Daniel Arey, Creative Director, Naughty Dog
What was the creative mandate for Jak3?
Jak3 was the culmination of four-and-a-half years of game development. When we started Jak and Daxter, we wanted to play with narrative as a reward-you're jumping around but also doing it for a reason. You're clinging to the mountaintop not to get the gold but to talk to the monk who's going to tell you something important. We felt that sort of thing had never been experienced. We started telling a story. In Jak 2, we expanded it heavily-we made characters you cared about. Jak 3 was the culmination of that. The trilogy was coming to an end, so we wanted to tell the story, to finally give the player an idea about the story we haven't told yet. We wanted to finally answer some of those questions-as well as upping the ante as far as mechanics.
For us, the philosphy as far back as Crash Bandicoot has been putting people in a playground and letting them play-thats what our philosphy has always been. The idea with this game was to expand characters, expand narrative and tie up the trilogy.
What is your process in terms of developing the story?
I started writing back in August of the previous year-Jak 2 wasn't even done when I was doing story development for Jak 3. I'll sit down and use a flowchart. I actually use Excel-where plot points can be put into cells and color coded. In the story, Jak is thrown out of the city. Before, you were inside and trying to get out; in Jak 3, youre outside and you're trying to get back in. I built Excel sheets that went from Act One to Act Three-even though that structure is a bit contrived and not really relevant to a videogame. But once I had the plot I liked-everything you're doing is for a reason-you're not just jumping over sand dunes, you're rescuing people or finding things. They have meaning and weight to them. Each of the script pieces is done in a sort of theater format.
Our goal was to do 60 minutes of animation. Each animator can do roughly 30 seconds of animation a week, so 60 minutes is a lot of animation time. I have to make every word count. We want to get players in and out, but we have to entertain them-we have to tell players what they need to do, and we have to further the plot and the characters. And we'll have a joke or two in there, of course.
Daxter is voiced by Max Kinsella-he's my secret weapon. He's like George for Seinfeld. Jak is the hero we want to be; Daxter is the hero we're afraid we are. I write the scenes, put jokes in them, experiment with Daxter and create a lot of shots I'm going to record in the studio. These takes get drawn by background artists production design. Bob Rafei does character design, he does all the drawings-for example, he did the new character Count Veger. Bob does the design of the character, then he does a schematic. It's laid out in post, done in three dimensions, multiple angles. A modeler will take that and do a model in Maya. The fidelity to Bob's design drawings is incredible. We've made up to 10,000 ploygon models.
There are up to eight animators working simultaneously. I will have written a scene months ago, the actor will take it to the next level, then it's given to the animators-they will listen to the sound file and think how it should look, and they will take it to another level. They are part of the actor. A glance can be a counterpoint to what was recorded. A certain look in the eye or the shape of a smile can change the narrative content of the scene.
What is your background?
When I was growing up, I was into videogames-the early wave, early Atari 40 and 800 and early Apple. I wanted to be a computer major; I also took film classes. I continued to do videogame stuff. It was considered a fad back then, back in1986-87. I got my first job at Electronic Arts. Games were becoming interactive, so I could combine my interests in film, storytelling and computers and technology. It was amazing.
I then got a job at Crystal Dynamics-I was emplyee number seven in 1992. At that time, things were about to go to the next phase in videogames with 3DO. We thought this was where media convergence was going to happen. It was a false start. Then an opportunity opened up at Naughty Dog. I've been here for seven years. A lot of us are from different backgrounds, but we all have an interest in games, film and art. It's all about figuring out how a player translates fun from pushing buttons. It's an art and a science.
Bob Rafei Art Director, lead concept artist, character animator, Naughty Dog
Describe your gear setup.
Photoshop CS, Maya 6.5 on Windows XP, Pentium 4 CPU 2.8HGz, 1.00GB of RAM. Dual monitors' main monitor is a Wacom Cintiq 18SX. I still depend on pen and paper for the initial drawings. For this, I use reams of 11x17 copy paper or marker pads. I tend to use Col-Erase blue pencil for the underdrawing, Micron pens and Prismacolor markers for the final line work. Then the scan is colored in Photoshop.
What was your inspiration for some of the characters (e.g., Count Veger)?
Dan Arey described Count Veger to me as a "conniving politician." My main focus was to make him look pompous, arrogant, vain, aristocratic and self-righteous. Since he wasn't the kind to be in the trenches and probably never did any real labor, I made him very thin and nonmuscular. He looks rather old, which is intended to reflect his corruption; we avoided any gray or white in his hair to show a lack of wisdom. His outfit is dated to evoke a backward-looking mentality and aristocracy in Jak's unique world.
How do you work with the animators so that the characters are realized in the way you envisioned?
We have a brief conversation about exactly the characters are. Usually, this is enough for animators to distinguish what is appropriate and in character vs. what isn't. We encourage our animators to run with their ideas, which usually yields much fuller results.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
If I wasn't doing anything visual, I would probably be a doctor or teacher . . . or a job that allowed me to blow shit up!