Behind the Classics: Jak & Daxter

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Behind the Classics: Jak & Daxter

Behind the Classics: Jak & Daxter

When I took over the SCEE PlayStation Blog a month or two back, I promised you a few new regular features. Today, I’m happy to unveil the first of them: Behind The Classics. Every fortnight (well, that’s the plan at least), we’ll be talking to the creative force behind a vintage PS One or PlayStation 2 title. To kick things off, Naughty Dog co-founder Andy Gavin was kind enough to lend us his time to discuss the making of seminal 2001 PS2 platformer Jak & Daxter.

We’ve got the next few entries in the series lined up, but please feel free to leave your suggestions for future interview subjects below. Manage your expectations – these people aren’t always easy to track down – but we’ll do our best.

Anyway, without further ado, over to Andy…

What was the original concept for the game? Was it a deliberate attempt to create a PlayStation 2 mascot to rival Crash Bandicoot?
Andy Gavin: Of course we wanted the franchise to be as big – or bigger – than Crash. And while this didn’t quite come to be, it was certainly our goal.

The formulation of new game ideas involves two aspects: genre and style. As to gameplay genre: on the PS One, good-looking, free roaming 3D seemed impossible. The machine lacked any hardware sorting or clipping, and had a relatively low polygon count. Plus, the AI challenge of creating a camera that didn’t leave players feeling queasy was extremely daunting. So we locked down the viewpoint to improve graphics and focus on traditional Donkey Kong Country-style gameplay.

But with Mario 64, Miyamoto showed that free roaming was possible, albeit on the N64 and with no small dose of camera frustration. By the time we began Jak & Daxter in January 1999 newer games like Banjo-Kajooie vastly improved the playability. Clearly, on the PS2, full 3D could be great.

Did you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular for the game’s look and feel?
Andy Gavin: With Crash we enjoyed enormous worldwide success in no small part due to our collaboration with Sony’s worldwide producers. So for Jak & Daxter we set out to create a character and environment that merged elements from worldwide cultures. You can see the result in Jak, who is a hybrid of Western cartoons and Eastern manga. We asked every Naughty Dog artist to spend a couple of days sketching concepts for the look of the game. We threw these on a giant table and picked elements we liked as a group.

It was an ambitious title for its time. What were the biggest challenges in realising your original vision?
Andy Gavin: Like every first-on-a-system Naughty Dog game, Jak had a rocky development. First of all, the PS2 was difficult to program, particularly in those early days when no workable examples or libraries existed. On top of that, I made the audacious choice to write the entire game in a programming language of my own design called GOAL, creating a brand new compiler and debugger from scratch. In addition, to realise the ambitious graphical goals, we invented a roster of brand new technologies: several different level of detail systems, perhaps 10 rendering engines, seamless loading from DVD, advanced runtime physics and joint animation systems to rival the offline tools. It was really, really crazy and basically took us about 20 months just on the engineering side before the engine was able to produce the kind of levels we wanted.

Behind the Classics: Jak & DaxterBehind the Classics: Jak & Daxter

Can you tell me more about the mooted third character and why it was axed?
Andy Gavin: There never were any serious plans for a third character. But we had more ambitious plans for Daxter in the beginning. He was supposed to be able to hop off your shoulder and run around and do stuff. That didn’t happen until the second game. Same with the vehicle stuff. We squeezed the racer in, but barely, and we had much more aggressive plans for it.

How close to your original concept was the finished game?
Andy Gavin: Very close. We wanted to put you into this beautiful, fully-rendered fantasy world and yet allow full interactive exploration. We wanted no loading, elaborate storytelling, a camera you didn’t need to manually control, and both classic platform and vehicle gameplay.

Which element of the game are you most proud of?
Andy Gavin: I’m both most proud and most torn over GOAL, my custom language and development environment. This ended up being so much harder than I thought, and is certainly the most sophisticated programming I’ve done in my career. In the end it was pretty awesome, although not without its quirks. I’m also supremely proud of our completely load-free seamless-world. We were the first to do this – I even have a patent on it – and few have attempted it since. It was a lot of work!

And let’s not forget Jak’s control, which I personally programed. Jak has really good control, as good as any game ever. His animation is incredibly fluid, yet he is supremely responsive to both the player and the environment. Even basic elements of his control system were written and re-written a dozen times.

Behind the Classics: Jak & DaxterBehind the Classics: Jak & Daxter

How would you like the first Jak & Daxter to be remembered? What did it bring to the video game medium?
Andy Gavin: The single most important thing that it brought to the medium – and there are countless smaller things – is its consistent and complete integration of the game and story elements. This comes to full fruition in Jak 2, and continues peerlessly today in newer Naughty Dog games like Uncharted. Jak has a detailed and involved story, but it’s never a semi-interactive movie, it’s a video game! The storytelling does not come at the expense of the gameplay.

Which of Naughty Dog’s PlayStation characters – Crash, Jak & Daxter, or Nathan Drake – is closest to your heart?
Andy Gavin: Crash and Neo Cortex are my favorites, and I also have a really big sweet spot for Daxter, who is such a hoot. The Uncharted characters are awesome too, but I can’t take any responsibility for them, so the connection isn’t as personal. And don’t get me wrong, I love all of my babies, even back to the forgotten ones like Keef the Thief, but really Crash’s wicked orange grin melts my heart, and Cortex is who I secretly wanted to be… If I were a cartoon :-)

More Behind the Classics

  • Behind The Classics – Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
  • Behind the Classics – MediEvil
  • Behind the Classics – Soul Reaver
  • Behind the Classics – Syphon Filter
  • Comments are closed.


    • First!!!!!

    • Btw I love Jak, Naughty Dog please when you’re done making The Last of Us please make Jak 4!!!!!!!!

    • I miss Crash, He better be in PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale. It gets me mad to know Crash is on every Console but PS3 smh. We need Sony to somehow get it from Activision and they’ll have the PlayStation’s Best Mascot back. I swear everyone knows Crash, he was the Sonic & Mario of Sony.

    • I loved this series. You guiys really need to put this HD collection on the Vita. It would be awesome!

    • Jak was never going to replace Crash. I remember when PS2 came out I wanted Naughty Dog to do a new Crash, not this silly Jak and Daxter game. And I still feel the same :( Oh well, at least they’re doing Uncharted which is as big, maybe even bigger than any of their past games :) What a terrific company!

    • Welcome to our new EU overlords.

      Great article, I look forward to getting and reading them.

      Interesting that Jax was designed by committee.

    • Behind the Classics sounds pretty cool. I hope you do one for Primal.

    • How about a feature on the making of “The Mark of Kri” (2002), which, IMO, is one of the PS2’s most underrated games? It had a unique artistic style…think Disney animators meet Conan…and it had great stealth elements and a unique targeting mechanic for large battles which has never been seen since.

    • I want to see the Jak games make their way to the VITA.

    • I always wondered what happened with Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin. I remember reading about GOAL when
      I was a teenager completely amazed and what Naughty Dog was able to accomplish in the PS2.
      This interview was great but it would be neat to also ask the person being interviewed what are they up to nowadays. I suggest ending each interview with that question.

      I also wonder how many of the original Dogs are still left in the team and how were the current president and vice president chosen. When Gavin and Rubin left I was afraid the Naughty Dog would lose some of its technical prowess but I was mistaken so I guess many of its original members are still on board.

    • This was a great read. I also want to see another Crash game made by Naughty Dog.

    • This is neat, sounds like the programming for this game was hell.

      The original Jak & Daxter is one of my favorite games of all time, please Naughty Dog, give us Jak 4 that is more in like to the original and not Jak 2 & 3!

    • Of course Jak and Daxter are better than Crash; they have a more interesting story. Naughty Dog knows how to create a great games

    • Love Jak and Daxter – but I love Crash much more. The character as portrayed in those Naughty Dog games is so pure – a true ICON~!

      Please Sony, bring Crash Bandicoot back to Playstation where he belongs!

    • I just want you guys to know there’s a big demand for the Jak & Daxter trilogy to come to Playstation Vita. Same for Ratchet & Clank. We love these games, and the system is perfect for it.

    • I love Naughty Dog they are one of the best developers out there. All of their series are awesome. Jak 3 is one of my favorite games of all time.

      After The Last of Us I want a Jak 4!!!

    • how dare people look down an jak and daxter….love those 2 lol. Though you cant deny crash is a ps1 mascot. Agree w everyone else, sony need to find a way to get the ip back pronto.. reading this though reminds me of old games, whatever happened to tai-fu?

    • interesting read, Jack and Daxter The Precursor Legacy ranks among my top 5 ps2 games of all time.

    • oh how about interviewing Zipper (socom franchise), Studio Liverpool (wipeout) or Cambridge (MediEvil) next? oh wait, none of them exist anymore lol

    • Great feature, Jak & Daxter is my favorite game of all-time! I love the attention it is getting this year, and Naughty Dog, PLEASE tell me you are working on Jak 4! I know you started it but I hope you pick it back up. Remember, if you can stay true to the originals it will turn out to be a great game!

    • These games look interesting. I skipped them on PS2.

    • Hey, I just finished all three games and finally got all three Platinums! The first Jak & Daxter was a MASTERPIECE, however I didn’t like the second one much at all unfortunately due to the lack of platforming and an unnecessary gridlocked city, but the 3rd game did do a great job to fix it but still didn’t beat how great the first one was, either way, this game series was a fantastic past franchise, but I’m glad that The Last of Us is taking its place ;)

    • Wow, how I would like to shake this guy’s hand. Wrote your own freaking programming language, that’s ridiculous. I also really appreciate that you made it without loading screens. Not a lot of engineers likes to sacrifice their own blood for user experience (which is why I imagine designers and programmers hate each other) so big props to you.

    • Never played any of the Jak and Daxter games. Would be nice if one of them were offered free to Plus members or something.

    • I think that if a new Jak and Daxter game is in the works, they need to polish the character design a lot, kind of what insomniac games did with ratched this generation.

    • Sony can you bring EVERY HD collection to the PSVITA. I think those kind of games are better suited for that beautiful LED screen.

      If you make them for the PSVITA I will buy them the instant they reach the PSN store XD

    • ok, one more time:


    • I suggested this before, but I want to say it again since this is so similar; Behind the Classics type material would be great stuff to include with the descriptions of PSOne/PS2 Classics on the PlayStation Store.

    • One of my all time favorite franchises of all time Jak & Daxter. The way the game opened up with the vast landscape, the sweet controls and I think most of all, NO LOAD TIMES during the game. How on earth did they do that ??!! Anyway, I loved and also played the crap out of Lost Fronteir on My pspGo, so pleae ND, bring another addition to the Vita, I will pick it up day 1. Keep up the great work and as always,…Keep On Gaming.

    • @23, why not just go out and pick up a copy of Jak & Daxter 1/2 or 3 for the ps2. you may find them dirt cheap at gamestop. Show some support.

    • Naughty dog is the best game developers of all time. jak and daxter and uncharted series are the best (agree)? btw add me =)

    • uncharted 3 is de best out of all three uncharted games. cant wait 4 the last of us

    • Great read, guys, and Gavin, props for you writing GOAL! That’s very impressive!

      Now, if it’s possible, can we see an interview with Crytek UK over the Timesplitters series?

    • Great article

    • Thank You…..I think this statement is not said enough to the guys/gals behind the making of our great games.So, Thank You Naughty Dog. Thank you for the iconic characters such as Crash, Neo Cortex, Jak&Daxter,Tiny, Drake, Sully and many many more. Thank You for my introduction to your games with Crash Bandicoot. To this day Crash Team Racing Crash 1,2 & 3 are all still being played in my household, plus on the Go with our psp’s.”except my Vita” Thank you for giving us Drake. My once beloved Tomb Raider has been replaced with the Uncharted franchise, And I will never go back. Thank You for Jak & Daxter. Those clever twerps, those spot on controls, the zany story and the vast world that you have created. I still own a hard copy of Crash 1,2,3 CTR, U1,2 & 3. Jak & Daxter 1,2,3 and a digital copy of Frontier. I Lent out my copy of Jak X to a friend, and you know how that went.So again, Thank you and I’m sure I say this for the entire PS Blog community. Keep making great games.

    • Thanks Naughty Dog for the series Jak & Daxter :D

    • I Like all the Jak & Daxter games. The only thing that throws me off are the ENDINGS! -___-

    • That reminds me, I need to pick up the Collection.

    • Dear Sony, why do you have such a horrible marketing company for the PS3? I rarely ever see next to nothing when it comes to marketing the PS3! A shame since you are the better console out of all 3!

    • they really need to make jak4 because i need the platinum

    • To be Honest the Uncharted series are amazing , those series are my 2nd favorite PS3 Exculsives, but i never bothered buying uncharted3 cause of the high prices for the game at stores, but anyways, you guys(that read Feedback from FANs) really have to Develop a JAK 4 you guys can’t realize that alot of FANs are asking for JAK4, I know “The Last Of Us” is one of the game i will probably be getting soon, but the jak & daxter series is a really big hit game for PS2 back in the early 2000’s, When i heard about the jak & Dxter getting remastered i was so excited to play 3 classic PS2 games in the PS3. but please develop a sequal to Jak1 or a JAK4 cause these games are truely incredible gaming experience, so please once “The Last Of Us” is finally released, think about it Naughty Dog, do not do this just to rip us off with a boring game, to just take our money, develop this for the Fans, we want more, not like call of duty that every year that game gets worse. I hope to see a remastered Daxter & Jak X HD collection someday. I hope you guys you read my feedback, which am pretty sure you guys won’t lol P.S: [sorry for any grammer mistakes].

    • it would be awesome if they released the jak & daxter hd collection for the vita. maybe add jak x too. i guess for now i’ll have to get my fix for a portable jak adventure with psp’s jak: last frontier. won’t be the same.

    • This is an awesome featue and I’m looking forward to more! Also love the article. Truthfully, my icon on PSN is Jak and Daxter but it’s incorrect on the blog.

      Now, I would love to see some games that deserve more exposure get the spotlight here. Namely, Namco for their Klonoa series, which they are keeping alive with a webcomic, and Eden Games of Atari (if they are still with Atari) for Kya: Dark Lineage. Both game series are absolutely wonderful and inventive games that deserve all the exposure they can get. As much as I loved this article and think there could not have been a better choice or a premiere installment, I think the main focus of this feature should be on underrated gems such as theones I named, that slipped under the public radar.

    • Yeah, it was always pretty clear that the characters of both Jak and Ratchet were kind of designed by committee. Crash and Spyro were certainly more memorable as characters.

    • @43 what do you mean? Crash was awesome but he WAS specifically designed to be Sony’s answer to Mario.

    • Naughty Dog is the best company ever! :D Jak and Daxter is an amazing, revolutionary series, and I really wish ND made a new Jak game for the PS3. And I’m glad to see Andy Gavin showing Crash Bandicoot some love, too, he is one of my favorite characters of all time and I hate Activision so much for not taking good care of the series. If Sony bought the Crash Bandicoot IP he could be the perfect mascot, and it would be the perfect gift for all old-school PlayStation fans. It NEEDS to happen. (as well as buying the Spyro IP, but that’s probably impossible because of Skylanders. >_<)

    • We all know if Sony bought the Spyro IP back now Activision would be in really big trouble.

    • and demand a refund of the deal from losing one of it’s biggest franchises, Skylanders.

    • They did a shoddy job on jak 2. The checkpoint system is the worst I have seen. Terrible camera/control especially for racing. Love jak 1 and 3. Not fixing this issues in the HD remake is just super lazy.

    • crash bandicoot collection? Uncharted collection? Spyro collection?

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