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Jason Rubin, Naughty Dog

Interview - Kristan has a chinwag with Naughty Dog's Jason Rubin, and asks him your questions!

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Ever since Jak & Daxter, PlayStation 2 has become the console for platform games, with Ratchet & Clank and Sly Raccoon serving to emphasise this during the last few months. Nintendo must be livid. But the main architect of this shocking changing of the guard is a little company called Naughty Dog, most famous for giving the word 'bandicoot' actual meaning. A little while ago, we asked you what questions you might ask Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin, given the chance. Well, we recently did have the chance, and put a number of questions to Jak & Daxter's minder-in-chief on your behalf...

EurogamerWhat drives and inspires you? Why did you choose to develop games?
Most of the Naughty Dogs grew up on games. For me, this started in the late seventies and continued into my teens. At fifteen, Andy Gavin and I co-founded Naughty Dog and released our first game: Ski Crazed. Since then, our drive to make better games has been fuelled by the dual desire to entertain and to see video gaming as an equal entertainment medium to movies and music. In the last half a dozen years, thanks to Sony's aggressive entry into the video game industry, the latter of those goals seems to be not only possible, but right around the corner. I guess it all boils down to revenge against those who said "ew, you play video games?" when we were young. Nobody says that anymore.
Eurogamer Do you get time to play many videogames? If so what are your favourites, past and present?
The entire company has been loving Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and The Getaway. There is a large group that plays TimeSplitters 2 at lunch. We are also playing Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper [Sly Raccoon in Europe]. Sure they're our competition, but we love character action games!
Eurogamer Which games, developers and programmers have influenced you?
"Doom"/Id Software definitely influenced us, as did "Ultima"/Origin in the early days. Obviously The "Marios"/Nintendo, "Donkey Kong Country"/Rare and "Sonic"/Sega were huge influences in our specific genre, and in the creation of Crash. The freedom shown in "Grand Theft Auto III"/DMA is inspiring us today.
Eurogamer If you could have made any game in the world, what would it be?
Doom. That game really changed my view of gaming. Before Doom games were something I played. Doom was a game I lived. When an enemy jumped around the corner I could fall back in my chair. No game had ever touched me like that before. Many have since.
Eurogamer What's the biggest misconception about making games?
That it is easy. That it doesn't take much time. That it is fun. Hell, it's bloody war sometimes. And if it weren't for the result, and seeing people enjoy what we made, we'd never be doing it. Looking back, I loved being involved in every game I have made. At the time…
Ratchet & Clank took the GOAL tech and gave it a spring clean
Eurogamer Do you ever think that there's scope for a truly original game, or are major developers/publishers happy sticking with tried and tested formulas just to play safe and make money?
You can't answer this question with a short answer. It is very complicated, and the dynamic is continually changing. Right now, I think it is "attachment" (sequelization and/or licensing), rather than lack of original gameplay, that is restricting developers right now. I do understand the reason publishers are pimping attachment at the moment, however. And viewing the gaming world through their eyes, it does make sense. Suffice it to say that precious few developers will get to work on titles that are both original gameplay ideas and high budget/high production value at the same time.
Eurogamer Does Naughty Dog have any plans to do any side projects that aren't just "3D platform collect-em-ups"?
It isn't Naughty Dog's style to do more than one title at a time. Having said that, there is no reason why we couldn't be doing another genre in the future. At the end of every game, we see what we want to do next. Most of the time, that has been a character action game. But it hasn't always been (remember "CTR: Crash Team Racing"?). Only time will tell.
Will the next Jak & Daxter be online? It might
Eurogamer How do you feel about the low cache, high bandwidth design of the PS2, compared with the traditional PC/Xbox/Cube style of big cache, low bandwidth?

Frankly I think polygon for polygon power is less important this generation than last, and will less important still in the next generation. On the PlayStation, the difference between a good developer and a bad developer was outputting 1000 vs. 3000 polygons a second. That determined whether or not a developer could even make a specific type of game. Life or Death!

This generation, on the PlayStation 2, the difference between a good developer and a bad developer is 50,000 vs. 150,000 polygons. Well, since we know that we could make games with 3000 polygons/second last generation, we know that 50,000 this generation is plenty. So the difference this time around is style, not the ability to make a type of game or not. Next generation, the difference will only be icing. And if you look at other hardware that competes with the PlayStation2, the numbers simply aren't that divergent to make a difference.

More textures, less polygons? Who cares. In the end it is the game content this generation, and not the system, that is determining success. That is evident if you look at some of the top sellers. GTA3 is not pretty. Tony Hawk is downright ugly. But the games are good, so they are selling.

Eurogamer The tech in J&D was a massive leap forward for the PS2 - can we expect the same leap forward on your next project, or is it using a tweaked version of the existing J&D/R&C GOAL engine?
We're currently working on an engine that is greatly improved from that of Jak & Daxter. Having said that, our next title will still be on the PlayStation 2, rather than a new hardware, so you certainly won't see the 100x performance leap you saw from Crash 3 to the Jak & Daxter.
Eurogamer When are we likely to see another Naughty Dog title? Will it be out this year, and (whispers) will it be a J&D sequel?
We haven't made any announcements so far about our next title. However, I can let you know there's been a lot of creative hard work here in the studio and you will be stunned with the leaps we have made in the gameplay department.
Eurogamer How does Naughty Dog's and Insomniac's technology sharing deal work, is it just the GOAL engine being shared or will we ever see the characters appearing in the same game?

This is our official statement:

"Insomniac Games and Naughty Dog have a sharing agreement in which there is a free flow of technology back and forth between the two companies. Insomniac was the first beneficiary of this agreement in that after Naughty Dog developed the engine for Jak & Daxter, they shared it with Insomniac. Insomniac used their proprietary techniques and heavily modified most of the code to work with the gameplay and environments they had created for Ratchet and Clank. In turn, Insomniac has given the modifications and tools that they have developed back to Naughty Dog in the hopes that their next game will benefit."

Obviously, the technology sharing agreement doesn't involve character sharing… but who knows, anything can happen.

Eurogamer Will Naughty Dog be going online with any future PS2 titles?
I think that it is inevitable that Naughty Dog will start adding online options, or going fully online with some of its future titles. When exactly Naughty Dog will enter the online fray hasn't been decided, though. It might be next game, it might not.
Eurogamer What's in you console/PC disc tray at the moment?
Console: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. PC: Don't personally play many PC games, sorry.
Eurogamer A number of platform games now take the form of a "buddy comedy", even Mario has Yoshi as a sidekick. So why go for two people rather than one?

In our case, it was the answer to a problem that had been vexing us since Crash: We didn't want to distance the player from the main character by giving the main character a strong personality.

In our estimation, this is what killed GEX. Sure, you might play the game, but with all those horrid jokes, you certainly weren't becoming GEX. In fact, every time he opened his mouth, most people felt more distanced from him.

That is precisely the reason that Crash didn't talk. But with the PlayStation 2's power, and out ability to get movie-like cut sequences into the game, we needed some interaction with the world. Daxter gave us that opportunity. Jak was the gamer, Daxter was a sidekick. If Daxter said something funny, the gamer laughed. If he said something stupid, that was ok, because it was just Daxter, not the player/Jak. I think we are ready to try making the main character talk, now. We'll see what happens.

Jason Rubin, thanks for your time!

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