One Friday last month, some musicians at the video game Naughty Dog were working on their latest game when they heard the accident. Suddenly a large metal pipe popped over them until it landed near their desk. If it had come a few feet away, the results would have been devastating. It was late in the evening, last week at 9 p.m., and the construction workers above probably thought carelessly that no one was there. But for Naughty the Dog, people were always there.
The owners of the building responded quickly, shot up the construction team, hired a new one, and introduced new security measures to ensure that such an accident would never occur. For some Naughty Dog staff, however, it was a culture of non-health – the kind of place where nighttime construction hazards can occur when people are in the office. Finally for Us Part II, a new PlayStation 4 studio game for people trying to survive the United States, is due out on May 29. Today, as many developers at Naughty Dog enter the night and night of the office to end the game, some continue to wonder the age-old studio question: Is it worth it? ?
As one Naughty Dog dog builder recently told me: “This game is great, but at great cost to humans.”
Or in an industry where extra time is available, where it's almost impossible to get a game out of weeks or months of induction, the Naughty Dog is recognizable. Its games, inclusive Unread adventure series and 2013 Earthquake Last to Us, they are highly viewed among the best, with the authenticity of the factual jumps and the kind of insightful details you won't see in other games. Shooting grain sack on Exclusions 4 it would cause the sack to shrink as the barley is poured into it. A flashlight flashed on Ellie's face Last to Us it has led to him slipping and turning away. That information is there because Naughty Dog has developed a culture of perfectionism, where games should be good, no matter what the cost.
Many who have worked at Naughty Dog over the years have described it as a natural phenomenon – as a place at one time the most beautiful place and the worst work in the world. Working at Naughty Dog means designing exciting, highly acclaimed games and artists and developers who are considered great in their fields. But for many of those same people, it also means working over 12-hour days and weekends when the studio is in drag mode, sacrificing their health, relationships, and personal life on the game altar.
"They try to take care of you, provide you with food, and encourage them to go to rest," one engineer said. "But, for the most part, the bottom line is: & # 39; You've done the job at all costs. & # 39;"
One major effect of this tradition is attraction. Of the 20 non-lead designers in 2016 & # 39; s debt Exclusions 4, which increased by 14-70 percent – is no longer in the studio, which has had a profound effect on design Finally for Us II it also led to questions about the ongoing effectiveness of the Naughty Dog method. Some Naughty Dog veterans tolerate or even enjoy crunch, and a few have found ways to use regular hours, but those who talk to Kotaku they say they see it as an invisible universe.
"This is not going to be a recurring factor in each game, because it cannot be sold," said one developer Finally for Us II. “For some time you see, I can't keep doing this. I'm getting old. I can't stay up all night. & # 39; ”
This Naughty Dog account is based on interviews with 13 current and former commentators, all of whom spoke anonymously because they were not given permission to speak to the media, as well as the reporting I made for my 2017 book, Blood, sweat, and pixels, which directed the production of a riot of Exclusions 4. As is often the case, we couldn't share many personal development stories without jeopardizing their identity, too as usual, we have sinned on the side of caution to keep the wells protected.
A spokesman for Sony and Naughty Dog declined requests for interviews with studio executives and declined to comment.
Crunch culture in Naughty Dog is no secret. The studio is open to the idea where new hires are being discussed, and its executives are deliberately looking for those who want to make art, design, engineering and all the other ways that make games happen. The kind of people Naughty Dog wants to hire are the kind of people who will stay late in the office to make their games better – the kind of people who will take the time to make grain deflate bags when you shoot them. In Naughty Dog, no one is asking developers to grow. No one should ask. They will be there.
In October of 2016, five months after the release of Exclusions 4, I visited the existing Naughty Dog offices in Santa Monica, California and interviewed 20 of their top developers about what it was like to work on Nathan Drake's latest adventure. They were honest about how difficult the process was – the pressed schedule, endless nights and weekends, the pressure that at the end of it all, the game might not come together. The reboot of the momentum amidst development has led Naughty Dog veteran Amy Hennig off the studio again Last to Us Directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley take the lead Exclusions 4, very discouraging. Druckmann and Stanley found themselves writing this script and making quick decisions just to "feed the beast" —to keep all those people active – and they had less than two years to finish the game.
During our interview, Stanley told me that he hoped to cut back on the topic of the next game. “I would never want to do it Exclusions 4 too, ”he said. "Because now we've got this … The power of the team now when you walk around is wonderful. You see the smiles. People are so happy with what they work for." Two months later, Stanley was gone. he was well respected in the studio and respected as a sharp but good leader who had his hands on almost every aspect of the game. KotakuS Splitscreen a podcast in 2018 about his departure, it was obvious feel burned out. “It was really hard to imagine returning to work feeling so energized as I came back from work Last to Us either Exclusions 2, "he said." And so I just felt that there was a change in me – something in me was like, & # 39; OK, let's see what else is out there. & # 39; "
After the fourth Unread, Naughty Dog is divided into two groups. One chunk of the studio worked on the DLC-Turn-standalone-game Excluded: Lost Legacy, a product that, for some people, was far more stressful Exclusions 4. ("It was the worst color I've ever had," one engineer told me.) Another chunk included the make Finally for Us II, which will be the studio's next big project.
For now, hopefully they will not repeat their mistakes Exclusions 4, Neil Druckmann and another track meet to try to figure out what exactly is Finally for Us II it will look as early as possible. "They really felt like they had found a way not to get too much trash," one engineer said. "They've done a lot of strikeouts with all the features ahead of time."
But in game development, things rarely go as planned. As the developers of Naughty Dog worked on the E3 2018 demo and began showing the game's design to the players with feedback, the directors and directors found that some of their decisions were not working. The parts of the story were unrelated to the actors, who said they didn't like the characters they hoped the writers would be able to be liked. In response, Druckmann and another track began scrolling and updating. "That's where the changes were happening," said one developer. "We need to put some stuff in here to talk more about the issue or give you more narrative strokes."
This type of iteration is not uncommon in any video game, and it often leads to the most memorable moments in Naughty Dog games, such as the first one. Last to Us, there the gaming icon area it was not part of the script. One of the most challenging parts of any video game development is that even the elements that sound amazing on paper can turn to feeling worse about gaming, which can lead to months and months of extra work. And it's always hard to resist the urge to add great ideas as they come across the entire product.
On Finally for Us II, these updates have resulted in all kinds of stress and worsening condition. Every day, the game grew larger, and it soon overcame the company's previous releases. "What we saw early on was that we put together the most ambitious and longest-running Naughty Dog game in our 35-year history," Druckmann would later write. "To tell this kind of story the game needed to be great."
By the end of 2018, most departments at the station were in a state of flux, spending hours in the office to keep up with all its activities. Some people had to work late because they had so much more to do than work on a normal work day; others find themselves trapped by pipe wires. There was a developer who could leave until he got a response from the directors, who were tied up at meetings all day and couldn't watch the construction until 6 or 7 in the morning. There was an animated cartoon in the office waiting for their work to be launched into the play by writers and designers. There were artists giving each other assignments – explosions and guns as well hello, can you make this cutting image look good?
"There's a lot of pushing your current load aside to meet these real-time requirements coming to your desk," says Naughty Dog Developer. "Do something you didn't plan for, something else you didn't plan for, and what you planned.
On Finally for Us II, this was an endless cycle. "You feel obligated to get there later, because everybody will be there later," said one engineer. "If the animation needed to be installed and you weren't there to help the animator, then you block the animator, and they can give you some grief. Never to be said again – it might be a look.
During production, game items kept changing, and there was no real way to make sure all those changes would be better. "The only downside is that when you work two to three years on a game, you want to change things sometimes because you've seen them for one year," says another Naughty Dog developer. Sometimes, as any creation can attest, it's hard to say whether you repeat this story or gameplay mechanic because it actually needs to be changed or because you've watched it for so long until you were sick. "I think it's hard to go the distance," the engineer said.
Worse for some Nazyty dog developers is the times when a high-quality decision can result in their work being scrapped without them knowing it. The architect may have been working on the building inside Finally for Us IIThe type of American civilization is post-disaster without realizing their fate has been cut or postponed. They may not be able to find days or weeks, leading to hours and hours of work spent – a disappointing feeling mixed with some of the pressure of production. Comparative guidance has also become a regular feature of the channel. During development Exclusions 4, Stanley and Druckmann have different ideas about whether a skiing event should have a guard on it, leading to three weeks work trash for three people
Many development centers try to solve problems like these through the production department – part of a team dedicated to organization, organization and communication. It is the producer's job to keep track of what people are working on, coordinate the margins, and make sure the whole team stays on schedule. At Naughty Dog, there is no breeding department. Over time, the company has hired a few producers to help with planning and other tasks, but the studio's philosophy has long been that everyone should act as their manufacturer.
On the one hand, this can create a empowering, autonomous atmosphere, where designers and designers are free to add a little clear prosperity that makes Naughty Dog games unique. No one needs to deal with other layers of case management if they want to, uh, make sacks of grain deflate when you shoot them. On the other hand, no one can save developers for Finally for Us II to contact or to discourage change. And no one will tell anyone to stop working overnight.
"It's a great place to be creative," said one developer Finally for Us II. "But you can't go home."
As a result of these issues, Naughty Dog has seen a steady trick up in the last five years. That kind of attraction can get overwhelming, not because people are forced to close each other to dear friends, but because those friends leave holes that make all these problems worse.
If there is one department at Naughty Dog that is critical to the production of its games, its design, which works like Nexus in all company decisions. Designers at Naughty Dog work as managers of different parts of the game, working with writers, artists, audio, and program managers to block and complete each level. That is why it has become such a problem that the studio has lost many of them.
Nowadays, Naughty Dog veterans describe the construction department as a sea of strange faces. 70% of non-paying designers and a large number of artists have worked in it Exclusions 4 now gone, the company has had to fill those roles with less experienced staff, many of whom have never worked in Naughty Dog games before Finally for Us II.
Every young person means that they have to be trained for weeks or months for months of training and tough lessons on how the whole team works. A job that can take a veterinarian for two hours can take two or three times the length of a new employee, and it can be difficult to know what the directors want until you've been working there for a long time. On Finally for Us II, new artists working with new designers find themselves disappointed in how they can affect the standards expected of Ninja, a growing problem with management culture where feedback is often negative. (One of the unwritten studio maps is that when you can't hear anything, you're doing fine.) "It's always been a little blind leading the blind as we go to circles and find our way," says one developer.
In the past, Naughty Dog has been agreeing to hire high-quality employees for this reason. The details of the studio line are so high that inexperienced people can't touch it on their first or second attempt, which often results in hours of work and hours of release for everyone.
Ninja's leading designers "expect the same level of quality over the majority of small contractors as they do for people who have been here for a while, which is funny," said one developer. "It definitely led to a lot of stress and feeling like it was appropriate for many young, stressful people."
There were many reasons to attract attention to the creative department, including the unhappiness of the various leads, the lack of promotional opportunities and the departure of Bruce Straley. But the main reason, current and former employees say, is that the Naughty Dog club culture has burned many of them out. The art department has also lost a lot of people since Exclusions 4, including a sequel and one art director. "The level of management had no real employees," said one art department engineer. "There have been no attempts to hire more."
After cycles of brutal abuse of Exclusions 4 and An Abandoned Legacy, Naughty Dog found them with little choice but to hire a very large number of helpers and contractors Finally for Us II, even though that perpetuates many of the problems that have caused the senior staff to leave.
Some Naughty Dog people who have spoken to me about this issue say that they expect many people to stop, or that they plan to leave, just Finally for Us II submitted and bonus entries (usually six months after release). And so the cycle will continue.
On September 24, 2019, Naughty Dog announced to the public Finally for Us II will be released in February. A month later, Naughty Dog bosses told staff they needed it wrap for 3 months
For some who worked there, this was good news. There were concerns among staff that if they had to submit in February. Finally for Us II it would be nonsense. Those three months make a big difference. But for those who were tired because of long nights and weekends at the office, the delay meant more time on the treadmill. When Naughty Dog's management told the company that the game was slow, they emphasized that they wanted to keep their momentum intact. "People who think that expansion is another way to alleviate the pressure or burden of the team are wrong," said one developer. "The first thing they wanted to repeat was that we did not slow down."
In mid-February, Naughty Dog got another two weeks off, convincing Tony to delay their last production day so they could go into pest control as much as possible. Also, the messages were clear: Keep the momentum. Doggy Dog owners will not tell people to work overtime – it's always been written, understood and accepted by everyone. Many enjoyed doing it, hoping to capture as many features and features as possible, and willing to put in as many hours as possible. Finally for Us II good.
"This is one of the reasons that constipation always happens here," said one engineer. “People are given the freedom to continue working longer, to push the envelope of what they work for, to make things just 10 percent. That's what the studio wants when hiring people. They want the people with this drive to actually spend those extra hours, for better or worse. ”
While reporting this story, I heard a certain number of aproductions about each developer experience. Workers arrived wearing sick masks so they could continue working even with a bad cough (before the recent coronavirus outbreak). Skip meals – or festivals. One founder told me that they saw people trapped in their flats so they wouldn't take the time to go to the kitchen to grab some free food.
A few employees of the Naughty Dog Ninja have found ways to avoid overtime, working up to eight hours a day and walking away. But for many workers, there is a clear social pressure to stick. No one wants to be the person leaving at 6 or 7 in the morning. when everyone was planning to stay until midnight. No one wants to be the only developer missing on Saturday, who strives to make every strand of Ellie's hair look perfect. And no one in the office tells everyone to go home.
Some developers at Naughty Dog are okay with studio culture, which is why it's there in the first place. They are well paid, well treated, and given extra time at the end of the product. Paid employees are not paid overtime, but can earn good bonuses on the back of each game's ships. As is common in California, contractors and hourly workers at Naughty Dog are paid half-hourly after eight and twelve times, but most are on a limited contract, and are not eligible for bonuses or other benefits. For contractors, a full-time employment car is the motivation to put in extra hours.
"There is an unnamed agreement," said one Naughty Dog employee. “A lot of people are very proud to be making Game of the Year, a high-quality, amazing-looking game. While that is true, I do not know that they are counting the sacrifices. ”
Said one naughty dog engineer: "They have never seen success in any way, so they do not believe there is another way to achieve it."
Managers of Naughty Dog are actively looking for effective jobs, as President Evan Wells told me in October of 2016. “We have never (changed) our 40-hour wait or our special hours, from 10:30 to 6:30 pm… People put in hours, but it depends on their fuel, how much money they have on their tank capacity. "
"People do it naturally," Woods said. “Because we hire some kind of person who is passionate and passionate and wants to leave their mark in the industry. That is why they came to Nourtyinja. ”
But for how long? And how long can this last? With the majority of Naughty Dog employees getting married, having children, or simply getting burned – from the waistline or frustrated with the Naughty Dog's production style – it's fair to wonder what percentage Exclusions 4Developers will be available in the next year or two. At some point and distance, the thrill of crunch can easily turn into shame and regret. Some experienced Naughty Dog dog developers told me that they were once bought into the company's mind – “Stockholm Syndrome” was a widely used name but realized later that it was not bad for their health in all ways.
Some who work for or work for Naughty Dog say they believe that if the company doesn't find a way to solve the crunch problem, it will solve it by attracting. While some of the previous battles will never go away – the Naughty Dog lifter is expanding on those long stretches and paying attention to details that a few other studios can command – over the past few years they have signed otherwise. After Exclusions 4 and An Abandoned Legacy, even some composers and artists who have been Naughty Dog for over a decade decide to call it deadly. One engineer told me that by the end of 2017 to 2018, it was as if they were getting new weekly farewell emails.
May 29, Finally for Us Part II will come out. Those who have worked on it tell me that they believe that something good will happen, another light entry in demand for the Naughty Run dog at all costs. Some said they thought it was the best game Ninja made of dogs.
But then there are the developers, some of whom are still working at Naughty Dog today, who say that there is a part of them that wants the game to fail. Harding can help to show Naughty Dog that this is not a great way to make games, that this level of sacrifice is not necessary, that maybe this project is not worth losing all these people. That is probably, no matter how many Game of the Year proposals you win or how high Metacritic scales are, all the hair on Joel's eyebrows or sand particles in the sack is just not worth the cost.