Has testing your players by telling an intense story always been in your plans?
Neil Druckmann: I think the emotional evolution of the characters in the first chapter is among its best features. Through interactivity, gameplay, storytelling, music and everything in between, we wanted players to feel (or get closer) to a parent’s unconditional love for their child, all at the same time. through beautiful moments and terrifying moments: how far are you willing to push yourself to defend someone you love?
Every now and then, we say that love is in a certain sense crazy, right? It drives you to some insanity, and I’m not saying it in a negative sense, it’s just the way we humans work and we said it by showing what Joel is willing to do to defend Ellie. With this game, we explored a few ideas that we put aside because they didn’t have the same emotional strength, and in the end the basic question we stopped at is similar: what are you? ready to do something about someone you have a strong bond with? ? How far are you willing to pay those responsible and what effect does this trip have on you? In this case, we see Ellie and wonder if there is any way to go back after going very far.
These are very interesting questions from an ethical point of view, on which to build a solid history.
Neil Druckmann: We also see it in part 2: it seems that technology is coming back to the world between electricity and people who even play with the PS Vita. We are twenty-five years after the epidemic and humanity is trying to recover, but it is clear that the threats have not gone away. Those infected continue to be a constant threat, prompting them to respond in certain ways. In Jackson, walls are being built to protect themselves, trying to create a community with a social structure similar to the pre-epidemic. They have a water system in the city that also provides electricity, sewers, in short, things that everyone used in the past. Other places, however, do not have these luxuries and survive differently, like the Hunters from the first episode which are effectively banned.
In Seattle, in the demo you saw, we see that there are two groups at war for resources. One has a secular and militaristic approach, aims to restore electricity and uses conventional weapons. The other is a religious group, they try to live using only nature to protect themselves and their values.
These groups and their components therefore have different scales of value, and seeing clearly what happens when they meet is very interesting: how will they handle the comparison? So, for example, we see that they are very fundamentalist in their approach, “I don’t believe what you believe, therefore you are my enemy,” and by simplifying it clearly, it is easier for them to decide what to do. And, in a sense, it’s also easier for the player to assess their actions.
Here we are talking about gaming at a high level: the pursuit of justice for the good of the planet. But if we start digging, we’re talking about a tribal mindset, trauma, how often we think we’re right and others, and how humans tend to relate to. their group. When there is conflict with other people, we tend to view them as inferior, less human, in order to justify the things we do in pursuit of our vision of justice.
And again, I’m not judgmental, I’m just saying what’s going on and seeing examples from all over the world. Even in countries that are not at war and are doing well, that is, watch the political debate and the news, and the confrontations that we have online. Our hope is to explore these dynamics, without pretending to say what to do, but only with the aim of stimulating thought.
I think the Paris Games Week trailer particularly impressed audiences for its real violence and in a certain awkward sense, violence that generated some unease. We are used to seeing stylized and choreographed violence, but here it’s terrible, and it’s not improving. Did you provide psychological support to those who worked on these scenes in the team? Because I imagine that being in constant contact with this type of violence can have an effect.
Neil Druckmann: So there are two aspects that I think need to be addressed. First of all, since our story is about violence and what people are capable of doing, mentally and physically, we couldn’t hold back. We had to represent our themes without discount, our story is that and we have to be true to it no matter what people think of it. And then there is the aspect of the graphical representation of these difficult themes, the one you are talking about. There are people who approach it as craftsmen, in a detached way, they work there focusing more on the technical aspects, how to find a way to reproduce the way light reflects on certain fluids.
Others may not feel comfortable, so we told everyone that there was so much to do in our game, so much to work on, and not everyone was so close to violence. We gave everyone tasks that didn’t make them too uncomfortable because we want to give people the opportunity to work on the things they love, that’s how they do their best . If you are working on something that makes you uncomfortable or uncomfortable, it’s hard to do your best and we want to make the game as polished as possible.
In the build we played, and also in the State of Play video, we saw an NPC playing on Vita in Hotline Miami. Is this a nod to a game that treats violence in the same way? And if so, is there a point of connection with The Last of Us Part 2’s thematic approach?
Neil Druckmann: We wanted to show things that we take for granted. Ellie has a Walkman she listens to music with, others watch movies, and then there’s this girl who found a PS Vita (and she’s not the only one in the game)! So what game can we play? We’ve used one of ours on one occasion, but we’ve had the opportunity to take a stand on what kind of story we want to tell, and we’re big fans of Hotline Miami, so we reached out to the developers who allowed us to put it in The Last of Us Part 2. It seemed like a nice gesture.
I hope I am not indiscreet if I am faced with a delicate problem, that of leaks. Have they had an effect on you?
Neil Druckmann: They disgusted us. You’ve been working on something for a long, long time, and seeing it go public like that was a real disappointment for me and the others in the studio. However, after a first moment of disappointment, we had to sit down at a table and face the problem. Even with the first chapter this had happened, and even with Uncharted 4 someone had found copies before the post went live. The good thing is seeing it isn’t like playing it, so the impact wasn’t as strong. Nothing compares to feeling like Ellie in these moments, not just in the movies but in the gameplay, in the conversations, with the music streaming in the background and helping us immerse ourselves in it. So the story is built in such a way that you don’t know who knows what’s wrong, it’s more than anything a continuous rise in tension with every choice the characters make.
So yeah the leaks suck, but I know when players get their hands on the game it will be a whole different thing, even if they already know what’s going on. I think we can get our message out anyway.
I agree, real shit. It also annoys me this controversy on certain aspects of the game, with a small part of the players who do not accept any representation of diversity. I’m curious what you think of this, because it seems to me that the controversy is going in the opposite direction of the story being told in the game.
Neil Druckmann: We’ve read all kinds of it and I have to say that controversy is even based on lies. We are not correcting anything so as not to spoil it, so I will not say which information disclosed is true and which is not. As for our characters, I can say that we do our best to represent their evolution, and Ellie is who she is, we defined her in the first chapter and we will continue. He is now nineteen and we have wondered how to explore all facets of this age. You think you are invincible, you think you know what’s right and wrong, and you love the people you love. These are all aspects we want to explore in order to tell an honest story.
So if anyone has any issues with that, well, I’m sorry, but history always comes first for us. Ironically (or maybe it’s sad), I think the people who can benefit the most from these kinds of stories are the ones who make the most noise. I hope the game is successful in getting them involved and making it clear that some things are normal, they are part of our society and part of what it means to say an interesting and complex character.
Absolutely. I’m sorry you’ve been overwhelmed by controversy, but I think it’s worth it for those who ultimately feel represented in a game of this magnitude. And I think everyone who matters is happy.
Neil Druckmann: Yes, there is someone who believes we sacrificed history to earn “diversity points”, but that’s not how we work. Everything is at the service of history: having a heterogeneous cast gives us a better history and new perspectives on conflicts. Hope everyone understands after playing.
Have you ever bothered for a game that deals with the theme of hate to generate such a response full of the same element? Maybe some players aren’t happy to look at themselves in the mirror.
Neil Druckmann: In fact it’s interesting that some reactions are close to the themes we are dealing with, I’m not spoiling, but we wanted to stimulate certain emotions in the players and then encourage reflection in the second part of the adventure. So in a sense the first goal has already been achieved. Now we have to see if we get to the second once the game is released, also because there are a lot of theories about the ending, but no one really knows how the knots will get to the head.
We’re about to reach out to the players, present the journey we’ve carefully thought out for Ellie, and reveal how events are affecting her. There are beautiful and sweet times and hard and difficult times, and we want it to be a difficult experience, right? There are games that are like a plate of lasagna, they warm your heart, but this is not one of them. There are times in the game where we give out that feeling, but other times that are really emotionally demanding. This is how we created it.