Naughty Dog reveals original story details for The Last of Us

The Last of Us creative director speaks at length about character evolution and changes during the game's development.


The Last of Us

Naughty Dog has discussed original concepts for The Last of Us in the September issue of Game Informer Magazine, has reported.

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Warning: the following contains major spoilers for the game’s single-player campaign.

The news comes just days after the game's creative director, Neil Druckmann, tweeted a piece of concept art showing Joel being attacked, teasing that players will be able to find out more about alternative ending scenarios at the studio's upcoming PAX Prime panel.

According to the report, during development, Tess was originally a more sinister, revenge-motivated character.

"What's interesting is that originally in the story, Tess took more of a villain role," Druckmann said. "Tess was betrayed by Joel and took on a mission to pursue him across the country. That storyline never worked out. The storyline shifted and Tess took on this role where she became more of a believer and she helped motivate Joel."

Ultimately, it didn't fit, and the angle was abandoned. "We had a tough time understanding why Joel would take this journey--we weren't buying it," he said. "We also had a hard time buying that Tess would go on a vendetta. We could understand her pursuing Joel a little bit, but why would she go for a year around the country? Those things were solved by saying that Tess is going to die when she gets bitten, but her dying wish to Joel is to do this one good thing--help me do this one good thing so my soul can rest because I've done all these horrible things."

Ellie also changed during the course of the game's creation, maturing as the story progressed.

"Ellie's arc originally was that she didn't kill any non-infected people until the end, when she was going to kill Tess when Tess was torturing Joel," Druckmann said. "What we realised is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat, because when she was disengaged from the action for that long, you didn't care so much. So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn't going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming-of-age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game.

"That culminates with her conflict with David. That happened pretty quickly, just based on some things we realised about the story and how we had to integrate it into the gameplay."

As has been discussed previously, the game's ending also changed dramatically, with the original idea testing poorly with players. Many went as far as to call it anticlimactic.

"The original ending when we pitched the game was a much more hopeful ending, where Joel and Ellie make it to San Francisco, and that is a town run by people who are trying to restore society," Druckmann revealed. "Joel has killed all these doctors and lied to Ellie, and Ellie just fully buys into the lie. So, you're left with the idea that they are going to live the rest of their lives in this town. The camera pulls back and maybe everything is going to be alright for these two. I was working on writing, and it didn't feel honest anymore. After everything they've done and everything they've been through, that was letting them off a little too easy--especially for Joel.

"When we did focus testing, at least initially until some of the hospital stuff started coming together, it tested very poorly. People said it's unclear, anticlimactic, unsatisfying… A lot of people at the company felt the same way. A few designers didn't like the ending I had in mind. But then, as time passed and they thought about it, they came around and really appreciated. I think that happened with other people, too."

Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley will host their panel--Pitching The Last of Us--at PAX Prime, being held in Seattle at the end of August. The pair spoke at length about the inspirations, ambitions and challenges producing the game in GameSpot's recent feature.

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