The mass exodus continues as yet another high profile Naughty Dog team member has departed the developer. This time it’s The Last of Us Lead Character Artist Michael Knowland calling it quits and heading for unknown pastures.
News of Knowland’s departure, much like many of the other high profile departures, comes not by way of a public announcement, but a little Internet sleuthing. Knowland’s LinkedIn profile was just recently adjusted, or recently spotted as having been adjusted, to list Naughty Dog as a former not a current employer.
Obviously, with Knowland having been a member of The Last of Us team and not the Uncharted team, it’s hard to draw connections between the artist’s departure and the handful of other studio vacancies that have taken place. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Knowland’s work had simply run its course after The Last of Us completed its development run, concluding with the upcoming The Last of Us Remastered on PS4. That being said, it’s hard not to take notice when Naughty Dog studio departures are becoming a regular thing.
It all started more than a month ago, when Sony confirmed that Uncharted Creative Director Amy Hennig had left the company, this while Naughty Dog was knee deep in development on a fourth Uncharted game, one that Hennig was apparently directing and writing. Then came word that Uncharted 4 Game Director Justin Richmond had also left the company, sparking speculation that all is not right at Naughty Dog. That sentiment was further echoed when voice actor Todd Stashwick revealed his role in Uncharted 4 had been recast.
We’ve said it before, and it’s still true today: something is clearly going on at Naughty Dog, but it’s unclear what. Four (known) departures within such a short period of time is never a good thing, especially on a team that is reportedly in the middle of development on a highly anticipated game. It could be that Naughty Dog or Sony was unhappy with the direction of the new Uncharted and they decided to let those key creative team members go, or maybe they announced a change and those developers decided it best to up and leave. Either way, we’d be surprised if the Uncharted 4 teased back in November is the same one that eventually hits the PS4.
That being said, sources close to Sony say that Uncharted is still on track to make an appearance at E3 2014. It’s hard to imagine, with so much negative press surrounding the project, that Naughty Dog would want to throw themselves to the wolves, but if they have something to show, and it’s good, then that might ease fans concerns a little bit. They’ll still be disappointed that key building blocks of the original franchise are gone, but sometimes that’s simply the nature of the business and if the product is still good than that shouldn’t matter. We’ll find out soon.
What do you make of all these Naughty Dog departures? Do you think they are connected?