TGS 2012: The Last of Us – Special Interview

We managed to catch up with Arne Meyer (left, top), Community Strategist for Naughty Dog. For those not in the know, Naughty Dog is the successful studio behind, most recently, the Uncharted trilogy. With their upcoming The Last Of Us, the developer has opted for a grittier and more mature narrative in the game.

Join Robots Gone bad as we sit down with Arne in this special interview during the Tokyo Game Show.

The Last of Us is set in a very realistic tone – an enemy takes a shot to the head and he goes down. But then, isn’t giving Joel a health bar contradicting that same tone in the game?

It’s really about making sure that the game is still enjoyable and fun to play and finding that balance. If the game is very lethal to you as a player, it’s not going to be enjoyable, so we want to make sure that not only Joel have some ability to withstand the violence that he will face, but also give you an indication of how close to death he may be, to have that impact.

Is The Last of Us a horror survival narrative in the same line as The Walking Dead, or an action horror one like Resident Evil?

That’s an interesting question to put it that way. I think there are a couple of aspects to both. We definitely like to do action games, so there’s going to be more of an action element to it and we’ve actually said that this game is in the survival-action genre because the survival here is really about what it takes to survive in a world but still making sure there’s action elements.

That’s coupled with having a very strong character development, narrative as well, so it’s almost a mix of the two in terms of action and character development, because you’re really going to have slow parts where things get really, really tense, but you’re also going to have parts where it’s even more fast-paced. We want to have that sort of a roller-coaster ride for the player.

At this year’s E3, it was mentioned that The Last of Us will employ some kind of “sneaky camera techniques” to provide tension to the game. Can you elaborate more on that?

I won’t say that it’s necessarily all based on camera techniques. It’s also a balance between lighting and the concept of power that I was talking about earlier. And I think that’s one of the key things that we’ve actually been focusing on to create that tension, which is the Balance of Power. (Editor: During an earlier demo, Arne explained how the in-game ‘Balance of Power’ AI will determine the enemy’s reactions to the weapon you’re using against them. E.g., an enemy will likely use covers if Joel is using a gun, or will dash at him if he were using a knife instead).

That’s the way it calls for dynamic stealth too, where you are able to hide and take advantage of that. But that creates a lot of tension, because if you’re found out and you’re outnumbered, that’s a really bad situation for you as well.

We know that Joel and Ellie will face Infected and Hostile Humans. Will there be sub-classes of human survivors and infected humans then?

We don’t quite look at it that way. I know when you look at some other games, including ours, there’s sort of the “light” and the “medium” and the “heavy” enemies. We’re not looking at it that way, but there will be characters where they will look tougher than the other ones, but not so much in classes. It’ll be a little bit more organic in that way. You’ll come across enemies that will have a bulletproof vest they found, so they’ll be a little bit stronger but it’s not like we’re trying to create a set of classes like that.

Will the player’s choice affect the relationship between Joel and Ellie?

At the end of the day, we do have a particular narrative we want to tell, so the way their relationship grows in the story we’re trying to tell is determined from the outset. That’s one of the things we’ve done since the beginning, such as with Uncharted, because it’s very important for us to provide a certain emotion that beats at certain times. So while you choose in how you approach scenarios or how you approach the environment and what happens you in gameplay, it doesn’t affect the narrative in a way we’re branching out to different paths like that.

Are there going to be moral choices that you will have to make in the game?

There’s going to be times where you’re going to feel the weight of the moral choices that either you or other characters have to do. It’s not going to be the type of moral choice where it’ll drastically change the game. Joel will have his group of survivors going to do things that is going to question how far he’s gone through his morality, but also, on the flip side, as the relationship grows (with Ellie) you might see Joel start coming around from that.

We’re making sure that any tough decisions he has to make is impactful to you as a player as well on an emotional level.

Could you elaborate more on the inventory system? We noticed that Joel is equipped with a weapon at any one time, even though he carries a haversack.

Well, “equip” means to actually “hold out” obviously, but he can have a pistol and a pipe or a brick at the same time, so he’s able to carry a couple things for easy use really quickly. He has a backpack, so there are some things he can store, which is a little bit more on the crafting or scavenging side, but we’ve tried to streamline the inventory system quite a bit because we are an action game at the end.

If you look at the E3 demo, when you go to the inventory system, it doesn’t stop the action and that’s really important for us to balance the fact that we want you to create new things or upgrade what you have, but yet feel the tension of the world and not make you comply to an inventory system.

So will Joel be able to share items with Ellie and vice versa?

Ellie doesn’t really necessarily carry anything for herself but when you looked at them (during the demo) when they were scavenging, where he asked her to look around, she’s going to help you at times – such as finding items that may take you longer to find on your own.

We know about the game will feature co-op. Is there anything you can share with us on that front?

It’s really early for us on the multiplayer, so other than the fact that we’re having multiplayer, that’s as far as we’ve gotten so far.

The Last of Us is obviously a refreshing change for the studio, after years of making Uncharted games. How is the experience and atmosphere within Naughty Dog like, from doing a new IP from the ground up?

It’s very exciting on one front, because we really are taking this really dark story and we’ve always done stories with character development and now we’re taking it to a more serious, very mature direction. So we’re really excited to explore how that inspires our creativity but being artists and developers as we are, we’re hugely self-critical. We feel like, “Are people really going to like this? Are we really going to do this?”, so we have the little bit of nervousness. Being able to come out and show demos to people does help to provide a little bit more of a moral uplift.

Thank you very much for your time Arne.

Thank you!

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Aaron Yip

Aaron Yip is an industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience. When not spending time on his gaming PC and consoles, he can be found in Hyrule solving ungodly puzzles and collecting gems.