Graphic Novel Friday: The Last of Us with Neil Druckmann (Part One)

Spoiler Alert! The Last of Us is a new, bestselling video game for the PS3 that has players talking about its secrets, reveals, and fascinating storytelling. In this interview, we do not delve too deeply into specifics, but general plot and characters are discussed. The Last of Us is best enjoyed with as little information as possiblefair warning!

I hope regular Graphic Novel Friday readers won't mind a break from routine. I heard enough buzz about The Last of Us game that I picked it up on release day—sleep did not soon follow. This terrifying game stars hard-edged Joel as he reluctantly leads young Ellie out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Dark Horse Comics (publisher of the new The Art of The Last of Us and a forthcoming graphic novel prequel) coincidentally approached me with the opportunity to speak with the game's Creative Director and writer, Neil Druckmann. We discussed character storytelling, origins, game mechanics, the art book tie-in, the graphic novel, and more.  Part One of our interview follows below:

Omnivoracious.com: In The Last of Us, beyond the gameplay, the visuals, the scares, what fans keep coming back to is “the storytelling.” What sets this game’s story so apart from its contemporaries?

Neil Druckmann: If I had to put a finger on it, the focus on it all along has been [that] we are not telling a post-apocalyptic story; we’re not telling a survival story—although the story is those things—we’re telling a story about a relationship between two characters who, over the course of the game, come to love each other as if they were father and daughter. In making this game, every decision along the way has been with that in mind.

The writing, the music, the environment, the mechanics we’ve implemented—where you are learning to rely on one another, has been in service of that relationship. That clear focus has allowed us to do some pretty subtle stuff in the storytelling but also some engaging, immersive stuff from a gameplay standpoint that has really allowed gamers to take part in forming that bond, that relationship, in a way that you couldn’t experience in a movie, or a novel, or a graphic novel. They’re engaged with these characters on a level that they’ve never experienced before. They are there every step of the way as they form that bond between Joel and Ellie.

Omni: Is beginning from a pair of characters rather than a set-piece or overarching story an anomaly in gaming? Is this unique to your brand of storytelling?

Neil Druckmann: I think it’s unique to Naughty Dog [Studios, the game's publisher]. The way we think of story is that “character is story and story is character.” For me, a lot of video games aren’t as interesting when they become more about the world or the lore, and to me, it becomes very exposition-heavy. I might be engaged with the game because of its gameplay or aesthetics, but for the most part I find video games are lacking in character storytelling.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, we don’t have to use as much dialogue, because so much of the storytelling can be told through expression or a gesture. Coming back to mechanics, as Joel comes to rely on Ellie more, the player does as well—so when you are separated [in the game], you begin to miss this person, because you’ve begun to rely on them.

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