How ‘The Last of Us’ changed gaming, strained relationships and spawned an empire by Todd Martens for Los Angeles Times via Video Games Chronicle
Straley’s relationship with Sony and Naughty Dog has since become strained. Straley left Naughty Dog not long after the release of 2016’s “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” before HBO was involved in a “Last of Us” series, and is not credited on the HBO series. He is working these days on building his own studio, Wildflower Interactive. He says the lack of credit has made him think more about workers’ rights in the video game space. “It’s an argument for unionization that someone who was part of the co-creation of that world and those characters isn’t getting a credit or a nickel for the work they put into it,” he says. “Maybe we need unions in the video game industry to be able to protect creators.” HBO and Sony declined to comment on the record.
This was the excerpt that got me to read the article. In the years since Bruce’s departure, I noticed he is rarely referred to as the co-creator of The Last of Us. It feels like sometimes Bruce is forgotten. He was vital to the creation. It bums me out to not see him credited as the co-creator on the show or mentioned in interviews. Props to Todd for talking with Bruce for this piece.
It was all in the name of fostering intimacy, both in the game’s quiet moments and its savage ones, says Bruce Straley, the game’s director and one of its key world builders. One of Straley’s central directorial objectives is for the player never to set down the controller — that is, to avoid long cinematic scenes in which the player has nothing to do. “The Last of Us” has its share of those, but by and large they’re unexpectedly brief and often interrupted with opportunities to guide the character or to initiate an optional conversation.
“The goal was pretty evolutionary,” Straley says. “As Neil and I were talking about the world and the characters, there was an energy in the room between us as to what type of experience this had the possibility of creating. … This was a game we hadn’t played that we wanted to play. The concept of creating a relationship between two characters that evolves over the course of the game — that’s fully playable — and that got the players more involved with those characters than any other game had before, that was really exciting for us.”
Story telling on the stick. It’s kind of their thing.
This further adds to the game’s pressure. Unlike a TV series or film, in “The Last of Us” game we’re often confined to Joel or Ellie’s point of view, depending on which character we are navigating at the time. As we propel them forward through the narrative, we acknowledge that they may be making choices we disagree with, even as we’re the ones leading them in and out of obstacles. This is the beauty of interactive entertainment: dialogue with those characters whom we are steering through the world.
“I invited Neil to see ‘No Country for Old Men,’ and I remember walking out of the theater and telling him, breathlessly, ‘I’ve never played a game that had that kind of tension in it before,’” Straley says. “The street fight in ‘No Country’ was one of the most intense fights I had seen on film, and I wondered if you could play something that had that level of groundedness to it, that intensity. There’s something primal to having the controller in your hand and being in the world. Most fighting games at the time had pulled-out cameras where you saw hordes of 20-30 (non-playable characters) that you just plow through.”
I look back to the lodge fight with David as their original attempt to capture this energy. I wonder how that scene will come off in the show. The Last of Us excels at making a few enemies feel more powerful and terrifying than tons.