Is Naughty Dog “Crunching” on Yet Another Project?

Naughty Dog’s talent & production coordinator tweeted last Monday that she had returned home from “a 14+ hour day”. The employee, Becky Dodd, has worked at the California-based game development studio since 2013, according to another one of her tweets.

It is unclear if Dodd was working on The Last of Us Part II or some other project at the time but if this is a sign that Naughty Dog is “crunching” away at yet another game then it wouldn’t be too surprising.

Naughty Dog

In an October 2016 interview with the gaming podcast Idle Thumbs, former Naughty Dog developer Amy Hennig said that the studio was “pretty notorious” for its crunch culture.

“The whole time I was at Naughty Dog – ten-and-a-half years – I probably, on average, I don’t know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week,” Hennig reportedly said. “There were exceptions where it was like, ‘Okay, let’s take a couple of days off,’ but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.”

Hennig added that much of the studio would be present during weekends in order to work on games.

Hennig’s 2016 comments mostly match up with what was written in the Uncharted 4 chapter of Jason Schreier’s 2017 book on game development, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels.

“To develop games like Uncharted and The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s employees worked endless hours, staying at the office as late as 2:00 or 3:00 am during extended, hellish periods of overtime that popped up before each major development milestone,” Schreier wrote. “All game studios crunch, but few are as known for going all-out as Naughty Dog.”

Naughty Dog

Notably, according to another former Naughty Dog developer, while the studio’s employees work long hours, those shifts aren’t mandated by management.

“Crunch is never mandated at Naughty Dog, that’s the one thing that will absolutely never happen,” Andrew Maximov, a former technical art director at the studio, reportedly said in 2018. “No one will ever tell you to stay late. But, people do it, because they absolutely believe they want or need to do this one thing.”

When it comes to thinking that “crunch” signifies passion or dedication, Naughty Dog’s vice president Neil Druckmann appears to share the same opinion and has openly spoken about crunch at the studio in the past.

Naughty Dog

While speaking with Rolling Stone in 2016, Druckmann (who was Uncharted 4’s creative director at the time) said that he wanted the game to represent the hard work that Naughty Dog put into it.

“I want [Uncharted 4] to ask interesting questions, or at least have people ask those questions of themselves,” Druckmann said. “Can you balance passion versus settling down? That, to me, is the heart of this thing, which mirrors a lot of our lives as game developers.”

“I’m sure you’ve read about ‘crunch,’ and how difficult that can be on personal lives,” he continued. “We’ve all joined this industry with the hope of affecting people, touching them in some way. Which is why we work so hard, sometimes to destructive outcomes. So in this game, I really wanted to explore that. To kind of use the pulp action-adventure story as a backdrop, but it’s all kind of a metaphor for our life’s pursuit.”

Druckmann has also written about “crunch” at Naughty Dog on social media.

In a March 2016 tweet, Druckmann posted a picture of himself during the development of Uncharted 2 with this message: “ crunching on Uncharted (and being a huge nerd) — not much has changed.” In another 2016 tweet, Druckmann posted an image of a LEGO set and wrote, “How to unwind while crunching on Uncharted 4.”

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COGconnected contacted Naughty Dog on Monday with several questions about Dodd’s tweet and whether or not Naughty Dog is “crunching” on The Last of Us Part II like the studio did with its previous games. Naughty Dog didn’t respond to our request for comment.

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