Techday were lucky enough to interview Naughty Dog game designer Ricky Cambier on his involvement on The Last of Us.
The Last of Us is shaping up to be one of the PS3’s biggest games of 2013. Without further ado, let’s see what Cambier had to say about Naughty Dog’s latest masterpiece.
First of all, can you please tell me about the game and your role in its development?
My name is Ricky Cambier and I'm a game designer on it. Just kind of the director or the architect in a way we guide the vision and we have a game director who is the vision holder for a lot of the gameplay mechanics.
We have a creative director whose in charge of the writing and story moments, so it's all about crafting what the player does and the experiences that they're going to have.
In the Last of Us, we're looking at what it would take to survive in this world, and we've created this post pandemic world.
It's 20 years out from the infection that's caused the collapse of society and we follow the story of Joel whose this hardened survivor and lived through all of this change and has therefore gone through all of this loss personally and has seen this world change.
We've partnered him with this young girl named Ellie who is only 14, which means she's only grown up in this environment and she's only seen this world, and it gives this unique perspective as to what is beyond those walls and what has caused all this.
Can you explain to me more about the relationship between Joel and Ellie?
Their relationship starts when someone comes to Joel because he's kind of known for working along the fringe of the quarantine so he does black market dealings.
He's a smuggler, essentially someone who’s willing to do anything to survive. He's known to be able to do things and take things that other people can't.
Someone comes to him and asks him to escort Ellie out of these walls and deliver her to this group known as the Fireflies, and Joel takes it because it's a job and to him Ellie's just cargo, something he just needs to deliver and be done with the payment and keep surviving.
It's within this beginning where we get taken along this journey and you get to see how that relationship starts, and at first there's this lack of trust.
What makes The Last of Us different from other Zombie games out there?
We don’t have Zombies in this game (laughs) – Author’s note: I always thought the enemies were zombies.
We knew when we wanted to go to the survival genre; we wanted to bring something new to it.
Anytime we start a project we always want to bring something unique to it bring something special and deliver something new to the players.
So we thought if we brought characters that you could really love and relate to and develop an empathetic relationship, to bring that Naughty Dog style of character driven area into this world, and also bring that action element that we're kind of famous for right now and we could give you real fluid controls and give you that ability to respond to problems in a very natural way.
Can you tell me what innovative gameplay features we can expect to see in The Last of Us?
I think we look at the way we put these pieces together when you have these characters working together, that type of co-ordination, then you've got the enemies that you're facing we wanted the human opponents to feel like other survivors.
This meant they would be desperate, they'd be brutal, they'd be lethal, so that if you found yourself needing to cross a street and there were just one or two guys over there they'd be dangerous.
They'd pay attention to what you're doing what you're using; they know if you have a weapon, they'll behave very differently.
So you have this very sophisticated A.I... And you also have this crafting system, where want you to feel like you have to explore this world and collect things then make decisions as to how to use those things, what are you going to build, what you're going to use to get out of the situation and all of this goes toward this survival aspect.
So you can't pause the game, you can't go to an inventory screen and take a time out in the middle of trying to survive.
How important was it for Naughty Dog to make a meaningful story in The Last of Us instead of just a straight-up action game?
It continues to be an essential pillar to what we want to explore, we want the story to be driven by these characters that you get invested into their journey and their ark.
So you see them start to make these choices and you see them change that you become invested, this is what's going to drive you and push you forward, you get challenging gameplay that gets you to make interesting choices in the gameplay in the sense of accomplishment and it gets you connected with the vision of where the characters are going with the story, you feel like you've overcome things with Joel and Ellie and all that contributes to building a relationship.
Most post-apocalyptic games/movies are set in drab environments. Who made the decision to make this game beautiful instead?
We're interested in contrast if everything’s one note, it all disappears. When we started to ask the question of what would happen if man disappears, it’s pretty obvious that nature is going to have its way (and) it’s gonna reclaim all these environments.
We're Naughty Dog (and) we wanted to create these rich and lush and beautiful environments and also shed that attention to the quarantine. You get a good contrast and see the world they live in.
Were there any other games/movies that Naughty Dog was inspired from by developing The Last of Us?
We play games, watch movies, reading non-fiction like the impact of polio on societies how people react to major plays, having half the population decimated.
Anytime you set out a creative project you're gonna pull inspiration and see what other mediums are doing well and incorporate them.
What elements are you most proud of with The Last of Us?
Really proud of the attention and the feeling that you can just be hiding behind something and see a couple guys walking by, your heart starts beating, you start to make a plan to try and figure out how am I going to survive? What am I gonna do this time? What do I have? Where's Ellie? We're proud of capturing that tension.
With three Uncharted games in the bag, what made Naughty Dog decide to make The Last of Us instead of working on Uncharted?
We had some people in the office that wanted to explore some new ideas, wanted a challenge and dive into a new world, so we were fortunate enough to put some ideas together and talk with Sony and branch out.
We thought we could still tell a rich story and bring something new and still maintain that Naughty Dog realm.
Naughty Dog games are renowned for pushing console technology to the limit. How much further did The Last of Us push the PS3? Is that thing smoking yet when we try to run it?
When it comes down to it, we're gonna push ourselves each time.
It seemed for us in order to deliver something new and interesting we have to push ourselves and see what more we can get out of the gameplay and hardware and how it can have more impact in delivering a story.