With The Last of Us Part I out now on PS5, we take a quick look back at where developer Naughty Dog began, and where they’ve gone since.
It started with a JAM back in 1985, and since then game developers Naughty Dog have gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the brightest feathers in the cap of Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Based in Santa Monica, California, and originally known as JAM Software, those who we know now as Naughty Dog entered the software business with educational title Math Jam for the king of school computers at the time, the Apple II. But it didn’t take high school student founders Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin long to get into developing games. In retrospect, it was a very good idea.
After a handful of fairly minor releases, the pair changed their company name to Naughty Dog at the same time that they partnered with Electronic Arts, who published their platformer Keef the Thief. The relationship continued, with Naughty Dog dabbling their toes in the console world for the first time with isometric role-playing game Rings of Power for SEGA’s Mega Drive/Genesis, and then Way of the Warrior for the ill-fated 3DO console. But the guy who signed the pair to a three-game deal? Mark Cerny, who’d go on to become synonymous with PlayStation – and still is.
“It was Sony’s first PlayStation console that marked the beginning of what has become a beautiful – and lucrative – friendship.”
It was Sony’s first PlayStation console that marked the beginning of what has become a beautiful – and lucrative – friendship. Cerny suggested that Naughty Dog might be wise to try their hand at coming up with a character-driven game for the new console, and Crash Bandicoot was born. Not only did the 1996 arrival of the spunky Aussie marsupial sell millions and spawn a successful series of sequels, many of which have been remastered for later console generations, but he also served well as an ambassador for PlayStation.
As is the way of consoles, a new generation was on its way, and Naughty Dog created another original title, starring a new pair of characters for the PlayStation 2. Released in 2001, open world 3D platformer Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy saw titular 15-year-old boy Jak and his best mate, Daxter – who’d inadvertently been turned into an otter/weasel hybrid – tasked with saving the world in order to rescue Daxter from a life as an “ottsel”.
Sony bought Naughty Dog in 2001, and while both Gavin and Rubin left in 2004 to pursue other projects, the company was flying, with their next big release set to mark them as a name to be reckoned with. The game? Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, a cinematic action adventure spectacular for the still new PlayStation 3 console, and a game which would go on to spawn several highly-desired sequels well into the life of the inevitable PlayStation 4.
But before the PS3 was done, it would host another Naughty Dog game in The Last of Us. Taking similar mechanics to the Uncharted series and drenching them in a disease-ridden, post-apocalyptic United States, Naughty Dog’s knowing storytelling skills leapt to the fore, as players really felt for the game’s protagonists, in particular teenaged Ellie. A smash upon release, it repeated the success when brought to the PS4, and a sequel was assured.
Then, after a few false starts and a lot of waiting, The Last of Us Part II launched in June of 2020, to rave reviews from press and punters alike.
Now we’re into the PlayStation 5 generation, and it’s time to revisit Ellie and Joel in the original The Last of Us Part I, but remade and updated in total new-gen glory to make it the best way of experiencing the tale yet.
Somehow doubt that’s the end of the Naughty Dog story…
Selected release history
1985 – Math Jam – Apple II 1990 – Keef the Thief – Amiga/Apple II/PC 1991 – Rings of Power – Mega Drive 1994 – Way of the Warrior – 3DO 1995 – Crash Bandicoot – PlayStation 1999 – Crash Team Racing – PlayStation 2001 – Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy – PS2 2007 – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – PS3 2013 – The Last of Us – PS3 2020 – The Last of Us Part II – PS4
2022 – The Last of Us Part I – PS5