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The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic

Fred Dutton's Avatar + Posted by Fred Dutton on Jun 07, 2013 // SCEE Blog Manager

The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic

As many of you will have seen, the review scores are finally in for The Last of Us – the brand new PS3 title from Uncharted studio Naughty Dog. At the time of writing, its Metacritic score sits at a mighty 9596/100, cementing its place as one of the very finest video games of this console generation. Perfect scores came in from some of the toughest critics in the business, including Eurogamer, Edge and Videogamer.

In just seven days’ time you’ll be able to judge for yourself, but in the meantime I caught up with the game’s Creative Director Neil Druckmann to delve into the project’s origins, its development and the studio’s thoughts on the finished product. He was in fine form – just as we started talking, he was handed an early print-out of the very first review – that Edge 10/10. Read on for some great insight into video game development at the very highest level.

The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic

Neil, you’ve been tasked with creating a brand new IP and following the hugely successful Uncharted series. Do you feel much pressure on your shoulders?

Neil Druckmann: Absolutely, just because it’s a new position for me as writer and creative director. But I guess it’s less so much for people outside the studio and more about me wanting to make the team proud. I’ve said this before but I feel I’m surrounded by the most talented people in the industry and often I feel I’m out of my league, so it’s more like making sure they’re proud of the work we’re doing. It was really gratifying when we wrapped this thing up to have a lot of people compliment the project and say how proud they were of it.

Joel and Ellie aren’t your typical video game heroes. How confident are you that they can become gaming icons in the same way that Nathan Drake and Crash Bandicoot did before them?

Neil Druckmann: I don’t know about them becoming icons, but I will say that having seen how people play the game and seeing their reactions, I can say confidently that these will stand as two of the best ever performances in a video game. It’s a bold claim, but these guys really blew us away. Not only that but we’ve had a bunch of focus testers play the game and have had people actually cry. They’d come up to us and say “I’ve never felt so attached to a character”.

How difficult is it to imbue a video game with genuine, believable emotion and drama?

Neil Druckmann: It can be difficult. I don’t want to say it was too difficult – working with such talented actors, I didn’t have to do much! I just tried hard to stay in line with what we were trying to say with the game, and to write simple dialogue. The mantra I had was ‘never get fancy with the dialogue’. Just keep it short and natural. If it ever sounds wrong, change it. The actors were really good at telling me when things weren’t working. We’d spend a lot of time in rehearsals saying lines, ironing them out and making them as natural as possible.

The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic

The general themes addressed in The Last of Us’ story are really in vogue at the minute – we’ve had The Road, Revolution and The Walking Dead all cover similar ground. What do you feel you’re bringing to the genre that is new and unique?

Neil Druckmann: All those other things you’ve mentioned are from passive mediums – you’re watching it or reading it. We’re fans of all those things, but we felt in a game – specifically an action game – there was a lot of stuff we could do with mechanics and gameplay that could really get you attached to the characters, to form a relationship through story, performance, dialogue and gameplay mechanics.

With you interacting with Ellie you’re really forming a reliance on this character. We felt that combination was really strong and lacking in games, especially in the survival genre. We felt we could structure everything round this relationship. Every decision has always been – ‘how is this helping this relationship and the goal of forming a bond between Joel and Ellie?’ I really feel we hit on something unique and that’s what people who’ve played the whole game have told us.

The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic

Have you played BioShock Infinite yet? How do you feel about how they used their supporting character, Elizabeth?

Neil Druckmann: I haven’t played it yet – I have a backlog to catch up on! But I will say that what we try to do with Ellie is to constantly keep her alive and feeling human. Whether you’re in or out of combat, Ellie should make interesting or surprising decisions on her own.

In a lot of games where you have NPCs that come with you, they’re annoying as you’re essentially babysitting them. We didn’t want that, but we didn’t want the opposite either – them sitting in the corner with enemies ignoring them. If that happens they don’t feel like a real person. For us, it was important that enemies do engage with Ellie. And in combat if you’re being attacked she will pick up a brick and help you. As you progress through the game and she’s spending more and more time with Joel, her abilities grow. You’ll feel like she’s changing as a person.

How expansive is the universe and mythos you’ve created. Have you left space for more stories?

Neil Druckmann: We’ve spent a lot of time researching the world and the disease and how institutions react to a pandemic. But then a lot of that stuff is in the background and we’re very conscious of keeping it there. Because that’s not what the story is about – it’s about these two characters and the journey they go on.

I think the world is ripe for more stories, but as far as the journey Joel and Ellie goes on it ends with this game. We were very conscious that we didn’t want to leave this story dangling. If we never do a sequel we’re ok with it, because we told the story we needed to tell.

What elements have you included to encourage repeat playthoughs?

Neil Druckmann: It’s the longest campaign we’ve ever made – in terms of pure hours. It’s long. And there are more collectables than we’ve ever had, and there’s a lot of backstory you can pick up on through them. You probably won’t find them on your first playthrough.

And then there are RPG elements in how Joel can upgrade his personal skills – how steady he is when aiming, how much health he has, and so on. And there are upgrades for each weapon too, which you can find by scavenging for parts. You won’t find those on your first playthrough, so we’ve got New Game+ encouraging players to go into scenarios and try different strategies.

It’s our most systemic game too. Stealth, how you strategise – each confrontation can play out differently. You can avoid combat altogether if you like. It’s hard, but you can do it.

The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic The Last of Us – Neil Druckmann on Creating a Future Classic

How have you gone about differentiating the combat from the Uncharted series?

Neil Druckmann: It’s a very different game. I know people try to compare it to Uncharted – but we’ve had players taken aback by how different it is, not just to our other games, but from any game they’ve played before.

For example, running away is a big strategy here. Usually in a shooter you don’t do that. You hunker down and blast away. Here, you’ll really need to run away at times and re-strategise, take stock of you inventory, craft new items and so on. There’s a learning curve at the beginning but then when you get into the flow it’s going to feel very different from anything you’ve played before.

How far is the finished game from the original concept you started out with?

Neil Druckmann: Surprisingly, the core of it has remained pretty much the same. We had the idea for these arcs for the characters and there’s something very specific we wanted to say with the story. That has stayed the same, even when vast parts of the story around it have shifted and gameplay elements have been cut out and replaced. The heart of it is Joel and Ellie and the bond that builds between them remained. That was our original vision and we stuck to it, I’m proud to say.

Any regrets?

Neil Druckmann: If I could go back and change anything? With the team we’ve had and the time we’ve had, we’ve made exactly the game we wanted to play. We always said – let’s not worry about what other people like, or what’s popular, or try to second guess what’s going to be successful to market. Let’s make the game we want to play that doesn’t exist right now. And that’s what we did.

//Add Your Own

31 Comments

1

+ CommandingTiger on June 7th, 2013 at 7:09 am said:

Cool info.


2

+ kileysmith8 on June 7th, 2013 at 7:26 am said:

uptil I saw the receipt saying $5121, I accept that…my… best friend was like actualy bringing home money in there spare time from their computer.. there dads buddy haz done this 4 only thirteen months and a short time ago repayed the morgage on there mini mansion and purchased Smart ForTwo. this is where I went, Bow6.com


3

+ kileysmith8 on June 7th, 2013 at 7:27 am said:

til I looked at the bank draft four $9600, I did not believe …that…my mom in-law was realey earning money in their spare time from there pretty old laptop.. there aunt has been doing this less than sixteen months and a short time ago repaid the loans on their villa and bourt Citroλn DS. go to,,Bow6.comCHECK IT OUT,,


4

+ FeddeCampo on June 7th, 2013 at 7:31 am said:

Don’t matter the critics very much when you see the scoring from the reviews, the real thing is with us, the polayers,playing the game and getting involved.
And I can bet my life, it’s gonna be an inmersive story from the first minute.
Awesome game, awesome company,the best game of the generation? yeah, why not? :)


5

+ Busca-Cabezas on June 7th, 2013 at 7:42 am said:

The GOW Ascension Demo, trailers and reviews has got me thinking… Masterpiece.


6

+ darkling692 on June 7th, 2013 at 8:00 am said:

Wise words. Many should follow this example. “If we never do a sequel we’re ok with it, because we told the story we needed to tell.” A sequel is not always mandatory for a successful game. Also ask Quantic Dream


7

+ lessthancaring on June 7th, 2013 at 8:07 am said:

So excited for this game. One more week!!!!


8

+ WHITE_PR on June 7th, 2013 at 8:23 am said:

Ready for my local GameStop midnite!!!

I can’t wait!!!


9

+ GhostMachine1 on June 7th, 2013 at 8:25 am said:

“Let’s make the game we want to play that doesn’t exist right now.”
Post-apocalyptic game with zombie like creatures didn’t already exists? Doesn’t matter. I’m playing this day one anyway. :)


10

+ Heavenly_king on June 7th, 2013 at 8:40 am said:

the video is so old, it still has the old release date at the end. At least update the video ;)


11

+ Fardeenah on June 7th, 2013 at 8:58 am said:

congrats for making such an awesome game


12

+ desquicie on June 7th, 2013 at 11:18 am said:

I can´t wait to play this game. It seems soo amazing. I’m sure i’m not going to regret to preorder it.


13

+ pickupdoctor on June 7th, 2013 at 11:59 am said:

Counting the Days.


14

+ Strangeheaven on June 7th, 2013 at 1:11 pm said:

Ahh Neil Druckman the top dog at naughtydog.

I will only buy naughtydog games if he is involved. He was the creative director for uncharted 1& 2 and now the last of us.

He did not direct uncharted 3,and we all know how that turned out,it was absolute PANTS.


15

+ Strangeheaven on June 7th, 2013 at 1:21 pm said:

Naughtydog please make an RPG next to show Bethesda how it’s done with no bugs lol.


16

+ Victoryismine52 on June 7th, 2013 at 2:09 pm said:

Hey any chance of getting a custom sound profile for The Last of us on the Sony Pulse Pro headset like with Bioshock Infinite? With the audio design in this game I’d love to hear it exactly how Naughty Dog meant for it to sound. Played the demo with my headset and loved it!


17

+ Airwalkinman17 on June 7th, 2013 at 3:31 pm said:

Steering clear of any spoilers!
I don’t even wanna know environment details, controls, or anything! lol
All I know is that this game is going to be a masterpiece based on the GOW:Ascension demo.
ONE MORE WEEK!!!
Next week is going to be EPIC!


18

+ Pikmologist on June 7th, 2013 at 6:35 pm said:

This is my host hyped game of all time. I have the regular, Survival, Post Pandemic, Joel and Ellie Editions of this game on pre-order right now (Yes, I imported). Naughty Dog is my favorite developer and I love buying their games.

ONE WEEK left! I can’t believe it! I’m throwing a Midnight Release party at my Gamestop next Thursday Night. It’s going to be great!


19

+ GMFCO311 on June 7th, 2013 at 9:13 pm said:

I rarely ever pre-order games, this will be my only one this year! :) Can’t wait to play!


20

+ Welmosca on June 8th, 2013 at 12:14 am said:

That Ellie Screenshot…OMG I’m always getting amazed at these graphics…I wonder what will you do with PS4′s power ND….if its UC4 please let the UC2/TLoU team handle it…awesome Joel and Ellie will change their clothes…IDK if I’m alone on this but I freaking love when characters changes their clothes throughout the story.Also Great information there…really appreciate…hope there is behind the scenes videos as bonus like on UCs.


21

+ loakum on June 8th, 2013 at 3:59 am said:

Thank you Neil Druckmann, Bruce Straley, Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson, Josh Scherr, Ricky Cambier, Naughty Dog , Sony Entertainment, (and any other names I might have missed), for creating what I believe to be a very special, special video game. I can’t wait to see the adventures of Joel and Ellie, as they try to survive in a Post Pandemic Fungal infested world. 6 more days, and my pre ordered The Last of Us: Post Pandemic Edition will be mine! ^_^


22

+ HitmanStryker on June 8th, 2013 at 11:03 am said:

I am so stoked for this game that June 14 cannot come fast enough for me. Xbox will never have anything this good.


23

+ PrinceofXIII on June 8th, 2013 at 1:05 pm said:

great stuff :D

unfortunately i probably play this on december.

too many backlogs, animes/mangas and such!


24

+ hyperhealer3 on June 8th, 2013 at 6:10 pm said:

Played the demo… Read the reviews… This game is going to be something truly special. I can hardly wait!


25

+ Skyyplum on June 8th, 2013 at 9:26 pm said:

I really can’t wait till Friday. I’ve had this payed off for a while and I’m going to be giddy all day Thursday like a kid on Christmas Eve. At least E3 will keep my mind busy for the week :)


26

+ kileysmith92 on June 9th, 2013 at 4:53 am said:

Peyton. I see what you mean… Roy`s rep0rt is really great, last saturday I got a gorgeous Volkswagen Golf GTI after having earned $7880 this past 5 weeks and even more than ten grand this past month. without a doubt its the most-financially rewarding I’ve had. I began this 4 months ago and pretty much straight away began to bring home more than $85, per hour. I follow instructions here,, Bow6.com


27

+ Heavenly_king on June 9th, 2013 at 8:07 am said:

Please make a fantasy RPG!! :D


28

+ Heavenly_king on June 9th, 2013 at 8:08 am said:

Sony we are having lots of spammers in the comments, you should add a report button.


29

+ Lil-ManWGT on June 9th, 2013 at 4:25 pm said:

GhostMachine1

there not zombies,they are people that got infected.Why can’t people get that lol


30

+ Parada_5 on June 10th, 2013 at 8:07 am said:

Get ready for the last of us coming out this Friday!


31

+ ChaoticAssault31 on June 17th, 2013 at 8:46 pm said:

The Last of Us needs Joel and Ellie. I would not buy a Tomb Raider game without Lara Croft. I wouldn’t buy an Uncharted game without Nate Drake, Sully, and Elena. I am so attached to Joel and Ellie. I just beat the game and Joel and Ellie just grew on me more and more throughout the game. I would really hate to see them go. I think Naughty Dog should either bring Joel and Ellie back or just not make another The Last of Us game. The Last of Us was based on the relationship between Joel and Ellie and to try to make another game would be not as good without the two characters.


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