Having experienced so many failures, Neil Druckmann turned The Last of Us from a rejected idea to one of the most classic gaming industry games.
The classic The Last of Us perhaps we all know. Other generation gamers hugely covet the game, even those willing to spend money on the PlayStation season just because they want to play this game. And this game will cause even more fever when the second part has teased the first gameplay images or trailers and the upcoming release.
However, few people know that the game’s idea was baked by Neil Druckmann’s father when he was a college student. Even when the project was rejected, he still refused to give up. Druckmann always cherished his ideas even after graduating and working for Naughty Dog. It can be said that the rejection, the consecutive failure that helped Neil Druckmann create the perfect The Last of Us in every aspect, became one of the most popular and favorite gaming brands.
The idea was not well received from the first time
In 2004, when he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University, Neil Druckmann was involved in an exciting teamwork project. One of Neil’s professors inadvertently is a friend of George Romero – who is considered to be the father of the zombie movie series. Neil’s professor devised a project, requiring groups of students to create a game, and George Romero would choose the best idea to build into a real prototype first.
What did Neil Druckmann do? The student then unified 3 of the most influential works for him. According to Neil’s idea, the game will have Ico’s gameplay – a classic PlayStation 2 game. The main character is like John Hartigan from Sin City, the context inspired by Romero’s Night of Living Dead.
Neil’s concept will then focus on a police officer, who will protect a little girl in a world full of cannibal monsters. The problem is that the police officer has heart disease. Whenever the police character is in pain, the game will automatically switch over to her. Throughout the game, the role of the guard/protector is continuously changing between the two. It was Neil Druckmann’s prototype of The Last of Us.
Unfortunately, George Romero chose another project. Neil temporarily shelved the idea of these characters.
Began development at Naughty Dog – Prototype of The Last of Us
When Naughty Dog first started working, Neil Druckmann began working as a programmer. However, the idea of attending school was kept by him, and he sought to realize it. In the end, Neil found the right path in the comic The Turn. This time, the original idea has changed somewhat. The protagonist, who became a cop, became a criminal who lost his daughter, and he poured all his love and protection for a girl that reminded him of his daughter. In the end, it is the girl who will save the main character’s life when he is attacked by criminals, who is also an old business partner.
After Neil Druckmann succeeds with the first two Uncharted games as a designer, he and his colleague Bruce Straley (who later becomes the director of The Last of Us) often have dinner to discuss new ideas, as well as review old ideas. The core idea that Druckmann came up with is about a vulnerable character, while the person who accompanies and supports the main character is a dumb girl.
The remarkable thing about this idea is that the girl cannot directly talk to you. All communication of the character will be through her actions. ” The idea is that everything happens between characters, character building is completely based on gameplay mechanics,” Druckmann explained. Simultaneously, both he and Bruce Straley were enamored of Cordyceps’ concept, a fungus that turns ants into inanimate zombies. And they have combined all they want into one game.
The result was Mankind, the first name and prototype of The Last of Us. The game is set in a world where Cordyceps move from ant to human. Those infected with this fungus become bloodthirsty monsters and eradicate the entire human civilization. The difference between Mankind and The Last of Us is that the epidemic in Mankind affects only women.
The original version of Ellie was the only woman in the world not infected. However, the female employees in Naughty Dog protested, saying that this is an idea of failure, a grave mistake, and it will not be sold. Neil Druckmann himself admitted this in retrospect.
Failure does not have to end; it is the beginning of a greater success
Around 2010, Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley solved the game idea, making it closer. However, building the story climax is always in trouble. Druckmann shared that one of the main problems was character development, especially in the ending. At first, the scene ends when Joel finds himself helpless, tied up, and tortured with a knife at his neck. Ellie was forced to kill to save Joel. Neil Druckmann said that it was an unreasonable ending for both the main characters or the emotional levels together.
Druckmann and his colleague failed to build an end. Many good ideas have been launched, and many theories have been rejected without mercy. The satisfactory ending for a super product like The Last of Us has not been approved. Although for many people, consecutive failure will create a depressive mentality. But Druckmann thinks otherwise. He considers successive defeat a good thing for his product.
” One way we see Naughty Dog’s failure as a positive thing is to learn something else,” Druckmann said. ” The idea of failure is almost inevitable for you to go through because all of those failures will probably lead you to something better .”
Finally, a fixed ending was removed entirely. The Last of Us official version has an open end that caused great controversy in the gaming community. At the same time, it also raises dozens of questions, such as: What will Ellie do next? Did she trust Joel ?… When deciding to use an open ending, Druckmann had his idea.
” It was the first time Ellie woke up and realized that she couldn’t rely on Joel forever,” he explained. ” She realized she had to leave Joel, make her own decisions, and make mistakes herself .” Druckmann also shared that he transformed himself into a true father during Ellie’s creation, responsible for teaching and helping her become a stronger character.
In a talk with the International Game Developers Association, Neil Druckmann said: “ I want to create one of the most interesting female characters without having sex. I myself find that if we do that, we will have the opportunity to change the gaming industry. I know it sounds pretentious, but that’s my goal. ”
Through the stories and sharing of Neil Druckmann, we can see that he and his colleague at Naughty Dog have experienced many difficulties and failures to turn The Last of Us from a rejected idea into an of the game industry’s most classic games.
From Neil Druckmann and The Last of Us, I can learn a lesson: Failure is not the end. It is the opening for tremendous success. And the goal of Neil Druckmann’s success is not just one or two games. We will be more aware of his upcoming game, The Last of Us part 2.