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.
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.