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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Naughty Dog
GENRE: Platformer
December 04, 2001
Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier


Jak X: Combat Racing

Jak 3

More in this Series
 Written by John Scalzo  on June 06, 2002


Warp back to the late nineties when Playstation was the leading console and the hottest games on the system were overbearing store shelves. Among the lineup, you're sure to see the instantly recognizable presence of Crash Bandicoot, who many have considered the unofficial mascot of the 32-bit system. Before this time, its developer was unknown to the gaming public, however Naughty Dog and its Crash run took the videogame scene to new heights over the years and even met the eyes of Nintendo's beloved Miyamoto. Along with its transition to develop for Playstation 2, Naughty Dog decided to start fresh, ending its three-year relationship with Crash Bandicoot and moving on. Despite this decision the Crash series did move onto the Playstation 2, but in the hands of Universal Interactive.

Once again proving its studio has that creative edge, even in the next-generation, Naughty Dog has released another original idea starring two new platform heroes named Jak and Daxter. Recently, Gaming Target was able to interview Naughty Dog's president, co-founder and lead artist/animator, Jason Rubin, as well as designer Dan Arey to talk about its latest videogame offering and the company's development.

GT: You guys really took 32-bit gaming by storm with your Crash Bandicoot series. What were your goals for the current gaming generation with Jak and Daxter?

Jason Rubin (JR): We wanted to bring the character action genre forward. In the past, you had to choose between an action game or an adventure game. At the end of an action game like Mario64, Crash, Spyro, or Banjo Kazooie, you thought "wow that was fun, I have numb thumbs and I was challenged all the way through but there wasn't much rhyme or reason to what I did, and I don't have a feeling that there was a world out there so much as a bunch of levels strung together.? At the end of an adventure game like Zelda64 or Final Fantasy, on the other hand, you thought "what a great world. I am totally immersed. But I wasn't really challenged along the way... I just sort of walked through.? Jak and Daxter is an attempt to bring the best of both worlds together so you say, "Wow, that was a good story, a cool world, and totally immersive. . .and I was challenged the entire time." Jak and Daxter is an "action/adventure" game in the truest sense.

GT: Jak and Daxter has been met with open arms by the gaming community. What parts of the game are you particularly pleased with the final results of?

Dan Arey (DA): Certainly the open, no loading environment was a success. The controls, coded by Andy Gavin, we felt were once again tight and responsive. We were especially pleased with the hard work of the Art staff to make the cutscene animations so compelling. These were also enhanced by the quality of the voice acting. As for the game design, the open-ended system always gave choices to the player. If they were stuck on one part of the game, there were always other things for them to do or explore. All in all, we were pleased with how the game environment just seemed to open up to the player, while being a fun place to visit, and the more people played, the more they came to know the world as their own.

GT: If I'm not mistaken, the programming language you developed for J&D allows you to access all of the extra processors that the PS2 sports. What advantages have you found with this direct access to the unconventional hardware?

JR: You don't drive a sports car with an automatic shifter. You get a manual transmission so that you can get every last bit out of the engine. That is our theory with video game hardware. We did the same thing on the PlayStation, and we would have done the same thing on the GameCube or the Xbox. It is the correct way to do things.

GT: How has Sony's acquisition of Naughty Dog affected your game development process? What are some advantages to working with the powerful company rather than say, if you were a third party developer?

JR: There haven't been any large changes since Naughty Dog became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment America. The synergy just works. We have worked with the same group for six years now, so things are really in autopilot.

GT: You spent several years working with the Crash characters. What was it like going back to square one of character creation?

DA: It was exciting, and exhilarating to start exploring a new universe. Don't get me wrong, we loved the Crash universe and cast of characters, and they will always have a special place in our heart, but down to the last person at Naughty Dog, we knew it was time to make a change to something fresh. The future of gaming was changing, and that required a new cast of characters, and new worlds to build, which would take advantage of those changes. We wanted to age it up a bit. We wanted to have characters interacting with broader, yet related, themes. We wanted a larger cast of characters. It was a tough road to start over. You should see the Mountain of sketches Bob Rafei and the art group went through to get to the essence of our new cast. But like a sculptor intent on revealing the form hidden inside the marble, we kept chipping away until we found and fell in love with the new characters within.

GT: Daxter is a very outspoken character. Where did the inspiration for him come from?

DA: Side-kicks have a long and glorious tradition. (I think they even have a union, Side-Kicks and Character Foils - Local #151) Seriously though, there were many sidekick archetypes that inspired us, but a few on the short list included Mushu (from ?Mulan?), Abu and the Genie (from ?Aladdin?), and Zini (the side-kick lemur from ?Dinosaur?). They were all inspirational in their own way. Oh, and that little bit of Daffy Duck in us all! :-)

GT: Since 1994, Naughty Dog has really become established as a developer of platform games. What other game genres would you like to explore somewhere down the road?

JR: Who knows. For now, we have more to do in the action genre.

GT: Is the primary drive behind your development to make a game that you want to play or to make a game that you think others will want to play?

DA: We play games. We love games! We also know that there are realities to this marketplace. I've seen plenty of "projects" where the developers were adamant about making "their own game first." Often it leads to a convoluted, multi-year "life-style" project with no release date, or worse it grows into something more about great egos than about great gameplay. Naughty Dog approaches this chicken/egg paradox differently. We know and research our audience exhaustively. Focus testing is a major aspect of development and a high priority of ours. We also understand that there is a diverse gaming public out there, and we try to make games that fit a broad market of tastes. And we KNOW, above all, it absolutely MUST be fun!

Believe me, if it isn't fun, we are the first to know it! So the short answer is, we make games that we think other people will want to play, but we know it is vital that we infuse our own love of gaming and passion for good gameplay into each and every bit.

GT: What is your reaction to The Wrath of Cortex, the first Crash title not developed by you? Is it weird to see someone else handling your characters?

JR: Some companies feel that developers are cogs in the video game development process. You can take one out and replace it with any other. I think that Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex proves that theory wrong. The new developer didn't push the franchise forward and, in my opinion, they didn't even come close to the experience of our last platformer, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. They did, however, make the load times 10 times longer.

GT: In jumping from PS one to PlayStation 2 with Jak and Daxter, what interesting benefits do you find in working with the new system for the first time?

JR: The benefits abound. From a load free world of 50 million plus polygons, to 40 minutes of character animation (in five languages), to expanded resolution and graphic touches, to better physics and AI. It is sort of like asking: "After selling your Yugo and buying a Ferrari, did you notice any improvement on the racetrack?"

GT: Finally, we have the question of the day: What does the future hold for Naughty Dog?

JR: Only time will tell. More action-adventure games certainly, but we are figuring things out for ourselves right now. Stay tuned.

Final Word
Judging from our not
one but two reviews of Jak & Daxter, Naughty Dog has proven itself more than next-gen worthy in developing one of the greatest platforms to release on Playstation 2. We have high hopes for the company's future development in the gaming world and thank Jason Rubin and Dan Arey for the time they spent answering our questions.

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