The Last of Us Renewed for Season 2

HBO’s The Last of Us has officially been renewed for a second season by Andy Robinson for Video Games Chronicle

Not surprising considering the week-over-week growth, but I am happy to see it confirmed. So much of Part II hinges on gameplay doing the storytelling. I am curious how they will adapt the game for one(?) season of TV. That’s a lot of story, emotion, and range to cover in 10~ episodes.

Don’t Forget Bruce

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.

The Last of Us Ep. 2 – “Infected” Thoughts & Impressions

I was excited to watch this week’s episode because it was Neil Druckmann’s (television) directorial debut. I wanted to see how his style would translate from the world of games to TV. This episode was primed for big moments like the reveal of the Clickers and the death of Tess.

The connecting fiber of this episode is the idea of a second chance. Tess sees Ellie’s immunity has a chance for redemption. Joel and Ellie take a second shot at introductions. The biggest second chance though occurs off screen with Neil and the team having the opportunity to recontextualize the world for TV.

We see this at the start of the episode with the cold open set in Jakarta, Indonesia at the onset of the outbreak. Leveraging the ability to tell the story away from Joel or Ellie’s perspective, the show explains the origin of the cordyceps infection. We are shown how terrifying the revelation of the mutation is when a humble professor1 does not hesitate to recommend bombing an entire city in an attempt to eradicate the fungus. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. Demolishing a city is the best defense against this creature.

This intro scene is a solid foundation that the episode builds upon. The bombings in Boston are now given a human backstory. They weren’t the decision at the end of a struggle, but the first response. We witness the inception. This also lends itself to seriousness and rarity of Ellie’s immunity. Up until her, there has been no chance for a vaccine. As someone that has played the game countless times, it’s easy to wave off Ellie’s resistance. This episode reminded me how vital her life would be for all of mankind. And it is portrayed against Tess’ own demise in deft fashion.

Tess has a strong episode. Her interactions with Ellie are a treat. She acts as a teacher for both Ellie and the audience. We see the two of them begin a bond, while Joel maintains his distance. Tess’ big moment is her death though, which has been completely altered from the game and for the better.

When Ellie was bitten for the second time, I nearly rolled my eyes. “This is how we will prove to people she is immune every time it comes up?” We see Ellie sick of proving her immunity in her first scene of the episode. I was feeling the same way. But having Ellie and Tess bitten at the same time reaffirms the reality of Ellie’s gift and gives Tess something to anchor to in the storm that is her impending death.

This episode made me a believer in the switch to tendrils. Tess’ actual death scene feeds back into a teaching moment she had earlier in the episode. Joel steps on a life line to the cordyceps, waking up the writhing horde we from the hotel roof. They sprint toward our heroes’ destination. The hive mind nature of the cordyceps amplifies the fear. We see the monsters welcome a new member as the one approaches and kisses Tess with a mouthful of tentacles. It’s horrific and consuming. Tess fumbling with the lighter before blowing them all to smithereens is way cooler than her popping off a couple shots at the FEDRA agents in the game.

Overall, “Infected” was strong because of the changes made for television. The medium was effectively leveraged to enrich the world. We see scenes interconnect to create a stronger, cohesive narrative that feeds back into the core duo. After this one (and the growth in viewership), its not hard to see why Season 2 was green lit this week.


That review took longer than I ever wanted. I’ve been sick since last Friday and it knocked me on my butt all week. Sickness is the worst form of writer’s block. After Sunday night though, I knew I wanted to focus on how the game world was recontextualized for TV.

Continuing from last week, I had plenty of observations that I wanted to mention that didn’t fit within the focus of the strict review.

  • The opening scene with Ellie, Tess, and Joel has a shot where Ellie is bathed in light and Joel is covered in darkness.2 Tess is kneeling and looking up at Ellie. Just a beautiful shot that portrays the trio’s entire dynamic.
  • The set design is immaculate. The fungal webs, the decayed city of Boston, and the way nature has reclaimed it is just how one would imagine it.
    • Speaking of set design, they absolutely recreated the hotel lobby from Pittsburgh. I was stunned. I wonder how much was a set and how much was digitally made. I wish there was time for Joel to comment on missing coffee, but we haven’t quite earned that personal insight for his character yet.
  • Ellie’s repeated asking for a gun helps establish a baseline for when she actually gets one. Excited to see those moments pay off.
  • Just wait until season 2 shows off a super infected that blows up spores at our heroes.
  • Neil’s directorial debut for TV was well done. Fear is established. I thought the use of hand cam shots mirrored that you might find on the mocap stage. We’ll see how much that type of camera work is used throughout the season or if I’m just making an arbitrary connection.
  • Speaking of fear, the two Clickers were executed perfectly. From the prosthetics to ripping the assault rifle out of Joel’s hands, they were represented beautifully. Two have so much power. Tess and Joel going silent in the museum was gripping.
  • Tess asked Joel to get Ellie to Bill and Frank’s so that they could finish the mission of delivering Ellie. This feels strange. Bill the recluse never struck me as a character that would freely take a girl across the country. With Frank being cast and in this adaption, the next episode will surely be the biggest departure from the game to date.
  • The closing song is “Allowed to be Happy” from The Last of Us Part II. This is the kind of change from the original game we need to hear more of. Gustavo’s music is a triumph.

1. The way her hand shakes at the news of the missing people was spine-tinglingly good.

2. I would have taken a screenshot of the this exact moment, but DRM really hates the idea you’d share a still image from a TV show or movie. You’d think Hollywood would want the free promotion.
Update: You don’t wanna know the daisy-chain it took to get this screenshot. I tweaked the color slightly to better see Joel, since the capture is accurate. If only there were official means to take screenshots of shows and movies.

PS VR2 Launch Lineup Revealed

PlayStation VR2: 13 new titles and launch lineup revealed by Shawne Benson (Director, Head of Portfolio, Global Third Party Relations) for the PlayStation Blog

We are currently tracking more than 30 games for the launch window through March*, including titles from popular IP like Horizon Call of the Mountain, No Man’s Sky, and Resident Evil Village. A free PS VR2 update for Gran Turismo 7 is also on track for launch day.

Finally. Nice to see confirmation that Gran Turismo 7 is day one. Here are some on the games that have caught my eye for during the launch.

Before Your Eyes is a game I’ve seen Razbuten use in his videos. I had no idea it used your webcam to monitor blinking. This should be quite powerful with VR and the headset’s eye-tracking.

PlayStation says Pavlov VR is the “#1 most popular multiplayer PC VR shooter.” Happy to see Sony chasing down top tier PC VR games. If only they’d chase down the PC VR game1

What the Bat? hyppeeeeeeeeee! Glad I held off on snagging this on Quest 2.

Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect: Connected are particularly exciting because of the PS VR2 haptics; both in the controllers and the headset. This should be as close as consumers can get to the Synesthesia Suit.

The Last Clockwinder is nothing like what I have seen in VR before. Spacial time Rube Goldberg puzzles is right up my alley. Another game I glad I waited to snag.

I noticed a few of the games have free PS VR2 upgrades if you own the PS VR version.2 This is positive to see, especially considering the entirely different means of tracking. Notable titles not on the free upgrade path were Rez Infinite and Tetris Effect, both having a $9.99 upgrade price. No Man’s Sky also does not mention an upgrade path. This is, of course, up to the developers entirely. What I would really like to see is Sony offer upgrades for their prominent first-party PS VR games like Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Dreams, and Blood & Truth.

It feels good to have the full picture of PS VR2’s launch. That’s one fewer question I have for PlayStation.


1. And make PS VR2 PC compatible.

2. There were seven mentioned in the closing list. There were also five launch window games, which are supposed to be out by the end of March 2023.

If a Tree That Was Never Announced Falls in a Forest Does It Make a Sound? – Daring Fireball

★ If a Tree That Was Never Announced Falls in a Forest Does It Make a Sound? by John Gruber for Daring Fireball

More John Gruber input on the Apple AR/VR headset. Sounds like the external battery is gospel for gen one. More interesting is Gruber’s understanding about the outward facing display and the requirement for external headphones:

My understanding is that there is no front-facing screen, but that Apple’s team had long joked about such an idea, and perhaps someone who heard the joking mistook the idea as real and passed it along to Ma. It sure sounds like a joke to me, but maybe my understanding is wrong. Unless I’m forgetting something, Gurman has never reported on a front-facing screen. (Also, the headset has built-in headphones — why in the world would a $3,000 gadget that goes around your head need external headphones?)

Kinda kills my most of my headline from last week. The headphones bit feels mute to me. I don’t recall reports saying there were no built-in speakers, but rather that the only option for headphones would be AirPods. Currently in the Rumor Mill, that stands.

Anyway. Something is definitely coming from Apple from this team this year, and I get the sense the company thinks it’s going to be something special. If true, that means it will likely also not be what most people outside the company are expecting. Outsiders inevitably base expectations on the current state of the art. But the iPhone was not an iPod phone. Apple Watch was not a Fitbit with a higher price. If Apple is still Apple, this first headset should be much more than a slightly nicer version of VR headsets as we know them.

I’m inclined to agree with Gruber. The real pinch hitter for Apple is their marriage of hardware and software. That union is vital for immersion in VR.

Two days in a row now, Apple has made hardware announcements. New M2 chips, Macs, and now the revival of the HomePod. They seem to be clearing the deck. It won’t be long now until a spring event invite hits the press’ inbox.

Big Three Predictions 2023

I won’t lie; I have struggled with this year’s annual predictions. 2023 feels like an late-generation year with big pop off titles announced and a foggy back half. Nintendo is in Year Six of the Switch. Microsoft and Sony are breaking the chains to decade old hardware with fewer cross-generation games.

Microsoft has been in a Game Pass fog with no real first-party substance. Sony is launching a new peripheral in a few weeks with little to no fanfare. Nintendo is quiet beyond Tears of the Kingdom. The companies aren’t giving me fertile soil to plant my annual predictions into this year.

On top of that, my records haven’t been solid since I started Max Frequency. You can see the previous years and their performance at your own risk—2020, 2021, and 2022.

For those that are new to my annual predictions (or for those that need a reminder), I have only one rule to score points in my self-made game:

  • Everything written down must come true for the prediction to be counted as correct.

It is an easy rule to follow, but a hard one to nail. I have also have an over-the-top prediction dubbed the “Kiefer”prediction. Named after the wild fact that Kiefer Sutherland was the voice of Venom Snake in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I stole this name from my pal Peter Spezia, who is far more clever than I am.

As is tradition, it is time for me review 2022’s annual predictions and see how I faired. Lord, help me.

Nintendo

  1. The sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches in 2022.
  2. Game Boy (GB/C/A) games join Nintendo Switch Online.
  3. A new Donkey Kong game is released on Nintendo Switch.

Well, turns out my plan to out zag Nintendo’s zig turned out with them out zagging me. What I wrote below that prediction was the correct answer.

I actually don’t believe my own first prediction. Zelda games always get hit with delays. But I am playing for points here! If I think Nintendo will delay the game (zig), then I need to say they will release the game on time in 2022 (zag). For points!

For (0) points indeed.

The Game Boy felt like such a slam dunk given the rumors. But somehow Nintendo has the online multiplayer exclusive license for GoldenEye 007. 🤷🏼‍♂️

Donkey Kong December may have just come to an end, but Nintendo didn’t celebrate at all.

PlayStation

  1. Insomniac Games will announce a new game for PlayStation VR2.
  2. Naughty Dog’s new game will not be released in 2022. This is not The Last of Us remake rumor swirling around.
  3. PlayStation’s Game Pass and xCloud competitor is released at a lower annual price than Game Pass Ultimate. It will include first-party games on “Day One.”

The roll out of PS VR2 news was strange throughout 2022. It’s hard to believe the next gen of virtual reality is just one month away. I still think Insomniac will crank out a VR game given their pedigree and efficient output, but launch was not the time for it.

The Last of Us Part I was released. Thankfully (for point’s sake), Naughty Dog’s multiplayer game did not hit shelves. I suspect we’ll hear more about that game in 2023. I doubt we hear about The Last of Us Part III until 2025.

My prediction was the smart move to make. The new tiers of PlayStation+ are a mess, but Sony gonna Sony.

Xbox

  1. Starfield is delayed.
  2. The Last Night by Oddtales gets a release date and launches in Game Pass.
  3. Game Pass and/or xCloud will come to a competitor’s platform.

This was a total “knew it in my gut” prediction. No way a Bethesda RPG could have a release date locked before Halo Infinite, which was a 2021 release, had a date. Xbox needs first party exclusives. I hope they turn the ship around in 2023, even if Starfield is not for me.

I give up predicting The Last Night finally dropping. I guess that means it’ll be out this year.

I suppose Samsung is a competitor of Microsoft? Pity point please?

And to round off 2021, here was my Kiefer Prediction:

Both Nintendo and PlayStation will provide access to older games and generations not previously available via their subscription programs.

If I had just dropped the Nintendo requirement…I definitely double dipped with both PlayStation and Nintendo offering more retro games.

All together, I got a merciful 2 out of 10. What an abysmal showing this year. I really need to start doing better. Speaking of this year’s predictions, let’s do it!

Nintendo

  1. Both the rumored Switch ports for Metroid Prime trilogy and the Zelda HD games will finally be released.
  2. Game Boy or Gamecube will come to NSO.
  3. A Kid Icarus game will soar onto Switch.

I had the toughest time cooking up Nintendo predictions. The end of their year is shrouded in mystery. The Switch feels like it is nearing the end of its life, so big pop-off games feel unlikely.

I am banking on the endless slew of rumors surrounding these two ports. Zelda HD does mean Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. If that comes to pass, all of the 3D Zelda games will be on one console. Metroid Prime is also floating out there in space. My order for Metroid Prime 4 – which was placed on August 26, 2018 – was just delayed to arrive on December 31, 2023. Here’s to hoping Nintendo even mentions the game.

I’m really cheesing my way to points with the use of “or” here. There were the rumors of Game Boy titles hitting Nintendo’s subscription service awhile ago. I still find it bonkers that Gamecube has never been apart of Nintendo’s “virtual console” strategy. If Gamecube arrives, the official Wavebird could rise from the ashes. I can’t stand third-party GC controllers.

Kid Icarus feels like an end-of-console IP these days. Sorry to sound harsh. There were rumors that the 3DS game was being remade in HD for the Switch. I would love to see Nintendo start remaking 3DS games for modern hardware now that the stores are shut down.

PlayStation

  1. Dreams comes to PS5, PS VR2, and PC.
  2. Bloodborne is announced for PS5.
  3. Resistance is revived as PS VR2 game.

My PlayStation predictions are shorter than last year’s guesses, but they are clear in their conciseness.

Dreams feels like a slam dunk “I guarantee it” kind of prediction. I’m shocked it hasn’t happened yet. Sony’s embrace of the PC market could help Dreams excel in a way it can’t on PS4 and PS5 alone. More robust tools and features could be implemented. Sony invested so much into developing Dreams and letting Media Molecule spend years doing so. They need to spread the toolset and platform around.

I’m giving into the people’s dreams here. With Elden Ring cleaning up so well last year, I feel like Sony could fill the 2023 void by offering exclusive FromSoftware action. I am playing it safe with my language here. “Announced” could indicate a PS5 patch, version, remake, or sequel. It’s one of my carefully worded predictions of the year. The risk is all in the IP. I gotta try and get some points.

This is my double-down prediction. I believe Insomniac is working on a PS VR2 game. They have the talent and knowhow. I like to think Sony cares about PS VR2, despite the lacking promotional campaign and news. So I went specific with what Insomniac could be making. Resistance 3 supported 3D and the PS3 Move Sharp Shooter. That’s sort of half-way there?

Xbox

  1. Game Pass has a price increase.
  2. Starfield launches in the summer.
  3. We FINALLY see Perfect Dark.

I promise I came into this year wanting to make positive predictions for Xbox. Let’s start with the sole negative one.

Game Pass Ultimate is not sustainable at $14.99 a month. Word is Microsoft is getting ready to cut 5% of their staff. Microsoft needs to cut cost and increase revenue. Game Pass cannot be cheap for Microsoft either. So I suspect that alongside the $70 Xbox games, Game Pass will also bump up in price.

Time for positivity! I think Starfield hits the front half of the year. I could even see it landing the week of E3, close to Final Fantasy XVI. Now, searching for confirmed launch windows did crop up a rumor that Starfield has been internally delayed to the latter half of the year. I’ll stick to my guns, but Bethesda probably needs all the time they can get. Xbox needs this one.

I just really want to see what The Initiative has been cooking. Come on.

Kept you waiting, huh? It’s time for my Kiefer-level prediction!

Both the Factions multiplayer game and The Last of Us Part II launch on PC, with Factions launching day-and-date with the PS5 version. Factions will have both a free-to-play element and a physical version (for PS5). There will be a season pass. The main narrative of Factions will be 20+ hours of game play.

It is the tenth anniversary of The Last of Us this year. Part I hits PC in March and I think Part II is not far behind. Sony has embraced the PC market. It will have been three years since release and Naughty Dog’s engine has now been piped over to PC. With the show, the remake, and the anniversary, I feel like this year is the time to complete the pair on the PC market.

I also think the Factions game is due out in 2023. It has been in development alongside Part II, coming up on seven years of active work. Sony is planning on releasing 12 live service games by 2025. This is one of them. I believe that a PC audience is vital to reaching critical mass for these types of titles. The best way to reach that audience is to launch alongside the console versions. Hermen Hulst suggested that launch day-and-date would be possible for their live games in October 2022.

“I think going forward, we’ll see at least a year between our own platform, PlayStation, and on the PC platform…possibly with the exception of live service games.”

Another critical angle is free-to-play. Look, I will happily give Naughty Dog $70 for Factions, but I don’t know a single PC gamer that will pay full price for anything(?), especially from AAA developers. I suspect Steam has influenced the “games gotta be cheap” mindset. There should be some sort of free hook to snag players. Sony will be competing for players’ time from games like Fortnite. Competing with free is difficult. Revenue can (and will) come through enticing players and season passes are a part of that. Gotta look good in your post-apocalyptic game.

The last element is the Factions narrative. I think this game is huge. I expect all the traditional Naughty Dog trappings of cutscenes and set pieces. Multiplayer story moments can hit hard, even when they are primarily gameplay focused. The raids in Destiny come to my mind. I don’t expect Naughty Dog to have puzzle-filled raids, but bringing players together to experience moments like that can be powerful. Those moments are also a goal for the studio.

“It might start with an idea world or an idea of a mechanic or, even more recently, a certain feeling that we’re after. And then we will explore, okay, ‘what kind of world can evoke that feeling? What kind of mechanics can evoke that feeling? What kind of psychological situations can we put multiple people in that speak back to the theme that we’re after…”

Buckle up for Naughty Dog to go hard in the paint.

That will do it for my 2023 predictions. I feel confident, but I feel that way every year. We shall see how the year shakes out. Here’s to a big, bold 2023!

The Last of Us Ep. 1 – “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” Thoughts & Impressions

We have entered the PlayStation era of television. What was once the swan song of the PS3 is now leading a flock of games-to-television adaptions. The bar has been set high by a multitude of factors. The Last of Us games are two of the highest rated games of all time. The show is apart of HBO’s premium lineup, with leading Game of Thrones alum to boot.

There is quite a bit riding on the wings of The Last of Us‘ success, not just for Naughty Dog, HBO, etc., but for the future direction of PlayStation as a whole. With four movies and three TV shows in the works, ranging from Twisted Metal to God of War to Horizon, PlayStation is investing in expanding their IP outside of video games.

I mention all this to convey one thing—pressure. The Last of Us has never known life without pressure. It was a gamble for Naughty Dog to split in to two teams at peak popularity. After smashing every goalpost, work on the sequel began. That development was long and filled with strife as the team chased ambition with a bold, divisive story and gameplay direction. Now there is the studio’s first standalone multiplayer game, also set in the world of fungi, and the rumored Part III. And now this television adaption is shouldering a part of this legacy.

Pressure.

In the world of the game/show, Joel doesn’t know life without pressure. A single-father raising a daughter, only to have her ripped away at the beginning of a global pandemic. An older brother trying to help and keep the younger alive. A smuggler dancing the delicate line of staying out trouble and staying aloft. And at the end of episode one, a man charged with delivering the cure of the disease to the Massachusetts State House.

Pressure.

All of the main characters in the show life under pressure. Sarah worries for an overworked father struggling to makes ends meet. Tess is trying to keep her and Joel alive. Robert tries to sell bad merchandise–twice. Marlene is leading a failing rebellion when the possible cure falls into her hands. Ellie is charged with knowledge and a secret.

Pressure.

To top it all off, there’s the expectation put there by the world, the fans, and myself. Expectation is dangerous. If there is too much and the whole thing will be crushed; too little and it can swell to impossible size the next time around. Expectation can get the better of all those involved.

Pressure.

Despite all of this weighing down on the franchise, the companies, the creativity, and (most importantly) the people involed, the first episode does not crack. The tone, emotional, and captivation are all there. It’s a strong start, but that’s just where we’re at—the start. I was eager to watch it all unfold before the premiere, but now I am even more so. I hope the expectation doesn’t get the better of me.


So, that wasn’t the direction I envisioned taking that review, but here we are! My personal goal is to review each episode this season. I’ve never reviewed a TV show (in the traditional manner), so I thought this would be a good creative exercise for the year. I know the review above doesn’t dig into the episode itself, so I wanted a list of the bits and bobs I noticed in the episode. I may do this with each episode. We’ll see.

  • Poor Jimmy was rewritten to be the owner of the burning farm, rather than the neighbor that turns.
  • I had not heard that spores were swapped with tendrils. I’m not thrilled with this decision from a artistic perspective, but I do understand the logic behind it. The clouds of spores offer such a visually striking opportunity. The gas masks are gritty and it provides an in-world way to convey Ellie’s immunity to other characters without having to explain the whole scar. On the other side though, animating tendrils in the video game would have been way harder than spore clouds. The inverse applies to the show, the spore clouds would keep things foggy and hide actors’ faces, while tendrils provide a spooky visual that conveys danger. C’est la vie.
  • The makeup and site design are spot on. The infected caked in the wall is stunning. I cannot wait to see Clickers next week.
  • I loved the twitchy, fast nature of the Runners. Feels like the right adaption of them to film.
  • Marlene and Ellie’s relationship has been (at least so far) fundamentally changed. In the game and the comic, Ellie has known Marlene her whole life. It’s no mystery to Ellie why she is in the FEDRA school/orphanage. Marlene stills knows Ellie in this adaption, but I feel like keeping Ellie in the dark her whole life until this immunity revelation robs Ellie of that direct line to her mother. It isolates her and her drive to do good in an effort to make her mother Anna and Marlene proud.
  • Having a truck battery be the merchandise from Robert is better than weapons we never see. It ties into the motivation in Bill’s Town (assuming the show sticks with that) and with Marlene’s need to get out of the city. It’s more cohesive.
  • Joel is the little spoon.
  • Tess came off as subdued to me. She wasn’t as powerful as her in-game incarnation. The show has her a prisoner of Robert at the start. The game, Tess was no one’s prisoner and was a far clearer leader in the community. This version is more broken and therefore probably more human. It may grow on me here, but how much time do they really have left?
  • Bella Ramsey nails Ellie. Her delivery of a few lines got me to laugh out loud. Captivating performance and introduction. Excited to see her’s and Ellie’s range be explored.
  • Joel was the character I had the most issues with. Pedro is fantastic; all my nitpicks stem from their reworking off the character.
    • Joel has clear ties to Tommy still. Heck, his drive to leave Boston in the first place is to go save Tommy. Their falling out in the game is a creative void were the player imagination soars. How dark was the time for Joel as a Hunter that it drove Tommy away? Now, I’m not sure how fractured their relationship is, especially if Tommy is at least checking in with his brother. It’s different. We’ll see how it pays off.
    • I don’t care for Joel drinking and taking drugs. This is a clear break for me from the game where he doesn’t “want…one” when Tess offers whiskey. This feels like a crutch to convey sad dad energy. Joel was absorbed in his own depression just fine in the game. I wouldn’t surprise me if Joel did have a substance abuse issue in the past of the game, but not partaking conveys a much lonelier place and the show has lost that.
    • The snapping and murder of the guard also felt out of touch with the source material. I do appreciate the situational PTSD and conveying that. It works for the show. But Joel defending Ellie felt too soon and conveys to the audience care for the girl he shouldn’t quite have yet. Perhaps they’ll weave more PTSD scenarios that help Ellie peel back Joel’s layers. It is certainly a change forced by being an adaption. Now, we need to see how they leverage the medium.

The Last of Us (HBO) is Almost Here – Andy Gavin

The Last of Us (HBO) is Almost Here by Andy Gavin

I’m not going to spoil anything, but I just wanted to say that what I saw was pretty darn awesome — flawless really. Not that I’m unbiased, but the tone was a pitch-perfect match to the games. And, hey, the music was the same — which is incredibly important in forging an emotional tie in for fans.

I love that Andy Gavin was invited to the premiere. He and Jason may have left Naughty Dog almost 20 years ago, but they are still thought of as the company makes new things. I wonder if Jason was also in attendance (I would assume he was invited too).

The show is upon us. Only 8ish hours to go as of this writing. I am excited and nervous. Back when I did karate as a kid, before tests my sensei would say “being nervous just means you care.” I care about The Last of Us. I am curious about its implementation, removing the “on the stick” storytelling will be a fascinating hurdle to see the team tackle.

Apple’s Outward Focus to VR

Knee-Jerk Reactions and Thoughts Regarding The Information’s Latest Report on Apple’s Upcoming Headset by John Gruber for Daring Fireball

Apple Will Talk Up Its Mixed-Reality Headset in 2023 But Not Much Else by Mark Gurman for Bloomberg

2023 is going to be a big "VR from companies that Max likes." PS VR2 is a whopping six weeks away and Apple is heavily rumored to make their VR/AR headset debut this year.

Last week, The Information had a report1 on the new product line from Apple and Gruber gave his aptly named knee-jerk response to said report. Since then, Mark Gurman also wrote some news about the impending headset. Procrastination wins again?

I recommend you read both articles for yourself, but I wanted to comb through this smattering of news and comment on it myself. Let’s hop to it.

[Gurman] Up until fairly recently, Apple had aimed to introduce the headset in January 2023 and ship it later this year. Now the company is aiming to unveil it this spring ahead of the annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, I’m told.

Sounds like March-April is the event timing, looking back at previous spring events. I agree the headset has to be unveiled before WWDC this year. Announcing new hardware and a new OS at WWDC would rob the event of all other conversation.

[Gurman] Apple has already shared the device with a small number of high-profile software developers for testing, letting them get started on third-party apps. The device’s operating system, dubbed “Borealis” inside the company, will be publicly named xrOS

I like Borealis. I don’t care for xrOS. It feels odd in the lineup—macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and xrOS. I had to look up what "XR" represented in the VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality, and MR (mixed reality) space. Apparently, it just encompasses all three of those.

[Gurman] With the current plan, Apple could introduce the device to consumers — likely under the name Reality Pro…

It seems strange to me for Apple to introduce a "Pro" named device before a non-pro version. I don’t think the company has ever done that before (they have!2). Now to pivot to Ma and Gruber.

[Ma] For example, the headset will use small motors to automatically adjust its lenses, ensuring that the wearer has the best possible viewing experience. A physical dial on the headset will allow users to quickly toggle between complete immersion in VR and the ability to see their surroundings.

[Gruber] A “digital crown” -like dial for switching between AR and VR jibes with what I’ve heard, too.

While this sounds elegant, the crown is going to have to be placed in an easy to access spot on the device, possibly even larger than the digital crown on the Apple Watch and AirPods Max. Tapping around looking for a dial with the headset on your face won’t be a good experience, especially if you are trying to transition between AR and VR. I find myself running my fingers along the side of my Quest 2 looking for the headphone jack or the power button.

If the dial allows for a blended, smooth transition, that’ll be neat. If it acts more like a switch, how is that any better than double-tapping the side of the Quest 2 for pass-through mode?3 The Quest 2’s (and PS VR2’s) black-and-white pass through isn’t exciting; it’s functional. With Apple tackling both realities, they need to have color.

[Ma] As of last year, the headset used an external battery pack tethered by cable as opposed to a battery integrated into the headband. The design choice has been controversial among Apple’s engineers given the company’s preference for cable-free designs.

[Gruber] …I’m in no way prejudging Apple’s headset — which I know very little about — but a battery pack tethered via a cable sounds to me like a deal-breaker. Either Ma is wrong, Apple is about to jump the shark, or this device is going to be so utterly compelling that a tethered battery is worth the hassle.

Cables are the most cumbersome element of engaging with VR. The Quest 2’s wireless nature is its most compelling feature. Being able to go in and out by just putting on and taking off the headset is the lowest barrier to entry and Apple should be striving for integrated power.

The trade off for a cable is raw power. PS VR1 required one cable that split into two from the headset into a processor pox that split the HDMI signal and had it’s own dedicated power. Now PS VR2 has one single cable. That is tremendously enticing, since the PlayStation consoles for both those headsets handled the actual game rendering power. Apple attaching a battery back, while would increase single run usage, isn’t bumping up the technical chops of the headset itself.

[Ma] Apple’s headset is also expected to be far more expensive than most of the company’s other devices, as well as other VR headsets: It has discussed pricing it around $3,000 or more depending on its configuration, according to four people with knowledge of the conversations.

[Gruber] It was widely reported in the run-up to the iPad’s debut that it would start at $1,000, but in fact started at just $500. But even if off by a factor of 2, $1,500 would be pricey. If it really does cost $3,000, I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker, but it’d be a sign that the platform is still years away from large-scale adoption.

$3,000 is a hard no for me at launch. $1,500 is a big ask (and my wife would probably say no). If these are the prices in play, Apple’s headsets won’t be adopted on a large scale by general consumers at the start, like Gruber says.

[Ma] The headset has inward-facing displays for each eye and a large outward-facing display on the front of the device. The external display can show the facial expressions of the person wearing the headset, along with other types of imagery, to people around the user, which is meant to reduce the isolation users might otherwise feel when wearing the device.

It’s an interesting idea to try and combat the odd feeling folks around the headset user may feel, but I fail to see how this helps the wearer. Eye-tracking is becoming a standard feature in VR headsets.4 So far, the feature has been targeted at user input and experience (navigating UI, foveated rendering, accurate facial representation in-game, etc.). I’m not sure if focusing efforts on the outward-facing experience should be a primary focus. Comfort for the non-user would come with more and more people using VR/AR devices.

[Ma] Third-party bluetooth wireless headphones won’t work well with the headset as this results in too much lag between what users see on the screen and what they hear. There also isn’t an audio jack on the device to plug in wired headphones.

[Gruber] Wait, is Ma writing for The Verge or for The Information?

I appreciate the joke, but a headphone jack is tremendously helpful for immersion. Audio lag can pull you right out of VR. Why be averted to a wired headset when there is reportedly a battery pack attached via cable? Since third-party wireless headphones are reportedly too janky, this only leaves AirPods. The noise-cancelling on the Pro and up line of AirPods will be great. This does add another $129-549 on top of the $3,000, which is chump change at that entry price.

To avoid just pasting a wall of text, Ma reports Apple sees videoconferencing and 3D models as the killer apps of the device, not a focus on games. Games are the focus of VR right now. I’ve heard videoconferences are dope in VR, far superior to a webcam and Zoom, but no one is going to pay $3,000 for a Teams meeting. You can barely get me to cooperate with a 2D Teams meeting, when Teams decides to even work.

This gives me major Apple Watch Series 0 vibes. It’ll unlock you hotel room. It’ll control your house. You can make calls. Apple didn’t have the laser focus on Fitness that the Watch has now. Sounds like a lot of throwing pasta at the wall and seeing if it sticks.


[Gruber] …the fundamental question remains: What’s the point? Think back to Steve Jobs’s presentation announcing the original iPad — the nut of the whole keynote was Jobs explaining where the iPad might fit between an iPhone and MacBook. If it didn’t serve some tasks not just a little but a lot better than either an iPhone or Mac, there was no point to the iPad. The same is true for this headset. And if it costs $3,000 and/or requires a tethered battery strapped around your waist, the “this better be an awesome experience” bar is raised even higher.

[Gurman] While Apple still has many kinks to work out with the device —involving hardware, software and services, as well as how it will be marketed and sold — the company is banking on the product as its hot new introduction for this year.

It feels like the headset is coming in hot, which is a strange feeling for a device that has reportedly been in the works for seven years. The iPhone came in hot, but the vision was clear. The iPad, like Gruber mentioned, was presented as a device that fit between and complimented the iPhone and Mac. The Watch started as an extension of the iPhone and evolved into a health-focused piece of hardware.

Where does the "Reality Pro" fit in the lineup of existing Apple products? What will compel a person choose to interact with Messages or Mail or FaceTime on the headset instead of any of the other major products? Why a reportedly strong focus on the outward experience instead of the user experience? It sounds like Apple isn’t quite sure either. I hope they figure it out here in the next few months.


1. The Information is a pay-walled site. If you do not have a subscription, MacRumors had a summary, which Gruber also linked too.

2. Turns out they did introduce the MacBook Pro line before the MacBook. The Pro was introduced in February 2006 and the regular MacBook was released in May 2006.

3. In defense of a physical dial, I have never gotten the double tap to work on my Quest 2.

4. I am eager to experience it first hand with PS VR2 next month.

The Unanswered Questions for PS VR2

PlayStation VR2 is just shy of six weeks from launch. CES 2023 has passed and I feel like we still have unanswered questions. I remember during the build up to PS VR1 that I felt more informed.1

The roll out of PS VR2 news has been inconsistent. There was official confirmation PS was making a next-gen headset in February 2021, then a name drop in January 2022, followed by the device design reveal in February. Things were quiet until the summer with a glimpse at the user experience. First hands-on reports cropped up in September and then a date, price, and portion of the launch lineup were announced in November.

Since then, there has been a drip of announcements expanding the list of launch games. At CES 2023, Jim Ryan said the headset would launch with at least 30 games. As of this writing, 23 have been announced; glancing at the list, I spot seven PS VR1 games making the jump (some with free upgrades, others not so much). We are missing seven titles so far to meet that 30 game launch list. Sure, there are six more weeks (and hopefully one or two big pop-off titles), but I feel like we need to know the full lineup ASAP.2

Speaking of games, will there be physical copies of Sony’s first-party titles? If Call of the Mountain is digital-only, why not say so up front? I would have pre-ordered the bundle and saved $10 (and gotten the cooler box), if that was announced. Sony hasn’t abandoned the physical game market, so why the hush-hush nature on physical PS VR2 titles?

How long is the cable? Quick searching suggest that the single cable is longer than PS VR1’s cable.3 One rumor even claims the cable is detachable/replaceable. That would be swell! We know just about every other spec of the device. Perhaps we will find out, when and if Sony does an official unboxing.

I think the biggest unanswered question (besides if Half-Life: Alyx will come to the system) is PC compatibility. Over the last two years, PlayStation has been far more open to putting their games on PC. The VR game library is strong on PC. With PS VR2 only needing to connect via on USB-C cable, there is no apparent reason why the device wouldn’t work with a powerful enough PC. I hope the headset is compatible, as it would be a sign of goodwill and an understanding of the current market.4

Don’t let my pondering as a lack of excitement; I am stoked for next-gen VR. I have been a believer in VR ever since I first tried it in the Engineering Building in-between classes at UCF. Heck, my current joby job is for a company that does tons of VR work. But this is one of the oddest platforms launches in awhile; stranger than the PS5 itself. It feels like PlayStation isn’t putting its back all the way into the console’s launch. I hope to see the conversation amp up here in the coming weeks.


1. Scrolling back through the PlayStation Blog in the Summer of 2016, there was at least one post a week about PS VR; some new game preview, announcement, behind-the-scenes, and more. That headset launched in October 2016. To be fair, PS VR was a first-gen headset for PlayStation, they were pushing retail store demos (which I attended twice), and it was a different PlayStation.

2. That’s not to take away from the big titles at launch. I cannot wait to play Horizon: Call of the Mountain, Resident Evil Village, and Gran Turismo 7. Those are major games. Personally, I’d love SuperHyperCube to make the jump, alongside Tetris Effect and Rez Infinite. And where is the new Astro Bot game that has to be in the works?

3. I would hope so.

4. I remember when PS VR1 launched and people quickly found out you could plug in any HDMI source and it would display the image. You didn’t have the snazzy UI or full blown VR, but the capability was there. I even wrote about it for IGN’s wiki guide. You could even use the Nintendo Switch with it through some cable wizardry and play Breath of the Wild with its VR mode.

The Year of The Last of Us

Reflecting on a Big Year to Come for The Last of Us by Neil Druckmann for Naughty Dog

Even as it turns 10 years old, it feels like The Last of Us has only just begun, and this busy year will certainly show why.

All right, last The Last of Us post for the day. I’ve been chipping away at those interviews and articles for the past week, wanting to share tidbits I found interesting. This quote about a busy year for The Last of Us had me thinking about all of what a year of TLOU would entail. Here’s what I got. Up first are the confirmed milestones:

The HBO Show (duh)

The Last of Us TV show starts this upcoming Sunday. I am jazzed to see this interpretation.

The Last of Us Part I PC Port

Out this March. I really need to build a gaming/capture/streaming PC some day.

The TLOU Board Game

This went up on Kickstarter at the end of 2022. I backed it right away. It’s currently slated for the end of 2023, so we’ll see if it hits that window.

A Decade of The Last of Us

This is fairly obvious. June 14, 2013 was launch day back on the PS3. I’ll never forget the power blip I had an hour or so into the game. Thankfully, I saved after the opening chunk. Now for the unconfirmed stuff…

Factions Multiplayer Game Actually Launches

Feels like it is time for this one. The drip feed has been slow. I suspect (and hope) the pipe bursts this summer. I think this game will be huge.

I do wonder which platforms it will come to at launch. The PS5 is a lock. Do they also release it on PS4 (I hope not) and on PC (they should)? The PS4 is enticing because of the install base and the fact the game is undoubtedly built off The Last of Us Part II‘s engine. It is time to let the PS4 go though.

The PC on the other hand, is the perfect spot for a multiplayer game to launch alongside the PS5 version. Add cross-play, trophies, and bam, you have opened the gates to wider success. The PC efforts at PlayStation and Naughty Dog have not gone unnoticed. I would think this could launch day and date with the PS5 version.

The Last of Us Part II Comes to PC

Speaking of the PC, porting Part II feels like another slam dunk. PlayStation’s pipeline is there, whether it is done by Nixxes or Naughty Dog itself. This would put the entire series on PC, help promote the Factions game. I don’t see why this port would not happen.