Jak and Daxter Turn 20 – Reflections from PlayStation Studios and Friends
Believe it or not, twenty years have passed since a certain brave teenager and his brave ottsel sidekick entered our lives. Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was launched on PlayStation 2 on December 3, 2001. True to its moniker “Precursor,” this platform debut predates the duo’s eventual forays into open-world exploration, desert mayhem, and racing exploits. This first game focuses on satisfying platforming, power cell discovery and the origins of Jak’s story, told with cinematic flair.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy inhabits a fascinating place within Naughty Dog’s gameography, fitting between the pure platform goodness of the Crash Bandicoot trilogy on PlayStation and Nathan Drake’s blockbuster adventures in the Uncharted series from PS3. Despite this first title’s focus on platforming, it’s impossible to overlook Naughty Dog’s signatures, including flowing character animations, richly detailed worlds, and captivating movies. I personally have fond memories of collecting every last power cell and floating in the fantastic Zoomer vehicle.
To mark the anniversary, we invited friends from PlayStation Studios and other outside studios to reflect on the milestone and share their first memories of jumping (and double-jumping) into the world of Jak and Daxter.
“The biggest thing I learned was the challenge of designing an open world game without using load times! We started from the beginning by designing a world and not levels like we were used to from Crash, and we made it a rule that if you could see it, you could walk (or boat or fly!) to a building or cave where you could enter and that the inside would have to fit into the space that the outside could carry. It wasn’t easy!”
– Evan Wells / Co-Chair / Naughty Dog
“I remember being really excited about the physics that the programmers added to the rope bridge because we had rope bridges on Crash Bandicoot, but they didn’t have physics on it. We just jumped up and down the bridge and marveled at how it reacted when Jak jumped on it.”
– Charlotte Francis / Senior Technical Artist / Naughty Dog
Concept art for Jak, the franchise’s brave main hero.
“When Jak & Daxter first came out, it really broke a lot of ground. The graphics at the time were top notch and you could play through very large areas without loading screens. Plus it was a lot of fun. Jak had plenty of traversal and combat options and Daxter was the comic relief. The crazy party animations when you found a Power Cell were half the reward.”
– Darren Chisum/ Engineering Manager/ Bend Studio
“Jak and Daxter was one of the games I played at my grandmother’s house when I was little. I remember she owned a console especially for us when we came to visit and Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was one of the games we would play for hours on end. I will forever remember how hard it was as a kid to cross the volcanic crater on the A-Grav Zoomer or how hard it was to catch 200lbs of fish for that damn fisherman! It was the first game that I actually considered my favorite. I even mentioned Jak and Daxter when I was interviewing for Insomniac because it had such a huge impact on my life and love of games. Never thought I’d get the chance to work with such an iconic company, but it really is a dream come true!”
– Heather Finley / Analyst Quality Assurance / Insomniac Games
“As a kid, I was stunned by the world Naughty Dog created – the humor, the vibrancy, the stories. Jak and Daxter is a series about best friends overcoming adversity, told through incredible cinematics and gameplay. It opened my eyes to the power of storytelling and continuity, while taking huge risks ranging from the lightheartedness of The Precursor Legacy to the bravery of Jak II.How Naughty Dog has won so much heart out of a vengeful, eco-powered man and a tutorializing shoulder weasel (errr. .. Ottsel) is a mystery to me, but it’s a series that has forged lifelong friendships and brought me closer to the PlayStation community.”
– Aaron Jason Espinoza / Senior Community Manager / Insomniac Games
“I vividly remember Jak and Daxter playing like a great interactive cartoon. The Disney-esque animations, the story, the funny relationship between the two protagonists, it all felt like a new barrier had been broken. And as always with Naughty Dog productions, it looked beautiful and played amazingly well. Looking at it today I feel like this game sits very naturally between Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted. We could say it was the precursor to a great heritage.”
– Nicolas Doucet / Studio Director / Team ASOBIA
Concept art for Daxter, the lovable, philosophically cracking ottsel.
“I remember seeing the Jak and Daxter demo at E3 2001 and being impressed. It was the first time I experienced an open world with such an incredible level of fidelity, seamlessness and personality. Then I was told how Andy Gavin and the team came up with their programming language for the game, so it was pretty clear that this was going to be a game-changing game in many ways, and it was.”
– Thomas Puha / Communications Director / Remedy Entertainment
“I was amazed by the freshness of the visuals, the attention to detail of the environments and the animation of the characters. No loading times was a game changer! Even today, we can see the legacy of Jak and Daxter in Naughty Dog’s more recent titles; the attention to detail, groundbreaking technology, superb animation, storytelling and character development can be traced back to a game in which a farm boy and his best friend played.”
– David McDonald / Artist / Firesprite
“What amazed me most about the first Jak and Daxter was the characters – they were so beautifully animated, well written and funny. As a character artist and rigger at the time, I was amazed at the amount of detail the animations had and the vibrancy they conveyed.” When set in such an amazing and strangely believable world, the game just set a whole new benchmark for combining storytelling and gameplay.
– Richard Brazier / Senior Technical Animator / Firesprite
Which moments from Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy stick with you the most? Share with us in the comments below.