Behind The Classics: Jak & Daxter

jakdaxter key art

When I took over the PlayStation Blog a month or two back, I promised you a few new regular features and today we’re happy to unveil the first of them: Behind The Classics. Every fortnight (well, that’s the plan at least), we’ll be talking to the creative force behind a vintage PS One or PlayStation 2 title. To kick things off, Naughty Dog co-founder Andy Gavin was kind enough to lend us his time to discuss the making of seminal 2001 PS2 platformer Jak & Daxter.

We’ve got the next few entries in the series lined up, but please feel free to leave your suggestions for future interview subjects below. Manage your expectations – these people aren’t always easy to track down – but we’ll do our best.

Anyway, without further ado, over to Andy…

What was the original concept for the game? Was it a deliberate attempt to create a PlayStation 2 mascot to rival Crash Bandicoot?

Andy Gavin: 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.

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.

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-Kajooie vastly improved the playability. Clearly, on the PS2, full 3D could be great.

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Did you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular for the game’s look and feel?

Andy Gavin: With Crash we enjoyed enormous worldwide success in no small part due to our collaboration with Sony’s worldwide producers. So for Jak & Daxter we set out to create a character and environment that merged elements from worldwide cultures. You can see the result in Jak, who is a hybrid of Western cartoons and Eastern manga. We asked every Naughty Dog artist to spend a couple of days sketching concepts for the look of the game. We threw these on a giant table and picked elements we liked as a group.

It was an ambitious title for its time. What were the biggest challenges in realising your original vision?

Andy Gavin: Like every first-on-a-system Naughty Dog game, Jak had a rocky development. First of all, the PS2 was difficult to program, particularly in those early days when no workable examples or libraries existed. On top of that, I made the audacious choice to write the entire game in a programming language of my own design called GOAL, creating a brand new compiler and debugger from scratch. In addition, to realise the ambitious graphical goals, we invented a roster of brand new technologies: several different level of detail systems, perhaps 10 rendering engines, seamless loading from DVD, advanced runtime physics and joint animation systems to rival the offline tools. It was really, really crazy and basically took us about 20 months just on the engineering side before the engine was able to produce the kind of levels we wanted.

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Can you tell me more about the mooted third character and why it was axed?

Andy Gavin: There never were any serious plans for a third character. But 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.

How close to your original concept was the finished game?

Andy Gavin: Very close. We wanted to put you into this beautiful, fully-rendered fantasy world and yet allow full interactive exploration. We wanted no loading, elaborate storytelling, a camera you didn’t need to manually control, and both classic platform and vehicle gameplay.

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Which element of the game are you most proud of?

Andy Gavin
: I’m both most proud and most torn over GOAL, my custom language and development environment. This ended up being so much harder than I thought, and is certainly the most sophisticated programming I’ve done in my career. In the end it was pretty awesome, although not without its quirks. I’m also supremely proud of our completely load-free seamless-world. We were the first to do this – I even have a patent on it – and few have attempted it since. It was a lot of work!

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And let’s not forget Jak’s control, which I personally programed. Jak has really good control, as good as any game ever. His animation is incredibly fluid, yet he is supremely responsive to both the player and the environment. Even basic elements of his control system were written and re-written a dozen times.

How would you like the first Jak & Daxter to be remembered? What did it bring to the video game medium?

Andy Gavin: The single most important thing that it brought to the medium – and there are countless smaller things – is its consistent and complete integration of the game and story elements. This comes to full fruition in Jak 2, and continues peerlessly today in newer Naughty Dog games like Uncharted. Jak has a detailed and involved story, but it’s never a semi-interactive movie, it’s a video game! The storytelling does not come at the expense of the gameplay.

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Which of Naughty Dog’s PlayStation characters – Crash, Jak & Daxter, or Nathan Drake – is closest to your heart?

Andy Gavin: Crash and Neo Cortex are my favorites, and I also have a really big sweet spot for Daxter, who is such a hoot. The Uncharted characters are awesome too, but I can’t take any responsibility for them, so the connection isn’t as personal. And don’t get me wrong, I love all of my babies, even back to the forgotten ones like Keef the Thief, but really Crash’s wicked orange grin melts my heart, and Cortex is who I secretly wanted to be… If I were a cartoon. :-)

5 Author replies
almighty-slayer 24 August, 2012 @ 16:11

Great idea for a feature Fred, and a great read.

As for suggestions…Jaffe always loves talking, maybe ask him about Twisted Metal? Or ask Insomniac about Ratchet and Clank? :)


Yep, hopefully shouldn’t be too long before you see Mr Jaffe on here.

supersmith2500 24 August, 2012 @ 16:17

Jak & Daxter is an awesome franchise and also an awesome duo indeed. No wonder why Daxter made his debut in PAIN as a free playable character in PAIN. What the PS3 needs is more D&D games.

Wow possibly the greatest feature to appear on here love getting insights into my fave games. As for suggestions would love to seE some old classics like Medievil, Spyro, Ape Escape and Ico. Third party if possible Kingdom Hearts, Okami, Parasite Eve and GTA III.


I’ll add these to the list. Some should be very do-able. Japanese developers can generally be more difficult to reach because of the language barrier. Never say never, but don’t hold your breath for Ico, Kingdom Hearts etc.



bidbaldwolf86 24 August, 2012 @ 16:25

I really wish they would put this HD collection on the VIta. It would be perfect for it.

I might be the only one, but it would be great to hear about how some of playstation’s party games like Buzz, Singstar and the eyetoy came about with the mics & buzzers etc

Great read :) Keep it up with these behind the classics! Oh and next one should be Insomniac games :D.




Naughty Dog need to make a 4th


i bought alice madness returns from playstation store for £6.39 but its charged me £11.24 for the game. its clearly priced as £6.39 so idk why ive been charged more. does anyone know who i can speak to, to sort it out ???

almighty-slayer 24 August, 2012 @ 16:52

Maybe you should ask GAME customer services…


ignore above lol jus looked and its the dlc thats £6.39 i had a dumb moment

fjernbetjening 24 August, 2012 @ 17:02

Insomniac Games should be next, either for Spyro or Ratchet & Clank.

We NEED a new Jak game on PS3 with a huge seamless world!

Great feature. My favorite PS2 series is still Ratchet and Clank, but if you could get Sucker Punch in for a interview it would be awesome.

ryannumber3gamer 24 August, 2012 @ 17:07

Loved this post because i love Jak & Daxter. My first battle in Playstation all-stars will be Jak vs Ratchet vs Sly vs Sackboy :D


Jak and Daxter is without a doubt my favourite Platformer of all time, I just love everything about the original. As someone who grew up with great platformers like Sonic, Klonoa, Ape Escape and such I have to say for me Jak and Daxter perfected the formula. So good :)

Suggestions for interviwees:

Hideo Kojima (Kojima Productions) on the origins of the Metal Gear franchise including those from before MGS1.

Ted Price (Insomniac Games) on the origins of Spyro and Resistance (but not Ratchet and Clank as Insomniac have already released an article on that recently).

Hideo Yoshizawa (Namco) on the origins of Klonoa and development of Klonoa 2.


See above re. Japanese developers, but all noted. Mr Kojima is in town for Eurogamer Expo next month – I’ll see if I can collar him…


Kojima productions, Rockstar games, Dice, Guerilla games, Quantic dream, Ubisoft (Assassin’s creed)!


This makes me want another Jak and Daxter game, one that features a bit more of the colour of the original. Man what a great game.


great feature, mayb if square Enix remember who their most loyal fans are you could have a chat about the final fantasy series


We’re looking into this! No promises!

Killzone 1 would be great :) and star wars battlefront


Insomniac Games for Spyro! And i would love to hear some stuff about Medievil.

ryannumber3gamer 27 August, 2012 @ 01:46

Hey Fred please tell Naughty Dog thank you for Jak & Daxter The Precursor Leagcy’s soundtrack. I LOVE the soundtrack to this game!

Jak and Daxter the precursor legacy was one of my favourite games, Jak II was ok too but the whole GTA style of vehicles was kind of annoying to get around the world, I think they should have stuck with all the elements from the first game and just built on that instead of making a GTA style platformer. The crash bandicoot games though are the best. Its good to see Andy Gavin doing this interview he’s a very talented programmer, its a shame to see him leave the gaming industry with the talent he has, it was clear to see his programming was superior to other developers on both PS1 and PS2 the games were just so much better than other games for me on those platforms, it would be realy good to hear of him making a comeback I’m not sure it will ever happen though :(

T-UNDERTAKER_653 30 August, 2012 @ 02:39

Jak and Daxter The Precursor Legacy IS ABSOLUTY BLOODY AWESOME Im Hoping NAUGHTY DOG WILL Make Another Jak and Daxter Game For The PS3

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