Jakking It All In

We talk to Jak 3 director Evan Wells about the final game in the Precursor Legacy trilogy, the series' appeal, what it does differently, and why you should be interested.

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And so it comes to an end. Or so we imagine. Jak and Daxter, having given us two massive reasons to love platform games again (not to mention an industry-wide fixation on chucking ampersands around), will be wrapping up the story of the Precursor Legacy in just under a fortnight when Jak 3 ships on November 26th. And while it'll be sad to get to the end of their adventures, having already done that we can say with some certainty that fans of the series will feel they've had their money's worth for doing so. With the game still a couple of weeks away though, we thought we'd first chat to director Evan Wells of Naughty Dog about the series' appeal, what Jak 3 does differently and what if any concessions the developer has made, and the progress of the platform genre overall. Stay tuned for a full review of the game very soon.

Eurogamer: What do you think makes Jak and Daxter such appealing characters?

Evan Wells: The two of them complement each other very well. Daxter is all talk and no walk, while Jak is big on action but light on the communication skills. It's also been very important to us to make sure that the characters' personalities and relationships continue to grow and evolve from game to game. This adds a dimensionality to them that most video game characters lack.

Eurogamer: Why's it all gone so wrong for them? Everything seemed to be going so swimmingly at the end of Jak II. Heck, we thought it was all over...

Evan Wells: It seems to be their lot in life. Trouble follows them wherever they go. I guess it makes for a more interesting game than watching the two of them sit at home fighting like an old married couple.

Eurogamer: Jak II introduced some very entertaining new characters, most notably Pecker - who should we look out for in Jak 3?

Evan Wells: The Pecker fans should be happy to hear that he's back in Jak 3 with a bigger role than ever. Also, all of the favourites from Jak II are making a come back (including Ashelin!) and Jak 3 introduces a host of new friends and foes for our heroes to meet. In fact, the game begins with Jak being banished from Haven City by Count Veger, who is the head of the new City Council and a religious zealot who despises anything associated with Dark Eco.

Eurogamer: You've spoken about and demonstrated new features like the buggy sections, rhythm-action elements and turret gunnery that make up some of the missions in Jak 3. Apart from those, what other sorts of things can we expect to see this time around that perhaps you haven't talked about yet?

Evan Wells: One of the things that we are most proud of about Jak 3 is the sheer amount of variety between the missions. Every task presents a new and unique challenge from the last. On one mission you may be hang gliding, on the next you may be called upon to use Jak's new Light Eco powers, and in the very next you might be put in control of Daxter on a run-away torpedo!

Eurogamer: Around how many missions are there in the game this time, and do you have any particular favourites?

Evan Wells: There are over 60 main path missions required to complete the game and additionally there are more than 70 side missions that help you unlock all of the game's secrets. My personal favourite is the mission when Jak gets to team up with Sig and head out into a raging sand storm to track down and take out a band of Metal Heads.

Eurogamer: One of the criticisms levels at Jak II related to some pretty challenging (read: harsh) difficulty spikes, and the way that - despite the generally non-linear approach - sometimes you were faced with a very tough mission and given no choice to go off and do other things. One in particular set in the slums with hordes of guards springs to mind. Are you worried about difficulty spikes this time?

Evan Wells: Difficulty spikes where a very important issue that we addressed during the development of Jak 3. We took extraordinary care, conducted 1,000's of hours of focus testing, and carefully examined all of the gameplay data gathered from these sessions. From this data we were able to refine the difficulty to an appropriate level. I'm certain that we don't have the frustrating spikes that were in Jak II.

Eurogamer: It took us 17 or 18 hours to finish Jak II. How long do you reckon Jak 3 will last us, and what sort of incentives will there be to go back and continue playing?

Evan Wells: The size of Jak 3 in terms of game real estate and code is larger than Jak II, but because we've refined the difficulty I predict that the time to complete the main path of the game will be roughly similar to the previous one. However, we've put in even more side missions and a ton of DVD-like extras (developer commentary, concept art galleries, model viewers, etc) to unlock that will definitely provide the incentive to find all of the secrets.

Eurogamer: How would you feel if it turned out only a small fraction of your audience are playing your games to the end? Isn't there a case to be put that often less is more, and that maybe splitting your games into smaller 'episodes' but released, say, every six months would make more commercial sense and mean people get to play more of the game?

Evan Wells: This is a difficult issue that we face as developers. If your game is to deemed too small or short, you run the risk of it being considered not worth a purchase and consumers may simply end up renting it. If you make your game too long, the majority of players don't see all of the content and you're wasting money on development. Right now it's a tricky balance to strike, but other opportunities may open up to us as online distribution becomes more of a reality.

Eurogamer: The technology behind Jak 3 has reached a very impressive level now. How much further do you think the PS2 can be pushed?

Evan Wells: The PS2 never ceases to amaze us with its depth and flexibility. The amount of additional power that we've seen out of the machine since the first generation games were shown 5 years ago makes me confident that there is still life in it and the best games on the platform are still to come.

Eurogamer: What sort of specific technical advances have you made in-between Jak II and 3?

Evan Wells: The programmers at Naughty Dog are always trying to find ways to push the technology and add extra details to raise the level of polish in the game. In Jak 3 alone they've added rag-doll physics, improved the data streaming and loading, created a new renderer for the wasteland desert environment that supports bump-mapping, enhanced the particle system, and revamped the rigid-body physics system to enable the four-wheeled dune buggy gameplay.

Eurogamer: Do you think Jak 3 stands up on its own, or would you have to have played the previous two in order to really 'get' it?

Evan Wells: We made sure that the game can stand on it's own but the story does reference plot points from the previous two games. If this is a player's first Jak and Daxter game, they will be able to enjoy it and follow the plot contained within it, but fans of the series will get the extra satisfaction of having mysteries from the past games finally answered.

Eurogamer: Your friends at Insomniac have made multiplayer a serious part of their offering this year. Did you ever consider doing something similar for Jak, and is it something you might consider doing in the future?

Evan Wells: Multiplayer was never considered for Jak 3. We wanted to concentrate on making the most rewarding and satisfying single-player experience possible. We had always planned on telling a story that spanned three games and didn't want to compromise that original plan. Of course multiplayer and online gaming is something that many Naughty Dogs are very passionate about and most certainly will be considered in future games.

Eurogamer: Now, for the sake of clarification and to get it out of the way: Are you planning to make any more Jak & Daxter games, or spin-offs set in the same game universe - or anything along those lines - following the completion of Jak 3, and if not, is it something you will consider doing in the future?

Evan Wells: Jak 3 is only the end of the Precursor Legacy trilogy which is but one of many stories to be told within the Jak and Daxter universe. I'm sure you will see more Jak and Daxter games in the future, but what comes next for Naughty Dog is not something that we are discussing at this point.

Eurogamer: The humour and themes in the Jak series seem almost universal. Do you think there's any chance of a crossover into comics, TV or animated movies at some point?

Evan Wells: I think any of those things are definitely a possibility and in fact we created a "Trilogy DVD" that puts many of the FMA cut-scenes from all three games into a sequence to tell the entire Jak and Daxter story. It's really neat to see how as the games progressed the story interconnects between all three. We're using the DVD to promote pre-sales of the game here in America.

Eurogamer: What's next for Naughty Dog? Will you stick with platform adventures?

Evan Wells: As I stated earlier, we really can't go into what we are working on next at this point in time, but rest assured that we are hard at work!

Eurogamer: What does the departure of Jason Rubin mean in the long term?

Evan Wells: Jason has done a fantastic job making sure that the company was set up to continue on in his absence. He is an amazingly gifted and intelligent person and his presence will certainly be missed but Naughty Dog still has one of the strongest collections of talent in the industry and will continue to create cutting-edge games for sometime to come.

Thanks very much to Evan Well for taking the time to answer our questions. Jak 3 is due out exclusively on PlayStation 2 this November 26th. You can read our recent first impressions of the game based on a complete build by heading here.

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