The lights are on
From Crash Bandicoot to Uncharted, Naughty Dog has a history of putting out top-notch entertainment. The studio is jam-packed with talented game creators. So many, in fact, that two years ago the company expanded to form a second team, which would eventually develop The Last of Us. But before the first glimpses of Joel and Elle’s post-apocalyptic survival tale wowed gamers, Naughty Dog was working on a next-generation reboot to the lauded Jak and Daxter series. This is the story of how Naughty Dog’s new team started work on a Jak game that would never see the light of day.
Following the success of Uncharted 2, Sony wanted to license out the game’s engine to make more great-looking blockbusters, but, due to technological factors, Naughty Dog ended up being the only studio that could actually use it. The game’s warm reception also brought up the inevitable side effect of competitors trying to poach the talented team. Thus, Naughty Dog proposed creating a second team in order to release more games using their engine and Sony agreed instantly. It also opened up new promotional opportunities for talented staffers and helped keep the headhunters at bay.
The thumbs-up from Sony meant the brain storming process could begin, and one of the first ideas was to return to Naughty Dog’s PlayStation 2 duo. “We’d all talked about it in interviews with fans asking ‘When’s the next Jak and Daxter?’ says Wells. “I don’t know if this is going to make them happy or sad, but we did explore the idea fairly extensively.”
Naughty Dog wanted to find a way to apply elements from Uncharted 2’s award-winning game design to Jak and Daxter. The team experimented with implementing Uncharted-style narrative techniques and rendering Jak and Daxter in the same realistic style seen in the company’s gorgeous PS3 games. According to Wells, the new project would be a departure from slapstick, comic book-tone of previous games. But before full-blown work could begin on the game Naughty Dog would have to create new, more realistic versions of the titular heroes.
“We dug around trying to find the core of Jak and Daxter,” says creative director for The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann. “Who are the characters? We had to reboot it essentially. Every time we got excited about an idea we’d take a step back and look at it and be like ‘It’s not Jak and Daxter, are we just slapping the name on it for marketing reasons?’”
The lighthearted Daxter proved to make the transition from wacky hijinks to a more grounded experience particularly difficult.
“There’s a lot of baggage that comes with Daxter,” says The Last of Us director Bruce Straley. “If he’s not lighthearted and slapsticky and fun then he’s not Daxter to the fans. We were thinking what if he’s mute? What if he’s this? We had all these ideas that made Daxter interesting, but then we’re still trying to be creative within that box of ‘I have this rodent on my shoulder.’”
“It started feeling like a compromise,” says Druckmann. “The more we tried to make Jak and Daxter like we wanted to, it didn’t feel like things were matching up. We have folders and folders filled with scrapped ideas.”
Note: The artwork in this article is not from the abandoned Jak and Daxter game
Naughty Dog opened up a select few of these folders to offer us a glimpse of early concept art for the abandoned Jak and Daxter reboot. We saw a much more humanoid version of Jak, lacking pointy ears but retaining similar clothes, features, green facial hair, and fit physique. His signature yellow locks remained, however, with sketches showing it off in everything from dreadlocks to messy spikes.
Early examples of Daxter’s transformation were more extreme. We saw an orange, goggled, ferret-like animal with expressionless eyes perched upon Jak’s shoulder. Several additional sketches highlighted Daxter’s beastly qualities, in accordance with the attempt to reboot the series with slightly more realism. Daxter’s expressive facial expressions and big eyes returned in other pieces of concept art, but the non-cartoony look still made the critter difficult to recognize.
Things just weren’t clicking into place.
“All the ideas just started to feel like they were going so far away from what made Jak and Daxter Jak and Daxter,” says Wells. “Even though we wanted to give fans another Jak and Daxter, we felt we weren’t going to give them the game that they wanted, and that we would end up either limiting the direction that the company had this passion for while simultaneously not creating the game that fans wanted. We just realized we were going to just do everybody a disservice.”
Shelving the Jak and Daxter ideas meant the team could begin work on a fresh idea. Shedding the restrictions of an existing IP allowed directors Druckmann and Straley to let their creative juices flow and explore whatever they wished. One day Straley arrived at work having watched an interesting episode of BBC’s Planet Earth. He enthusiastically told Druckmann about the disturbing yet beautiful footage of a fungus that would effectively turn colonies of ants into zombies. Enthused, the two talented creators would mold their inspiration into the team’s new project, The Last of Us.
Fans shouldn’t see Naughty Dog’s halted attempt at a Jak and Daxter reboot as an omen that the series will never return, however. There is still hope.
“Never say never,” warns Wells. “It could happen. Naughty Dog’s got a long history and I think it’s got a long future so to say we’ll never go back is kind of crazy but right now we’ve got [The Last of Us] that we’re definitely going to be supporting. I guess there’s a possibility that the Uncharted team could move on to Jak and Daxter. It’s still up in the air, but I wouldn’t think that’s going to happen, because I think we’d run into all of the same problems with that team that we did with this team.”
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Why on Earth change Jak and Daxter? I agree with John. Keep the visuals, but upgrade the graphics. Keep but update the gameplay, and add on to the story line! There is so much potential! Not everything has to be "realistic looking" game companies! Take a lesson from Ratchet and Clank and Borderlands, please.
Out of all of them, I liked the first Jak and Daxter the best of all. The whole planet had this really ancient and jungle ish feel. They should make another one without all the futuristic stuff
Cool idea, i wish it had seen the light of day though...
Can't wait for the HD remake!
Just goes to show what a great and dedicated team Naughty Dog really is. Personally, I'm sure they'll be able to pull it off if they ever want to (which I hope they do!) but I definitely agree that it has to be for the right reasons. Since they're currently making probably the most cinematic games out there, it's obvious that the plot is an extremely important thing for them and despite personally loving the story and even the lore, if you can all that, of the series I admit that it would be hard to do such a thing considering their recent approach (more realistic) to games. Either way, I'm extremely happy with the new HD remake colelction, which I've alreadt pre ordered and footage from The Last of Us looks great as well, so I'm really happy with the devs and I hope they continue this trend of top notch games.
Ugh, they were trying to force it in a direction not suited for Jak so obviously it didn't work out. At that point maybe they should have considered a different approach, one that didn't involve swapping Jak with Nathan Drake?
I think they should have done it i mean you never ono we migjt like it better then before oh well
So this is the story of how The Last of Us came into development? Well, I can't wait for when it comes out.
They should eventually come back to it cause all Jak & Daxter games are AMAZING(even the racing one) dont make it realistic still make it feel cartoony maybe make it cel-shaded that would look cool....realistic Jak & Daxter is stupid im kinda glad they didnt do that..........they probably released this story on GI so they could get the peoples opinion on the realistic approach to Jak.......so im guessing we will see Jak 4 soon.....maybe im reading to much into this but GOD I HOPE SO
Honestly, I'm glad they didn't make another Jak and Daxter based off the direction they were trying the take the series noted in this article. Realism is not Jak and Daxter, what made Jak and Daxter so much fun was its quirkiness and humor, not depth and detail. All I want is more ass-kickin with awesome guns while having a rodent on my shoulder spouting sexist jokes. Don't make it realistic, just smooth the lines, textures, and animations over and I'll promise you that you'll have a happy fanbase.
A Dedicated Naughty Dog fan (Even though I don't have a PS3, please come to Xbox also Naughty Dog)
That was a good idea not to make a game that dosent tie to true to the other games.
The direction they were going with this new Jak & Daxter game was slightly interesting but I'm glad they decided not to go completely through with it. If Naughty Dog were going to make another Jak & Daxter game I would want them to keep what made Jak & Daxter great while incorporating new and fresh ideas.
I definitely don't want a realistic Jak & Daxter
Honestly, even though I really liked the Jak and Daxter series and want it to return, I'm glad they scrapped this game. A more realistic approach to the world just wouldn't have worked. The whimsy and cartooniness of it was one of the things that made those games great. Obviously Naughty Dog really wants to make realistic games right now, and the games they are making are fantastic, so I say go ahead and do whatever you want. I'll still hold out hope for another Jak game in the future though.
I really hope they manage to get back to working on a sequel. J&D is probably my favorite franchise and I'd hate to see them go away.
A Jak and Daxter game with Uncharted's engine.... I guess we can only dream. The "realistic" approach they were talking about obviously didn't work and that's why they scrapped it, but I think they could still make a more stylized game that felt lighthearted with graphics somewhere between Jak 1-3 and Uncharted.
I would honestly like to see this Jak and Daxter reboot finished and released sometime in the near future. It sounds pretty good. I am though excited for The Last of Us and glad that was worked on and created.
What if they kept the same character designed, however enhanced the art style to a water color kind of the Skyward Sword did? With beautiful HD explosions and a massive, and colorful world, it could have been great.