Naughty Dog to Host Nine Panels at Upcoming Game Developers Conference

February 7, 2014Written by Kayvon Ghoreshi


Naughty Dog must already be feeling pretty good about themselves after dominating the D.I.C.E. Awards. Additionally, Naughty Dog developers will be hosting nine panels at the upcoming Game Developers Conference, starting March 19. Some of the panels tend to make it to Youtube afterwards so perhaps some of these will become available to the many who will not be in attendance. Below are all the panels being headed by Naughty Dog and their descriptions from the GDC website.

The Last of Us: Human Enemy AI

Travis McIntosh  |  Lead Programmer, Naughty Dog, Inc

This talk covers the technical and design decisions made to produce the human enemy AI as seen in The Last of Us. It covers the systems that formed the core of the AI decision making, as well as a higher-level look at the behaviors that formed the building blocks of enemy combat and stealth. Navigation, real-time level analysis, combat, search and stealth are all covered in detail, as well as mistakes and future improvements. Finally, the performance characteristics of the AI and various optimizations are discussed in detail. Consider this talk a description, then a postmortem of the human enemy AI.


Attendees will take away knowledge of how The Last of Us AI made high-level decisions in regard to combat, searching and stealth, as well as an understanding of the function and implementation of the systems that supported those decisions.

Intended Audience

This talk is intended for programmers and designers with an interest in combat AI. Although some technical knowledge is helpful (particularly knowledge of AI pathfinding techniques), anyone with a cursory knowledge of high-level AI should be able to understand the majority of the talk.

Ellie: Buddy AI in The Last of Us

Max Dyckhoff | Engineer, Naughty Dog

The character of Ellie in The Last of Us presented a challenge. The game was centered on the player’s relationship with her, and we needed to ensure that the systematic presentation of the character was in line with what was presented by the narrative. This session will investigate the successful techniques used to generate a believable “buddy” AI character, including an overview of the mindset with which we developed the character, and a look at the individual systems developed. The talk will also review the shortcomings and discuss why certain decisions were made.


An attendee of this session will leave with an understanding of the route we took to successfully create a buddy AI character, including details of the systems that were developed.

Intended Audience

Gameplay engineers and designers alike will benefit from attending this session. No prerequisite knowledge is required.

A Context-Aware Character Dialog System

Jason Gregory | Lead Gameplay Programmer, Naughty Dog

In our most recent game, The Last of Us, the sound team at Naughty Dog created a powerful dialog system that allows enemy and ally NPCs to converse with each other and the player character in realistic ways. This system takes into account rich contextual information, including individual knowledge, collective knowledge, global game state, and information about the surrounding environment. This system puts a great deal of power directly into the hands of the sound designers, freeing the programmers to focus on AI behaviors. This talk will explore the requirements and problems inherent in any NPC dialog system, and describe the baseline features required of any such system. The talk will then investigate the unique problems Naughty Dog faced in The Last of Us, and describe the systems developed to solve them. It will then conclude with Q&A and a discussion of some ideas for future work.


Attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the challenges of crafting a dialog system for a AAA game title in general, and how we tackled these problems for The Last of Us, specifically. This talk will help prepare attendees to develop or augment dialog systems in their own games.

Intended Audience

This talk is suitable for game programmers and sound designers who are either already working on character dialog systems, or who simply want to learn more about the topic. Some programming experience is helpful, but it is not required to understand and benefit from the talk.

Moving the Heavens: An Artistic and Technical Look at the Skies of The Last of Us

Keith Guerrette | Lead FX Artist, Naughty Dog, Inc.

The sky is one of the most integral components of an outdoor composition – it dictates the lighting and color palette, it casts the mood and drives the story, and frequently, it can consume a majority of the pixels on-screen. Yet, it’s often one of the most overlooked, snubbed components of level creation. And for making it move? Most practices either look terrible, or require vast amounts of time and technology. Within this presentation, Keith will walk the audience through the artistic considerations of creating a compelling, dramatic sky to cast as a backdrop for their artwork. More importantly, he’ll introduce the production challenges of skies within The Last of Us, and teach the audience how we were able to use vector fields, flow and some simple math to imply the motion of clouds receding into the horizon on a single matte painting, without losing our fast iteration.


Learn about Naughty Dog’s latest approach to the development of skies. From the basic art, color and composition theories, to using vector fields to create motion, you’ll walk away with an understanding of the work involved in creating the moving skylines in The Last of Us.

Intended Audience

This session is intended for artists and programmers with a curiosity for the techniques used to create high-fidelity materials and artwork. The talk will do its best to teach the prerequisite knowledge, but some experience working within the rendering confines of a game engine is recommended.

Aural Immersion: Audio Technology in The Last of Us

Jonathan Lanier | Programmer, Naughty Dog, Inc.

In The Last of Us, immersive audio played a critical role in supporting the gameplay and story. The audio team was faced with difficult challenges: the immersion had to be believable, but subtle. It had to convey tactical information, but important dialogue and effects still had to be audible. Cinematic setups sometimes conflicted with standard audio models. Solutions required compromise and collaboration between sound design and technology. This talk examines how specific problems were solved, such as getting the environment to lead the player to or from tactically important areas, ensuring the audibility of important dialogue, adjusting the mix dynamically based on game state, and dealing with obstruction/occlusion issues. The emphasis is on successful implementation of immersive audio in a modern game using a synergy of sound design and technology, citing specific examples from The Last of Us.


Attendees will get detailed information on specific immersive audio problems encountered in The Last of Us, along with solutions. Additionally, they will gain insight into the role immersive audio plays in a modern game title, and the importance of collaboration between sound design and technology.

Intended Audience

The intended audience includes anyone interested in immersive game audio, especially those interested in how it worked in The Last of Us. Additionally, sound designers will see examples of technology helping design become dynamically immersive and sound programmers will learn about our environmental audio technology.

In-Game and Cinematic Lighting of The Last of Us

Vivian Ding | Lead Lighting Artist, Naughty Dog Inc.

From creating the visually believable environments in a post-apocalyptic world to supporting the complex story narrative, lighting plays a huge role in The Last of Us. This talk is designed to give you a deep look into Naughty Dogs lighting creation through the inspirations of our concept art, experiments in the lighting pipeline, and the major technological improvements such as dominant directionality, ambient shadows and flashlight bounce lighting we developed to achieve the desired rendering results. The session will provide you the essential processes and differences between our in-game lighting and cinematic lighting.


Attendees will leave the session with in-depth understanding about Naughty Dog’s lighting technology in The Last of Us, including details and processes for in-game and cinematic lighting. They will also hear how we learned to approach art and tech together for making a game with virtually next-gen visual quality on a current-gen console.

Intended Audience

This session is intended for lighting artists, artists and technical artists, but will also be beneficial for anyone interested in the lighting creation process. Basic graphic and rendering knowledge is recommended, but not required.

Unsynced: The Last of Us Melee System

Anthony Newman | Game Designer, Naughty Dog, Inc.

This session is an overview of the design and implementation of the melee system for The Last of Us. The design portion of the talk will discuss solutions to the challenges of creating an effective hybrid between gunplay and melee combat, and how those mechanics emphasized the tone and world of The Last of Us. The implementation portion will delve into the technical details of how we sync animations, our memory management, and efficient scripting practices. The talk will also cover the evolutions made between Uncharted and TLOU, the additional challenges of multiplayer, and an examination of techniques we used to achieve the game’s brutal aesthetic.


The audience will take away high-level design concepts of how to integrate melee combat with gunplay, a set of techniques to achieve a heightened aesthetic for melee, and a lean implementation paradigm that allows for a large scope with a small team.

Intended Audience

This session is intended for game designers who are looking for an understanding of how we developed TLOU’s melee mechanics, designers with a technical focus interested in effective implementation, technically-minded animators interested in techniques for melee, and programmers looking to develop an efficient environment on which to develop a melee system.

Art Direction is Not Just Googling Images

Robh Ruppel | Art Director, Naughty Dog

This talk is intended to illustrate visual concepts that can add deeper meaning, content and context to the game experience. By exploring and utilizing visual ideas, the game maker can connect more deeply with the audience. Just as good story and good characters are important to an immersive experience, so are more complex visual design ideas such as allegory, alliteration and iconography. Robh will walk thru several examples of these ideas, and illustrate them with specific slides to show how more sophisticated visual design has been part of media for a while, and how we can and should be integrating this into game visuals.


Once we become aware of the sophisticate design lurking behind most popular media, we can begin to use it ourselves. We can improve our own projects and continue to advance our medium, which continues to grow and evolve into a richer, more immersive experience.

Intended Audience

This talk will be beneficial for everyone from art directors to game designers, environment artists and players. Being aware of visual design language is just as interesting and important as learning about story structure or how the latest GI rendering engines work. Visual design structure needn’t only be the province of movies, plays, literature or television.

Level Design in a Day: The Last of Us: Casting Shadows

Elisabetta Silli | Game Designer, Naughty Dog

It’s particularly hard joining a project toward the end, during its most crucial moments. You have a limited time to understand the game, the vision and to help make it better – all at the same time. This talk will focus on Elisabetta’s experience of joining Naughty Dog during the last months of development of The Last of Us, her work on the combat tutorial, and how her involvement on it led to her training and understanding of a very different genre than she had previously worked on.


Newcomers to the world of level design will gain a solid foundation in the art and science of level design, while experienced level designers will come away from the talk with a bevy of tips, tricks and best practices. Producers, artists and testers will gain an intimate understanding of the level design craft, and will be better equipped to manage and collaborate with this essential part of the game development process.

Intended Audience

Level designers, mission designers, game designers and scripters who are responsible for crafting moment-to-moment gameplay. Writers, level artists and quality assurance professionals who contribute to the level creation process. Game developers working on games or those interested in the process of creating our art form’s most vast experiences.

What do you think is the best thing the game industry can learn from The Last of Us? Sound off in the comments.