How Does Naughty Dog Continue To Outshine All Other Studios?

Nathan Drake is an icon and he'll never be forgotten.

Nathan Drake is an icon and he’ll never be forgotten.

Video game development isn’t easy. Anybody who has participated in the process can tell you that, and most will add that the stress involved is a huge hurdle. It’s not often that we see a perfect storm, where a team has the right amount of talent, resources and dedication to create a truly memorable product.

And yet, Naughty Dog has been doing it for a very long time and for some reason, they continue to be head-and-shoulders ahead of the competition.

It’s not that one or two of the Uncharted entries were excellent; hell, it’s not even that all were excellent. It’s the fact that each one raised the bar in our industry. Every time a new installment showed up, we had to reassess and recalculate; we started comparing all other games to Nathan Drake’s latest adventure. We saw things in those titles we wished we saw in other productions. We yearned for that level of quality and polish in other games sitting on store shelves.

Another masterful production, Uncharted 4 reset the bar.

Another masterful production, Uncharted 4 reset the bar.

I hope gamers have some inkling of just how difficult this is to do. And let’s not forget that it goes beyond Uncharted, as The Last Of Us was another absolutely masterful effort. The amazing twist is that it wasn’t merely Uncharted in a new skin; it wasn’t as if the studio said, “let’s just make a new IP that is kinda like a Drake clone.” See, that would’ve been easy. But Naughty Dog doesn’t do cheap and easy. The result was a game that was closer to survival/horror than a slam-bang action game like Uncharted, and we still got one of the best titles ever created.

On top of all this, it seems like nothing can stop this developer. Early last year, we started hearing about key members leaving the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End team. We’re not talking about assistants and secretaries; we’re talking about managers and directors. Typically, when this kind of thing happens, projects are entirely derailed or, in some cases, flat-out canceled. The latter wasn’t going to happen, of course, but let’s not forget that this mini exodus of sorts did have an impact on development time. Voice actor Nolan North said Amy Hennig’s departure resulted in a delay of “at least 8 months,” for example.

A very different type of game and yet, it was another amazing masterpiece.

A very different type of game and yet, it was another amazing masterpiece.

This is the kind of news that puts people on edge. And for me, when I heard they were adopting a more “open” structure for the game, I was petrified. The adventure’s linearity is part of what makes this franchise great, and to cow-tow to the deeply entrenched idiocy that says “open-world is just superior” would’ve been a grave mistake. Now, I knew they wouldn’t turn Uncharted into Grand Theft Auto but if Uncharted 4 was too open, I do believe it wouldn’t have worked. It would’ve had a seriously negative impact on the pacing and storytelling, and that, I just can’t handle.

But again, Naughty Dog impressed by not giving us an open world, per se, but by simply giving the player a few more options. There was still only one goal in terms of direction (i.e., you always have to reach a certain point), but you had multiple ways of progressing, and approaching certain battles. It was the perfect and even logical progression for the franchise. And the story is the best in the series. Toss in the next-level visuals and every other amazing accomplishment and…yep, they’ve done it again.

Hey, I was never into Crash Bandicoot that much. And I was a definite skeptic when I heard the Crash guys were making an action/adventure game like Tomb Raider. When Uncharted first arrived back in 2007, I wasn’t even sure it’d be any good. Now, eight and a half years later, I know Naughty Dog has established themselves as the class of the game development world. At this point, I expect nothing less than brilliance when the next TLoU arrives.

You know, the last time I saw a run like this was when Squaresoft ruled the JRPG world in the original PlayStation era. Everything they touched turned to gold (even a non-JRPG in Einhander). However, while there were certainly a lot more games, not all of them were complete masterpieces. While Vagrant Story and Chrono Cross and all the Final Fantasies were amazing, games like Brave Fencer Musashi and Threads of Fate weren’t as incredible. Naughty Dog hasn’t made anything less than incredible – less than industry-defining – in a very long stretch. And that’s just crazy.

4 thoughts on “How Does Naughty Dog Continue To Outshine All Other Studios?”

I still don’t think Uncharted 3 was that great. I actually say it as a step back and not a “defining” game.

I’m sorry but I’ve heard this way too many times and it’s CRAP.

Uncharted 3 may not have had as good a story as Uncharted 2 but that’s about it. The game improved on just about everything in Uncharted 2 and that game was basically the most award-winning and revered title ever.

I just think people say this about Uncharted 3 because Uncharted 2 was such a HUGE jump over the first game, and Uncharted 3 wasn’t nearly as big of a leap, so people exaggerated and actually started saying it was worse. And that’s junk.

^^^ Nailed it.

Don’t forget about Jak & Daxter! 😀

But yeah, Naughty Dog is amazing. No idea how they’ve managed to do it over and over. They’re obviously the “class of the development world” and I can’t WAIT to see what they do with The Last Of Us…….

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