Druckmann: It’s super intriguing to us, seeing all these articles that talk about whether Joel is a hero or a villain. Why does he have to be one or the other? Couldn’t he just be a complex person who’s made good and bad decisions? It’s open to interpretation.
Straley: It’s interesting, because it butts up against everything that you know about video games – the hero complex, the power fantasy, saving the world. If you just make deep characters that have real human drama, at this point in our lives and in the medium, it’s much more interesting to discover what we can do with story and gameplay and paralleling those two. I think there’s still so much more potential in this medium. We’re only scratching the surface.
GamesBeat: The first 15 minutes or so of the game, it was so beautiful. It was movie-like. The interesting comment is that for a lot of gamers, when you say a game is movie-like, it’s a negative thing. It means you have to watch it instead of playing it. How did you feel about that duality there?
Druckmann: Usually the word that’s used is “cinematic.” Some people see that as a pejorative for a game. We don’t. Steven Soderbergh gave a good talk about what it means to be cinematic. He talks about having authorial intent, using pacing, using lighting and shots. When we looked at the intro, the question was, “How do we set up the tension of the world?”
You gain control of Sarah. You’re walking out and turn the camera, and then you see light coming from Joel’s room. You start to hear this news report and you walk in. That seemed like about the right amount of time to pass to give you the next clue, so you hear the news report. Then you hear the explosion and the window rattling. We use sound effects to complement that. Then the music comes in when Joel runs into the house. It’s using all those storytelling elements that are usually attributed to cinema, but we’re using them in gameplay. To us it’s like, why wouldn’t you use that language? We’re a visual medium as well.
GamesBeat: The interesting part about the movie side — toward the end Joel is in the hospital, and he’s trying to rescue Ellie. You have no choice left. You have to follow through, and you have to shoot these doctors. Can you talk about that? That part disturbed me. In effect, at that point, I didn’t have a choice in the game?
Druckmann: Just out of curiosity, what did you do when you got there?
GamesBeat: I just stood there for a while, waiting for Joel and Ellie to escape. Then I realized, “OK, it looks like I have to shoot these people in order to get Ellie out of there.” So I did. One of the workers was just sitting on the ground. I tried to shoot him in the leg, but he basically keeled over and died.
Druckmann: The one you have to shoot is the surgeon, the main guy with the scalpel. The other two, that’s just you being dark. [laughs] You don’t have to kill them. You could have just picked up Ellie. But that was intentional. That whole sequence used to be a cutscene, where Joel walks into the operating room and kills the doctor. But there was something, again, about using interactivity to say, “You are going to role-play as Joel. We’re going to make you feel that choice.”
Whether you agree with it or not, Joel is on this rampage. It’s ultimately his decision, but if you’re along with the story, you’re going to have to commit these acts. It rubbed some people the wrong way, that they didn’t have a choice, because – especially at the end of games – they’re so used to having this moral choice. But it didn’t feel honest to the character. It felt to us like if you were along for the ride, you were going to have a bitter experience, because you’re doing these acts yourself. You can feel horrible about them or question them or debate them, but you have to commit these acts if you want the story to progress.
Straley: People debate a couple of things. They say, “It’s an interactive medium. I want that choice at the end. I want engagement there.” First, it’s not a game built on that. The story hasn’t done that up to that point. It would feel very awkward to just throw that choice in at the end. Second, when we asked people, “Okay, if we did give you that choice, what choice would you make?” 90 percent of them said, “I’d save Ellie, of course.”
Some interesting articles have come out recently about empathy games, and then some about the end of our game. It’s the contrast of the conflicts between what the player is thinking versus what Joel is thinking that allows you to explore what we’re doing with that character. It’s because you’re not him that you get to see him.
I find that interesting as a device. It’s not about interactivity or non-interactivity. It’s being able to explore something that you are not. It’s Joel who’s going through that, not you, but you get to feel some of what it’s like to be Joel and what lengths Joel is willing to go to.
GamesBeat: There’s been a lot of questions about whether you would do a sequel. Is a sequel even possible? Everybody in the world is dead now, right?
Druckmann: We’ve mentioned in the past that when we constructed The Last of Us, it’s a complete story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, and it has the arcs that we wanted to tell. If we never had a chance to tell any more stories in this world or with these characters, that would be okay.
Now that we’re done and we’ve had some time to rest, the question is, is there another story to tell in this world? We’re trying to figure that out. We don’t want to do the Matrix Reloaded of video games. [laughs] Can you do the Godfather Part II of video games, though? That would be the test. If we come up with something that’s exciting on that level, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we’ll do something else.