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When I left Naughty Dog late last year they threatened to withhold my final paycheck until I signed additional paperwork stating I wouldn't share their production practices. They finally relented when I assured them that was most likely illegal...
The truth is I have no awful crunch tale. The "story animators" as we were known were averaging 46hrs a week when I left and I personally never went over 55. The story team is super organised and we reacted to whatever was thrown at us. That's not to say others weren't suffering.
For the demo shown last September, the gameplay animators crunched more than I've ever seen and required weeks of recovery afterwards. One good friend of mine was hospitalised at that time due to overwork. He still had over half a year to go. There have been others since.
The reason I left is because I only want to work with the best. That is no longer Naughty Dog. Their reputation for crunch within LA is so bad it was near impossible to hire seasoned contract game animators to close out the project. As such we loaded up on film animators.
While super-talented, they lacked the technical/design knowhow to assemble scenes. Similarly, the design team ballooned with juniors to make up for the attrition of key roles. Every aspect of finishing this game took much longer due to the lack of game experience on the team.
Don't get me wrong, these kids are mostly awesome and the best were great. It's just when the junior/senior ratio is out of balance things can really grind and more time is spent training than actually working. (LA teams, make sure and pick them up when all the contracts end.)
Contract work is a huge part of the LA ecosystem to ship large games. Unlike game design, there is a thriving animation industry here and seasoned animators can (often) choose their projects. Most of the contract story animators quit last year.
Those that don't can be at ND for 2-3 projects (with pauses inbetwen) and, while paid overtime, never receive benefits or the security of a full-time gig. This is the way the industry is moving so workers need more protection rather than the carot of a fulltime job "one day".
There are ND stories worse than this but like everything on my twitter I'm focusing on animation. For TLOU2 fans, the game should turn out great with industry-leading animation. I would just not recommend anyone work at Naughty Dog until they prioritise talent-retention.
Ultimately, ND's linear games have a formula and they focus-test the shit out of them. While talented, their success is due in large part to Sony's deep pockets funding delays rather than skill alone. A more senior team would have shipped TLOU2 a year ago.
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