Naughty Dog reveals how axed Jack and Daxter reboot led to The Last of Us
Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann talks about the processes behind the creation of The Last of Us.
The creative director for The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann, has revealed that the development team behind the game was originally assembled to produce a new entry in Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter series, which was last seen on the PlayStation 2.
Speaking at a keynote address for IGDA Toronto 2013, Druckmann explained the history behind the formation of the team behind The Last of Us, and explained the process behind the creation of the title.
"Back in 2009, our presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, we had just shipped Uncharted 2 and it was pretty successful for us," said Druckmann. "And they decided there's a lot of people in the team that were very talented but eager to do other stuff, maybe above the role they were at. They were like, let's start branching out. Let's create this second team."
"Our task was to reboot Jack and Daxter," said Druckmann. "We spent a long time exploring the world of Jak and Daxter, and how would we reboot it, what would it mean to bring these characters back, what were some story ideas that we were getting excited by."
"We found the ideas we were passionate about were kind of getting away from what Jak and Daxter was. We were questioning, 'Are we doing this for marketing reasons? Naming something Jak and Daxter, when it's not really Jak and Daxter? Or are we really passionate about it?'
"And the answer is we felt like it was more for marketing... We felt like we weren't doing service to what the fans of this franchise really liked, even if the reinvented Daxter was pretty damn good looking."
"So we went to our boss and said, 'Do we have to do this?' And he said 'No. I thought it would just be easier for you guys if you started with something. But if you want to do something else, come up with something else.'"
Druckmann went on to explain that the core idea behind The Last of Us came in 2004 when he was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon and had to pitch the idea of a zombie game to Night of the Living Dead director George Romero.
The pitch, which Romero turned down, combined the mechanics of Ico with the world of Night of the Living Dead, with a central character modeled on Hartigan from Sin City. The player would take the role of an old police officer with a heart condition who had to protect a young girl, with the player switching to her perspective when the man ran into medical issues. The game would end with the police officer getting bitten and infected.
Years later, when Druckmann was working at Naughty Dog, he pitched the idea as a story called The Turning, turning the male lead into a former convict who had lost his daughter and was protecting the girl to redeem himself.
When Naughty Dog formed its second studio, Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley kicked around the idea of a game called Mankind, which would feature the protagonist guiding the first immune girl around a world where the cordyceps virus had infected all of the planet's women.
Druckmann said Mankind never came to light because it was a "misogynistic idea." Female co-workers at Naughty Dog would say to Druckmann that, while they understood the idea, "the way it's coming off is you're having a bunch of women turning into monsters and you're shooting them in the face."
The full keynote, which runs for an hour and 20 minutes, is now available to watch online.