This article and video contain very mild, early spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.
The Last of Us Part II is a fairly grim game, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. One early section flashes back to a happier moment in Joel and Ellie’s lives, when Joel gives Ellie an incredible gift: a trip to an abandoned museum, full of dinosaur skeletons. Now, Game Maker’s Toolkit, has dived deep into how that section was made
Evan Hill, a former Naughty Dog level designer who led the creation of the museum (the level is called “The Birthday Gift”), says that he was given a brief two-paragraph summary of the museum’s narrative function from director Neil Druckmann, but was given freedom from there.
The video shows some of the early 3D block mesh designs for this level and others, and Hill talks about the importance of being able to experience the space in 3D before you know if it’s working. He even shows off the very early, very blobby form the first dinosaur statue took in the initial mesh.
There’s a wide range of design philosophy points discussed here, as Hill digs into how Naughty Dog uses level design for pathfinding, and how geometry is used for cool camera reveal moments. He also says that levels are generally built before the dialog is fully scripted, so the writers and actors are able to frame their reactions to spaces only once those spaces have been built. The writing is often based on the level design, not the other way around.
You can watch the video below.
Hill also explains the decision to let you skip certain parts of this level, and the possibility that players will miss out on certain parts. “It’s okay if there isn’t this perfect singular experience of this level,” he says, as it’s important that players feel that they are driving the action. “If you forced everyone to do everything, for some players it would drag,” he explains.
Hill says that this section almost ended with the discovery of the lunar landing module, but it continued to grow and become more important as development continued.
All up, the level–which contains three distinct “acts” within its short running time–took “two solid years” to fully build, Hill says. He believes that you only reach this level of quality through extreme iteration, which happened here too. “There are some sequences in this game that were redone, like, 25 times,” he says.
There are numerous parts of the game that changed a lot during development–in fact, The Last of Us Part II almost had a much darker ending. A spin-off show is coming to HBO, courteosy of Chernobyl’s Craig Mazin, and it will expand on the world established in the games.
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