making bigger swings like this.

But maybe this should not be strange or surprising. Back in 2019, Hermen Hulst was officially promoted to the head of Worldwide Studios and Shuhei Yoshida was put in charge on an indie developer initiative. Yoshida is in charge of courting indie developers and bringing great games to the PlayStation 4 & 5. It seems clear now (hindsight is 20/20) that Sony would break-up their smaller studios from making smaller games to being support studios for their larger teams. Sony is moving their indie and smaller games to external partners and focusing their internal studio budget on their global money makers: the games and studios that bring and keep folks in the PlayStation ecosystem. Even the line between studios is blurred with the branding of PlayStation Studios now.

… [Bend] tried unsuccessfully to pitch a [Days Gone] sequel that year, according to people familiar with the proposal. Although the first game had been profitable, its development had been lengthy and critical reception was mixed, so a Days Gone 2 wasn’t seen as a viable option.

Instead, one team at the studio was assigned to help Naughty Dog with a multiplayer game while a second group was assigned to work on a new Uncharted game with supervision from Naughty Dog.

The time between Bend’s previous game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Days Gone was seven years. Even with Days Gone being profitable, it makes sense to have them help produce two games that will, arguably, be more profitable in a shorter window of time. Naughty Dog cranks out hit after hit, even in the face of intense crunch, and has for years. Exploring crunch and its impact is definitely more Schreier’s wheelhouse and I’ve written about Naughty Dog’s own practices during the PS4 generation. It sounds like having dedicated support teams could help alleviate crunch on some level, helping keep the output and quality consistent, leading to more revenue.

Bend’s developers feared they might be absorbed into Naughty Dog, and the studio’s leadership asked to be taken off the Uncharted project. They got their wish last month and are now working on a new game of their own.

The folks at Bend didn’t sign up for this work though either. I am curious how long this next game will take to be developed, especially if parts of the studio are still assisting with two Naughty Dog projects.

Emphasizing big hits can also be counterproductive because sometimes games that start small can turn into massive successes. In 2020, Sony didn’t put much marketing muscle behind the quirky video game creation system Dreams, by the PlayStation-owned Media Molecule in the U.K. As a result, PlayStation may have missed out on its own version of Roblox, a similar video game tool. Parent company Roblox Corp. went public earlier this year and is now valued at $45 billion.

I feel like this is business-talk for the Bloomberg investment reader. This is not an apt comparison; really, it is complete conjecture. Roblox has been around since 2006. They have built an audience and a product for 15 years before going public. I don’t see Dreams as a one and done style game and tool for development. I’ve been talking about PlayStation getting into the game engine business and Dreams is an essential part to that plan, I believe. Shuhei Yoshida has even talked about a “decade of Dreams.” Sure, talk and action are to different elements to game development and promotion. Dreams did/does have plans to be brought over to PS5 and PC with features to export creations from Dreams. Roblox wasn’t built in a day.

In theory, this [remaking The Last of Us] would be a less expensive proposition than remaking Uncharted, since The Last of Us was more modern and wouldn’t require too many gameplay overhauls. Then, once Mumbauer’s group had established itself, it could go on to remake the first Uncharted game and other titles down the road.

It sounds like they wanted to be Sony’s first party remake studio, at least at first. I predicted this year that Sony would buy Bluepoint Games. I still think that is a possibility and should happen. In the long run, it could be cheaper to buy the best remake studio in the business than develop one from the ground up internally. Microsoft certainly thinks it is cheaper to buy prominent studios in the long run.

“The people funding the work are often risk-averse, and if they have to pick between a team that’s done it before, and someone trying to do it on their own for the first time, I can see why some people pick the prior developer over the latter,” [Dave Lang] said.

Makes sense to me.

Mumbauer’s project, code-named T1X, was approved on a probationary basis, but Sony kept the team’s existence a secret, and refused to give them a budget to hire more people, leading many to wonder if the company was really committed to letting the team build a new studio.

I imagine that “T1X” stood for Thing 1 X. “Thing” was the codename for The Last of Us, so T1 makes sense. “X” is a cool letter to use and could stand for “remake” or anything really.

He thought the remake project was too expensive, according to people familiar with the matter, and asked why the planned budget for T1X was so much higher than remakes Sony had made in the past. The reason was that this one was on a brand new graphical engine for the PlayStation 5.

New game engines are expensive. Hideo Kojima had to shop around for an engine after leaving Konami. He settled on Guerrilla Game’s Decima engine, which took years and money to build. It’s also a widely adaptable engine. As for Naughty Dog, their engine is proprietary. If Sony wanted to remake The Last of Us, it would make sense to use an established engine, rather than build one from scratch, especially when comparing costs to previous projects. Sony’s own remakes were sometimes upscales of PSP games.

Release of The Last of Us Part II had been pushed to 2020 from 2019 and Naughty Dog needed the Visual Arts Service Group to polish it off. Most of Mumbauer’s team, along with some of the 200 or so other staff at the Visual Arts Service Group, was assigned to support Naughty Dog, slowing down progress on its own game.

The Visual Arts Service Group’s main job sounds like it is to be support and wrap-up on projects across Sony’s disciplines. Mumbauer seemed to want to change that, but their first priority would have been to provide support. It makes building your own team, engine, and game all that much more difficult. Really playing against a stacked deck.

Sony sent word that after the completion of The Last of Us Part II, some people from Naughty Dog would help out with T1X. Mumbauer’s team saw this as their short-lived autonomy being stripped. Dozens of Naughty Dog staff were joining the project, and some had actually worked on the original The Last of Us, giving them more weight in discussions about T1X’s direction. The game was moved under Naughty Dog’s budget, which Sony gave more leeway than the Visual Arts Service Group.

Not to sound like a broken record, but this, again, makes sense. It strikes me as more efficient. Naughty Dog made both games, just coming off the sequel. Naughty Dog transitioned their game engine to the new platform early from the  PS3 to the PS4. They did it with The Last of Us last time! This could likely be cheaper for Sony, giving them even more of a return on their investment.

But those who had wanted independence were disappointed. By the end of 2020, most of the T1X team’s top staff had left, including Mumbauer and the game’s director, David Hall. Today, the T1X project remains in development at Naughty Dog with assistance from Sony’s Visual Arts Support Group. The future of the remainder of Mumbauer’s team, which has come to be jokingly referred to as Naughty Dog South, remains unclear.

Their disappointment is understandable and human. I am empathetic toward it. I’ve had my share of projects and visions get pulled out from under me. This group of people had an idea they were passionate about with a new direction to move forward in. Their owner, unfortunately, did not agree with the cost of that vision. It did become a “stay here and keep supporting” or leave situation. Some folks left, hopefully finding the independence they wanted.

This mixture of passion and finances makes decisions like this feel cold. Sony has a whacky legacy with some truly great, small games. As the cost of development skyrockets and broader appeal becomes more necessary to make returns, I can’t blame them for cutting costs by shutting down studios. Hopefully, it is a strategy that pays off. If making more blockbuster games brings in more customers which equals more money, then Sony could create more indie partnerships through Yoshida’s initiative: A rising tide lifts all ships scenario.

Microsoft is raising their tide by buying up elite studios and creating recurring revenue with Game Pass on a monthly basis. It’s consistent and dependable. Heck, I converted to Game Pass Ultimate before the Xbox Series X launched with 2 1/2 years. In the rough year I’ve had the service, I have played one game off Game Pass. When my subscription is up, they hope I stay on board and continue the trend of paying them, whether or not I actually play the games. This plan for revenue allows Microsoft to make more deals, take smaller risks more often, likely giving their teams more opportunities for creative freedom. Microsoft is also not afraid to shut a project down.

Sony is bringing their games to PC and even Xbox! Bringing their huge, extremely popular titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, MLB The Show, and Days Gone to other platforms helps diversify and increase their income while focusing on making more of those huge titles.

Sony is also leveraging their film making department and relationships to expand their video game IP to wider audiences. HBO is taking a crack at The Last of Us. Ghost of Tsushima just had a movie announced with some of the people from John Wick. The Uncharted movie is still slated for release this year. These partnerships bring more folks into these blockbuster game properties, hopefully bringing in more people to play these games on PlayStation.

Deals like Game Pass or Sony’s Indie Initiative take time to see the fruits of their labor. Game Pass is easier to see now that those fruits are becoming ripe and ready for folks to eat. Sony’s may take similar amounts of time. I genuinely hope these plans and moves pay out. Not only for my own selfish fan desires, but because I can see it lending great opportunity to foster external, new talent. Or Sony is batting down the hatches, closing off their garden, and the fruits will begin to wither away. Either way, it’s going to take time to find out.

Cutting the Hair: The History of Neil Druckmann’s Hair during the PS4 Era

A silver-foxed lining of staying at home in 2020 is that folks around the world are growing out their hair in pursuit of the “man bun.” While the idea of having a man bun is a fantasy for some, one man in the video game industry has been in leveling up his hair stat for over seven years: Neil Druckmann.

Continue reading “Cutting the Hair: The History of Neil Druckmann’s Hair during the PS4 Era”

Part IV: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Welcome to Part IV of Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era.

I decided to break-up the six parts of my history into individual episodes as well, for more choice for you, the listener. This episode dives into the rapid, slammed development of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. From pre-production to release in just 15 months, The Lost Legacy is a marvel to explore. I hope you enjoy.

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Part III: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Welcome to Part III of Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era.

I decided to break-up the six parts of my history into individual episodes as well, for more choice for you, the listener. This episode is all about the non-stop development of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I also dig into how the team designed Nathan Drake’s final game. I hope you enjoy.

Continue reading “Part III: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End”

Part II: The Last of Us

Welcome to Part II of Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era.

I decided to break-up the six parts of my history into individual episodes as I decided to break-up the six parts of my history into individual episodes as well, for more choice for you, the listener. This episode discusses how Naughty Dog managed developing for two console generations, as well as how much of an impact The Last of Us had for the studio. I hope you enjoy.

Continue reading “Part II: The Last of Us”

Charting Naughty Dog’s Metacritic Scores

With The Last of Us Part II finally released, I decided to make more charts. I did a few within Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era and also did one about the time between announcement and release. Now with the highly anticipated sequel’s reviews published, I thought now would be a great time to look at the studio’s Metacritic* scores since making games for PlayStation.

*Both Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back do not have Metacritic pages. Their averages were pulled from Game Rankings via Wikipedia*

*The Last of Us Part II’s score was taken on June 17, 2020. This may change since the game is newly released *

I colored the charted by console generation then placed the pertinent game logo on each bar. The lowest score is 76 with Jak X: Combat Racing, which happens to be the first game at Naughty Dog that current Vice President Neil Druckmann worked on before going onto Uncharted. They have two titles tied for the highest score of 96; both Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and The Last of Us Part II.

Their average score (out of all these averages) is 88.94%. They have not had a game below 80 since 2007, with 6 out of the 9 games released since then being in the 90s.


Now that I’ve actually beaten The Last of Us Part II, if I scored reviews, I’d agree with the 10/10 reviews. I haven’t read or watched any yet: I wanted to keep my head clean and clear so I can come up with my own take as I write my own review.

How Chasing the Stick was Made

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.

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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”