An Interview with Andy Gavin, Co-Founder Of Naughty Dog
Crash Bandicoot. Jak and Daxter. Uncharted. The Last of Us. The list of games that have made Naughty Dog a household name is impressive, to say the least. Throughout the last few generations of gaming, we’ve come to expect great things from Naughty Dog, whether it’s a fantastic platformer, or a true, interactive movie experience.
Gaming Examiner recently had a chance to have a chat with one of the co-founders of Naughty Dog, Andy Gavin. We talk about Andy’s early involvement in creating the company we love so much today, what he thinks of the company’s current direction, and future projects.
Gaming Examiner: Can you tell us a little about how you and Jason Rubin got started in the industry, and how you eventually founded Naughty Dog?
Andy Gavin: Jason and I met at age 12. We both loved video games and had some friends in common that swapped (aka pirated) games together. I was a pretty decent programmer and he was a good artist (for 12). Since my games ran well but were ugly and his looked great and crashed, we combined forces. We worked on some games we never published while 13 and 14, including an Apple II version of PunchOut, then when we were 15, sold our first game, Ski Crazed. Naughty Dog was born (although it was named JAM Software until 1986).
GE: Naughty Dog gained a lot of popularity with the Crash Bandicoot series on the PS1 and the Jak and Daxter series for the PS2. What led to Naughty Dog being signed to produce these games? By the look of things, this seems to be where your company’s explosion in popularity kind of took off.
AG: Immediately before Crash, we had made a medium popular 3D0 game called Way of the Warrior. Jason and I loved platform games like Mario, Sonic, and Donkey Kong Country and wanted to bring this medium into 3D. No one had, and we thought that if we could, and if we could pull it off well, it could be huge.
[quote_center]We intended to make a mascot for the PS1. The concept was easy. The odds of succeeding were next to nil. [/quote_center]
GE: When you created Crash Bandicoot, was the intention to create a “mascot” for the PS1 on its own, or was the intention to compete with the likes of a Mario or Sonic?
AG: We intended to make a mascot for the PS1. The concept was easy. The odds of succeeding were next to nil. Remember, we were two 24 year olds whose biggest title to date had not reached 100,000 units sold! But if there was something we never lacked it was confidence.
GE: The Uncharted series is probably the franchise that Naughty Dog is currently most known for. Were you involved at all with the conception of the series, or was that something that was started after you left the company?
I was technically “in charge” of Uncharted for the first 1.5 years of its life. However, I left 100% of the creative management to Evan Wells. I dealt a bit with staffing and some technical issues — and even that was very early. My main contribution was in setting up the ethos at Naughty Dog (along with Jason) such that talented people had an easier time creating great games. That being said, Evan, Christophe Balestra and all their great guys did all the real work on all the games after Jak III.
GE: You are also a writer, with two fantasy novels under your belt; The Darkening Dream and Untimed. Do you find that being a writer helps you in creating video game storylines? Were you a writer first, or a developer first, and did one influence the other?
[quote_center]I find that writing uses essentially the same creative muscles as game making.[/quote_center]
AG: I was a reader first, and during my entire video game career. I also did a lot of writing in high school and college (but never published anything). Only recently have I been able to devote the time to writing that it really needed. But I would say that my video game career really helped me with it, not so much in the particulars of story or prose craft, but with my general skills at managing and pacing big creative projects. I find that writing uses essentially the same creative muscles as game making.
GE: Do you currently have anything in development that you might be able to divulge to our readers?
AG: I’m currently writing the sequel to Untimed. I’m about 15% in as we speak and chugging through the first draft.
GE: Looking at the video game industry now and the direction that its headed, would you have done anything differently with any of your game choices in the past?
AG: Who wouldn’t? I would have gone in a different direction stylistically with Jak & Daxter (the gameplay was great). But that is hindsight talking, as the game seemed pretty awesomely cool to us then — and still plays pretty darn well in its new rerelease. We just didn’t anticipate the shift toward more realistic and darker themes.