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What Inspired the Jak and Daxter series

Looking back, the platforming genre has undergone several changes through the years which aided it to stay relevant to this very day. Much of that is the result of weighty reinvention and innovation through the ages that spawned several successful games, be it 2D side-scrolling or full 3D platforming games. However, with the appearance of the N64, PlayStation, and the Sega Dreamcast consoles, platforming genre would take a step forward, and change as a whole. This opened hidden doors to the developers to dive deep into their imagination, and bring new ideas that weren't implemented in other previous works.

It is at that moment that the world would witness the release of some of the best platforming games which are still discussed to this day. One fine example is Crash Bandicoot. This one came out as a surprise by Naughty Dog, and ended up garnering massive critical acclaim, and an array of countless awards. After perceiving the colossal accomplishment of the latter, Naughty Dog was ready for more,  so they went to work on their new IP, and that is, ladies and gentlemen, Jak & Daxter. A new game that would be revealed at E3 in June 2001 with a budget of  $14 million and a development cycle that lasted nearly three years. A period after, the series would end up spawning 6 games.

Today, I'll be once again diving into '' What Inspired: Games '', and this time we will take a look at what inspired the Jak and Daxter series. As usual, I'll use facts, as well as, some of my own personal analysis, enjoy.

Starting with Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario 64

After the success of Sony's mascot, Crash Bandicoot, the Naughty Dog team had plans to surpass their past projects and bring something more innovative and more fun to play. This can be seen in one of Andy Gavin's interviews on PlayStation.Blog :

''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. ''

After setting their goal, the team began to brainstorm ideas. One of their primary ideas were to create a seamless open-world environment, where players can roam freely without loading screens while exploring every corner in the game, with a camera that wouldn't have left players feeling sick or tired of the fictional world. However, due to the original PlayStation's lack of capabilities, Naughty Dog couldn't imagine their ideas becoming a reality. Instead, they gave up on the idea, and went ahead to improve the visuals and focus on something traditional, something similar to the likes of Donkey Kong Country-style gameplay.

'' 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.'' Andy Gavin

However, with the release of Super Mario 64, and Banjo-Kazooie, it proved to Naughty Dog that a free-roaming platforming game was possible despite the technical difficulties at the time. Nevertheless, Shigeru Miyamoto has demonstrated what a console such as N64 is capable of doing if it's pushed to its limitation.

'' 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-Kazooie vastly improved the playability. Clearly, on the PS2, full 3D could be great.'' Andy Gavin

It was at that moment that Naughty Dog had planned to design Jak & Daxter with the spirit of Crash Bandicoot as its core -without forgetting to make the game better, bigger, and more open-ended which would absorb players for hours.

Crash and Banjo-Kazooie, buddies to the end

There's a noticeable similarity between this trio. Each main character on the game has his own buddy who's willing to walk through hell with him. For example, Crash has Aku Aku as they both go through a series of platforming, running and jumping here and there while Crash sends his enemies to oblivion. On the other hand, Banjo has Kazooie. A red-crested breegull who lives in her pal's backpack most of the time, poking her head out only to scold other various characters with funny insult and jabbering.

Meanwhile, Jak has his comrade too, Daxter. Just like the previous buddies mentioned above, he acts as a supporting sidekick of Jak throughout the main series. Compared to Aku Aku and Kazooie, Daxter was formerly human before he transformed into a precursor ottsel upon falling into dark eco. While Jak and Daxter were previously best friends, what happened to Daxter made their friendship grow even stronger and far more unique. But, we can also observe how Crash and Banjo played a major role in inspiring both Jak and Daxter's teamwork and friendship. Not only that, but the overall feel and the gameplay are quite comparable to Banjo-Kazooie as well. In the end, I believe Naughty Dog is forever indebted to Rare's title for making their dream become a reality.

In the quote below, we can see what Daxter was meant to do in the first game, but sadly, that only happened in the second, and third entry.

''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.'' Andy Gavin

The sudden  rise of GTA style gameplay

Shortly after the success of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, platforming genre began to falter gradually. It stopped being as lucrative as it was on the N64 and the PS1. This sudden change would be explained by the rise of Grand Theft Auto III and First-person shooter games.

As a result, many developers aimed their vision at making something similar to the latter, something that would bring profit rather than risking it like Kya: Dark Lineage, Vexx and Pitfall: The Lost Expedition and other platformers. While these games were over-the-top and fun to play, they were simply unlucky to have been released in a period in which the platforming genre was witnessing a gradual decay.

In one of our interviews with Jonathan Casco, the former artist at Capcom, he explains how the industry began witnessing a noticeable change when it came to what's lucrative and what's not. He does so in the quote below:

''I believe a lot of game companies were going through this back then. It was the end of a pretty long and successful hardware cycle. Mobile gaming was becoming a thing and it had already split the market in Japan so publishers like Capcom were trying to figure out how to prepare for the future. Development costs were only going up for console while mobile games were becoming lucrative with a much lower overhead. Basically at that time if you weren’t making a game like GTA or an FPS for console most likely you weren’t considered marketable.'' Jonathan Casco

Jak II was a casualty of this change in the game industry, and Naughty Dog couldn't help themselves but accept this sudden change. Therefore, the team began evolving the main character for the current market while trying not to lose what made Jak an appealing and lovable character in the first place. As a result, Jak would go from a character whose whole purpose was to save this little world from menacing evil to a tortured character, filled with revenge and dark powers.

Upon doing this, Jak II would be regarded as a completely different game compared to its predecessor. Back then, it caused a sort of controversy among those who grew up with the prequel. Their issue was with how could the developers change something from happy and colourful to edgy and dark.

Jak from mute to mature 

Jak II was nothing but a revolutionary project for Naughty Dog, and seeing at the time how the industry was on fire with some of the best games, the team couldn't stay still while watching all of those games coming left and right. One of those games is, once again, GTA III. The latter came out as a bomb for Naughty Dog. They simply didn't see it coming, and in order to survive, they had to adapt with the bitter reality by creating their own version of GTA-like gameplay, with a mature atmosphere, edgy character, and a dark storyline. Despite doing this, Naughty Dog managed to retain what made Jak a fun and enjoyable platforming game. In the quote below, Sam Thompson explains how it felt for Naughty Dog to see all those games at the time:

Jak was revolutionary for us,” Thompson proudly noted. “And then the next year and a half, we started to see titles like God of War and Killzone… Everything started to change. You had Grand Theft Auto III coming out. All of a sudden, it’s about real worlds, photorealism, gritty stories, a lot more violence.” Jak & Daxter had none of that.''
On the other hand, Josh Sherr adds to what Sam Thompson previously said:

Near the end of Jak 1 was when Grand Theft Auto III came out,” Scherr said. “While we were trying to finish the game, we were all sitting around in the lounge trying to rack up a five-star rating as quickly as possible. If you played Jak II, that set off some light bulbs in Jason’s head. Jak II, we really went all out in terms of the ambition. Everybody pushed everything.
Fun fact, the developers were aware of gamers' response to the ball crushing difficulty Jak II had, and so Scherr admits it in one of his discussions with IGN:

There’s a fair amount of debate as to the quality of the final game. I know some people love its scope and the breadth of all the different activities you can do. Other people feel that it was just way too spread out, lost a lot of the charm, or lost a lot of the platforming stuff, anyway,” Scherr admits. “I think one thing everybody can agree on, though, is that that game is just way too fucking hard.
At the end of the day, Naughty Dog had no choice but to take a step forward if they wished to see Jak's franchise to compete long term. Once again Thompson from Naughty dog explains it all briefly:

''That was the decision we had to make,” Thompson conceded. “Jason and Andy specifically – and this is with all of the stakeholders at Sony buying in as well – they had to mature this franchise if they wanted it to compete long term.

 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater influenced the Jet-Board

Back when I first played Jak II, I was still a little kid whose goal was to just play games and forget about something called '' school ''. However, after a couple of years, the nostalgia kicked inside of me, so I went to dive back into the past and relieve the good memories. Afterwards, when I obtained the Jet-Board for the first time in the game, I couldn't help myself with comparing it to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series.

Now, I'm not the first one who noticed such a thing and not the only one either. Factually, there's this feeling a player experiences whenever Jak goes jumping, flipping his board, doing signature moves and other actions.

It seems that Naughty Dog has borrowed a handful of inspiration from different kind of games not only for the gameplay, but also for the story, the overall look and the atmosphere. Unlike other developers which will make it obvious that they've copied a game's formula, Naughty Dog took this formula and sprinkled some of their unique touch on Jak & Daxter series. And to be honest, only a few people will pick those touches.

Jak III's desert cars remind me of Mad Max

While the guys at Naughty Dog admitted how Jak III took inspiration from another Rockstar Game called Smugglers Run, I couldn't help myself but wonder if Mad Max has played a role too. For those who have already played the game, there are a handful of similarities that cannot be simply ignored. One of them is the fact of how dangerous the ''Wasteland'' can be. 

One moment you'll be having fun driving your car, but the next moment you'll be encountering dangerous brigands with deadly vehicles  willing to destroy yours with anything under their sleeve. Not only that, but also the feeling of an empty desert yet the sensation of something lurking in the sands. This is one of my own analysis, and if you have something similar to the latter, let us know below!

The quote below show Thompson talking about inspiration behind Jak 3's cars inspiration, as well as, the atmosphere:

"Jak 3 -- which launched barely a year after Jak II did, in November, 2004 – was a reflection of the series’ continued evolution. Just like Grand Theft Auto III heavily influenced Jak II’s direction, Jak 3 was influenced by another Rockstar game, Smuggler’s Run. “Jason was playing that, and he’s like, ‘hmm,’” Scherr remembers. “All of a sudden, there’s a lot of driving in buggies and desert sands in Jak 3.
As I said above, Naughty Dog takes several inspirations from other games and implement their spin on them. Thompson once again in the quote below explains it briefly:
 “We like our influences,” he admits. “We look at what some other games are doing, and if we feel it’s appropriate for what we’re doing, we’ll see if we can incorporate it and put our own spin on it. That was also kind of the philosophy on Jak.
Jak X: The last breath

Jak X was the last Jak game from Naughty Dog. Not because of low sales or any technical issues, but it was about the direction the game was heading to. In addition, the team was pretty exhausted from all those past 10 years of planning and creativity. However, after Gavin and Rubin left, things would only get more difficult for the team.

Gavin and Rubin had a plethora of ideas for Jak and Daxter series under their sleeve, but they couldn't see those ideas going anywhere with how the industry was evolving at the time. Nevertheless, before Naughty Dog would move to PlayStation 3 and start working on their new title, they made Jak X: Combat Racing. The latter is a combination of their past works (Jak 3) with a mix of a mature Crash Team Racing where you destroy your enemies using deadly guns and rockets.

Despite Jak X being the last Jak game by Naughty Dog, it received critical acclaim by various journalist that praised the overall challenge, the story, and the different take on the game. Sadly, after this achievement, Jak would be handed to Ready At Dawn. The aforementioned, at the end, would spawn a prequel featuring Daxter, and a sequel called Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier which wasn't well received by fans.

Bonus: Jak 4, and the lost hope

Before The Last of Us, a reboot of Jak IV was considered by Naughty Dog. However, they didn't believe the direction they were headed into was worth the shot, and so the project was cancelled. Moreover, at IGDA Toronto,  2013 Keynote, Neil Druckmann talked about Jak IV's cancelled project in the quote below:

''Our task was to reboot Jak & Daxter. We spent a lot of time exploring the world of Jak and Daxter and how we would reboot it; how we would bring these characters back, some story ideas that we were getting excited about. As much as we like these concepts and exploring these fantastical worlds, we found the ideas that we were getting passionate about were getting away from Jak & Daxter.  We were questioning ourselves, were we doing this for marketing reasons and naming something Jak & Daxter when it really isn’t Jak & Daxter, or were we really passionate about it?''
This marks the end of this article. Did you enjoy it? what other games you looking forward to see? Let us know below, and don't forget to follow The Geek Getaway on Twitter for more!