Not letting Neil Druckmann have all the attention when it comes to The Last of Us, Max Dyckhoff, Programmer, Doug Holder Visual Effects Artist, and Reuben Shah, Environment Artist, from Naughty Dog decided to do an AmA on Reddit.
After reading through way too many jokes about dogs and kennels, we’ve arranged all the interesting answers into a Q&A format, with some of the questions edited down for ease of reading:
What were some of the bigger challenges in The Last of Us?
We had to put a lot of time putting blood on characters and that involved a lot of work. Our team had to create blood effects for all sorts of animations and that was a lot of stuff to keep track of.
We created a way for our animators to animate tears running down characters faces. That was really cool. Also the gobo for the flashlight will behave like a real flashlight so as you get closer to an object the polarized coordinates will collapse in on themselves and begin to reverse in the center.
What were some of the challenges in coding Ellie when it comes to making here attack?
Ellie was difficult to code, and she went through a lot of iterations. Bruce Straley and I spent a lot of time sat down playing encounters and watching what Ellie was doing, and figuring out what she was doing that we liked and didn’t like. Making her feel useful, but not overpowered, and not annoying, was a huge challenge. It was especially hard during the Infected sequences, where we need to try and identify if the player is trying to sneak away and break combat, because if so she needs to calm down and stick close to you.
What were some of the challenges you faced when creating Ellie and how does she interact with the environment?
Ellie (and the other buddies) does a lot of really cool behind the scenes analysis of the world. She is constantly scanning for places to hide, things that she can warn you about, etc. She tries to stick close to the player, but not so close that she is annoying.
We also put a lot of effort into dialog; there are dozens of systematic events that will trigger one off exclamations or small conversations between Ellie and Joel. It really brings her to life, and I love hearing the conversations they have when I play through.
One “nit-pick” about The Last of Us was how aiming and shooting is tough on the campaign side and how enemies won’t pay attention to friendly AI when in cover. What’s your response?
Actually, I think the aiming and shooting is awesome. You aren’t a trained killer or a cybernetic soldier, you are just a dude who has a gun. You don’t have perfect aim, and you can’t just cruise through head-shoting everyone. The enemy AI will pay attention to the friendly AI if the player is “in combat”. If you are sneaking around and being stealthy we do what is called “player favouring” and allow them to be unseen by the enemies. The alternative would be extremely frustrating, if a buddy AI accidentally revealed your location.
Was it intentional to have AI companions in plain sight, but you still not being spotted?
That was absolutely intentional, and it was a very hard decision to make. As Sessler and a few other reviews pointed out, the alternative would be extremely infuriating. We are trying to make a game where stealth is an important aspect, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to guarantee the buddy AI would be able to stay hidden as well as the player. If the buddies were seen by enemies, it would be extremely frustrating.
The buddy AI was actually what I have spent the last four months or so writing, and I think we did a good job of making them seem believable. Ellie will stick in cover with you and hunker under your protective arm, and she is good at keeping up with you.
The best thing is that because the AI is emergent, the playthroughs will be different for everyone, and different on successive playthroughs.
Is the balance of power AI system still in the game?
Yes, we managed to get a lot of reactivity in the AI. If they out number you they will be a lot more confident, if you out gun them they will be a lot more cautious, etc. They will hide from you, flank you, wait you out, flush you out, and coordinate to attack you.
There are a lot of systems running behind the scenes which make it all work, including some really neat environmental analysis, an upgraded pathfinding system, and ultimately some carefully hand crafted and tuned behavioural systems.
Why did you decide to make enemies ignore Ellie?
Ellie can still die, just if the player is trying to be stealthy they won’t see her. As I said elsewhere, we made this choice because it would be frustrating if a player had stealth broken by Ellie being seen.
What’s your favorite detail about the game that someone might miss or not pay attention to?
Bugs and wildlife.
What’s the most common snack eaten by the team?
Will there be another Jak & Daxter?
We tried before the last of us, but given the creative direction of our games right now, trying to go more realistic with Jak and Daxter didn’t work out.
Is the team excited for the PS4?
I am super excited about the PS4. The announce back in February was new to me as everyone else. The hardware is bad ass, the games they showed look beautiful, and I have a lot of confidence in what will be shown at E3.
With all the success you’ve had with Uncharted 2 and The Last of Us, how nerve-racking is it starting a new project knowing the fans expect a higher quality game than most from you guys?
I think it always pushes us to make the best thing we can for our fans. You guys deserve it and we want you to know it. We pour everything we have into making something we are proud of that you’ll enjoy playing. You guys push us to be better.
Are you guys excited that people are saying The Last of Us will be Grand Theft Auto V’s strongest competition in the Game of the Year category?
I love the critical response to the game, can’t wait to see the GOTY awards! 🙂
What was the budget for creating this game?
Haha… guaranteed over 10 dollars… but we really don’t know.
What was the company’s reaction to all the reviews (three separate answers)?
I wore the numbers off on my function key 5. Super excited to see/read what people thought of all our hard work and this amazing game.
I was up late as well watching for the embargo lift. Seeing how well it has been received made me that much more excited for everyone else to get a chance to play it and experience it.
I truthfully hardly slept the night before, I was up until 4am refreshing the NeoGAF thread to see if any reviews leaked out. We all sat at the office reading reviews until after lunch, sharing choice quotes with each other. I had chicken and waffles for lunch for the first time ever to celebrate.
Any hard feelings over the Polygon 7.5/10 review?
Doug: I like what was said in the text. The reviewer seemed to be emotionally impacted by the experience of the game and the result was that it was not fun for them. By “not fun” I took that to mean it was difficult to experience some of the things in the game and it left a big impact on them emotionally and that wasn’t their cup of tea. They maybe expected something more uplifting and the reality of our vision in this post pandemic world is just not so. Human nature is a scary thing. The reality of such a world would “not be fun”. A perfect score would have been lovely but everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that’s important to us.
Rueben: Everyone is entitled to their view… even if it’s not what we want to hear/read.
On a scale of 1-10, how’s Reuben’s hookshot?
Usually 10, but Polygon gave him a 7.5.
Couldn’t you have made it so the enemy AI knows the path Ellie will take, and make the enemies look away for believability?
There’s a lot of things we do, and even more that we tried and discarded. Ultimately, it comes down to what is fun and what feels the most believable.
I heard someone said the AI is similar to Uncharted:
The AI was completely rewritten from Uncharted. 🙂
Is Amy Hennig [Uncharted‘s writer] still at Naughty Dog?
Amy is still here, writing stuff!
Where did the name ‘Naughty Dog’ come from?
Jason Rubin drew a cartoon dog which unofficially became the mascot for the company back in 1986ish. That dog was a surfer dog that howled at girls, hence “Naughty Dog”.
Also, it was originally called JAM Software and when EA partnered with Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, Trip Hawkins (from EA) said they needed to change the name. So they settled on Naughty Dog!
What answer stuck out the most to you? Let us know in the comments below.
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