Who is Andy Gavin?
Andy Gavin is a serial creative, polymath, novelist, entrepreneur, computer programmer, author, foodie, and video game creator. He co-founded video game developer Naughty Dog and co-created Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. He started numerous companies, has been lead programmer on video games that have sold more than forty million copies, and has written two novels. He’s also, among many other things, a maestro gelatiere (master gelato maker).
or paraphrased in iambic pentameter:
Andy Gavin, a man of many parts
A serial creative, polymath, and arts
A novelist, entrepreneur, and programmer
An author, foodie, and video game creator
He co-founded Naughty Dog, a game developer
And co-created Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter
He started numerous companies, a true leader
And has been lead programmer on games, a best-seller
Over forty million copies sold, it’s true
And two novels written, his skills so diverse and new.
Andy Gavin grew up in the simultaneously cosmopolitan and suburban area of Northern Virginia (just outside of Washington D.C.). His early years were spent obsessively reading Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as countless hours in the basement on his Apple computer. These two interests intersected brilliantly in the form of early computer Role Playing Games such as Wizardry and Ultima. He attended Langley High School where a few amazing teachers taught him that all aspects of human culture, politics, and history are just different color threads in the same tapestry.
At the age of twelve, Andy met Jason Rubin. Seeing as Andy was a great programmer and Jason a great artist (by the standards of middle schoolers) and they shared a love of video games, an instant partnership was formed. By 1983 (age of thirteen) the duo was attempting to make professional video games and they sold their first professionally in 1985. This partnership continued all the way through school and beyond. The company they formed was called Naughty Dog. More information about Andy’s video game career can be found here, but they created and sold Math Jam, Ski Crazed, and Dream Zone in high school.
Andy attended Haverford College where he not only continued to make video games “on the side” (Keef the Thief and Rings of Power both published by Electronic Arts) but also read about 1,000 novels and finished a double major with honors. He even partied quite a bit, managing to drink 23.5 beers on one particular night. Andy prides himself in accomplishment in all arenas — except sports and dancing. Oddly, his major wasn’t even computers, but Neurobiology and Behavior Sciences! In those days, not completely satisfied with building virtual worlds in video games, entering them via movies and novels, or writing about them himself, he was determined to force a new improved cybernetic 2.0 version of humanity. Hence the neurobiology.
True to form, Andy applied to about fifteen graduate departments, both Computer Science PhD and MD/PhD Biomedical Engineering programs. In one telling interview at Johns Hopkins he discovered conclusively that the medical community was not ready for his brand of futuristic thinking. He was told in no uncertain terms that directly integrating video circuitry into the visual cortex of healthy humans wasn’t going to fly. Still, they did admit him on a full scholarship.
But given this perplexing bias against obvious progress (who wouldn’t want to cut and paste from their visual sensorium into their cloud based memory?) Andy matriculated instead as a PhD candidate at M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. If you can’t change ’em — build ’em.
At M.I.T., Andy apprenticed under master hacker and robotics wunderkind Rod Brooks. He learned all sorts of good stuff, didn’t prove P=NP, cemented his love for the programming language LISP, hacked hardware, programmed real-time robots, and built cool custom compilers. His research was for JPL on the Pathfinder Mars Rover project and involved real-time low-cost vision.
Naughty Dog 2.0
But Andy’s love for video games never waned. Plus, he just wasn’t busy enough completing the Masters phase of his research in half the usual time. Jason Rubin moved out to Boston and during this second year at M.I.T. they created Way of the Warrior “on the side.” On the side, by the way, meant about eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. This worked out so well that the duo moved out to Los Angeles a year later — Andy finished his Masters and bailed on the rest of his PhD (technically he’s still on leave — since 1994).
In California they started work on what was to become Crash Bandicoot and built up the company. This was to turn into a decade of 100 hour work weeks and seven awesome video games: four Crash Bandicoot and three Jak & Daxter games. Those years did not feature a lot of dating. Andy not only ran the company with partner Jason Rubin, but was lead programmer on six of these seven games. Together they sold approximately forty-million copies. Yes, that’s 40,000,000 actual CDs. In 2000 Andy and Jason sold Naughty Dog to Sony Computer Entertainment, but continued to work there for four more years. In 2004, they “retired” to make way for the next generation of Naughty Dog geniuses (currently Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra). The team has gone on to create four more awesome games, including the massively award winning Uncharted series. Andy is very proud of these games too, even though he did no work on them. He does, however, take some credit for helping to build a great creative environment and for being lucky enough to hire and work with such talented game makers.
In 2006, following a year and a half of various business development, Andy, Jason, and another partner, Jason Kay (the latter two known collectively and cleverly as “The Jasons”) formed an internet startup called Flektor. There, along with other genius programmers, Andy helped create a groundbreaking and overachieving web application. Flektor was, among other things, capable of creating and editing small videos entirely in the browser window. It was rather awesome at this, in many ways better than iMovie. You could also make slide shows, polls, quizzes, do live video chats, and unstop your kitchen sink. The partners sold this business to Fox in 2007 and ran it through 2008.
Briefly in 2008, and then full time from the second half of 2009 on, Andy has been concentrating on novel writing. He has always been an obsessive book lover (mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy — big surprise!) and has read well over 5,000 novels and probably as many non-fiction books. He used to consider himself an excellent writer, having won awards for several short stories in high school and college. But he was curious to see what would happen if he applied his trademark focus to it. The result was: good things and a lot of work!
Personal Life and Interests
As if you couldn’t tell, Andy is a man who likes to do a lot of things — except sleep. He lives in Los Angeles with his loving wife (who actually has more degrees than he does: two masters and a PhD from Stanford!), adorable son, and his dog Osiris, He Who Walks in the West. He has many obsessions, lots of focus, and a near-photographic memory. These passions include but are not limited to:
Video games, particularly Fantasy RPGs like World of Warcraft (four max level characters, sigh), reading novels and histories, ancient history, design, collecting art and antiquities (Andy can spot the decade of manufacture for 18th century French or Italian furniture, the area of production of various ancient ceramics, or the hair style of Roman Empresses), history of civilizations, religion, and the occult, ancient deities, technology, movies, television, stories in general, art, food, wine, and photography. He really loves food and wine. You can see that on his blog. He even combines some of these obsessions, hence Foodie Photography.
Andy is secretly a devotee of the god Dionysus — the maenads will tear the flesh from your bones Dionysus, not the happy-drank-too-much-wine Dionysus (although he appreciates that too).