Feature Article

The Complex System Behind One Of The Last Of Us 2's Most Satisfying Details

Breaking glass is one of The Last of Us Part II's most satisfying, and complex, little details.

It can often be the smallest of details that make the biggest impacts on the player experience in a video game. The way a gun feels satisfying to shoot thanks to small recoil animations or delicately balanced sound effects. The feeling of weight as a character moves due to precisely calculated animations reacting to your varied degrees of input. It's not uncommon for Naughty Dog to be included in conversations about such elements, with the studio packing in extremely high levels of details into both their worlds and characters. But in The Last of Us Part II, one effect and its popularity with players took even the studio by surprise.

There are so many little details to Naughty Dog's sequel that bring the dreary world to life, but none stand out more prominently than its deeply satisfying glass-breaking mechanics. Whether you're shattering the display window of a derelict bookstore or using your elbow to break through a weapon display case, there's a tangible sense of joy that follows through with each action. It's difficult to pin down one reason for it though. Perhaps it's the dynamic nature of the cracking and the way pieces of glass remain reactive once they're scattered on the floor. Maybe it's the way it forces you to think about puzzles, giving you avenues to pursue solutions in ways that other games might restrict you. It could just be sensory, too, with the right amount of vibration accompanying the crunchy sound of the glass fracturing. Developers at Naughty Dog didn't just focus on any one of these aspects, but instead sought to create a system unlike any they had played with before.

No Caption Provided
John Wick: Chapter 2
John Wick: Chapter 2

"I liked the glass breaking in the movie John Wick," Jesse Garcia, a sound designer at Naughty Dog, explained. "You hear a nice explosive impact along with the glass layers. After that, a very nice, subtle glass debris rolls on the ground. This extra layer of detail gave not only the feeling of breaking glass but also the consequence that there is now glass all over the ground. This type of storytelling was exactly what we set out to achieve."

Glass pieces do occupy a space around you once broken, rattling on the floor as you move by and cracking further under the pressure of a character's foot. But it's also the way the shards end up there that was important in the development process. "The main goal I remember was the player seeing a 'unique' glass shatter every time they break a window," added Neilan Naicker, a dynamics and technical artist on the game. "However, because the glass doesn’t actually fracture in real time, we had to get creative."

The fact that glass fractures in The Last of Us Part II aren't dynamic might surprise you. In reality, simulating accurate breaks takes a lot of processing power on the part of the PlayStation 4, requiring computations to take into account the surface area you're hitting, the force you're applying, and the object applying the force. It's not impossible, but it is impractical, especially when you're working within the tight performance budgets that a game like this does. So instead, Naughty Dog's designers did what lots of game designers do--they faked it.

All of the glass in The Last of Us Part II is, in fact, broken at all times, with some clever tricks used to hide the seams when it's meant to look intact. Making sure this looks convincing from all angles was one challenge, but then determining which pieces remained interactive after impact, as well as how the transition from whole to shattered takes place based on the circumstances of the impact, were others entirely.

"The biggest piece of tech on my end was helping implement the system that pre-processes the glass, so that the broken edges only appear as the glass breaks," Naicker said, detailing his involvement with the system. "Doing a melee move on the window applies a different force versus a more physics-based interaction, such as throwing a brick through said window. The windows are ultimately a physics-based setup and react accordingly to each method. We tested a bunch of different ways of breaking glass (throwables, bullets, melee, explosions) and tuned the response to make sure each felt satisfying."

No Caption Provided

Tuning this wasn't just to replicate the sensation as closely as possible, but also to give it a sense of "hyperreality" so often overlooked in games. There's often a push to make things as realistic as possible, but Naicker believes that won't always produce the best results. "I don't think being perfectly realistic is always absolutely desirable--but you often need to get close before you can start 'heightening' the reality," he said.

Knowing how glass would react to player interaction is something Naughty Dog settled on early, which is evident in how many times breaking it appears in puzzle solutions. Circumventing a locked door becomes a lot easier when you can just break the glass window next to it instead of hunting for a key--a nice touch that adds to the believability of the world you explore in the game. But giving that freedom to level designers presented another challenge to Naughty Dog's programming team, who suddenly had to find a way to take this precisely processed system and apply it to any glass dimensions required.

The main goal I remember was the player seeing a 'unique' glass shatter every time they break a window. However, because the glass doesn’t actually fracture in real time, we had to get creative.

Neilan Naicker, LOU2 Dynamics and Technical Artist

Calculating how well you can fake glass breaking in just one scenario is tough enough, but The Last of Us Part II uses breaking glass in anything as small as a weapon display to something as large as the side of an office building. Scaling this system so that level designers had the freedom to use it in the ways they wanted was tough.

"As any game programmer can tell you, a scale is a feature that can wreak havoc into many parts of your engine," Naughty Dog programmer Jaroslav Sinecky said. "If you want to support a non-uniform scale, things get much more complicated. If you want to non-uniformly scale breakable objects with collision, it can become a real headache."

No Caption Provided

Getting the glass to look great when smashed to bits and giving designers the freedom to use it wherever they want are just two pieces of the complex puzzle, neither of which would work at all if the player's destructive actions weren't rewarded with the ever so satisfying sound of the shatter. At a surface level, this might sound like the simplest part of the process--get some audio equipment setup and start grabbing as many samples as you can of real-life glass breaking. But like most things in game development, the reality is far more complex.

"When talking about the sound for glass, it is important to know there is not one glass break that is a single recording of 'glass breaking' from start to finish," Garcia said. "The glass breaking is made up of many different layers with many variations. We essentially are making the building blocks for the sounds of breaking glass and arranging them in order to synthesize the sound and feeling of breaking glass."

This process is broken up into three phases: Destruction, Physics, and Foley. Destruction itself is broken up even further into four sub-categories, all with distinct sound signatures inserted in split-second intervals during a single glass break. These layers, named Impact, Thump, Pane, and Debris, are where most of the audio engineering magic happens.

No Caption Provided

Impact is the initial sound you hear, as an object makes contact with glass for the first time. Here Garcia used glass breaking samples to find that ideal "cracking" sound to give weight to the force being exerted, but also leaned on electrical zaps to round out the effect. "Electricity can be used in all sorts of design. When used in the right way, it can be completely hidden to only give you one piece of an element you are looking for," he said.

When talking about the sound for glass, it is important to know there is not one glass break that is a single recording of 'glass breaking' from start to finish. The glass breaking is made up of many different layers with many variations.

Jesse Garcia, LOU2 Sound Designer

The Pane layer was important for the scalability of the entire system, giving different sound to the different sizes of glass being destroyed to add the sense of size and weight to all other layers. This was then followed by the Thump layer, which Garcia said wasn't created with samples of glass at all. "This is a processed low-frequency hit that gives your initial impact a nice shock to the body to help give the player a feeling of power and strength as they break the glass," he explained.

The final layer, Debris, ties back into Garcia's goal of recreating the sounds he heard in John Wick. Here, a mixture of short and long glass debris trails were used to give presence to the glass now scattered on the floor around you, which continues making noise as you interact with it further. "This helped get the realism to stick," Garcia said. "I used this layer to sell the aspect of storytelling. When you hear the debris scatter along the ground, you know there is now a sea of glass laying on the ground around you."

That glass influences gameplay too, especially in combat scenarios. If a grenade happens to shatter the windows of a handful of cars, that glass persists on the ground to offer enemies another way to detect your movements. Walking over the debris uses this layer to generate more noise for the AI to potentially pick up on, giving the system an additional element of consequence. To drive this effect home even further, senior sound designer Neil Uchitel modelled sounds for differently sized pieces of glass debris, giving the crunch you hear underneath your character's boots an accurate reproduction.

No Caption Provided

The glass system in The Last of Us Part II is not the result of one person. It takes a village of people to get just one element in the game to work, from programming, animation, design, foreground, and audio.

Jesse Garcia, LOU2 Sound Designer

Features with this depth to their detail are products of multiple teams of people working in harmony together. It's a testament to the thoughtfulness put in by each department involved, working together to not only challenge themselves but ensure it doesn't come at the expense of the player experience. It's not always a straight road to success. Garcia recalled an instance where issues arose when multiple instances of glass broke all at once, causing a variety of performance and effects issues. Scaling these hurdles requires tight teamwork, which Garcia praised during the development of the game.

"The glass system in The Last of Us Part II is not the result of one person," Garcia said. "It takes a village of people to get just one element in the game to work, from programming, animation, design, foreground, and audio. One of the strengths we have at Naughty Dog is having these departments work so well and seamlessly together, in our systems and our studio as people."

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BDRTFM

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Edited By BDRTFM

Yeah, the glass animations in the game are pretty good. You even get the crunching sound of stepping on the glass which can alert enemies. There's one annoying part in the game where, if you want to stealth the level, its difficult to do if you also want to get all collectibles in that run because there is an infected carrying a collectible in a locked building full of infected and the only way to get the collectible is to either break the glass and alert them or make noise outside and alert them so that they break the glass themselves. You basically have to stand on the second floor of the building across the street and snipe the glass so they come out alert but can't get to you. They definitely paid attention to a lot of detail in the graphics and such but that didn't help the story. The sad thing is, the train wreck of a story is a guaranteed game of the year winner because journalists went full retarded and called it the best story in the history of stories when you could find better writing on any weekday afternoon Soap. Kind of like the supposedly super fantastic story in Everybody's Gone to the Rapture which was nothing more than a long string of boring cliches. Alcoholic priests, cheating, pregnant wives and other soap opera fodder.

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blindbsnake

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@bdrtfm: "the train wreck of a story is a guaranteed game of the year winner because journalists went full retarded"

Please, tell us how smart you are...

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KahnArtizt

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@bdrtfm: sounds like the story just wasn’t to your taste because I thought EGTTR had a great story too.

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BDRTFM

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Edited By BDRTFM

@KahnArtizt: Tell me what exactly you found great about the story in EGTTR. The only thing good I found about the story was why it was taking place. 99% of the floating lights just said really stupid, cliched soap opera crap with the occasional tidbit of what was going on, which usually went along the lines of wtf is going on? People are disappearing and we slowly learn about it through inane gossip that is literally on any soap opera you watch on any given day. Leaving tiny clues in a completely boring, cliched story does not make it a good story. It makes for a very short story hidden among a bunch of noise that could have been told much better. When I play a game where the main attraction is story - sometimes the only attraction, that story better be absolutely superb. To each their own I guess.

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KahnArtizt

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@bdrtfm: well, I’ve never watched a soap opera before so I guess I’ve never seen any of that before. I just enjoyed the little stories and the atmosphere was great. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was being just a walking simulator.

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

Have they fixed the issue where the smashing sound doesn't always play? I am not sure if it's a limitation of the PS4 Pro or not but if you go around and smash every window on every car it allows you to then more often than not some of the windows smash silently. I've come across this in numerous sections of the game so i am starting to believe it's just possible to overwhelm the PS4 Pro with too many sounds at once.

To be fair it has the most realistic glass breaking sound when it does play that I've ever heard in a game. Sound in general is just so far ahead of any other game out there. Whether or not you like the story has no bearing on what they achieved on a technical level anyway.

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XenomorphAlien

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It's hilarious how much these game sites are trying to put TLOU2 in the brightest light possible.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@xenomorphalien: It's a great game for the most part. you probably just watched a video , ruined the game for yourself and didn't bother with it. I didn't look at any footage before i finished it outside what Sony themselves showed and apart from a couple of silly quick time battles i loved it. Story doesn't matter much to me in a game if the game play itself is great anyway and this game just nails exploration and combat for the most part.

It's the best Sony game since Uncharted series. I couldn't stand the original Last of us as Ellie was a pain in the arse. In this she is a psycho lol .

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XenomorphAlien

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@deviltaz35: Well when it comes to TLOU, the story is the most important thing. And the story has terrible pacing and pretty much throws away everything that made the first one great.

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blindbsnake

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@xenomorphalien: On the contrary. The game is awesome... Sadly, not everyone is up to it...

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alvisj

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@blindbsnake: TLOU was about Joel and Ellie and that's what made it great. TLOU2 is about the writers trying to one up their wokeness, chapter after chapter. It was laughably stupid how every single character is LGBTQ. Totally cool to have a mix of characters, but every single person in the post apocalyptic world is lgbtq??? Thats just pandering and stupid.

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blindbsnake

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@alvisj: "every single character is LGBTQ."

This is stupid... Name every single character... I will help: Ellie, Dina, Lev... Your turn...

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Lord_Sesshy

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It's been 2 months. The game had its time and now it's time to move on. Articles like this just emanate that they are getting paid to write something, anything, about TLoU2 just to keep it relevant.

This goes for most narrative games too. After a month or so everything has been said that need to be said. Only games that change need to be talked about months after release.

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KahnArtizt

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@Lord_Sesshy: everyone still talks about the Witcher 3 but no one complains about that since it’s universally loved. You’re just salty and it shows.

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riptal

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@Lord_Sesshy: Why do we all have to move on and not talk anymore about any game we want? You have enough of TLOU 2? You know everything about it? You don't like it? Why don't YOU move on and just read something else? Why we should stop talking about a game juste because it's a month old??

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FallenOneX

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@Lord_Sesshy: This is just about right. Back when magazines were the main source of information, you'd need at least 5 months to finally get all of the "making of" interviews out of the way.

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TheCupidStunts

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Edited By TheCupidStunts

@Lord_Sesshy: "This goes for most narrative games too. After a month or so everything has been said that need to be said.".

I can think of narrative games from 30 years ago that are still being discussed.

A narrative game does not somehow become not worth discussing after 1 or 2 months.

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Lord_Sesshy

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@thecupidstunts: Because games that are that old are now classics/retro and not everyone has heard of them so it brings a game to a new generation of gamers. That's the difference there.

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TheCupidStunts

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Edited By TheCupidStunts

@Lord_Sesshy: I see what you're trying to say. But there's a reason why games become classics, and it's not just because of how old they are.

A classic is also almost certainly a game that has been discussed over the years. A game that is never discussed after it's initial release window would never become a classic because no one would even remember it.

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KahnArtizt

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@Lord_Sesshy: what is the cutoff period where we can start talking about TLOU2 again to bring it to a new generation of gamers? Serious question.

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Fandango_Letho

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@Lord_Sesshy: K but no? Ever watched videos titled details in video games on youtube?

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OpenMind23

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Smashing article. I loved the first game, seems like an age ago now as I haven't had a console for some time, just a PC but looking forward to getting a PS5 later this year and this will be the first game I will play, unless Skate 4 is released early lol 😁

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hardwenzen

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Next article will be about the rope physics.

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KahnArtizt

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@hardwenzen: the rope physics are literally the best rope physics ever made by a longshot.

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hardwenzen

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@KahnArtizt said:

@hardwenzen: the rope physics are literally the best rope physics ever made by a longshot.

Best glass physics, best rope physics, best animations and best ragdoll (when killing enemies) in any game ever released. Oh oh oh!!!! Almost forgot. HAVE YOU SEEN that white flying plastic bag? Bruh, best physics ever.

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Muddrox

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@hardwenzen: Better talk about Snake Pass then lol.

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Goldenageplayer

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Edited By Goldenageplayer

Lol when you know there isn't much of a reason to smash the dohnut display but you do it anyways because of course you are going to!

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OdinXivraj

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As impressive as such details is, it reminds me of the shrinking horse testicles in Red Dead Redemption 2. It's a impressive detail but not worth working your dev's to near death to achieve. I would rather have less dynamic glass breaking and have dev's that didn't have to work 60+ hours a week.

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alvisj

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@OdinXivraj: I don't get the constant crying about devs working too hard. Of course there has been some mistreatment in the industry, but in most cases, they're not being held against their will. They are very well compensated and are free to leave if the job is too much. Working hard won't hurt them, stop crying on their behalf.

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Cikatriz_ESP

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@OdinXivraj: I would imagine they’d have people dedicated to things like this, people that would be out of a job if Naughty Dog didn’t have the same attention to detail. We don’t know how swamped this particular team was and whether or not they were subjected to crunch.

Besides, if the developers had less work to do I think the release date would move forward but the crunch would remain. That’s the nature of the industry.

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Muddrox

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Edited By Muddrox

@OdinXivraj: You actually make an interesting point there. Although the realistic glass simulation is really cool, I wonder if the game would have been received just as well if a more generic approach was taken to the way breaking glass was handled (just as a singular example). Little details are great but I don't think it would hurt the game too much to scale back a little for the sake of employee health. Sure, this would have made games like The Last of Us 2 look a bit less dynamic but I think they could still keep the overall look and feel of the game without so much of a toll on employee health.

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YankeeAllStars

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Edited By YankeeAllStars

@OdinXivraj: Maybe you're right that some of them feel overworked, but we don't know for sure. Some of them might enjoy being a part of a special project, making a game that has depth and details that most other games don't have even if it means that they have to work extra hours.

It could be similar to being an artist. Just because it's "work" that keeps food on your table doesn't necessarily mean that everyone wants to do a mediocre job to get it over with as soon as possible so that you can leave the office at 5:00pm every day. Some people have pride for their work or enjoy what they're doing, and work hard even if they have the option to be lazy.

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Berserk8989

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@OdinXivraj: I know it's a big issue for some people, but for some others (me included) it would be an incredible honor to work on such a project for 60 hours per week and getting paid very well, and I'd be immensely proud of myself. I normally work 52-60 hour/week on my okay-ish job right now (+ I have to go to another country 2-3 times per year for like a month or two and work there for my company, meaning I'm also away from home and loved ones). So yeah, I'd love working with masters of their craft like Naughty Dog or Rockstar.

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Muddrox

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@Berserk8989: I think it becomes more difficult for people who also have families at home. It can take a big toll on a family at home when a parent is constantly away.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@muddrox: They know all this up front though. People are just too self entitled these days. As others have said it used to be an honour to work in the industry and do everything you could to make a deadline. They get paid extremely well and still whine about hours. Don't do the job unless you are single that is the bottom line. Any job like that is going to eat into it so decide whether you want that sort of career or you want a peaceful family life as you often can't have both.

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Muddrox

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@deviltaz35: We share a difference of opinion here but I understand what you are saying. It would be a great honor to work in the industry for sure. However, I don't think its exactly fair having to choose between job vs family. Too much of anything, including working at your dream job, can be a bad thing. I think a good balance isn't unattainable if upper management of most game studio's are willing to take a little extra consideration for employee health.

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Goldenageplayer

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@Berserk8989: Matter of opinion. I personally don't want to work for those companies in certain areas lol. If I had Troy bakers job I'd prolly be super happy about it. If I was crunching like crazy, not getting paid for the over time, and maybe even harassed in the work place. Then screw that lol.

But hey... This isn't just a chat about gaming... It's a chat about workers around the world in general. Workers should be treated more fairly PERIOD!

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Berserk8989

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@goldenageplayer: Well, then I wouldn't enjoy working too, of course. But I wasn't talking about that, I was talking solely about crunching on something I personally too care about to a certain degree (like ambitious games) - but still paid and acknowledged crunch, of course. And I rarely heard that people weren't paid well and acknowledged, despite the crunch, at the studios that I mentioned up there. Sure, there are exceptions that people get treated badly at some point (there always are with so many people on board), but even those one has to take with a grain of salt if such cases are indeed exceptions. I mean, it's not like it's always fully the employer's fault either, some workers can be real entitled b*tches too, speaking from personal experience here.

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Oldgun

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It's a technically proficient game, no doubt about it. But why does it need an entire article just to praise how it deals with glass shatter. It is something you could've easily mentioned in the game review. Move on.

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YankeeAllStars

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@Oldgun: The article is telling you the depth and work that goes into making every small thing in games. Some people enjoy learning about the programming and development aspect of games. This detail can't be included in a game review unless they write an entire book for it.

If you don't care about the behind the scenes of game development then that is fine, but you should take your own advice, pick another article to read and move on if this is not something you're interested in.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@yankeeallstars: I didn't see it as a negative either. It's no different than Digital foundry doing a tear down on performance metrics etc.

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Oldgun

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@yankeeallstars: Well, good for you if you learned something from the article. I would normally prefer such deep dive articles from competent sources such as digital foundry. Just my 2 cents.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@Oldgun: lol they got the info from a sound designer at Naughty Dog. You can't get that sort of info even from Digital Foundry for the most part as it's not their focus. Alex may occasionally go that in depth but not often enough for me.

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Muddrox

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@Oldgun: I'm a big fan of Digital Foundry too but even they don't cover every single detail that happens behind the scenes of a video game because it would take forever. I watched all of Digital Foundry's analysis on The Last of Us PT 2 and they didn't cover the same kind of specific details listed in the article here. Also, it's kinda dumb to call the source listed here "incompetent" when the article contains direct quotes from developers who actually worked on the game. Just my 2 cents.

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