RetroMaster

Naughty Dog’s PS2 de­but was a whole new world

Games Master - - Contents -

This month we look back at the ori­gins of Naughty Dog with Jak And Dax­ter: The Pre­cur­sor Legacy

As stu­dios go, Naughty Dog is one of the most con­sis­tent and il­lus­tri­ous in gam­ing. Yet, at the start of the PS2 era, the stu­dio had a point to prove as it bid good­bye to Crash Bandi­coot, who started its legacy. Swap­ping one mute lead char­ac­ter who runs around a va­ri­ety of en­vi­ron­ments for an­other might have felt like a safe bet, but Jak was far more am­bi­tious than his older brother.

The ori­gin

Plans for the game be­gan in 1998, when it was dubbed ‘Project X’ and had just two pro­gram­mers work­ing on it, while the rest of the stu­dio fo­cused on ship­ping Crash Team Rac­ing. In 2000, the en­tire com­pany tran­si­tioned onto Jak And Dax­ter, in­creas­ing the team size to 36.

The team aimed for a mix of cul­tures in the game’s vis­ual de­sign, and Andy Gavin, the game’s co-cre­ator, told the PlayS­ta­tion Blog how they went about achiev­ing this: “We asked ev­ery Naughty Dog artist to spend a cou­ple of days sketch­ing con­cepts for the look of the game. We threw th­ese on a gi­ant ta­ble and picked el­e­ments we liked as a group.” This might ex­plain where the elf ears came from.

Be­cause this was Naughty Dog’s first game on PlayS­ta­tion 2, not only was the team deal­ing with new hard­ware, but Gavin also cre­ated his own pro­gram­ming lan­guage called GOAL. Ac­cord­ing to him, th­ese chal­lenges meant it took 20 months of work be­fore the game was hit­ting the stan­dard the team aimed for. For­tu­nately, it was worth the has­sle.

The leg­end

The re­sult was one of the most im­pres­sive 3D platformers of the PS2 era. Okay, there’s no deny­ing that Jak And Dax­ter’s core ideas had roots in the likes of Su­per Mario 64 or Banjo-Ka­zooie, with the sheer vol­ume of col­lect­ing trin­kets (in this case, Power Cells) you had to do. Yet what set it apart was the gor­geous – and, im­por­tantly, seam­less – world Jak could ex­plore. De­spite GTA III be­ing re­garded as the start of the 3D open-world era, Jak And Dax­ter was the first game to pos­sess a seam­less world. It’s even got the Guin­ness World Record for that. It’s not quite what you’d call a mod­ern open

De­vel­oper Naughty Dog Pub­lisher Sony Re­leased 2001 For­mat PS2 Get it PSN, eBay “THE RE­SULT WAS ONE OF THE MOST IM­PRES­SIVE 3D PLATFORMERS OF THE PLAYS­TA­TION 2 ERA”

world, with spe­cific lev­els and ar­eas which you progress through lin­early, but it was a huge step up for platformers.

There was also a sur­pris­ingly en­gag­ing story at its cen­tre, with Jak try­ing to find a way to turn his friend Dax­ter back into a hu­man, giv­ing you a pur­pose that Crash and com­pany never re­ally had. On top of that, Jak was a sprightly fella who was a joy to move (the most im­por­tant part of a plat­former, natch) and his pal Dax­ter had some sur­pris­ingly com­plex an­i­ma­tions as he perched on Jak’s shoul­ders. It felt like the step-up Naughty Dog was aim­ing for.

Yes, it was the sort of game that cherry-picked the best parts of oth­ers. But it moulded them into a pack­age that was tech­ni­cally im­pres­sive and charm­ing. It’s not hard to see why peo­ple quickly fell in love with the pair.

The legacy

Jak and Dax­ter was pretty much an in­stant suc­cess. The duo’s first ad­ven­ture was praised by re­view­ers (scor­ing a very re­spectable 85% from GM) and shifted roughly 3,640,000 copies world­wide.

It’s no sur­prise, then, that a se­quel came in the form of Jak II: Rene­gade. Yet ex­pec­ta­tions were sub­verted with a Jak who could not only talk (yay), but who was also moody (err) and could turn into a dark ver­sion of him­self (um). De­spite the darker tones be­ing very early noughties, it built on the foun­da­tions of the first game to still cap­ture imag­i­na­tions and pay­cheques. Jak 3 fol­lowed on its heels, with a wel­come Mad Max vibe, while Dax­ter got a chance to shine in his own spin-off on PSP. And

then came Jak X Com­bat Rac­ing, part of a now sadly de­funct Naughty Dog tra­di­tion of rac­ing spin-offs.

But the tem­plate Jak set – a com­pelling world with sto­ry­telling a cut above that of its peers – be­came one which Naughty Dog would closely ad­here to. Even Un­charted, with its level breaks and heav­ily scripted set-pieces, falls un­der that broad cat­e­gory, with the writ­ing ma­tur­ing along with the themes Naughty Dog ad­dressed in its games. Still, let’s hope one day it finds the time to give its yap­ping Ottsel an­other out­ing.

The game’s had shiny re­mas­ters and rere­leases on PS3 (pic­tured) and PS4 over the years.

Samos Ha­gai is the Green Sage who first sends Jak on his quest.

We can think of a few peo­ple who’d be im­proved by turn­ing into Ottsels.

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