Neil Druckmann is slouched in his chair. It’s April 2019, a little after seven, and the LA sun is piercing the half-pulled blinds. His corner office is a scramble – all concept art and merch. As vice president of Naughty Dog, PlayStation’s most acclaimed studio, he is directing 2020’s most anticipated game: The Last Of Us Part II. An unprecedented sequel for unprecedented times. A game that, like its predecessor, is a swan song for the console it will define. But the thing he is playing for me right now is not so groundbreaking as it is… broken. With no music, it has no atmosphere. With unfinished animations, it’s stilted. With missing art, it looks ugly. As the PlayStation 4 crashes, Druckmann turns to me. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “Game development is shit.”
He has no way of knowing how shit it will get. My time with him spans the two final years of a long production. Has it been five in total? Or six? Maybe it’s seven. The whole thing is a bit hazy for a guy who got yanked on to directing the best-selling Uncharted 4 early on in Part II’s development. Needless to say, the pressure of delivering a follow-up to The Last Of Us – a totemic game often hailed as the greatest of all time – is significant.
It won more than 200 Game Of The Year awards, sold more than 17 million copies and paved the way for more mature storytelling in video games. It’s had Hollywood circling for years. HBO just commissioned a TV adaptation. With the next game, Druckmann is attempting to better it. Part II makes brave and shocking choices with some of gaming’s most loved characters and its release is timely. A game about an apocalyptic virus released during the most lethal pandemic in a century. A benchmark for diversity in blockbuster games, launching in the midst of a racial reckoning. It’s a sequel inspired by, even named after, Francis Ford Copolla’s The Godfather. “It is one of the best movies ever made,” he tells me, “and there’s something about trying to replicate that magic of that ‘Part II’. I want to commit to that.”
To add to that pressure, the Covid-19 pandemic will, in 12 months’ time, create a unique problem: having to finish development from home. This is an unspeakable scenario in any situation but, so close to release, an indefinite delay was imposed; the threat of not recouping untold millions of dollars of investment was too great. It was a devastating blow to the team. All 350 developers had spent a significant portion of their lives making it. They’d kept secrets from their friends and family. They’d poured everything into making something worth the wait. That wait was now potentially endless.
But that’s a problem for the future. As we finish playing and prepare to go for dinner, Druckmann gives me a tour of the studio and introduces me to studio president Evan Wells. The unassuming top Dog shakes my hand, smiling scrupulously. He doesn’t blink once. As I’m walking away, he calls out, “No leaks!”
To Naughty Dog’s horror, that’s exactly what happened.
It’s June 2018 and E3, gaming’s most prestigious convention, is in full swing. Naughty Dog just debuted a new trailer in a full-size reconstruction of a dance hall scene in the game, with an intimate performance by its two-time Oscar-winning composer, Gustavo Santaolalla. Backstage, I meet Druckmann and his cowriter, Halley Gross, for the first time. It’s been a 35C day. It’s sweaty. Druckmann’s gaze is empty. No Dog has ever directed more than three games in their tenure. Part II is his third.
“How are you?” I ask.
At dinner later that evening, he greets me with a hug. He’s recharged. He’s excited. Dressed in hoodie and Vans, the man-bunned 41-year-old has spent the past seven years as one of the most famous developers in the world, but he contorts with discomfort when I ask about it. He’s shy. Introverted. Unflashy. Apple, not Patek. Tesla, not Ferrari. He walks with a subdued shuffle: a stark contrast to the confidence of his games.
Throughout my time with Neil Druckmann I discover that he is sort of unknowable without significant time investment. He lets little out there without some coaxing. He’s not bothered by occasional lulls of silence, and isn’t – at least outwardly – phased by the pressure on his shoulders. He tells me the pressure he feels most isn’t the one from the fans, or from sales expectations, or any of that, but of making his team proud. A team he regularly talks about with the utmost pride himself. “You’re asking people to follow you and work on this thing for years and give so much of themselves,” he says. “They’re all perfectionists and you want to make sure they come out of the other side and they look back and say, ‘Yeah, it was fucking worth it.’”
As for all the awards? They don’t affect how he works or how that team of admittedly “opinionated motherfuckers” work with him. “The way we operate, that shit doesn’t matter,” he says. “I’m only as good as the thing we all built together and, if I write something that’s bad or I make a bad decision, there’s gonna be a line of 20 people outside of my office telling me this thing sucks.”
He talks effusively about games and movies and TV. About conceptualising worlds, developing multi-dimensional characters and how he adapted to leading a team and directing actors. He’s an acute thinker, a critical talker and is more interested in talking about my opinion than his own. It manifests as quickfire questions.
“Did you like Uncharted?”
“What did you think of God Of War?”
“What’s your favourite love story in a game?”
They’re indicative of how much he thinks about video games: a lot.
As two more Old Fashioned arrive, he relaxes even further and explains how you make a sequel to a game like The Last Of Us. It wasn’t the studio’s first hit, as a corridor of statuettes will prove, and Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and Uncharted became the gaming mascots of their era. The latter series has grossed more than a billion dollars. Hell, even the internal code names aim high: Next (Jak & Daxter); Big (Uncharted); Thing (The Last Of Us).
But The Last Of Us was different and its impact was orders of magnitude larger. It was post-apocalyptic. It was slow. Inspired by David Benioff’s City Of Thieves, it had the sombre loneliness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the violent ferocity of 28 Days Later. It depicted a lush overgrown world and a society ravaged by a real-world fungal virus called cordyceps. But it was its two lead characters – smuggler Joel (Troy Baker) and young survivor Ellie (Ashley Johnson) – that defined it as one of gaming’s finest. Two decades after civilisation collapses in the wake of a viral outbreak, these two strangers travel half the country together, their bond growing from resentment into a paternal love. This focal relationship resonated with players more than most.
“I felt things for Joel and Ellie. I was moved,” Craig Mazin, writer of Chernobyl and cowriter for The Last Of Us TV show, told me recently. “It’s ironic that in a medium where technology has progressed so rapidly and incessantly, the narratives so often feel 8-bit. That’s not because of lack of plot. Video games have been drowning in plot for years. The problem was always the lack of compelling characters. Neil brought emotional sophistication, but, maybe more importantly, he brought confidence – confidence that story and characters were worth stopping for.”
Preparing to talk about what could possibly follow that, Druckmann half-whispers, “I’m just gonna spoil it for you, OK?”
Part II is Naughty Dog’s double album. The kind of game only a handful of studios on earth could hope to make, let alone pull off. Clocking in at 25 to 30 hours long (that’s three series of Game Of Thrones combined), it’s a revenge story with the scope of two games smashed together; a broader variety of personalities; a tighter set of locations; and a unique, interwoven structure I’ve not seen attempted in games before. Throughout its lengthy tale, it remains unpredictable, avoids trope and never succumbs to the weight of expectation by delivering mere fan service. Druckmann has written a story that strengthens the original while mirroring its tone and message.
It’s also the most diverse blockbuster of its kind… maybe ever. Ellie is an openly gay protagonist, but there are also trans and ethnic minority characters in leading roles, pushing the boundaries of representation further than any before it. In a medium often as anti-progressive as this one, Part II feels like a big middle finger.
Diversity is a pillar that Naughty Dog considers as important as graphics or music or combat “because, ultimately, it leads to better stories”, Druckmann explains. “Ashley [Johnson] shared a story with me where someone came up to her and told her that The Last Of Us gave her the courage to come out to her family. It’s amazing that a story was able to do that. Those stories are inspiring to say, ‘Look, when we tell varied stories, they can have a real impact and effect on people.’”
Part II ventures into further new ground for the studio. There’s a wonderfully written love triangle. There’s even a “tasteful” sex scene – a rarity in games. This has been made possible by Druckmann’s collaboration with cowriter Halley Gross. At 34, bleach-blonde and double-denimed, this is her first ever video game project. Four years ago, while the writers’ room of Westworld – where she penned some of the first series’ finest episodes – was ramping down, her agent emailed asking if she’d be interested in a gig at Naughty Dog.
She was 80 hours into playing Skyrim when the email came through.
“I wrote back in all-caps,” she tells me, “ABSOLUTELY.”
Four years into her game dev career, she tells me she’s never had a tougher job. “Writing for TV is like playing Call Of Duty,” she says. “Making video games is like going to war.”
What sold her on Part II was its attitude toward female characters. In particular, a piece of concept art of a muscly woman, played by actress Laura Bailey, whose identity Naughty Dog has only teased. “As soon as I saw the drawing of her with these fucking awesome shoulders and big tough arms, I was like ‘You’re gonna show me this, in games?’” she says. “‘I’m in.’”
Gross is here because Druckmann needed help: another perspective, a writer capable of crafting believable people; a writer capable of writing better jokes than he can, while also being able to help him push him even further narratively. “I have a much easier time writing personal conflict and drama and violence than I do romance,” Druckmann explains, “and I struggle with that and I feel a little uncomfortable about it. And I can’t quite tell you why. Having Halley on board and having a lot of the ideas for that stuff come from her and then us developing them together gave me that confidence. Like, let’s go in areas we’ve never done before. I think without that female voice it would have been much harder.”
In many ways Gross is Druckmann’s perfect inversion. He’s brooding and introverted, she’s outwardly and exuberantly charismatic. The pair have developed a relationship that’s part creative synergy, part bickering sibling. “You’ve ruined this take!” Druckmann shouts, one afternoon on the mo-cap stage, after her belly rumbles and disturbs the scene. She looks at me, rolls her eyes and flips him the bird. Her pet name for him is seemingly “dumb motherfucker”. The two have had some serious fights too – she had a successful six-month crusade to convince him to swap the fates of two characters – but they always, eventually, get back to harmony. “We agree on 80 per cent of things,” she says. “I think that comes from working for so long together.”
For Druckmann, he’s faced years of doubt for even thinking a sequel was worthwhile. “The first game is so sacred. The ending is so sacred,” he says. “People are always like, ‘Do another one but focus [on] all new characters.’ Or like, ‘Do it in, like, Europe. Or do it in Japan. Do something really different.’” But in the end he felt that diverging from Joel and Ellie’s story was the “coward’s way out. To me, at that point, you might as well just do a new IP,” he continues, “versus saying: no, we’re gonna double down and we’re gonna expose what this ending means. To take some of the things that people hold sacred and just… dismantle it.”
To do that the team are creating a game about hatred and what that does to someone when it becomes an obsession. Part II plays with perspective in smart ways, challenging the very notion of protagonist and antagonist. It also successfully humanises its characters, even the ones you start off resenting. Whereas Call Of Duty or Grand Theft Auto would have you mow down dozens of people with nought but a thought, the combat and violence in Part II makes you feel it.
Its gore is unsettling, its torture graphic. Previously anonymous enemies now have names, which you’ll hear screamed out by their companions when you kill them. Compare this to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise, where protagonist Nathan Drake murders hundreds in pursuit of lost treasure; he never once stops to consider the disaster left in his aftermath. Part II depicts the traumatic impact of violence on these characters in honest, realistic terms. It reframes and recontextualises its events, as well as major decisions from the first game, and creates an unsettling reflection within you as a player that shines a light on the futility and cyclical nature of violent retribution.
Born in 1978, in the West Bank, violence is the spectre of Druckmann’s childhood. It was always on his mind, on the news and the subject of talk at home. He distracted himself by immersing himself in comics, movies and games such as The Secret Of Monkey Island and Metal Gear Solid. Then, in 1989, he emigrated to Florida. “I have a certain affinity and certain love for the United States that’s in some way unique to an immigrant,” he tells me. “I remember the first time we arrived, a couple of days later we drove through Manhattan. And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in one of the many movies I’ve seen that have taken place on this street!’ For me, a lot of The Last Of Us has an Americana vibe that is a love letter to these landscapes.”
It was while living in the US that he also suffered a personal trauma of his own, one that’d eventually become the inspiration for the game. “I don’t want to go into specifics about it, but I saw a video of a lynching when I was much younger,” he recalls. It’s a memory we discuss several times throughout my visits. “It was like an actual… like a news thing. And then, feeling intense hatred for the people that committed the lynching and thinking, like, ‘Oh, man if I could hurt these people in some horrible ways then I could.’”
While fleshing out the story of Part II and reflecting on his childhood – on the universality of tribalism, the othering of minorities and the justification of atrocities – he began to explore the themes of retribution, revenge and justice. “I was like, ‘Oh, we can make the player feel that,’” he says. “We can make you experience this thirst for revenge. This thirst for retribution and having you actually, like, commit the acts of finding it and then showing you the other side to make you regret it. To make you feel dirty for everything you’ve done in the game, making you realise ‘I’m actually the villain of the story.’”
Part II uses interactivity to create a story not possible in TV, books or film and something not explored in this way in video games. You are Ellie and you’ll commit acts you feel repulsed by. Throughout the course of the story you’ll begin to question some characters you loved and begin to empathise with characters you hated. But therein lies the point. Druckmann hopes he’s found a way of communicating what he felt – a young boy, traumatised in front of his TV; a grown man reflecting on his past – to players in their living rooms, all through the buttons on your PlayStation controller.
A violent game like this gets its fair share of controversy. In 2017, a trailer featured one of the game’s characters, Yara, getting her arm smashed in with a hammer. “I wasn’t surprised that some people were put off by it,” Druckmann tells me. “The thing that was the most frustrating is then this cynical view of the game industry to say, ‘Oh, this is clearly a game made by men and they’re putting women in these violent situations,’ and it’s like, hold on, now you’ve just dismissed all the women that have worked on this trailer, including the cowriter who did the first draft of that scene.”
Gross describes writing conflict to me as like her therapy. “It’s like getting a massage for six hours straight,” she says. Both she and Druckmann know some players will struggle with Part II – with the extreme gore, with its perceived cruelty and with where its characters end up by the time the credits roll. It’s an extremely rare thing for a game to want to unsettle its players rather than empower them. Even some Naughty Dog devs weren’t on board with it.
“There were people – a minority of them – that were just stuck on how violent it is and how dark and quite cynical it is about mankind,” he says. That’s been tough on his ego, but ultimately he’d prefer to tell a story that some people dislike instead of creating something “mundane” with nothing new to say. By taking the first game to pieces, he’s confident that Part II is going to move players, hopefully teach them something about empathy. To explore how even the most resilient of people cope with mental and emotional trauma. For Gross, having had PTSD twice, she sees it as her “responsibility as a writer” to depict this subject matter in her work for men and women to relate to. It’s something perhaps most important now more than ever. “I like the heightened nature of putting characters in difficult situations and seeing them rise out of it. I think I need that inspiration for myself,” she tells me. “I also know a lot of women, and men, who need to–”
She interrupts herself a moment.
“What’s the plural of phoenix?”
“…Phoenai?” I suggest.
She nods triumphantly.
“They want to be… and feel… and see phoenai.”
Technology, DIY and blind faith – that, I learn, is video game development. To make a game like this, Naughty Dog has spent the past four years on and off Sony’s performance capture stage. The Godfather Part II was shot in eight months; Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, one of the most expensive productions in Netflix’s history, shot in 108 days.
Among the computers, the soundstage is basically a construction site during the final week. Its ambitions might dwarf Hollywood, but its glamour is far shy of it. Every morning there’s a table read. Troy Baker (Joel), Ashley Johnson (Ellie), Shannon Woodward (Dina, Ellie’s girlfriend) and Jeffrey Pierce (Tommy, Joel’s brother) hash out dialogue while Druckmann and Gross tweak the script, making the most efficient use of the incredibly expensive time on stage.
The team has further than ever to create the most lifelike characters in a video game. This is a marriage of motion capture, animation, performance and script writing. Druckmann tells me how Gross’ influence was vital on set here, as it allowed him to more comfortably direct some of the game’s most intimate moments, like the aforementioned sex scene. Today, the most important scene being shot is called “Grow House” – one of the game’s most technical. Both Ashley Johnson and Shannon Woodward are wearing motion-capture suits, as well as cutting-edge head-mounted cameras that track dozens of facial muscles and eye movements to help transform them into Ellie and Dina in the game. Earlier in the week, the crew captured a few scenes with the two actors interacting with horses – it was a relatively simple setup, getting a crew member to hold a foam cylinder at 45 degrees for the actor to have a snout to stroke.
To make an intimate kiss between two people that releases hours of sexual tension? That’s so, so much harder.
There are multiple complicated techniques involved. One method has the actors using the head-mounted cameras to brush their faces past one another, mouthing a kiss next to each other’s ears. Another has them doing a real kiss sans headgear to capture movement of their bodies. And then the embarrassing part: both actors stood alone on the silent stage, mouthing into thin air. All of this will still need months of work back at the studio. And it’s just a minute-long scene of a 30-hour story.
On the final day, the mood on set is melancholic but relieved. It’s been a long stint of tough shoots. Ashley Johnson is crying. “This game means so much to me,” she says addressing the room, “I just love all of you.” There are more tears, toasts and hugs. There are even more tears. Everyone is relieved. The cast takes a posterity photo, which Druckmann tweets to the chagrin of Sony’s PR (what are they gonna do, fire him?) and then it’s time to shoot one final scene: an innocuous moment between Ellie and her horse.
“Easy, easy,” Johnson whispers. The room holds its breath.
“Cut,” barks the director.
And that’s that. Now for the hard bit.
It’s the end of a decade. Naughty Dog is trying to “lock” as many parts of the game as possible, ready for the final stretch of polishing in 2020. Meanwhile, a batch of focus testers – ten new players per week for the past year or so – are playing and scoring every sequence of the game out of five, so Naughty Dog can improve on the fly. Every second counts, as evidenced by the big screen in the studio’s private theatre. It’s blank save for four words: “Three work days remaining.”
With the controller in hand, Naughty Dog’s efforts are immediate. It looks beautiful; its rendition of a flooded Seattle and other decrepit US cities squeezing every last drop out of the now near-seven-year-old PlayStation 4. It’s atmospheric, too, going from serene moments of peace to impactful violence. Combat is punchy, brutal and the game’s analogue stealth system feels as responsive and dynamic as Metal Gear Solid V.
The studio has also gone further than any game I can remember in making it their most accessible yet. There’s an entire text-to-speech option for the hearing impaired and the designers have created aural signatures for the blind so that you can navigate your way through the game without eyesight. These Herculean efforts mean that almost any player, of any ability, can enjoy it.
This microscopic attention to detail extends to the soundtrack, too, hiring Mr Robot’s Mac Quayle to compose pulse-inducingly tense combat music that perfectly contrasts Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting score. Guitars form a running motif for Joel and Ellie. In true Naughty Dog style, the game’s six-strings look next to real. There’s a sheen to the lacquer. Grit and grime has collected on fretboards. There are subtle dents and scratches on the bodywork. Even the strings vibrate believably as the characters’ hands pluck them in a small mini-game the team has designed.
To give the guitar connection that extra weight, Druckmann also managed to get Pearl Jam’s approval to use their ballad “Future Days” as a sort of theme between the two characters. It’s an ongoing callback to their relationship, but one that didn’t come easy. “Sony was like, ‘You’re probably not gonna get that song,’” he explains as we sit in the audio suite. So they set out a long-winded strategy to persuade the reticent band to say yes. The studio found their manager’s assistant. Eventually they got on to persuading the manager. This took place over several months. “I pitch him the whole story,” he continues, “and why this song is important and how it’s like you’ll hear this song several times throughout.” Naughty Dog sent him a PS4 and a copy of the original game – a confident push to prove the quality of the studio’s work. They then showed him a trailer for Part II, which even Sony hadn’t seen. It got to the point where Druckmann was ready to fly out to Seattle to speak directly to Eddie Vedder, desperate to “will this into existence” before word came in: “They went for it.”
Two work days remaining.
Pressurised deadlines like this one are becoming increasingly scrutinised in game development. Studios have been extensively criticised for their “crunch” culture, in which game developers, either by choice or by expectation, prioritise their work over their personal and social lives. It’s a problem that’s existed as long as games themselves. Druckmann and others I speak to recognise the problem, as well as the difficulty of eradicating it.
The studio has limited the extremes of overtime in the past – while making Uncharted 2, working past midnight or working at the weekends was banned – but Druckmann explains how “people got upset” by the micromanagement. For Part II, those late nights and long days have been prevalent – be that five, six or seven days, sometimes for weeks at a time. It’s something management is attempting to improve upon without destroying creative freedom the devs here love.
“We don’t try to babysit people,” Druckmann says. “We draw people who want to tell these stories and who want to leave a mark on the industry. And they’re gonna work very hard to do it. We need to put some guardrails [in] so they don’t injure themselves, but I don’t think we could prevent them from working hard and still make the kind of games we make.”
One area the studio has made major steps forward is scheduling, hiring a small team of producers to communicate changes and building proprietary software to notify developers of updates. The studio has also started cutting sooner, saving time on developing sections that end up unused. Ultimately, I’m told, each new game is a lesson learned to better the process for next time.
One work day remaining.
Co-art director Erick Pangilinan is preparing to cruise back to his desk on his micro scooter. “You wouldn’t think it’ll end up good considering how fucked up it sometimes is,” he says quietly. “People on the outside think we get it right the first time. Like we’re Spartans. The best of the best. It’s actually just a billion iterations.”
We’ve just finished a level review, in which senior members of the team play every section of the game, ad infinitum. Each review takes over an hour as the group meticulously analyse and give notes for improvements. High notes are essential fixes. Lows – like an unconvincing-looking cheese sandwich (yes, really) – are minor. If a problem is something deemed small enough that only the team will notice? They have to let it go. The term is “ship it”.
The attention to detail is staggering. Druckmann shows me a new gore system that realistically renders dripping and pooling blood, which a developer created proactively in their spare time. Another “Naughty Dog detail” mimics gravity on Ellie’s bracelet, so it slips down her wrist whenever she raises her hands. The developers can also now authentically re-create veins, colour changes in skin and pupil dilation.
In one review, co-game directors Anthony Newman and Kurt Margenau have a 15-minute discussion about the chairs in an aquarium. In another, Margenau identifies a discrepancy. We’re currently playing in Jackson, but the petrol station pumps have been copied from a level in Seattle. Apparently, the octane levels in Wyoming are actually supposed to be 85, 88, 91, versus 87, 89, 92 in Washington. Everyone in the room goes silent. “That’s… a very Kurt note,” Druckmann says, laughing. One person later asks if they can “afford” to change something. They’re not talking about money (“If we could throw money at all the problems, we would at this point,” Druckmann tells me later). They’re talking about time.
Despite all of this monumental effort, the game looks worse than ever in one of the final reviews. At one point, Druckmann groans as characters break mid-animation. “Oh, man,” he says, fighting with the controller, “there are so many bugs.” Much of the issues are to do with the art, which isn’t up to standard. “We shouldn’t have to give these notes,” Druckmann says, pointedly, turning to Pangilinan.
No work days remaining.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“Today is going to be rough.”
It’s April 2020. Druckmann is venting to me over text. Working in lockdown, he misses the camaraderie of finishing a game with the team. He thought they could avoid a delay, until he realised they couldn’t. That delay was going to be indefinite, until it wasn’t. Still, delivering bad news for the first time was painful enough. Then things got worse.
No one saw it coming. On 27 April, over an hour of footage and several major beats in the story were leaked online. It spread quickly, far quicker than Sony could contain it. The period following was one of the worst in Naughty Dog’s history. Homophobia and transphobia became rife around the discussion of Part II as players learned of its diverse cast and narrative direction. Druckmann received a deluge of anti-Semitic messages in the following weeks. Writing, drawings, all the stuff you’d associate with fascism’s greatest hits.
Gross eventually gave up deleting the abuse she was receiving on Instagram. They have competitions to see who’s getting the worse flak. He usually wins. As for the other developers, the mood at the studio was low. One team member described the situation to me as “a nightmare”. Another told me it was like getting repeatedly punched. As the online abuse intensified, one of the game’s actors received death threats against their family. Druckmann’s confidence, he tells me, was “shot”.
When I saw him in March, before the nightmare, it’s a different story. The LA skyline is grey like I’ve never seen it, but the mood at lunch is high. “You can feel the excitement from the team, knowing we’re making something special,” he says. “Hearing them gushing about certain parts, as much as I love when fans do it, nothing brings me more joy than seeing the people who have put [in] all this effort and all this care and seeing them say it was worth it.”
We’re at his favourite burger place. He’s much more upbeat and chattier than ever.
“Have you played the new Pokémon?”
“Did you like Watchmen?”
“Have you seen The Outsider?”
On the drive back to the studio, I ask if he’s nervous about the game almost being in the hands of millions (“Fuck, yes, I’m nervous!”) and he talks about how stoked he is for the challenge of writing for HBO. “It really lets us focus on the characters and the drama and show you other aspects of those characters,” he says. In terms of what’s next for Naughty Dog? He has some plans; ideas swirling around. “As you start wrapping things up, creatively there are fewer and fewer responsibilities and my mind can’t help but think about the next thing,” he says. “So, yeah, the next thing could be a Part III, the next thing could be some new IP.” Ultimately, the best idea wins.
Sitting back in his corner office for the last time, we watch some live focus tests and he shows me the latest average scores: 4.7. The team is still pushing for that 4.8… 4.9…. maybe even a perfect five. Then, shutting the blinds, closing the door and turning the TV up super loud, we play the whole thing out. More than half a decade of teamwork. Of time. Of patience. Of faith. Of convincing the team this will work. Of convincing himself this will work. Of convincing Pearl Jam it’ll work. Of performance-capture sessions. Of late-night rewrites. Of nauseating bug fixes. Of endless level reviews. Of unexpected delays. Of unprecedented pandemics. Of leaks. Of abuse from so-called fans. All in a game that, in Druckmann’s words, “says something” – about violence, justice, adversity and trauma. A game that tops the original, just like its namesake.
The game’s final scene hangs, still, for the longest time, then cuts to black. Druckmann sits forward and looks at me, his hair a little greyer, his smile wider than ever.
“So, what do you think?”
I think it might have been worth it.
£52.99. At Amazon.co.uk