Reddit AMA: Neil Druckmann (Creative Director) and Bruce Straley (Game Director) of The Last of Us at Naughty Dog.

(Contains spoilers of The Last Of Us!)

Q: I just realized something, four of my favorite games of all time are made by you guys. Is there a specific date or general time when you guys realized that this was probably gonna be the best thing ever? or did it occur to you after release?
A: After release. For a long time we had serious doubts about the game's reception. [Neil]

Q: Amy Henning mentioned in several interviews that the create process for Uncharted (specifically 3) involved deciding what would be challenge them on a technical level, and what kind of levels would be interesting to go to. To a certain degree, they built the story around those levels. Was your philosophy the same with The Last of Us, or did story come before gameplay?
A: The concept of structuring an entire game around a relationship between two characters came first and was always at the heart of development. [Neil]

Q: What made you decide to keep the original ending for The Last of Us even though it did not necessarily test well with your focus groups?
A: It felt honest. Anything else felt like we were pandering. [Neil]

Q: Spoilers: The toy that Sam grabs in the store is a transformer. Was that done purposely to show his eventual turn or is it just coincidence?
A: lol... we're not that clever. [Neil]

Q: Spoilers: When you first played the game when you where finished with development, how many of the doctors did you kill at the end?
A: I kill all three every time. >:( [Neil]

Neil actually killed all three every morning when he came in to work. it was like his coffee. [Bruce]

Q: Bruce, is it true that you draw power from those around you with your beard?
A: yes. all true. though since the game shipped I felt I had TOO MUCH POWER, so I shaved it. [Bruce]

It was true, until he slayed the demon that inhabited his beard. Now I have to look at his bare face every day. Yuk. [Neil]

Q: 1) How difficult was it bringing a new IP to the table with Sony this late on in the PS3's life? 2) Where's our UnKarted game?! ;)
A: 1) It was surprisingly much easier than we thought It'd be. Sony has a lot of trust with us. 2) UnKarted: Train Combat Racing X is on it's way. :) [Neil]

Q: When can we hear Joel sing?
A: Are you going to PAX? :) [Neil]

Q: What influence did Cormack McCarthy's The Road have on the game? I'm a huge fan, and this is my absolute favorite game of all time!
A: hat book was awesome. Neil & I both read it... I think back during U2 development. It's a very impactful story. yeah, it was one of many influences. mainly the lengths the father is willing to go for his son, and the darkness of the world that surrounds them. it really shines a light on the things humans are willing to give up (morally) to in order to survive. we also read City of Thieves, the movie No Country for Old Men, the movie Children of Men, and the Walking Dead comic... among some more non-fiction reads about how the world falls apart in "World without Us" and "The Last Town on Earth".... check 'em out. [Bruce]

We're fans of the book, but we really didn't refer to it that much during development. No Country for Old Men was a much bigger inspiration for us. [Neil]

Q: For you guys, what was the most emotional moment in the game?
A: I usually tear up during the giraffe sequence. I'm really proud of what we accomplished with that moment. [Neil]

shipping the game. actually maybe watching the boot-up sequence with the ND logo & TLOU logo fade into the start menu. I fucking love that. It feels DONE at that point. but as far as the actual game... there are too many to count. I love this game! [Bruce]

Q: So I've heard, that according to the Japanese The Last of Us instruction manual, Joel and Ellie's last names are Miller and Williams. Is that really true?
A: Those were names that were used in early docs, but we decided to remove all last names for main characters pretty early in development -- no sure how they made it to any released manuals. So no, Ellie's and Joel's last names aren't revealed. The only main character who's last name you can find is Riley's. [Neil]

Q: What other thoughts were there on the table for the ending for The Last of Us?
A: we had a happier ending at one point... where Ellie & Joel were driving completely contented & satisfied with their adventures off into a glorious sunset... but that didn't feel right. It just wasn't honest to the world or the characters we created. This ending felt right for us. [Bruce]

just an aside... it's nice that our opening image is Sarah, and our closing image is Ellie... I think it's nice at least. Good job us! haha :P [Neil]

Q: Let's get this out of the way so you can not answer it and we can move on: what is ND working on for ps4?
A: what's the PS4? [Bruce]

Q: 1. What's the story behind Joel's favour? 2. What was the hardest thing to program in the game? 3. Do you have any plans on expanding Ish's story? 4. Have you considered adding any infected game mode in multiplayer? 5. What game was better to work on, TLOU or Uncharted?
A: thanks! 1. to bill? we're not saying... we like it better that way. I think you can image some crazy shit that went down between them in that world... 2. Ellie. All of Ellie. and more specifically Ally AI in stealth combat. 3. not yet, but we really liked what we found with that story-within-a-story concept. 4. we've considered it... 5. shit. both have their ups and downs (in production terms). For me U2 was my first time stepping into the game director role, so that was a fresh & exciting (maybe naive but super open) time, but TLOU was something special, and challenging. I saw a video of U2 the other day and had some pleasant feelings of nostalgia bubble up, and seeing the fan art and people's reactions to TLOU has been extremely exhilarating. They both win! :) [Bruce]

1) Left ambiguous for a reason. 2) Ellie's (and the other NPCs) AI 3) Ish seems to be pretty damn popular. We'll see... 4) yes, but they didn't pan out. 5) Jak X :) [Neil]

Q: Will there ever be more story content from the universe that Ellie and Joel live in centering around the two characters?
A: It's possible. We're playing with some ideas, but no direction has been set yet for the next game. [Neil]

Q: 1. If you'd made the game for PS4, what would you have done differently? 2. Who is sexier, Troy Baker or Nolan North?
A: 1. memory wouldn't be as much of an issue. we had to jump through so many hoops to get this game streaming (no load screens in our games still. YAY!) 2. Ashley Johnson :) ...and you're welcome![Neil]

Q: Can you give us ANY information on the upcoming dlc for The Last Of Us?
A: thanks for the nods. and there's stuff in the pipe... to be talked about soon-ish... hang in there! [Neil]

Q: What are your plans for the future of The Last of Us?
A: Currently working on single-player DLC. Talking about other ideas. [Neil]

Q: Will any characters return in the DLC?
A: Yes. [Neil]

Q: Did you shape the world around Joel and Ellie as characters or was it the world you created that formed the characters? Also please give us a Joel Ellie sing along
A: we started with the idea of building a bond between two characters over the course of an entire game - and then a confluence of events happened that just fell into place for us that made the survival world a perfect backdrop to create the tension we needed for those characters to make interesting choices... so characters, then world I guess. [Bruce]

Q: Do you sit down and come up with a story or does it come naturally?
A: Sometimes we stand when we brainstorm. :) [Neil]

Q: Were there any scenes that you guys wrote that later on that you decided were too brutal or intense and had them removed?
A: No. We were shocked no one ever asked us to tone down or censor any scenes. [Neil]

Q: What sort of programming jobs are there at Naughty Dog? What programming languages and other technologies are used to create your games? How often are you hiring?
A: We're hiring all the time. Check our website for details. [Neil]

Q: After hearing these criticisms is there anything you would change about the game if you could or do you still believe it is as good as it can be?
A: With the time/resources we had... I truly believe we made the best game possible. Are there things we could've iterated on with more time/budget? Of course. [Neil]

yeah ditto with Neil. We (Naughty Dog) did pretty good with what we had. [Bruce]

Q: Why were crouch sprinting and a cover button removed in the final game?
A: design decisions. we wanted the game to be as fluid as possible & a cover button just wasn't flowing with the stealth. regarding crouch-sprint, it just complicated the controls too much & people just ended up crouching around the entire game. it looked funny, and there wasn't any risk-reward to the decision to either crouch, stand, or sprint... so being more discreet made it clearer for the players what the consequences of their choices were going to be. [Bruce]

Q: One of my favorite moments in the game (alongside the giraffes and David's death) was the truck ambush in Pittsburgh, and one of the reasons for that was the music. Was Hank Williams always your choice to complement the scene, or would you have used something else in hindsight?
A: Hank wasn't the original choice, but he did turn out to be the best choice. [Neil]

Q: As female Hunters/cannibals/Fireflies/military exist in concept art and in the multiplayer mode, why do we only fight male humans in the game? (There are female soldiers but Joel doesn't fight them in-game) Is there any story based explanation, like keeping all the women and kids at the home base? Or was it for creative reasons, given the brutality of the combat?
A: Development time & memory prevented us from seeing the female hunters to completion. [Neil]

Q: What were some infected concepts and stages that you cut from the game? Looking at the artbook, there are a lot of concepts that seems pretty far-fetched for the universe you created, like the infected wielding tools.
A: Fungus growing on the environments that shot poison darts at the player were at one point in the game. [Neil]

Q: Why are there no pictures of Sarah's mother in Joel's house? Is it because even before he lost Sarah, Joel wasn't one for holding onto the past?
A: The backstory was that she left Joel after Sarah was born. Not someone he looked up to to keep a picture around. [Neil]

Q: Does Joel's last name start with an M or an N? I'm asking this because one of the ND forumers found the certificate in Joel's house with Sarah's (obscured) full name on it, and we were wondering if you had any last name for Joel in mind.
A: We didn't reveal the last name. [Neil]

Q: Regarding David: How long do you suppose it took for a man like him to lose grasp on his morals, accept the new world order as it is, and turn to cannibalism with his buddies? Furthermore given the rather hebephilic overtones of his interactions with Ellie, was this an intentional character trait or just part of Nolan North's performance? If intentional, did David always have such tastes or was that just a byproduct of post-pandemic lawless living conditions?
A: David's cannibalism came after the outbreak. His other traits (both good & bad) were always there. [Neil]

Q: Did you guys try grilled rats or mice before putting it in the game?
A: Does McDonald's count? [Neil]

Q: How in the hell DID Ellie know how to pop a clutch?
A: She learned quite a bit while sneaking out of her school in the quarantine zone. [Neil]

Q: When can we expect DLC for The Last Of Us, and what will it be based around?
A: News is on the way about the first DLC drop. Should hear about it this month. [Neil]

Q: 1. Neil tweeted the other day that his interpretation of the ending of TLOU was the minority opinion. What is that interpretation? 2. How does one become a creative director? What advice do you have for breaking into the gaming industry in any way?
A: 1) Not fair to give our interpretation -- want to leave it open for people to discuss. 2) Advice for breaking into gaming -- make games! Don't wait for someone to hire you. [Neil]

Q: Whatever happened to the concept art of Joel and Ellie laughing there asses off by a fire? Or Joel teaching Ellie to fire a gun at a nearby farm? Where these scenarios that ended up on the cutting room floor, or where they simply just that, concept art.
A: They were inspirational images for the tone we were after. They were never meant to be specific moments in the story. [Neil]

Those weren't done for sections of the game or story we were working on. We give those scenarios to the concept artists (in this case Hyoung Nam) to help us find the characters. So in stead of just doing flat orthographics or guesses at poses to sketch the characters in, we found that if you put them in a situation, it tells us way more about their design. [Bruce]

Q: Will there be official The Last of Us merchandises sold at Naughty Dog's website soon?
A: we REALLY want to do that... hopefully we'll be able to set that up. [Bruce]

Q: Would you rather fight 1 Joel sized Ellie, or 2 Ellie sized Joels?
A: 2 Ellie-sized Joels. would you rather fight a dog-sized bee with only a bat, or try to drive across an abandoned LA with a godzilla-sized hungry kitten? [Bruce]

Q: Was it easier to create a completely fictional world like Jak and Daxter or was it easier to create a world based on real life like in The Last of Us?
A: AREYOUKIDDINGME?!?! haha. Jak and Daxter would be a luxury to design in that world again. Story would be hard to have depth though. Those characters are who they are now - it's hard to infuse them with the motivations & choices we'd need them to have to make a compelling story (we tried early before we decided to make TLOU). A grounded world is a difficult solution space to design in though. But nothing good comes for free... [Bruce]

Q: What made you guys decide to switch from the more upbeat tone of Uncharted to the gritty, realistic and emotionally draining Last of Us?
A: We're fans of the genre and felt we could create a good character driven experience in that tackled more mature themes. [Neil]

Q: Seeing as you've been looking over the game from the very beginning and through the development, was there anything that took you by surprise or anything you noticed when finally playing through the finished result that you were not aware of during the development? Or is it difficult to fully immerse yourself and enjoy the game after you've spent years making it?
A: well, it's always hard playing a game that we've been so 'attached at the hip' to for so long without seeing the flaws. I mean, "art is never finished, just abandoned", right? And with video game development it's even worse. But I can say when playing through the game more strung together, I teared up at moments that I KNEW were actually going to happen. That was cool! I think some of it was the relief of 3+ years and a lot of blood, sweat & tears manifest on the joystick. What a relief! [Bruce]

Q: Why would the firefly's not give Joel an opportunity to talk to Ellie? Why rush the surgery? Why not give Ellie the choice to have the surgery?
A: all off screen, so we're leaving all this for your interpretation... BUT you COULD say Marlene was weary of Joel and/or you don't reeeeally know how long Joel was unconscious for. and regarding the choice - 1. it's just the story we wanted to tell and 2. it's not a story-choice-based game, so to cram a major choice in at the last, final, epic set-up would've felt forced (to us) [Bruce]

Ellie was too important to the Fireflies to offer any kind of choice to either Joel or Ellie in regards to her fate. [Neil]

Q: 1. Will you be making another Last of Us and will it feature Joel and Ellie? 2. Is there any truth to the rumors of the film? 3. Did you speak to Ellen Page before or during or after release?
A: 1) Don't know yet. 2) Nope 3) Nope 4) You're welcome. [Neil]

Q: Did the team plan any combat sequences in which Joel and Ellie are pitted against both infected and humans simultaneously? Was any sequence cut from the game that either of you wish could have made the final cut? And during playtesting, did the internet-infamous brick-conquers-all strategy come about, or was that something unexpected? (I was never without my trusty brick during Survivor and Survivor+!)
A: thanks for the kudos. infected vs humans would've been awesome, and there were 3 (I think? hard to remember right now) areas in the game we had it slated, but as we got deeper in production & animations & models started getting fleshed out, it came down to such a huge memory hit that we couldn't afford it without rather large re-jiggering... so we opted to cut it. Yeah... I know :( [Bruce]

Q: I'm an author, and one of the most difficult things I find myself doing at the start of writing a novel is naming my characters something that is appropriate to their personality. I also share my name with Joel, and when The Last of Us was first announced, I flipped shit because Joel isn't a very common name. What made you want to use Joel for the main character of a post-apocalyptic tale, as opposed to more 'rugged' names?
A: His original name was Ethan, but we felt it was too close to Nathan. I'm sure that can lead you to find out where the name Joel came from. :) [Neil]

Q: 1) I was wondering about a possible sequel to The Last of Us. I recall reading some articles that hint at one, but without going TOO much into detail, what can/could we expect from a continuation of the story? Are there any plans for changes in gameplay? 2) We also had some questions concerning the ending. SPOILER ALERT. What was the thought process behind the decision to have Joel lie about the Fireflies, and were we supposed to get the impression that Ellie knew that he was lying? Will this affect their relationship in possible future titles?
A: 1) Don't know. Still trying to figure it out ourselves. 2) Ending is open to interpretation. [Neil]

Q: You guys made in my opinion the best game ever made. my question is, Do you think your team can make a game of this quality again?
A: We always try to top our last game. So that's the plan. [Neil]

funny thing, is we really just make games that we think would be fun to us. Sure, there's a gap we saw in the industry, that there hasn't been a really good character-driven story in the survival genre done yet, but when kicking around the ideas for the game with Neil, it just sounded awesome. so we made that. :) [Bruce]

btw - that's all we should hope for any developer! make what you want to play! [Bruce]

Q: Does Naughty Dog ever plan to run any internship schemes?
A: Naughty Dog doesn't hire interns. Although, I started here as an intern by bugging Jason Rubin and Evan Wells. [Neil]

Q: Internally, was the ending of The Last Of Us controversial?? I liked it but personally would have written it differently, how many possible ideas did you have for it?
A: Initially, yeah... ending we ultimately went with didn't sit well with some members of the team. Once it was more fleshed out, it became an easier sell. We went through about 3 or 4 ideas before finding the ending that worked best for the story we wanted to tell. [Neil]

Q: Can you elaborate on the alternate endings?
A: We'll share some of them at a panel Bruce and I are doing at PAX. More info to come. [Neil]

Q: Do you see yourselves ever making games for all platforms, or are you guys sticking with Playstation?
A: We're owned by Sony. No chance of seeing Naughty Dog games on competing platforms. [Neil]

Q: What was the biggest challenge NaughtyDog as a team had to go through?
A: Growing to become a multi-project company has been extremely difficult. [Neil]

Q: Are you purposely making trilogy after trilogy or is that just coincidence?
A: Coincidence. [Neil]

Q: I've read that during the development of Uncharted 3 you split into two teams, the second began working on The Last of Us. Are there still two separate teams? If so, does this mean you work on two different games simultaneously?
A: There are still two separate teams working on two different projects. [Neil]

Q: On /r/thelastofus I've seen some debate on whether or not Bill is gay and if David intended to rape Ellie. So, just to put the questions to rest, are those true?
A: I will say Bill was written to be a gay character, but W. Earl Brown has said his performance is open to interpretation. [Neil]

Q: In The Last of Us, there are stuffed giraffes scattered throughout the game. Were these intended to foreshadow the giraffe scene or are were they just props?
A: Both. [Neil]

Q: Do you plan on making more comics after The Last of Us: American Dreams?
A: Don't know yet. Entertaining some ideas, though. [Neil]

Q: In The Last of Us were Joel and Tess ever romantically involved?
A: What do you think? :) [Neil]

Q: What exactly was running through Ellie's head at the end of the game?
A: A lot. [Neil]

Q: In The Last of Us campaign, why weren't there any 3 way fights between Joel, hunters, and infected? Was it a technical issue?
A: Not a technical issue. We actually had the tech to do it, it just never fit with the story. [Neil]

Q: In The Last of Us, will Infected be incorporated into multiplayer?
A: No plans [Neil]

Q: In the Last of Us, when and how does an infected become a bloater? I know the four stages (runner -> stalker -> clicker -> bloater), but it was said that when an infected feels like it's about to die it finds a corner to release more spores. So does the bloater happen before of after the spore release stage?
A: Bloater happens if the body is strong enough to survive for longer than a clicker. It's a rare occurrence. [Neil]

Q: I have a friend whom I regularly play The Last of Us with. He's currently attending DeVry University and is currently working toward a degree in graphic design, It's his dream to work with you guys at NaughtyDog. What are his chances?
A: Relative to his skill & passion. [Neil]

Q: What will be your next game be?
A: Don't know yet. [Neil]

Q: Is it likely you will ever return to Jak and Daxter? And do you consider The Lost Frontier canon? Basically (this is the big one), will there be a Jak 4?
A: No plans. We gave it a shot at the beginning of the project and couldn't make it work for ourselves. [Neil]

Q: My question is what is your guys favorite games?
A: in no order: ICO RE4 Yoshi's Island hmmm... Fatal Frame II (only because no game has scared me like that ever before) what else... why are all these old japanese games? I just played Hotline Miami. That was some good fun! Not on the all-time list, but on a 2013 best of for sure OH! Limbo was awesome... 'nuff... [Bruce]

Ico, Resident Evil 4, and Monkey Island 2 (best ending for a videogame). [Neil]

Don't say that. The Last Guardian is my most anticipated game. [Neil]

Q: may we pleeeeeease have some more? You can get away with the upcoming DLCs for now, but after that, will it be years before I see you again? :(
A: Thanks so much for the compliments. Stoked you like it so much & it still resonates with you. And yeah, the team here is imho the best in the industry, and I'm very grateful to be able to work with them. But hold your horses about all the future shit... ;) DLC is going to amazing! Just wait! We're happy with what we've come up with. [Bruce]

Q: The only question is was there anything you wanted to put into The Last of Us that was too dark or morbid for the game?
A: Nope. We got a lot of morbid out of our systems. We did tone down some of Ellie's deaths during the David boss fight as they felt like too much to us. [Neil]

Q: My question is, are there any plans to release the American Dreams comic electronically? An eBook format of that would be fantastic. Thanks!
A: It's available to download on the Dark Horse App. [Neil]

Q: Any plans for a stats page for The Last of Us similar to what you guys have on for Uncharted 2 & 3 multiplayer? On that note, how does the rank system work for The Last of Us multiplayer? I haven’t been able to figure that out…
A: do we not have a stats page? we suck! :/ [Neil]

Q: I like the Jak and Daxter easter eggs in The Last of Us :). Was that to commemorate the fact that The Last of Us was almost going to be Jak 4 instead?
A: it's somehow become an unspoken naughty dog tradition to put a precursor orb in all of our games. so no.. nothing is being said with that [Neil]

Q: What phases of development did the Naughty Dog team have to go through when creating The Last of Us? Was any code reusable from the Uncharted Series?
A: phases? pre-production and hell. And yeah, the foundation we started with was the Uncharted engine. we ended up rewriting the AI system from scratch and added some features to our rendering engine (along with misc other stuff), but most of the core tech was the Uncharted engine. [Neil]

Q: Any plans for the lab to be introduced in The Last of Us multiplayer…? If not, will you guys still be updating it in Uncharted 3?
A: The lab was a fun concept for us too. who knows if it works with TLOU. we're working on our DLC stuff now, we'll have to see what the future brings.. [Neil]

Q: How did you guys come to join Naughty Dog and become directors on one of the best games this year? Have you had previous directing experiences?
A: This was my first time. Bruce had a few director notches on his belt. [Neil]

Q: So I was wondering if you ever got the chance would you guys make another Crash Bandicoot? Another question. TLOU actually inspired me to right book, it's about zombies. Do I have your permission to use the quarantine zone idea? That's all I'm using from TLOU.
A: that would be awesome to do another Crash - but that property is owned by Activision now... or someone that's not us. sorry [Bruce]

Q: Can you talk about some of the hurdles and/or compromises the team had to make in order for the AI to help or challenge the player? Also, how do you see this system evolving over time with regards to newer technology? Thanks in advance.
A: thanks! 1. AI is fucking hard. 2. Our programmers are amazing. 3. AI is STILL reeeally fucking hard even with amazing programmers all sorts of trials & tribulations with our adventure in making great AI. maybe too many to get into here - but a couple things... having an Ally with the player in stealth encounters is probably the most difficult problem we could have tried to solve, and "we" (the royal industry we) need time to implement, iterate, and find solutions to the problems that will only come up by having actual set-ups in the game to help steer the tech direction... dunno if I'm answering this well... another early goal for the enemies what we had to create a "dynamic front" due to the flexibility we wanted the players to be able to take with our more wide-linear layouts. it meant the AI had to be able to recognize a new "front" where they'd be safe - and analyze the environment & collision to create new dynamic flanks based on wherever the player was... ok I'm rambling. Max Dyckhoff did an AMA earlier, maybe he said something smart about the AI! haha [Bruce]

Q: Do you guys think taht Joel did the right thing at the end of TLoU?
A: It's not as simple as right/wrong. [Neil]

Q: You call yourselves naughty dog but have never made a game with a dog in it. how do you sleep at night?
A: We almost did. The Last of Us originally had a dog in it. Had to cut the poor thing due to scope. [Neil]

Q: Could you possibly create a real life Ellie to be my lifelong companion, shamefully I think I have fallen in love with an AI.
A: we're working on this... I think it's our 3rd drop for the season pass?? yeah... 3rd drop. Have fun! [Bruce]