On Blending Gameplay And Story Together In The Last Of Us

By Spencer . July 20, 2012 . 5:40pm

joel street

Siliconera met up with Naughty Dog to talk about developing The Last of Us. The upcoming post-apocalyptic game follows hardened survivor Joel and a young girl Ellie. Players will follow the characters as they leave a quarantine zone and travel from Boston to the Western area of the United States. In our interview, Bruce Straley, Game Director, talked about how Naughty Dog started development on The Last of Us and the game’s crafting system.


I played Enslaved, which is a really lush game [like The Last of Us] set in a post-apocalyptic world. Another similarity, aside from [Mark Richard] Davies working on both titles is the cooperation between two people and the interesting backstory. How is The Last of Us going to be different from that game?


Bruce Straley, Game Director: We based the whole story on Joel and Ellie. What we wanted to do is, we took the concept of Tenzin from Uncharted 2, which took place on this Himalayan mountain village. And we have this small arc between Drake and Tenzin, and we explored a lot about how to develop a character over this small amount of time in Uncharted 2.


We said, “If you had a whole game to do that, that would be so much better for us.” It has nothing to do with other games or other influences as much as the things we’ve learned from making that sequence. That allowed us to go, “OK, the arc is going to be much longer.” The changes these characters are going to go through are much greater; much more extreme. We needed to create some things and events that happens to these characters that makes sure they’re contrasted from the beginning.


Joel, he’s born before the outbreak happens, so he’s seen a lot of loss. A lot of people that he loved died, and he’s had to see the game basically collapse. The world as we know it doesn’t exist anymore. Ellie, on the other hand, was born after the pandemic broke, so the two of them have a very different perspective on things. Joel doesn’t necessarily want to get involved with somebody else again. “Why? I’m going to survive and get through, whatever it takes.”


Ellie, on the other hand, has a very different perspective—almost a naive, wide-eyed idea of what the world is or what it used to be. So, it’s about these two characters and their bond, and we want to make sure you feel that bond in the moment-to-moment gameplay.


Speaking of gameplay, how are we going to move around the environment? Will there be multiple paths? Is there going to be a jump button? Control-wise, how’s it going to feel?


Well, we’re trying to make the most systemically-based game that Naughty Dog’s probably made in a long time, and that means you’re gonna have things to interact with, within the world, to find paths in and out of the environment. We want to make sure that we create a wide enough world that you can explore and find things that help you survive.


With that being said, we’re not trying to make an open-world game. We still want to get you to certain points where we want to tell the story. Story moments. So, you’re going to have a choice, but not in the narrative. We want to make sure that we tell the story we want to tell between these two, but want to give you just enough choice so the player feels comfortable moving around and exploring.


There’s a lot of effort going into making these worlds beautiful. Naughty Dog spends an extraordinary amount of energy to do that. We love looking around at art and beauty etcetera, and so we’re giving you these little pockets an avenues to be able to explore.




For the story there are these posters which give more insight about the past world for instance with extra scenes between Joel and Ellie. You can choose to see it or skip them. Is Naughty Dog going to have multiple scenes for players to discover? Maybe you walk down one path and see Scene A, or walk down another path and see Scene B. How will people get to these paths and trigger them?


In the systemic way, you might be using interactive parts of the environment to problem-solve through it. And you’ll be able to get to dead-ends, little pockets of scavengables, and get to these contextually-interactive points. So, when you see one of these moments, you click on it, and you’re going to reveal some bit of conversation that you wouldn’t have gotten if you didn’t explore it.


That isn’t part of the main plotline, though. This is for the player that wants to go out and adventure and find more things to invest in these characters. You’ll have some cinematics on the main paths, but these contextual moments that are embedded in the environment are going to be pocketed all over, with a lot of environmental storytelling motivating the conversation.


joel hit face


I feel like a lot of tension will come from having a lack of items, judging by the gameplay footage. There’s a lack of bullets for Joel. When you have to go into combat without items, will you be able to pick up stuff on the ground and scavenge that way as well?


There’s a few different ways you’ll be able to get by. By killing somebody, you can get their goods; you can scavenge their bodies. So, if I can see who’s in the environment and what kind of weapons they have, that’s going to influence my strategy.


As well as scavenging old drawers, old cabinets. If I see a pharmacy, I might be able to find something in there to help me, like a health kit. If I go to a liquor store, I could find some alcohol and some bandages, and combine those to craft different items. I could craft a Molotov, or using these exact same ingredients, I could craft a health kit—a bandage using an antiseptic, which is alcohol, can help me heal my wounds. So there’s a lot of choice in how you’re going to scavenge and what you’re going to use in combat—an offensive Molotov or defensive with health kit.


Likewise, improvisation with weapons. Ellie can pick up a brick. Joel can pick up a brick. You can pick up bottles. You can throw them to distract enemies or you can throw them at enemies. These create little windows of opportunity whether the guy’s going to investigate what made that noise, or just get hit in the face with it; this gives you the opportunity to run away—but he still knows he’s been hit by something—or run up and take him out quickly. So there’s a lot of choice in how you’re going to use these improvisational weapons. Two-by-fours, pipes, things you’re just going to find lying around this decimated world.


Likewise with the crafting system. If I’ve scavenged enough of the environment, maybe I found a pair of scissors and some twine. I could wrap the twine around the scissors and onto my pipe, and now I have a stronger melee weapon.


Check back on Monday, for part two where The Last of Us director Bruce Straley talks about developing the AI for Ellie and the enemies.

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  • Vampiric

    I miss jak………..I dont like this hollywood naughty dog, its just boring to me ( prepares to get pounded)

    • MrRobbyM

      Even though I like the Uncharted series and think this sounds amazing, I feel you. I would too like to see A new Jak game with good production value, more than the new Sly game. If you ask me, the new Sly game looks kind of boring and, not to sound like a graphics snob, but it looks like a hi-res PS2 game. Or at least doesn’t really bother to make use of the PS3 really. An HD Wii game if you will.

      Wow I got off track there.. but either way, I too would like to see a new Jak game but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, unfortunately.

      • Joom

         The new Sly game runs at 60 fps though. What other console games run at that frame rate and don’t look like ass (don’t mention RAGE aka pop-in central)?

        • MrRobbyM

          That isn’t a selling point for me at all. A sly game doesn’t really benefit much from 60 fps.

    • XiaomuArisu

      Why dont you just love both?
      Because I think Jak will come back!

    • Solomon_Kano

      I miss Jak, but I never lament progress. I was disappointed when ND stopped making Crash games, and you know what that got me? My favorite PS2 series, Jak. They stopped making Jak, and I got Uncharted. One day we’ll see a new Jak but, in the meanwhile, I’m good with ND staying how they are.

  • Nikolai Sumcad

    The E3 demo made my jaw drop, and pretty much gave me a good idea of how the gameplay flows. The idea of having to kill other survivors for the sake of surviving pains me (which I’m assuming is one of the emotions Naughty Dog wants to strike), but I would definitely love to watch a friend play or of the sort. I’m loving their take on the “Zombie Apocalypse” concept so far.

    • I think you mean “fungal apocalypse”. 

      • Nikolai Sumcad

         Right. XD

    • Kavyn

      That’s exactly how I feel about these kinds of games. I’d rather watch a friend play it because I feel like it would be more of an interactive movie experience than it would an actual video game. I just want to watch the beauty of the story without the video game interaction.

  • MrRobbyM

    Sounds like a game I want to platinum. The only game I’ve platinum’d was Uncharted 2.

  • Zoozbuh

    This reminds me I still need to get Uncharted 3.. But MY GOD THIS LOOKS AWESOME. Cinematic games ftw :>

    • Guest

       I have I Am Alive and Earth Seeker but they’re not that great…

  • Nicolas Vasquez

    not a bad thing since naugthy dog can tell great stories, but this kind of game would be a perfect match for moral choices and multiple endings, still this seems to be going to be a fantastic game, i cant wait to see more footage of it.

  • XiaomuArisu

    Already put it in my “To Buy” list.
    Good thing I have a job…

    • Guest

       Is Sleeping Dogs on that list?

  • One word: Jawdropping. In a good way.

  • Solomon_Kano

    Their new philosophy of blending story and game that they’ve been on since Uncharted is actually the main reason I wanted to see a new Jak game out of them. I always thought his relationship with Daxter would be fun with this approach. That said, my new Jak game gave way to this… that’s even better.

    Much as I’d love to see them return to my favorite PS2 series, seeing them create another new IP this gen is even better. This looks suitably mature and not in the “pew pew bang bang everybody dies” way. The story looks interesting, it’s dark, they ask you to make tough choices, etc. This willingness for change is why I’ve loved Naughty Dog since the PS1-era and why they remain my favorite studio that Sony owns.

    Can’t wait for this game, so the next part of the interview should be good for now.

  • I want a no-kill playthrough.

    • Sardorim

      Doesn’t stop you from still beating the crude out of people.

  • Jirin

    I like the idea of story driven gameplay.  In Uncharted 2 I felt at some points it was just ‘I am watching a movie interrupted by the occasional pressing of buttons’, like there’s a specific thing I have to do and my only job as a gamer is to figure out what buttons to press and where to stand while pressing them.

    Maybe there could be some balance between the two extremes where you’re walking through a linear story, but you have a breadth of different possible approaches to accomplish that goal.

    It sounds from the description like Last Of Us is trying to find that balance, where there’s a linear story but there isn’t that oppressively linear ‘drag you around by the ear’ gameplay.  If so, this could be a great game.

  • Tiny Bimbo

    its from Pa not boston.. Idoits

    • M’iau M’iaut

      We know that Pittsburgh is the city used as the model for the particular town in the game but that does not need to mean the characters start there. Do note that Pittsburgh is west of Boston. 

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