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Naughty Dog is one of the most beloved game developers in the industry. Since 1984, the studio has delivered a steady stream of hits, including iconic franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us. But making games isn’t getting any easier, so we sat down with Naughty Dog co-presidents Evan Wells and Neil Druckmann to talk about how they’re shepherding the legacy of the studio, working to combat work crunch, and dealing with harsh criticism.
At first hearing, Naughty Dog can come across as kind of a silly name for a company. It definitely has a legacy now, but do you ever wish you could change the name?
Evan Wells: I love it. I think it’s got a great history at this point. When Jason [Rubin] and Andy [Gavin] founded the company, they were called JAM Software, which was maybe cool back in the ’80s but probably not so cool today. They were about to publish their first game with EA and they went, “There’s already a JAM Software, so you’ve got 24 hours to come up with a new name.” That’s where Naughty Dog came from. I think it works. I like the name, and I wouldn’t want to change it now.
Speaking about that legacy, Naughty Dog has had such an interesting history. It started making kid-friendly platformers and almost every project has gotten more mature. Can you talk about that progression?
Evan Wells: A lot of it comes through our staff maturing but also the industry and the medium maturing. Back when we were making Crash Bandicoot, we couldn’t conceive of making a game like the The Last of Us, it just wasn’t technically achievable. As creators we’ve grown through the years and we’ve progressed with the hardware and actually tried to stay ahead of that curve. With Crash Bandicoot, we had to have a big head with big features just so you could read the character expressions. Then when we move to PS2, we could get more detail we could go more humanoid. With the PS3, we could finally get that subtlety where you have emotion between the lines and really get the subtle facial features. Each hardware production has allowed us to delve into more interesting content.
Neil Druckmann: We have more flexibility now. Now we have the luxury of picking and choosing what style, and what kind of story, and what kind of game we want to create.
Issue 337 of Game Informer.