(Click here for the Tumblr version of this review. It has pictures and my opinion on a few of them: (neoyi.tumblr.com/post/10094361…
I’ve been waiting for this book for fifteen years. Finally
, a look at the madness that created the likes of Crash Bandicoot
and Jak and Daxter.
It was a little late in arriving, admittedly. By the time it reached my doorsteps, there had already been several sites and blogs I’ve stumbled across that were perfectly content to explore everything worth knowing about the first two and by that point, Naughty Dog had shuffled their attention to the Uncharted
series and The Last of Us
, two great franchises in their own right, but lacking the childhood nostalgia I longed for to know its inner secrets behind its making from the mouths of the kennel themselves. The Art of Naughty Dog
doesn’t quite fit the gap, but makes up for it in other ways.
I’m a rambunctious perfectionist when it comes to art books and supplementary materials. I need everything
—details, character profiles, sketches, whatever—and no stone shall be left unturned. The Art of Naughty Dog
takes its inaugural first step with a standard introductory foreword by Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, followed by an excellent first chapter detailing Naughty Dog’s early years before Crash, back when they were at one point infamously and unfortunately named “JAM Software” (an old Official US Playstation
magazine interview had NDi co-founder Jason Rubin sheepishly excuse it as the 80s.) Importantly, it praises Naughty Dog founders Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin (among others such as character designer Charles Zembillas, Joe Pearson and Bob Rafei as well as experienced game designer Mark Cerny), then two teenage geniuses with a gift for computers submitting video games before they were out of high school! If that wasn’t a precursor of Naughty Dog’s future quality, I don’t know what is. We then get a two page spread of postcards created by Naughty Dog. A couple amusing ones involve the Japanese version of Crash with his pal Parappa
(warning, the commercial is ridiculously
Japanese) and several artworks from the NDi staff (my personal favorite involves N. Brio and Neo Cortex dressed up as an elf and Santa respectfully; the latter looking ironically more elfish, and any crossover between Uncharted
and The Last of Us
because it’s hilarious just seeing Joel and Ellie temporarily leaving their post-apocalyptic world only to come across a festively lighted Christmas celebration with Drake and pals.)
After, we get individual chapters of the four mainstream games that made Naughty Dog a household name. A lot of the book largely show final renderings of the characters and a few sketches of progress. The advertisement of the book promises materials never seen in the spotlight before and they are true to their words. There are quite a few artworks and productions I have never seen (and I ain’t lying when I say there’s a bushel of Crash
art flowing around; links below this article.) Final promotional images pepper the entire book, though if it were up to me, I’d have totally make their rendition of Cortex's castle
a one-page spread because that piece of art is gorgeous.
The book isn’t perfect and its decisions to include which characters and background art is strangely obtuse. The Crash Bandicoot
section is almost pitch perfect and I imagine a lot of that had to do with the game’s simplicity in comparison to the rest. Jak and Daxter
’s first three games gets a really damn good section (including a Precursor alphabet guide for convenience), but it flounders slightly by Jak X
, refusing to share any character artwork the rest had until now (though has there ever been a finalized version of Razor ever drawn that didn’t include his then blonde hair? I’ve never seen one in the ten years the game’s been out; hell, I wonder if Naughty Dog even has one!) Why does Ashelin and Torn get their own profile in this game of all things yet choose to ignore longer series mainstays Samos and Keira? Uncharted
and The Last of Us
aren’t near as meaty as the first two. There are profiles for the primary cast and a bit for the antagonists, but secondary characters are virtually ignored. There are beautiful background paintings and finalized artwork, but the latter takes up more space than usual. I imagine this might have a lot to do with The Last of Us
already possessing its own artbook (also by Dark Horse; worth purchasing BTW) and Uncharted getting its own in the future. So these two a little more lacking in the behind-the-scene department. It does have one leg-up over the The Art of The Last of Us
and that’s the Left Behind
DLC, having not been released at the time of the book’s release. Sadly, it’s a meager two-page spread. Yeah, it’s only for a three-hour extra, but still. The Art of Naughty Dog
is fortunately informative; there’s a lot to read as there is to marvel at the pretty pictures. Naughty Dog talks extensively about their history and projects, showing an immerse level of attention and love they have for their product. There are delightful information I never knew about until I got this book, such as Drake sporting a Jak and Daxter-ish
style before sticking with a realistic render and shocking of all, Dark Daxter actually being a concept as early as Jak II
(he was going to transform alongside Jak in that game.)Granted, it still doesn’t make Dark Daxter in The Lost Frontier
any stupider, mind you.
The Undeveloped Projects chapter is an interesting universe to step in because it unfolds the fabled Jak 4
that never was. NDi sprinkled a few images online, but only now do we get a firm grasp on what Jak would have looked like…a Mad Max
style Cloud Strife. Uncanny doesn’t even begin to cover it. Daxter’s ultra realistic look also brings to mind Rocket Raccoon in terms of attitude and position. It’s a strange concoction to consume and though it would have made for a very interesting game, I think NDi did the smart thing by canning the project. The other cancelled series would have been some kind of sci-fi video game, something I’m even less intrigued about. Both of them eek of generic science fiction, but with mere concept arts to show and nothing else, who knows what their imaginations would have taken them? I did like the potential lead character for Unnamed Sci-Fi having a cyborg arm though.
The Future Projects chapter is a misnomer as it only houses one, the upcoming Uncharted 4.
Nothing major outside of a series of beautiful artwork, but I am very intrigued on that underwater sunken ship. Maybe Drake goes scuba diving?
The Fan Art chapter is exactly that. While there are some amazingly gorgeous artworks to behold (and a wonderful sign of the fans’ devotion to Naughty Dog and their games), this might be the page I would have trimmed just to squeeze in more official artworks and extra materials from the minds that molded Post-Willy the Wombat.
The book dwindles as you progress each page and a part of me wishes there were more. I doubt a volume two will ever arrive, but then again, I’m thankful this book even exists! This is what I’ve always wanted and while it isn’t completely what I had envisioned (time and money probably kept a lot of Dark Horse’s artbooks ranging in the 184+ page range; a limitation I wouldn’t mind them tipping over if it meant sacrificing a few things such as the hardcover), The Art of Naughty Dog
sets out to do what it wanted to: celebrate 30 years of toil, sweat, and blood. And celebrate they did. I can’t mince words and I’m totally being biased, but Naughty Dog deserves every ounce of praise and respect. Overrated and overhyped, perhaps, but I’ve spent eighteen years with Naughty Dog and they’ve rarely disappointed me with their work. Shine on, you crazy diamond dogs, shine on. AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE STARS
STUPID FANCOMICSDiscovery (A Transformers Animated Fancomic):
Read the entire thing here. Placed there for archival purpose. Recently cancelled.
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