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Neil Druckmann Discusses New The Last of Us Part II Details

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Neil Druckmann Discusses New The Last of Us Part II Details

The game's director discusses Ellie’s evolution, new gameplay systems, and the weight of our in-game actions.

Naughty Dog recently let a group of fortunate players . During the hours-long session we got to know Ellie’s more mature, vulnerable side, as well as her capacity for brutality. The dizzying highs of the sequel’s stunning visuals and captivating storytelling are matched by the guttural impact of its intentionally disquieting violence.

The appeal of The Last of Us Part II is more than a list of exciting new gameplay features, visual enhancements, and continued storylines.

Neil Druckmann, Director of The Last of Us Part II, sheds light on the ambitious sequel in an insightful interview.

First Ideas

When did The Last of Us Part II’s story come into focus? Druckmann chuckles at this question. He recalls a meal shared with the masterful actress behind Ellie, back in 2013.

“I met with Ashley Johnson and I pitched her the idea for Left Behind,” says Druckmann. “And I told her I had something else I was working on and I pitched her that idea. So she’s there in the restaurant crying, and I’m thinking ‘I hope people don’t think I’m doing something horrible.’ But that’s the first time I remember having some strong idea.”

As early as 2013, Druckmann had the basic beginning, middle, and end of the story in mind. That ending would ultimately change during the course of development.

“That’s how it starts. It’s a kernel of an idea. Then you bring more people in and it becomes a shared vision,” Druckmann says. “Video games are this collaborative medium and we all march towards this focused idea.”

The Evolution of Ellie

The series’ canvas shoe-wearing protagonist has changed a lot since her cross-country journey with Joel. “I think she’s really come into her own,” Druckmann says.

“In the first game she’s trying to find someone to rely on,” Druckmann says. “She tells Joel that ‘everyone I’ve ever known has died or left me, everyone except for you.’ She kind of latches onto Joel.”

Ellie and Joel’s relationship is strained at the beginning of The Last of Us Part II. Her new life in Jackson, Wyoming affords her a chance to make new connections with the survivors living there. And she’s grown especially close to one fellow resident.

“Dina becomes this best friend she’s now had for years,” Druckmann says. “They flirt with each other, but Ellie doesn’t quite know where this girl stands. We see that Dina feels very similarly to Ellie.”

Ultimately, Ellie’s relatively comfortable, “normal” life in this post-pandemic world isn’t destined to last. Druckmann alludes to a terrible incident that ignites Ellie on a deadly quest for revenge.

“Ellie wants to make it right by bringing the people responsible to justice, even if she has to go at it alone,” Druckmann says.

A New Infected Emerges

Many sequels come with the thrill of facing new challenges. But Naughty Dog doesn’t want to throw in new infected types for the sake of it. The studio has carefully thought out how the new Shambler – a grotesque mutation bursting with hazardous vapor – fits into the world’s lore.

“In the first game, there is all this documentation about the different stages [of the infection],” Druckmann says. “Now we have to justify why there are different stages. Why are there mutations of these things? Without getting into it here, there is something about the environment and how much time has passed that has allowed these mutations to occur.”

Shamblers do more than enrich the world of The Last of Us — they also thrust players into tense new combat encounters.

“We have Runners that close the distance quickly,” says Druckman. “We have Clickers that move slowly but are one-hit kills. Shamblers provide this area of attack, where they have this cloud of gaseous acid that burns materials around it. It burns your skin. The way you saw it in this demo is that they’re mostly on their own. It gets really interesting because you have a cloud that hurts you when you enter it, but it also blocks your view, then Runners burst through it. So the combinations get really interesting.”

Expanding the Grounded Gameplay Experience

Creating a grounded experience is a pillar of Naughty Dog’s vision. For this game, the team seeks to retain that principle while also expanding Ellie’s gameplay options with a wider variety of weapon customization, abilities, and mobility.

“We’re after a grounded experience, but that doesn’t mean reality one-to-one,” Druckmann says. “First of all, you don’t have all the inputs you’d have in real life. Your inputs are limited to a controller. So with that, how do we create systems and an aesthetic that feels grounded? So Ellie couldn’t kill as many people as she does in the demo in real life, but we need that number to create the tension. The tension is more important than a realistic body count.”

“And likewise with the system, if you had these weapons your life and death would rely on them,” Druckmann continues. “You would clean them, you would tend to them. So we created systems and aesthetic – we really zoom the camera in and show you the weapon and how she works them to improve them – to make you feel the connection she has to these instruments of death, in a way. What it means to survive in this world.”

In addition to challenging players’ skills, Naughty Dog is also adding new gameplay mechanics with the goal of eliciting an emotional response from players. For the first time in the series, Ellie will face animal threats.

“Dogs are a way to evolve human enemies to give them a new sense to sniff you out – no pun intended,” Druckmann says. “They can rely on the sense of smell and as Ellie moves around she leaves behind this [scent] trail that fades over time, but if the dog picks up the trailer he can find you wherever you’re hiding in a way that a human on their own can’t. But there is something when you kill a dog that makes you feel worse than when you kill a human.”

Believable Human Enemies

Fighting guard dogs is just one example of how Naughty Dog is making technical strides to create a more authentic and grim action game. The attention to detail in connecting players’ emotions with their in-game actions extends to human enemies.

“We want to treat violence as realistically as we can in an action game,” Druckmann says. “One example is that every human enemy in the game features a unique name, such as Omar, or Joe. For Naughty Dog, implementing this was a nontrivial task. “[This was] a big effort that required not only new tech, but a lot of recording investment …. The way they communicate is much more sophisticated.. We do that in order to make you feel it’s not just like an NPC or braindead obstacle.”

If you take out an enemy, their friends may scream their comrade’s name in grief. Overcome by emotion, enemies may also become enraged and unpredictable in combat. It all blends together to create a brutal, yet believable experience.

“Your thoughts are provoked in really interesting ways in the way some of the best stories are done.” says Druckmann says. “That’s what we’re striving for.”

Choosing When to Fight

Naughty Dog wants players to feel the consequences of Ellie’s actions more deeply, so it’s natural that some may wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. The team is accounting for that.

“We wanted to have whole sequences that you can be spotted, engage in some combat, and escape without clearing the area,” Druckmann says. “Likewise, we wanted to have way more sequences where you could ghost completely. It’s very challenging and very hard, but it’s possible to leave areas. Then there are certain situations where we want you engaged, we want you to partake in certain actions that are going to make you uncomfortable. But that’s part of the narrative,that’s part of Ellie’s journey.”

However, avoiding bloody combat encounters doesn’t mean you’ll totally miss out on interesting areas to explore.

“As you saw with Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy, we’re experimenting with much larger layouts,” Druckmann says. “We’re going to do that with this game, and find ways to use that to mirror the story. When we want tension to drop, and we want you to think ‘What do I do next? What do I want to explore here?’ We have that.”

Fearsome Fidelity

The Last of Us was a high watermark for PS3’s technical capabilities, which makes returning to this world with the power of PS4 even more enticing.

“Just as with The Last of Us, we were hitting the limits of memory, of computational power, how many enemies we could have on screen, and the size of levels,” says Druckmann. “Now we’re able to have much wider environments, sequences with a horde of infected, several squads of enemies looking for you in big spaces.”

“Likewise, Ellie has this whole new animation system called motion mapping. Not just Ellie, all the characters. It makes movement more responsive, but also more realistic at the same time. So I think Ellie is one of the best controlling and looking third-person action characters out there.

“The fidelity we can get in the faces and the motion capture — we can better translate what the actors are doing on stage into the game, and get these nuances so we can rely more on the way someone blinks or the way they squint instead of lines of dialogue. It allows the writing to be much more nuanced than it’s been before.”

A Message for PlayStation Fans

Gamers around the world are dying to get our hands on The Last of Us Part II. Where is Naughty Dog’s head?

“We’ve been on this journey for a few years now making this game,” Druckmann says. “We know we’ve been quiet, and we know how engaged our fans are and the PlayStation community is behind us. They inspire us in ways they’re probably not even aware of.”

“We’re on the home stretch and we’re so excited to finish this game. We’ve been very protective about what we’re showing, and even though people here are playing the demo and we’ve put out a story trailer, we’ve been very mindful not to spoil the story and what makes the story special, and what twists and turns are in store them. We just can’t wait for them to play it.”

launches on PS4 February 21, 2020.

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13 Comments

  • Feb 21st 2020 is undoubtly marked in everyones calendar, hec, everyone will be taking leave that day. I know i will! I remember very vividly the day I put in Last of Us in my ps3 back then when it came out. I knew there was something special about it before I even played it. No matter how many times I finished last of us (which is probably the most times I ever finished and replayed any game), the scene with Joel and his daugther gets me everytime. Now even having a daughter of my own, its even more powerful and that says alot of all the hard work and acting that has gone in to make such a FANTASTIC game. Last of Us Part II will be no expection. I have watched the trailers, gameplay and interviews over and over again (Yes, i am obsessed). I cannot wait to continue this chapter and looking forward to replaying Part 1 and Part 2, when it comes out. Thanks Naughty Dog for putting Joel and Ellie at our finger tips next year.

  • Thefalloutzombie

    Will we able to play Joel at all

  • RichGamer2900

    Wow all of this information just proves how much hard work nights

  • Strangeheaven

    Sony & Naughtydog

    Please Embargo the game on YouTube ” Let’s Plays ” for exactly one month after the game releases. I don’t want any spoiler thumbnails from Youtubers spoiling this important game.

    I wish Youtube would start getting a grip of this, especially on important story driven games. I may have to delete the Youtube app from my phone, so I don’t receive spoiler notifications that I never asked for.

    • Censor yourself, not others. No one is forcing you to be on Youtube or to click any game videos (that are free marketing for the game)

  • Strangeheaven

    Sony and Naughty Dog

    Please dont send out free copies of the game to Youtubers, make them pay for the game like everyone else has to, they make loads of money as it is. The game will sell big time, due to the name alone.

    Also I would like to see review publications highly monitored prior to the games release due to incompetent spoilers made by the reviewer, which can happen.

    I look forward to The Last Of Us Part Two, come February.

    Keep up the good work Naughty Dog

    • You sound like an authoritarian nightmare. Control yourself, stop trying to control others.

    • ineedmoneysp

      I think youtubers and gaming media should have to pay for the game like everyone else. Gaming journalist have already attacked the game for being too violent and brutal. Im guessing they will have more to complain about when it releases like they always do. As for the guy telling other to control themselves maybe take your word to heart for yourself.

  • Oh damn I knew this would happen and was hoping the contrary but oh well…hated the approach of much larger scenarios on UC4.I love to explore on games so larger scenarios means more time wasted exploring and on Lost Legacy it was done right but on UC4 it was done very wrong,putting the playa outta that “ride” that always was the UC games,it broke the flow of the game.TLoU has more meaning in exploring though due to the need of supplies but I really hope y’all went easy with those larger scenarios…cuz larger scenarios + amazing graphics=Huge time wasted exploring.I hate how this gen brought the open-world trend…because of that I barely have time to play and complete games,too much time spent in a single game.

  • I hope they don’t make this game into a romance story.

  • I cant wait for this, loved the 1st one, I am looking forward to what surprises await me this time around

  • Strangeheaven

    @Fuhr31

    1. Idiotic YouTuber posts a heavily spoiler thumbnail on YouTube.

    2. YouTube randomly recommends the video, that contains the highly spoiler thumbnail.

    = Game ruined

    By placing an Embargo on YouTube Let’s Plays for at least one month, will help tackle this problem for fans eagerly awaiting the game.

    This ain’t some random sports game that drops off the production line every 6 months.

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