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 possible—fair warning!
In Part One of our interview with the game's Creative Director and writer, Neil Druckmann, we discussed character storytelling within video games, and in this final installment we discuss Dark Horse's The Art of The Last of Us and forthcoming graphic novel prequel, Neil's influences, and what lies ahead in The Last of Us universe.
Omnivoracious.com: We covered storytelling, characters, and backstories, but what about locations? In particular, I loved the Bill’s Town “stage,” but players do not stay there, or in any location, for long. It’s one thing to design a game with a sense of urgency, but these levels all have such depth—more than any one player can explore upon first visit. How do you balance design and storytelling?
Neil Druckmann: It’s really difficult. You have to know that you are going to create more content than any one player will ever see—but also knowing that there will be nooks and crannies that one player will find that his or her friends do not. There might be a garden that you discover, which kicks off a conversation about “garden gnomes” with Ellie, and you think, “I never would have heard this if I hadn’t stumbled upon this location. And I understand [Ellie] more as a result of that.” It’s a constant struggle, because the more stuff like that you create, the more of a burden you are putting on the team to build. It’s a balance, where you ask yourself, “Is it okay if 30 percent of players find this, if 40 percent of players find it? What if it’s five percent—when is it too little?”
You try to save the really meaty storytelling for the main path, and the further you explore beyond the main path, the more secondary and tertiary the storytelling. But if you do find those layers, I believe you gain a deeper appreciation for the characters and world that we’ve created.
Omni: Right. There are notes between unseen characters that can be collected and read, along with other subplot threads that can only be accessed by exploring. In the bookstore stage, I noticed faux film posters and advertisements. Who created these posters and who wrote the notes that characters can discover?
Neil Druckmann: It’s a team effort. The notes were written mostly by our editor, Ryan James, and me. The movies posters were [a result of] background artists coming up with stuff. The only one I did was “Dawn of the Wolf,” and then a bunch of things, like the store names and stuff, is between the art director and the background guys. I’ll just filter it out if it’s a little too satirical or if it takes you out of the experience.
Omni: One sequence that felt very new to gaming was the upside-down moment that occurs early in the game. When it comes to designing and planning these sequences, are they a subversion of familiar gaming mechanics or do they stem from some place wholly different from that?