Jason Rubin谈Naughty Dog工作室发展历程（一）
以下是来自连续创业家Morgan Ramsay最近发行的著作《Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play》的摘录。本书主要描写的是与18位世界上最成功的电子游戏公司创始人的对话，即关于他们是如何一步步走到现在的位置。GamesIndustry International将在此分享Naughty Dog联合创始人Jason Rubin在早期的努力，以及该工作室是如何变成商界中最成功的公司之一。
Jason Rubin和Andy Gavin在1986年共同创造了Naughty Dog，并成为了艺电最年轻的2位承包者。带着在索尼PlayStation排名前10的三款游戏，Naughty Dog从充满生气的初创企业逐渐发展成为产业巨头，并成为了世界上最具创造性的电子游戏开发商之一。
1994年，该公司创造了自己的第一款授权游戏《Crash Bandicoot》，游戏中的角色更是成为了索尼PlayStation的吉祥物。现在，至少拥有16款游戏的《Crash Bandicoot》系列已经在全世界范围内取得了5千多万的销量，其中第三款游戏更是成为日本最畅销的国外电子游戏。在与发行商Universal Interactive分道扬镳后，Naughty Dog继《Crash Bandicoot》又创造出了另一款畅销系列游戏，《Jak and Daxter》，但是在2001年被Sony Computer Entertainment所购买。而Rubin和Gavin于2004年离开了该工作室。
在Rubin和Gavin离开该公司后，Naughty Dog于2007年面向PlayStation 3发行了《神秘海域：德雷克船长的宝藏》，并在2009年推出续集《神秘海域2：纵横四海》。这款续集游戏受到了大量的赞许，并获得超过100个奖项，包括在Interactive Achievement Awards和Game Developers Choice Awards的年度游戏奖。
Ramsay：你是何时想要创建Naughty Dog？你又是如何认识联合创始人Andy Gavin？
Rubin：我想，那时候的我们就是因为太年轻了所以并未真正意识到自己到底有多年轻。我还记得在艺电开发者讨论会（游戏邦注：艺电每年所举办的国际性开发者大会）中的场景。那时候我和Andy都只有17岁—-是艺电最年轻的承包者，甚至低于法定饮酒年龄。而酒店的吧台似乎并不在意。我隐约记得那时候我们见到了许多偶像，包括Bill Budge，Will Harvey和Brent Iverson。他们都是较早的游戏开发者，所以都比我们年长。我还记得自己在那时喝了很多酒！
连续创业家Jeff Stibel在面向Harvard Business Review的论坛上写道，企业家精神是一种病。我犯有这种病，并且一部分症状便是不能看清楚世界。也许我因为年轻遭到了区别对待，但是我却并未注意到这点。
Ramsay：在《Ski Stud》发行后，你们又做了什么？你们是否因此创建了Naughty Dog并制定了业务计划？
我们同意为Baudville创造另一款游戏，而那时候沉寂已久的发行商也终于推出了《Ski Stud》，并考虑到政治元素而重新命名为《Ski Crazed》。我们的下一款游戏名为《Dream Zone》，这是一款面向Apple II，Amiga和Atari ST的图像冒险游戏。在《Dream Zone》取得1万销量后，16岁的我们决定为更大的成功做好准备。
之后我们接到了来自艺电（在当时算是世界上最大的游戏发行商）的救助电话，即表示正在寻找制作人。几个月后，我们便参与了艺电的《Keef the Thief》的创造，即另一款面向同样系统的图像冒险游戏。说实话，我还是不知道我们到底是如何做到的。这就像是一个在YouTube上拥有50多万点击率视频的小孩突然接到华纳兄弟公司的电话，并且对方希望找他去拍电影。
基于开发预算来看的话，《Keef》的确卖的很好，所以艺电与我们签订了第二款游戏的创造合约。所以面向世嘉五代的《Rings of Power》便成为了我们创造的第一款主机游戏。我们花了3年的时间才完成这款游戏的创造，不仅因为是一款大型游戏，而且那时的我和Andy还在不同区域上大学。最终《Rings》广受好评，甚至卖到脱销。
不幸的是，《John Madden Football》这款新游戏出现了。当世嘉告诉艺电他们只能重新排序一个固定数量的暗盒时，艺电选择了《Madden》。作为一款大型角色扮演游戏，《Rings》比《Madden》带有更多ROM，还有EEPROM去储存游戏。每个《Rings》的暗盒的印刷成本都非常昂贵，并附有版税，因此利润远比《Madden》来的低。显然，对于艺电来说这是个合理的选择。但是作为开发者，我们便会觉得遭受到不公平的待遇。而艺电只是决定终止给我们的收益。
我和Andy都遭受到很大的打击，但是我们也花了较短时间便走出了这次的开发经历。8个月后，Trip Hawkins（游戏邦注：艺电的创始人）给我们打了电话，并告诉我们他的全新项目—-3DO。他是一个具有说服力的人，但可能是因为他对于系统的强大论点，即来自带有大量内存和磁盘的主机，并保证不会再出现之前暗盒印刷的情况，我们最终妥协了。关于机遇的讨论并未花太长时间。Trip提供给我们免费的开发包，我和Andy便开始着手工作。因为没有任何发行商，所以这完全需要依靠我们自己的努力，我们甚至还亲自掏腰包去支持游戏。最终，这款面向3DO的《Way of the Warrior》标志着我们从业余游戏开发向专业游戏开发的过度。但那时的我们仍未制定业务计划。
Rubin：我不记得我们第一次与Trip Hawkins见面是什么时候。但肯定是在《Rings of Power》诞生之前。那时候，艺电还是一家以开发者为中心的小型公司。我敢保证当他发现自己与2个17岁的黑客签订协议时会有多惊讶。当然，当1988年我们开始创造《Rings of Power》时便已经认识他了。
在完成了《Keef the Thief》的开发后，有一天我和Andy来到艺电的办公室，而Andy意外地发现一台计算机上连接着通向一个银色盒子的线。他立刻想到这是对于世嘉Genesis平台的逆向工程。即艺电利用了世嘉的系统并未经对方同意而面向Genesies开发游戏。但在那时候，硬件属于绝对机密。Andy指着这个逆向工程系统并说道：“你们在面对世嘉Genesis进行逆向工程？”之后，Trip和艺电的律师便将保密协议带到了我们面前。我和Andy最终签订了该协议，之后Andy对Trip说道：“《Rings of Power》将会成为一款很棒的世嘉游戏。”因为我们已经签订了保密协议，并且Trip希望我们能够对这项秘密的项目做出贡献，所以他便立刻同意了。我们也因此变成主机游戏开发者。
Ramsay：1996年，Naughty Dog发行了《Crash Bandicoot》，并成为了你们的第一款授权游戏。这一项目是如何诞生的？
Rubin：当《Way of the Warrior》的开发接近尾声时，我们花了1万美元在消费电子展（游戏邦注：E3的前生）上租了一块3平方米的空间。我们的展位只有3DO展位中一台电视机的大小。但最终证明我们是通过游戏去号召市场。发行商将他们的开发者带到所有的“多媒体”中。从根本上说，多媒体游戏包含许多糟糕的镜头，互动视频以及半游戏扯谈。他们太晚才意识到这些内容是卖不出去的，并且自己需要发行真正的游戏。但对他们来说不幸的是，当前只有一款真正的游戏即将完成，也就是我们的《Way of the Warrior》，这是一款还算过得去的《格斗之王》的山寨游戏。所以便出现了面向《Way of the Warrior》的投标战，并且因为各种原因，最终Universal Interactive Studios成功拿下这款游戏。
我们选择Universal的一大原因便是，他们愿意资助我们的下一款游戏，并让我们自己决定游戏类型。我们便开车从波斯顿来到了位于好莱坞的Universal Studios这个新家，并在途中思考要开发什么游戏。我们想，既然已经“成功”征服了格斗游戏，为何不尝试下创造角色行动类游戏？既然拥有预算和团队，为何不“借用”之前的游戏并尝试着创造一些别人未曾想过的内容？格斗游戏和赛车游戏已经趋于3D，但角色行动类游戏却还未做到。但是一款3D角色行动类游戏会是怎样的，该如何游戏？我们将该理念命名为“Sonic’s Ass”，因为我们认为在3D领域，你就需要绝对突出角色。“Sonic’s Ass”到底会怎样？谁知道，但是在我们的新游戏中，你一定会在看到角色的第一眼便为他欢呼！
Rubin：在于Universal的协议中，他们同意花钱让我们在Universal Studios露天片场的一块空间里工作。我们获得了免费的电话线，传真机和秘书人员等等。最初，我们甚至无需为这些帮助而还给他们一部作品。他们只是想要让“有才能的人”在自己的片场中工作，并希望以此给Universal带来帮助。这听起来可能很奇怪，但这一策略的确适合Universal。那时候我们所面对的协议与Steven Spielberg（游戏邦注：美国知名导演）几乎相同，不过我们所拥有的全部空间且只有他一个人的办公室那么大。
Rubin：Naughty Dog是Universal基于“内务操作协议”带到片场的第一个团队。Universal Interactive的副总裁Mark Cerny自信地将另一个团队—-Insomniac Games带到了片场。除此之外便没有其它团队出现在片场中，它们是基于标准的开发协议执行任务。
这种竞争一直持续到今天。我认为，比起Insomniac的《Spyro the Dragon》，Naughty Dog的《Crash Bandicoot》不管是从销量还是质量来看都更具有优势。但同样我也要承认，Insomniac的《Ratchet & Clank》比我们的《Jak and Daxter》取得更大的成功，即从销量和影响来看。而对于《全面对抗》和《神秘海域》到底哪款游戏更成功还是让粉丝们去评定。因为拥有各种类型，如今的游戏可能比不上之前的游戏，但是在我心中，Naughty Dog和Insomniac中的成员仍然在与自己的兄弟开发工作室相抗衡着。
Ramsay：到1998年，《Crash Bandicoot》可以说是PlayStation上最具讽刺性的三部曲游戏，但那时候你们与Universal的三项目协议已经结束了。所以Naughty Dog是否需要立刻迁出片场？
Rubin：Naughty Dog决定不再与Universal Interactive续约。那时候《Crash 3》即将问世，而Universal的影响力也在逐渐缩小。索尼提供相关资金并负责游戏的发行，此外他们还提供了具有价值性的全球制作建议。最初在Universal工作的Mark Cerny为《Crash》的成功做出了巨大的贡献，并成为了独立承包者继续与我们合作。当然，Naughty Dog的主要任务还是开发游戏。而Universal只是支付知识产权费。
我和Andy决定不再拿收益与那些未做出任何贡献（很难共事）的实体公司分享了。所以我们最终宣布不再续约，并在《Crash 3》完成后离开片场。那时候，Universal Interactive的管理已经失去了理智。
我们被迫在他们的办公室走廊上开发《Crash 3》。尽管基于合约他们仍需要提供给我们办公空间，但是他们却想尽办法来折磨我们。那时我们已经接近圣诞节的截止日期了，所以我们没有多余的时间进行搬迁。我们只能待在走廊上直到最终完成游戏。那一年，Naughty Dog整个团队每天都会工作16至20个小时，并且没有周末。更糟糕的是，Universal会在下班后切断办公室的空调电源。要知道，洛杉矶，特别是圣费尔南多谷的夏天有多么酷热。夜晚的时候，特别是在周末，34楼的温度应该超过100度了。一点都不夸张。我们不得不购买温度计并不断测量温度，因为过高的温度将对工作进程带来巨大的影响。硬盘驱动器的内部温度超过了130度，从而导致服务器的运行持续下降。因为该建筑不允许我们携带便携式空调，所以我们只能在风扇面前摆着一大桶冰去降低服务器的温度。直到我们最终将空调装饰成冰箱偷偷带进那栋建筑才解决了该问题。
对于那一年Universal Interactive的恶意和无耻的行为我可以列举出无数的例子，但不管怎样，这些都过去了。他们想要打倒我们，但却未能成功。尽管我们不得不赤着臂膀在办工作前创造游戏，但最终我们仍成功创造出了《Crash 3》。从另一个角度来看，《Crash 3》绝对能为Universal带来数亿美元的利益。但是作为一家公司，他们却未拥有应有的仁慈，即不能接受我们想要独自决定自己命运的想法。如果Universal能够讲道理一点，今天的Naughty Dog可能仍在创造着《Crash》的相关产品。
《Crash 3》完成的那天，Naughty Dog离开了Universal的片场并开始致力于一款小型赛车游戏。这款游戏并不带有角色。第一个版本只有一些没有特色的赛车手。我们与索尼的关系非常密切。如果他们与Universal达成了协议并获得相关权利，我们便能够基于《Crash》的角色创造游戏。那时候，Naughty Dog甚至不能与Universal的管理层进行沟通，因为他们还在气头上。而索尼则想办法帮我们做到这点，因此在离开Universal后我们的第一款游戏便是《Crash》的最终产品：《Crash Team Racing》。
那时的Naughty Dog决定重新开始。尽管大多数成员都致力于《Crash Team Racing》，但Andy，Stephen White和Mark Cerny则开始创造一款全新引擎，也就是之后的PlayStation 2。我和Any使用来自Naughty Dog的400万美元资金开发了《Jak and Daxter》。而这也是我们决定出售Naughty Dog前的最后创造。
The Rise of Naughty Dog – Part 1
By James Brightman
The following is an exclusive excerpt from serial entrepreneur Morgan Ramsay’s recent book release, Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play. The book features personal conversations with 18 of the world’s most successful founders of video-game companies about their earliest days to where they are now. GamesIndustry International is proud to bring you this exclusive chapter about Jason Rubin’s early days as co-founder of Naughty Dog and how the studio became one of the most successful in the business.
Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin cofounded Naughty Dog in 1986, becoming two of the youngest contractors to develop for Electronic Arts. During its rise from a scrappy startup to an industry powerhouse with three of the top-ten games for Sony PlayStation, Naughty Dog established a reputation as one of the most innovative developers of video games on the planet.
In 1994, the company created its first major franchise, Crash Bandicoot, of which the titular character became the de facto mascot of the Sony PlayStation. Now spanning at least 16 titles, the Crash Bandicoot series has since sold more than 50 million units worldwide, and the third title in the series was the top-selling foreign-made video game in Japan. After parting ways with its publisher, Universal Interactive, Naughty Dog followed Crash Bandicoot with another bestselling series, Jak and Daxter, but not before being acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2001. Rubin and Gavin left the studio in 2004.
After Rubin and Gavin had left the company, Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune for the PlayStation 3 in 2007, and then the sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, in 2009. The sequel received critical acclaim and won more than 100 awards, including the coveted Game of the Year awards at both the Interactive Achievement Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards.
Ramsay: When did you get started with Naughty Dog? How did you know your cofounder, Andy Gavin?
Rubin: Andy and I met in school at around age 13. We both owned Apple II computers, and the work we were doing with them at the time-from simple programming to pirating-was much more interesting than what the teachers were teaching. So, we would sit in the back of class and talk about computers and programming. We were very young, and there weren’t books, websites, or other teaching materials for computers yet, so we learned by experimentation and communication.
I vividly remember thinking that if I kept compressing a file, it would shrink until it was one byte. Andy replied that you certainly couldn’t do that, as the unlocking key would expand until it was the entire file you started with. It was thousands of simple realizations like that, and sharing ideas and tips, that led the two of us to figuring out how to make “full games” on our own. It is worth remembering that a full game in those days could be written in a long weekend. There were many false starts, such as a mostly finished golf game that I had created, which Andy destroyed by copying something onto the disk it resided on-this was before hard drives. We also had a mostly realized Punch Out clone that we eventually couldn’t finish due to technical issues. And there were many other games that fell in the category now called “not safe for work.”
At around 15, after returning from a ski trip, I did the art and code for a game called Ski Stud. The game looked good, but the game slowed down as the skier got further down the slope. I had reached the limit of my coding ability, so I took it to Andy. He rewrote the core of the game, and it screamed! We decided this would be our first published game, so we applied for a commercial license to use the tool we had been using for sprite drawing. We were going to “publish” the game by putting it in Ziploc bags and selling them around Washington, D.C., the area where we lived. Don’t laugh. That was competitive packaging at the time! The company that created the sprite tool saw the game and asked if they could publish it for us nationally. We agreed and received a check for $250. We had become game developers!
Ramsay: When you entered the business world, do you remember ever feeling that you were treated differently as a result of your age?
Rubin: I think we were probably too young to notice how young we were. I do remember going to an EA developers’ symposium, a big convention of internal developers that EA held every year. Andy and I were both 17 at the time – the youngest contractors to work for EA and well below legal drinking age. The hotel bar didn’t seem to mind. I vaguely remember meeting all of my heroes: Bill Budge, Will Harvey, and Brent Iverson. They were early game developers who were all significantly older than me. And I definitely remember having a lot of drinks!
I think you have to have a certain amount of blind, na?ve faith in yourself to be an entrepreneur. I truly believed that it was inevitable that I would be successful. If I hadn’t had such an unfounded certainty in myself, I would have taken a safer route through life. As a result, success, at any age, never seemed like success so much as part of the logical progression toward something bigger. That sounds arrogant, but I wasn’t elitist. I never thought I was special, and I would have supported anyone else who told me that they, too, were destined for greatness.
The serial entrepreneur Jeff Stibel wrote in a column for Harvard Business Review that entrepreneurship is a disease. I have the disease, and part of the disease is not seeing the world for what it is. Perhaps I was treated differently because I was young, but I never noticed.
Ramsay: After Ski Stud was published, what did you do next? Did you incorporate as Naughty Dog and put together a business plan?
Rubin: Business plan? We were 16. Our business plan was to do whatever we thought was cool. Income? Whatever we could make. Expenses? Ask our parents; they paid for the power and rent.
We agreed to do another game for Baudville, now the long-defunct publisher that put out Ski Stud, which had been renamed Ski Crazed for political correctness. The next game was called Dream Zone, and it was a graphic adventure for the Apple II, Amiga, and Atari ST. After selling 10,000 copies of Dream Zone, we decided, as two 16-year-olds, that we were ready for the big time.
So, we cold called the help line at Electronic Arts, which was at that time the largest game publisher in the world, and managed to get a producer on the other end of the phone. A few months later, we were working for EA on Keef the Thief, another graphic adventure for the same systems. Frankly, I still don’t know how we pulled that off. It would be the equivalent today of a kid who has a half-million views on YouTube cold calling Warner Brothers and getting a movie deal.
Keef sold well, compared to its development budget, so EA signed us for a second title. That game, Rings of Power for the Sega Genesis, was our first console title. Rings of Power took three years to make because it was a massive title, and because Andy and I were working from colleges in two different states. Rings was critically acclaimed and sold out of its first pressing.
Unfortunately, so did a new game called John Madden Football. When Sega told EA that they could only reorder a fixed number of cartridges, EA chose to go with 100% Maddens. As a large role-playing game, Rings had more ROM than Madden and an EEPROM for saving your game, and had been developed externally. Each Rings cartridge was far more expensive to print, had a royalty attached, and was thus less profitable than a Madden cartridge. Obviously, it was a smart business move for EA. But as the developers getting the short end of the stick, it sucked! EA just decided to shut off the money flow.
Frustrated, Andy and I took some time away from game development, but it didn’t last long. Eight months later, Trip Hawkins called us and told us about his new project – the 3DO. He is a persuasive man, but possibly his strongest argument for the system was that on a disc-based console with plenty of memory and discs that were readily produceable, we wouldn’t get screwed by cartridge-printing decisions again! It didn’t take long to discuss the opportunity. Trip gave us free development kits, and Andy and I began work. We had no publisher attached, it was a full-time endeavor, and we financed the game out of our own pockets. Way of the Warrior for the 3DO marked our exit from game making as a hobby and our entrance into game development as a profession. But we still didn’t have a business plan.
Ramsay: Was that the first time you had talked to Trip?
Rubin: I don’t remember when Andy and I first met Trip Hawkins. It must have been before we began Rings of Power. EA was a small, developer-centric company at that time. I’m sure he was curious to meet the 17-year-old hackers he had under contract! We certainly already knew him by the time we began Rings of Power in 1988.
Andy and I were walking through EA’s offices that year after finishing Keef the Thief, and Andy spied a silver box with a cord attached to a computer. He immediately identified it as a reverse-engineered Sega Genesis platform. EA had hacked Sega’s system and was developing games for the Genesis without Sega’s permission. They planned, and eventually did, use that ability to negotiate a better platform rate from Sega. But at that point, the hardware was top secret. Andy pointed at the reverse-engineered system and said, “You reverse engineered a Sega Genesis?” The next thing we knew, Trip and EA’s lawyers were in front of us with nondisclosure agreements. Andy and I signed the documents, and then Andy said to Trip, “Rings of Power would make a cool Sega game.” We were already under a nondisclosure agreement, and Trip wanted us invested in the top-secret program’s success, so he immediately agreed. That’s how we became console developers.
Ramsay: In 1996, Naughty Dog released Crash Bandicoot, which became your first major franchise. How did this project come about?
Rubin: When we were almost done with Way of the Warrior, we rented a three-by-three-foot space at the Consumer Electronics Show – an early E3 – for $10,000. It was the last money we had to our names. Our “booth” really consisted of a one-TV-wide nook in the greater 3DO booth. It turned out that we had called the market just right with our game. The publishers had put their developers on titles they were grandly calling “multimedia.” Basically, multimedia titles consisted of lots of badly shot, interactive video, and weird semi-gaming crap. They all realized too late that this stuff wouldn’t sell and that they needed to be publishing real games. Unfortunately for them, there was only one real game that was nearing completion: our game Way of the Warrior, which was a half-decent knockoff of Mortal Kombat. So, a bidding war ensued for Way of the Warrior, and for a variety of reasons, Universal Interactive Studios won.
One of the reasons that we chose Universal was their enthusiasm for funding our next title and letting us choose what that title would be. We set out by car from Boston to our new home at Universal Studios in Hollywood, determined to decide what to develop along the way. We had “successfully” knocked off a fighting game, we reasoned, so why not try for a character action game? This time, with a real budget and a real team, why not go beyond “borrowing” ideas from past games and try to do something that had never been done before? Fighting games and racing games had gone 3D, but character action games had not been done in 3D. But how would a 3D character action game look and play? We titled the concept “Sonic’s Ass” because we realized that in 3D, you would be looking at the back of the character most of the time. What did Sonic’s ass look like? Who knew, but in our new game, the character’s ass would have to look amazing because you’d be staring at it for hours!
At the same time, somewhere in Japan, Miyamoto-san and Naka-san were thinking the same thoughts. Both were responsible for creating the most popular and emblematic characters for their systems: Mario for Nintendo and Sonic for Sega. The new systems their companies were bringing out – Nintendo 64 and Saturn – would enable them to bring these characters into 3D for the first time. Miyamoto-san went for it with a fully open playground for Mario 64, creating a form of gameplay that is copied to this day. Naka-san balked and created a game with 3D characters and art, but with gameplay fixed firmly in a 2D space. Because of this, or perhaps because he thought the risk of 3D was too much to risk on a Sonic game, Naka-san also chose to launch a new character called Nights.
Unaware of any of the incredibly important decisions that two of the greatest minds in video games were making, Andy and I solved the same question in another way. Most levels would be into z space, or into the screen. We let the character move in full 3D, but significantly restricted one dimension of freedom: the x axis, or left and right movement. This created “paths” that were only a few characters wide. It was truly 3D gameplay, but also allowed us to keep the challenges firmly in the classic 2D sweet spot of platforming, timing, and simple interactions. It also made it impossible to run around enemies, get lost, or get attacked from off screen or behind the camera – these were weaknesses of Miyamoto’s 3D efforts. We also solved the “ass” problem by keeping some paths mostly in what is called “x and y space.” In these levels, you got to see the character from the side. For good measure, we even had levels that came “out of” the screen’s z axis. Gamers will remember these as the boulder levels. Controlling a character that ran at the camera allowed a full frontal view – with shorts on, of course.
Most importantly, Andy and I made the audacious decision that because Nintendo and Sega already had mascots, we would make our game for the Sony PlayStation. Sony was new to video games, and therefore, they had no legacy characters. We were in Utah after two days of solid discussion when we made the decision. Two 24-year-olds, who had never made a successful game, with all of their worldly possessions in the back of their car, were going to drive to Los Angeles, hire their first employees, figure out what made a great action game, work on their first 3D title ever, and create a compelling character and franchise. Then all that would remain to do would be to put in a call to Sony and tell them we had created the PlayStation mascot. It was simple, really.
Ramsay: Were you aware at the time that all of this would be quite difficult? Or were you two still just winging it?
Rubin: We were both aware of the difficulty, and yet completely sure that we would manage to overcome the barriers and create the Sony mascot. This, despite the fact that we had no way of knowing whether Sony itself was working on a mascot internally, which would have guaranteed failure. Remember, at the time we were working with Universal, not Sony. Sony had no way of knowing about what we were doing, and we had no way of knowing how they would react. Of course, who were we to attempt a game of this complexity and against such great competition? Again, to succeed as an entrepreneur takes a certain amount of blind faith, bordering on raw audacity and possibly entering the realm of stupidity. Andy and I had that kind of faith. By this time, we were certainly doing business planning. We had a budget, we had employees, and we had deadlines. Naughty Dog had become a business.
Although we were both computer hackers, Andy and I were comfortable with business and management. I was treasurer of my senior class and an economics major. I had run multiple small businesses of my own on the side over the years, including a t-shirt printing business while I was at college that sold 50,000 t-shirts in a year. I knew how to use Quicken and budget time on spreadsheets. We never had problems running a business.
Ramsay: When you arrived in Los Angeles, where did you set up shop?
Rubin: As part of our deal with Universal, they paid to put us in a space on the back lot of Universal Studios. We received free phone lines, fax machines, secretarial staff, etc. Originally, we didn’t even owe them a product for all of this free help. They just wanted “talented people” working on their lot, and hoped that would lead to good things for Universal. It sounds strange, but this strategy had worked for Universal. We had roughly the same deal that Steven Spielberg had at the time, although our entire space was the size of his office!
This methodology is totally different from what the game publishers would have offered. EA had given us a budget and expected to get a game in return. If we needed power or desks or a roof over our heads, then we had to figure out how to get that for ourselves. You are either internal or external to publishers. Internal teams get everything done for them, but don’t own or control anything. External teams have to fend for themselves.
We had something in between at Universal. We liked the Hollywood “housekeeping deal” arrangement, and in the end, we signed a three-project deal with Universal that eventually produced hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for them. So, it worked out for everyone.
Ramsay: Were there other internal teams on the Universal lot?
Rubin: Naughty Dog was the first team that Universal brought on the lot under a “housekeeping deal.” Mark Cerny, vice president of Universal Interactive, felt confident enough about only one other team to bring them on the lot – Insomniac Games. All other teams were off-lot and operated under the standard terms of a development deal.
It is fair to call Naughty Dog and Insomniac’s relationship competitive, but only in the best of terms. We critiqued each other’s work, we shared code occasionally, and we even had each other’s characters do cameos in our games. We also spent time with each other outside the office, and I’m still quite close with the Insomniacs today. During the day, we were all business, but at the end of the day, there was nobody else that understood what you were going through more than someone who did what you did. So, we were also friends.
The competition continues today. In my opinion, Naughty Dog had the edge in sales and quality in the Crash days versus Insomniac’s Spyro. But I think it is only fair, in retrospect, to say that Ratchet & Clank was a more successful franchise – sometimes in sales, but also in impact – than Jak and Daxter. I’ll leave it to the fans to judge Resistance versus Uncharted. The games are less comparable than past titles because they don’t share a genre, but I know that in their hearts, the guys at Naughty Dog and Insomniac still measure themselves against their brother development house.
Ramsay: By 1998, Crash Bandicoot was an iconic trilogy that defined the PlayStation, but the three-project deal had ended. I assume that Naughty Dog had to vacate the premises soon after?
Rubin: Naughty Dog made the decision to not renew its deal with Universal Interactive. By the time that Crash 3 rolled around, Universal’s role had shrunk to nothing. Sony was financing and publishing the games, and additionally providing valuable worldwide production advice. Mark Cerny, who started at Universal and was a large contributor to Crash’s success, had become an independent contractor and continued to work with us. And, of course, Naughty Dog was doing the heavy lifting of developing the titles. Universal was simply being paid for the intellectual property rights.
Andy and I decided that we were not willing to split the developers’ share of revenue with an entity which was contributing nothing to the mix, which was extremely difficult to work with, and which was actively trying to take credit for Crash’s success. So, we announced that we were not renewing our contract and we were leaving the lot after Crash 3. At that point, Universal Interactive’s management lost their minds.
We were forced to develop Crash 3 in the hallways of their offices. Although they still had a contract to give us office space, they decided to make our lives as miserable as possible. We were under extreme deadlines for a Christmas release, so we couldn’t move the team in the middle of the project. We had to stay in those hallways until the game was done. Naughty Dog was working 16- to 20-hour days that year with no weekends. To make matters worse, Universal refused to pay for the air conditioning in their offices, and thus their hallways, after hours. Los Angeles summers, especially in the San Fernando Valley, are extremely hot. At night, and especially during the weekend, the heat on the thirty-fourth floor passed 100 degrees. This is not an exaggeration. We had to buy thermometers and measure the temperature constantly because the heat was affecting more than our comfort. Our servers were going down because the internal temperatures of the hard drives were going over 130 degrees. And the building wouldn’t let us bring in portable airconditioning units, so we were forced to cool the servers by blowing air over a bucket of ice with a fan. That solved the problem until we managed to disguise an air-conditioning unit as a mini-refrigerator and sneak it in.
I could tell endless tales of Universal Interactive’s spite and contractual misbehavior that year, but that’s all history. They tried to break us. They couldn’t. Although we all worked shirtless at desks in hallways that year, we got Crash 3 done. To put all of this in perspective, Crash 3 was guaranteed to make Universal hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. Yet, as a company, they didn’t have the decency to accept our decision as independents to chart our own destiny. And they were vindictive enough to risk their financial windfall had their nonsense caused us to fail. If Universal had been more humane and reasonable, it is possible that Naughty Dog would still be making Crash products today.
The day Crash 3 was finished, Naughty Dog moved off the Universal lot and started work on a kart game. We didn’t have characters attached then. The first versions had nondescript block-headed kart riders. Our relationship with Sony was always incredibly close. We offered to make the game based on Crash characters, if they dealt with Universal and obtained the rights. At that point, Naughty Dog couldn’t even speak to Universal’s management they were so… apoplectic. Sony managed to do so, and thus our first title after leaving Universal was a final Crash product: Crash Team Racing.
At the same time, Naughty Dog decided to start fresh. While most of Naughty Dog worked on Crash Team Racing, Andy, Stephen White, and Mark Cerny started working on a next-generation engine for what eventually became the PlayStation 2. Andy and I risked $4 million of Naughty Dog’s cash into starting development of Jak and Daxter. This was well before thoughts of selling Naughty Dog entered our minds.(source:gamesindustry)