To say Naughty Dog team members have worked hard on the Last of Us Part II is an understatement. After the game’s recent delay that bought the studio three months of extra time to polish what some are already calling Naughty Dog’s best game (despite not even being out yet), reports from developers past and present say the studio continues to put in long, grueling hours to adhere to the high “Naughty Dog” standard. This delay didn’t give the team a break, but allowed more time to crunch before release. “People thinking the extension is somehow to relieve stress or the workload on the team are wrong,” said one developer. “The first thing that they wanted to reiterate is that we aren’t slowing down the pace.” Reportedly, some developers are even hoping The Last of Us Part II will flop (however unlikely that is) to prove crunching is not viable in the long run.
A recent Kotaku report covered the development of not just The Last of Us Part II, but also Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy. In it, the outlet spoke with 13 current and former Naughty Dog employees about the studio’s allegedly tough working conditions, which has led to a large exodus of people from the company. 70% of the non-lead designers (14 out of 20) that worked on Uncharted 4 are no longer with the company.
After the tumultuous development of Uncharted 4—including a huge reboot midway through development—some of the leadership wanted to ensure work on The Last of Us Part II would be healthier. Bruce Straley was one of those notable voices, but he would leave Naughty Dog just a few months later. As is common in game development, even meticulous planning doesn’t mean everything will go as intended. While the team attempted to build the groundwork for The Last of Us Part II early on, playtests as recently as 2018 created a number of developmental shifts, story changes, and other revisions to the narrative. To make up for this, the staff stays late even though its not explicitly required, working well above the suggested 40 hours. An unnamed former employee said:
You feel obligated to be there later, because everyone else is there later. If an animation needed to be put in and you weren’t there to help the animator, you’re now blocking the animator, and they may give you grief. It may not even be spoken—it may just be a look. ‘Man, you totally screwed me last night by not being here at 11 p.m.
Because of this, many employees reportedly feel burnt out and unhealthy—with alleged plans to quit after The Last of Us Part II ships. Many staffers admire the standard Naughty Dog has set, but feel it’s not worth it to sacrifice well-being to earn a high Metacritic score. Nonetheless, the studio’s Vice President Neil Druckmann says The Last of Us Part II is the “most ambitious and longest game” in the company’s history, with some employees calling it Naughty Dog’s best game.
Despite some hoping it will flop to help mitigate the crunching problem, it’s expected to be one of the year’s most beloved games. We’ll find out when The Last of Us Part II releases on May 29, 2020. You can still preorder your copy from Amazon (and limited quantities of the Ellie Edition will also be available on March 13, 2020)
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