Unchartered Territories: Proof That A Naughty Dog Can Teach Itself New Tricks…

 

The Uncharted series is an odd beast to describe when only looking at the sum of its parts. It seems to have copied from a lot of its peers, third person action with shooting, platforming and puzzle elements, sounds familiar right? But the gameplay mechanics are not total of the sum of the Uncharted games. To me the Uncharted series is the definition of “little touches” that most videogames lack. From the believable interactions and dialogue between the characters in the game to the incidental pieces of animation that only happen once in the entire game, Naughty Dog have proven that every little thing matters when trying to get everything right to epic proportions.

 They are also the closest thing we have to an actual modern day Indiana Jones series, and I for one don’t think aHollywoodadaptation should be made. But that’s neither here nor there today (save it for a rainy day rant later on I think). Suffice to say the Uncharted series reeks of quality, and it comes as no surprise when you look at the background and backbone of where the game originated.

Started in 1986 by Andy Gavin and his best friend Jason Rubin, Naughty Dog started small with titles like Math Jam (the pairs first game in 1985 before they officially started Naughty Dog) followed by a few more titles before selling their first big one to publisher EA called “Keef the Thief”. However Naughty Dogs first major success came upon a multi-title deal with Universal Interactive, which started with a Fighting game called “Way of the Warrior” and ultimately followed by their breakthrough title, Crash Bandicoot. 

From behind and infront and not from the side...

 Crash Bandicoot will forever be remembered by gamers as a game of change and frustration. Change because it refined a genre and was a defining factor in a generation of  gaming. Frustration because it held true to that platforming traditions of intentionally frustrating gameplay. It came as no surprise to me to find out that Crash got its origins from somebody very familiar with another genre and generation defining series of the past.

It was Mark Cerny who was a producer on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 who convinced Naughty Dog that it would be wise for them to focus their efforts on creating a character based platforming game that would harness the full capabilities of the Playstation’s 3D engine. On August 31 1996Crash Bandicoot was released to the world and was a huge hit becoming the first non Japanese game to receive a “gold prize” in Japan and the sequel remains one of the highest selling Playstation titles of all time, it was just what the system needed. The genre of platforming needed it too, with it being more commonly known at the time as the 2d Platforming genre (due to lack of options really) and while some games like Jumping Flash had already come out and attempted 3D platforming on the Playstation a year before it wasn’t as refined and polished as what Naughty Dog served up. This was a kind of quality that we would come to expect from the developer as they moved ahead.

Following Crash came almost a renaissance period for platforming games outside of a Nintendo console with their stellar cast of 2D platforming games. But this was different, this was 3D!!! think of it as how FPS games are everywhere now, well  it was roughly the same principal, but two generations of console ago.

Masters of their craft...

Naughty Dog then got off the Bandicoots back before it crashed with the surprisingly awesome Crash Team Racing in 1999. Sure it was a direct bite of Mario Kart but it did what it did better than Diddy Kong Racing did. It was around this time that Sony made a move that would set them up so much further into the future, purchasing Naughty Dog off of Gavin and Rubin in January 2001. You would have to imagine both parties knew what was to come with this partnership.

The first title released after the acquisition was Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (an aptly named title for what was to come). Jak and Daxter continued the stellar platforming quality of Crash Bandicoot but now Naughty Dog had opened up their levels a lot more and one of the most memorable things about the game was its humor. Humor which was delivered by great snappy dialogue between Jak and Daxter and great voice acting to boot. This was not something that the platforming genre was known for and therefore gave the game an edge, it gave Naughty Dog somewhat of a trademark too.

Tone down the attitude, add some bravado and change the textures and who do you got?

Jak 2 and Jak 3 were both released in the years that followed, both to positive reception as Naughty Dog continued to expand on its ambitions. Jak 2 was even a semi GTA rip off with an open world and car theft mechanics. It was a little strange but Naughty Dog weren’t afraid, they had a real swagger about them by this point. At the same time Insomniac were doing their thing with the Ratchet and Clank series so the genre continued to succeed and evolve on the Playstation systems (now PS2).

Ummm, copyright much? ohh wait Naughty Dog and Insomniac like eachother its okay then...

Much the same as they did with Crash Bandicoot the last Jak and Daxter entry was a racing game in 2005, the same patterned had been followed and the last time they had done this a series more refined than the previous series was the result. I mean as far as game development goes creating games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter and rounding up the series with fairly generic gimmick racing games, it’s a pretty big precursor that a plan has been penned for something bigger. So what was it?

Sony’s eyes were on their next console by this stage, so they had all their developers gearing up for something big to help them catch up to the Xbox juggernaut. Insomniac were working on their supposed “Gears of War killer” Resistance: Fall of Man while Naughty Dog assembled their best team and were working on a title simply called “BIG”, foreshadowing exactly what was to come. Finally unveiled at E3 in 2006, Uncharted Drakes Fortune was labeled “Dude Raider” for its similarities to the Tomb Raider series, pretty clever, but game director Amy Hennig knew that the game would lose that nickname after release and be its own animal. For Naughty Dog themselves it was a huge step away from the animal and cutesy characters in their past titles, but the wit and charm remained.

Drakes first adventure... so purdy...

Drake’s Fortune was like other games but unlike anything else before it and it wasn’t because of videogame elements. It was more so because of elements not usually seen in videogames. Sharing more attributes of a summer blockbuster adventure film than it did any of its videogame brothers and sisters. Platforming mixed with gunplay with puzzle solving but done with amazing graphics, believable characters, wit, charm and style. Naughty Dog had started something here and once again it was what Sony needed. But again somebody must have known what was to come as according to Naughty Dogs co-prez Evan Wells, Uncharted was always planned to be a series. After all Naughty Dog did do series well in the past (perhaps there is a Drake’s Racing title upcoming).

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was up next and to call it perfect is not far off the mark. Taking the formula from Drakes Fortune and ramping up the action and production value was all that was really required and the review scores spoke to themselves. The game was a marvelous achievement in all areas of development and it received multiple Game of The Year awards to go along with its 96 average on Metacritic. It blew my mind each time something big would happen and I would think “this is from the guys who made Crash Bandicoot!!”

Drakes second adventure, so WOW... purdy too...

The technical achievements of the games itself with its outstanding graphics, sound and the mo-cap procedure were enough to make it worth talking about, certainly enough to make Naughty Dog – top dog in terms of innovation. Having the main actors record the mo-cap and audio at the same time and together, why hadn’t other devs thought of this before? The level of believability the cast was able to deliver is still a benchmark and is even further expanded on in Uncharted 3 (released this Thursday inAustralia). Then you had the number of “OH Sh!T” moments that had you at the edge of your seat, perfectly mimicking how Drake lives his entire life, great game design. And of course the connection you have with Nathan Drake himself… I am not ashamed to admit a slight man-crush on Mr. Drake, the guy is cool (Nolan North don’t read into that please).

The funny thing about Naughty Dog is that they were running with this kind of innovation and attention to detail from the very beginning. I think that had they had the means, Uncharted would have been the series they made that defined the PS1 or the PS2 but alas it was the PS3 that has been graced by one of the great exclusive series in gamings relatively short history. Sony saw something special in theSanta Monicadeveloper who had given them such great success and that partnership has given us Uncharted.

So... where to now Drake?

So with Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception succeeding at the “box office” what’s next for Naughty Dog? Surely not a Uncharted racer like I jested about earlier?

Demand is still high for the Uncharted series and perhaps more so than any of their previous titles. Perhaps an Uncharted 4 on the PS4? Scary for the Uncharted fans is the handing over of the keys (so to speak) to Sony Bend Studio’s for the Playstation Vita’s Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Naughty Dog have a distinct pattern and I am not saying that Golden Abyss will fail and the Uncharted series will go down the drain but it happened with Crash. Or perhaps it will be held off on for while like Evan Wells has promised Jak and Daxter have been. Perhaps a new Jak game?

I clearly don’t have any answers and am asking the same questions you all are too, but if history has anything to do with it we can be sure that this gem of a developer has more quality in store for us. Even if it is an Uncharted: Drakes Golden Racer title… Alas, Uncharted 3 Drakes Deception releases in Australia in two days time, here is the Launch Trailer for those wanting to wet there appetites before release.

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  1. November 22nd, 2011
    Trackback from : Brady Clardy
  2. November 26th, 2011
    Trackback from : Desirae Baur

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