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Neil Druckmann: «Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us»

30 Июля 2012

After moving under Sony's wing Naughty Dog, which brought us wonderful cartoony arcades Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Dexter, gave birth to the Uncharted series, which titles can be considered as one of the best games of the generation.

Adventures of Nathan Drake were critically acclaimed and met with ovations, the games were selling like a long awaited panacea for a pandemic of boredom and monotony. The series' success allowed Naughty Dog to recieve a carte blanche for all their upcoming titles. And after just a month of Drake's Deception release they announce a fresh title,a daring drama about survivors in a postpandemic world - The Last of Us.

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

First of all, thank you for your great Uncharted series that brought such an unforgettable experience to us all.Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I’m Neil Druckmann. I’m the Creative Director and writer on The Last of Us.

After all your adventure games why did you chose survival horror?

We’re still squarely within the genre that we feel Naughty Dog has demonstrated as one of our strengths – the Action genre. What we wanted to do was explore a new space within the Action genre which we are calling Survival Action. Survival in The Last of Us is about how to persevere in a world where civilization has collapsed amidst a fungal pandemic. Infected humans are running wild, nature has reclaimed what humans have made and the remaining human survivors must be willing to do anything to survive in this brutal, violent environment. We ultimately hope that The Last of Us will be the leading example of a Survival Action game.

When did you start to develop The Last of Us?

We started working on a second project right after we wrapped up Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, at the end of 2009.  Even then, some time had passed before we ultimately settled on the genre, story, and gameplay style that would become The Last of Us.

So, Naughty Dog split into two teams and while the first one continued with Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception you begun working on The Last of Us? Did you have bored with Nathan?

Not at all. We created an incredible game engine for the UNCHARTED series and there were a lot of us at the studio who wanted to take advantage of having this game engine and seeing what else we could do with it. We had been discussing for a while that the only way for us to really exploit the game engine was to build a new team at Naughty Dog so we could work on two games simultaneously. This ensured we could release games within a reasonable timeframe without exhausting a small pool of very talented people at Naughty Dog. 

We were astonished with your first trailer. It reminded us of a great Dead Island announcement. Do you think Techland’s game can compete with The Last of Us?

Our industry has been maturing over time, providing room and the tools for some of us to try to tell stories with more emotional depth and maintain solid game play. We deliberately set out to create a game and define a genre that is different from what is available to players today. We’re challenging expectations and creating something truly unique with The Last of Us.

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

How did you come up with game’s general idea?

While we were working on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, we happened to watch the Planet Earth documentary series by the BBC and one segment in particular caught our attention. The segment was about the cordyceps fungus; a parasitic fungus that infects insects’ mind and basically controls their behavior in order to spread it to other insects.

Once a single insect is infected, the fungus can wipe out whole colonies.  Another fascinating aspect of the infection is that different strains of the fungus infect only specific, individual species – so it is a highly targeted infection. This led us to the question: what would happen if this infection, this cordyceps fungus, attacked humans?

We were also highly influenced from the section in Uncharted 2, where Drake teams up with a Sherpa who doesn’t speak the same language as Drake. Through a short period of gameplay time, we managed to build a bond between Drake and the Sherpa that resonated with us. We were intrigued by the idea of building a deep, complex bond between two characters over the course of an entire game. That thought process eventually led to coming up with Joel and Ellie.  

What inspired you?

Besides the Planet Earth segment we just mentioned, we drew inspiration from a wide range of sources, even some unlikely ones.  A great example of how inspiration can come from an unexpected place was how Bruce and I were watching the film No Country for Old Men and we were struck by the lack of music in the soundtrack for the majority of the film.

Typically, films and videogames use music to help define or enhance a mood. In No Country for Old Men, the lack of music actually helped intensify the tension between the characters that was very palpable. Because creating an elevated sense of danger and tension was important to us, we took inspiration to use music only judiciously and find other ways to make your palms sweaty. This is just one example of how we’ve found inspiration from a variety of different creative mediums.

In The Road by Cormac McCarthy, as well as in John Hillcoat’s movie, father and his son were figured as main protagonists. Is there a reason that you changed a boy to a girl?

Without trying to spoil too much of the story, we felt it was an incredibly interesting dynamic to explore a father-daughter-like relationship between two strangers who have been brought together by chance and now must struggle to survive in this harsh, post-pandemic world together.

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

After announcement of the game and your statements about merging videogames and movies, there were some rumors about The Last of Us and Heavy Rain similarities. Does your new project and David Cage’s creation have something in common?

Even before the PS3 generation, it has been a hallmark of Naughty Dog to create games that wrap solid, refined third-person action gameplay with high-quality story-telling, performances, and cinematic presentation. We feel it’s one of the unique strengths we have at Naughty Dog and The Last of Us will raise the bar once again for these kinds of games.

Is there any analogues to The Last of Us in the videogame industry or you are trying to keep away from zombie-clichés? 

We’ve set out to make the best game possible in a genre that hasn’t really been defined so far. The infected are humans who have been afflicted by this fungal infection similar to the cordyceps fungus we saw in the Planet Earth segment. Because the infected humans in The Last of Us are the result of a very plausible circumstance, it’s important to us to ensure that we maintain that plausible realism and differentiate ourselves from fictional infections that border on the supernatural. 

What can you tell us about story of the game? What is heroes’ main goal and what dangers will they encounter?

The Last of Us is a story of survival in a post-pandemic United States.  It follows Joel, a violent smuggler who’s willing to murder and torture to survive, and Ellie, a teenage girl that’s wiser and braver beyond her years. Joel operates in the black market of one of the last remaining Quarantine Zones – a city run and protected by the military.  Early on in the story Joel is hired to smuggle, Ellie, out of the city.  Unexpected events throw Joel and Ellie off course, and leave them wanted by the military.  What started out as a simple job soon transforms into an intense journey that will forever change Joel and Ellie. The world in The Last of Us is about what it takes to survive with the ever present threat posed by the infection as well as other humans who are driven by sheer will and desperation to survive.

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

So, why zombies?

Zombies seem to be a short-hand for the after effects of some supernatural disease that turns humans into something decidedly sub-human, and not quite alive. It’s also a genre that, while still popular, has been exhaustively covered. In The Last of Us, we’ve taken the cordyceps fungus, which already exists among smaller life forms in the jungle, and asked, what if this fungus evolved and could now affect humans? It is quite plausible as many infections and diseases have made the jump from animal to humans to quite devastating effect in history.

But, the reason we were drawn to cordyceps infection is because it lets us create a world filled with conflict and tension. Once we put Joel and Ellie (along with the rest of the yet-to-be-revealed cast of characters) into this world, we found that it was ripe with storytelling and gameplay possibilities.

How emotional characters will be?

It’s our goal in The Last of Us that you, as the player, become so invested in the characters, the story, and the tension of our gameplay mechanics, that your own emotions mirror those expressed within the game by Joel and Ellie at any given moment. The amazing performances by Troy Baker as Joel and Ashley Johnson as Ellie also help establish that strong emotional rapport.  While being very violent, the story is ultimately about love, loyalty, and redemption.

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

What landscapes can we expect? More radioactive deserts?

The Last of Us takes place about twenty years after the outbreak of the infection led to the pandemic which changed the world. The majority of the human population has been decimated or marginalized to live in military cities while some groups of humans, large and small, exist outside of these cities choosing to survive however they can. Some are looking to rebuild civilization, some simply become predators.

Vast areas of the United States have become abandoned and nature has started to reclaim its domain.  It’s very much a destroyed landscape, but one that is also very, very beautiful as the lush plant life of nature has taken over. In The Last of Us you’ll get to see a very broad range of urban, suburban, rural, wilderness, and other environments that have been transformed through the years of abandonment.

What post-apocalyptic cities will we explore? Is there many of them?

As Joel and Ellie travel across the United States, they will encounter a number of cities and towns, large and small. They will also travel through and explore other areas.

Can we hope for an open world or it will be something between linear action and sandbox?

We have a defined narrative arc we want to tell with The Last of Us – there is only one ending to the story and the game. At the end of the day, we are creating a video game and we’ve made sure that there are plenty of choices for the player to make either in combat or exploring the environment. In fact, with supplies being so scarce, it’s important that you take the time to explore and scavenge for anything that may aid you in the future. 

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

Neil Druckmann: "Survival encompasses the gameplay for The Last of Us".

What does gameplay look like? What are its main features?

Survival encompasses the overarching gameplay for The Last of Us. That breaks down into scavenging, exploring environments and looking for items and weapons needed to progress, while working cooperatively with Ellie to overcome any obstacles in your path, be it in combat or on the terrain. Under combat you have to deal with the infected, which we will be discussing at a later point, and the human elements. Making our human antagonists feel realistic and believable has been one of our greatest undertakings for this project.  One way the player is going to feel that is through what we’ve termed the balance of power. That is when the enemies will change their behavior based on what weapon they see Joel holding, how many of them are left alive, and whether the player has managed to surprise them. 

Since conservation of supplies is such an important aspect of survival, it’s important for the player to choose when to prey upon enemies, taking them out quietly or avoiding them altogether, and when to aggressively attack them. Throughout it’s important to us that the player feels the tension that Joel and Ellie are experiencing.

Is there a multiplayer? Can we pray for a story mode co-op?

We are supporting multiplayer with The Last of Us. We’re not ready to talk about the details of how multiplayer will be implemented, however we can say that it is not co-op within the main campaign. 

Thank you very much for the interview and good luck with your work. 

Thanks.

 

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