Expanding The House: Naughty Dog's Second Team

by Tim Turi on Feb 24, 2012 at 05:00 AM

Naughty Dog found tremendous success with its colorful platformers on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, but the PS3’s Uncharted series scored the developer numerous awards and widespread critical acclaim. The achievements and growth Naughty Dog has enjoyed over the years presented the opportunity to form the second team that would develop The Last of Us. This is the story of how Naughty Dog’s new team came to be.

Watch the video below to watch the creators of The Last of Us discuss Naughty Dog's open approach to game design and Amy Hennig's influence on the game:

“The idea has always been to create two fully independent teams so that they can operate independently of one other and nobody has to be flopping back and forth from week to week or servicing two different games,” explains Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells. This way, the teams could focus all of their energy into individual projects. But before it could expand, Naughty Dog needed additional resources, and that’s where publisher and parent company Sony comes in.

Following the glowing reception of Uncharted 2’s polished gameplay, Sony experimented with the idea of licensing out the game’s engine to other developers. “We were getting lots of requests from both internal and external studios saying, ‘Can we license the tech? We’d love to make a game using that engine,’” says Wells. “But it just isn’t set up to be able to be worked on outside of our office.”

The inability to license out the engine due to Naughty Dog’s network infrastructure actually ended up working out to the developer’s advantage. Because only Naughty Dog was set up to work with the Uncharted engine, the only way to produce more games utilizing it would be to add on a new team.

Technological limitations weren’t the only reasons Naughty Dog wanted to grow, however. Following the success of Uncharted 2, many members of the studio’s staff were offered jobs with other developers hoping to capture some of the magic. Wells didn’t want to see the talented crew disband. “We have this incredible collection of talent across all disciplines,” says Wells. “So many people here at Naughty Dog that are environment modelers, designers, or animators could be leads or directors at any other company and could be given a lot more responsibility.” A second team would give the valuable folks at Naughty Dog room to grow while decreasing the odds of them being poached by competitors.

The next step would be getting the green light start a new game. “It was a really easy conversation to have with Sony,” says Wells. “’Hey, we want to make another game.’ ‘Okay, go.’”

The green light from Sony spurred Naughty Dog on to brainstorm multiple game ideas, including a scrapped Jak and Daxter reboot. Eventually the idea for a story-driven post-apocalyptic adventure came into being, and the second team began work on The Last of Us.

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