The Last of Us That Never Was: How Naughty Dog Cut Content to Make it Perfect
The Last of Us is awesome and easily one a game of the year contender, but it was almost had a completely different plot and gameplay – Naughty Dog has revealed that they cut content and radically changed things to make it perfect.
Sid Shuman asked Naughty Dog’s Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann on the PS LiveCast if there was a major story or gameplay change that, looking back, they were relieved they made. They replied:
Oh yeah, wow, there were so many, the story changed quite a bit actually and one thing that jumps to mind is that we had an antagonist that chased Joel and Ellie throughout the whole adventure… and we were wrestling with ourselves for a long time wondering ‘why doesn’t it this story feel natural?’ There was just an element we couldn’t figure out. And once we removed that character, it actually just changed their role – everything just fell into place and felt a lot more natural and the story just had this flow that felt less Hollywood, less something you would see in a traditional story. But it worked with what we were tryna do with Joel and Ellie.
We just got the butcher knife out, there’s like bits and pieces here and there that’s just like ‘it runs a little long, the pacing’s not right, it feels like your not getting the rhythm’… and you need that perfect balance of negative space and then contrast and spike it up with some tension in there. That’s just a constant iteration that we do, part of the process of trying to find the pacing, ultimately. It’s just: Get the butcher knife out, you can’t be precious.
As for pitfalls they narrowly avoided:
The temptation that was always there for us is to go more fantastical, have like crazy abilities, crazy gadgets that will make the gameplay more fun and help us immensely in game design, but we’d start breaking the grounding that we worked for so hard with this story. We’re constantly wrestling with that. We had stuff that was fully implemented and put in the game, and we’d review it and be like ‘that’s too much’ and just took it out.
If it starts pulling you out of the moment or the experience, it’s one of those things where you have to step back and go: ‘ok, on a higher level, what are we trying to do with these characters at this moment? What are we hoping to achieve with the player with the controller in their hand right there?’ And that really means that we [have to decide]. There was some infection stuff we had to trim up a little bit – like Neil said, we already had it in the game and implemented. Less is more is kinda our motto. And it’s hard because you get attached to these things, and of course you have a team of amazing people who are all spending time and energy to build this stuff, and it’s hard for us to go ‘for the purposes of this story, for the characters, for the experience, for the moment we’re trying to achieve here… that’s not necessary, get rid of it’. That’s hard, but what we had to do.
We had to step back and be like ‘how does this fit the whole vision of this thing?’ I remember we had music that was beautiful, well orchestrated and just never fit anywhere. You just make the hard choice – it will go on the soundtrack, but it doesn’t fit anywhere in the game.
In the game there’s dialogue that we have, where we thought ‘ok, let’s just do that with music, it’s not necessary to have that all these things together, we can just get that emotion by having the music alone, so strip it down’.
Naught Dog also shared that they thought that the game would be hated by a lot of critics.
The fact that ND was able to iterate and make drastic changes, likely one of the reasons for the game’s delay, is very lucky – often developers are forced to keep to a tight schedule and stick with what they’ve got.
Are you excited for TLOU? Or would you prefer a more ‘fantastical’ version? Let us know in the comments below, while we all wait for the midnight launch tonight.