Push to Smart Water Cooler: The Last of Us – a Naughty Dog Left Behind


Today we’re talking about The Last of Us‘s single-player DLC, “Left Behind,” a discussion that Stacey swings to talk about her frustrations with Amy Hennig’s abrupt departure from Naughty Dog and the future Uncharted. Transcript after the jump.

Transcript

This episode contains spoilers for The Last of Us: Left Behind and the Uncharted series.

But wait! there’s more.

We originally recorded this episode soon after finding out about Amy Hennig’s abrupt departure from Naughty Dog. We were confused and angry—and there’s still a lot that we don’t know. We know, however, that EA and Visceral Games has now brought her onboard as creative director for a mystery Star Wars project. And really, who better to helm a Star Wars game than someone so adept at applying Indiana Jones’ toolbox. We’ve also learned that Uncharted 4’s director Justin Richmond, has left Naughty Dog—this time presumably amicably and for Riot Games. We’re still not sure what this means for Uncharted 4. Without further ado, lets gush about Left Behind, and revisit our angry and confused Uncharted rants.

Welcome back to the Push to Smart Water Cooler. Today we’re taking a break from the episode games to look at Naughty Dog’s latest DlC “Left Behind” for the Last of Us. We’ll also be talking about some of the more unfortunate news coming out of the Naughty Dog studio, so without further ado, let’s get started with Left Behind.

Not only does Left Behind tackle some of Ellie’s backstory in respect to Riley, who is mentioned in passing in the game proper, but is expanded upon in the prequel comic American Dreams by Faith Erin Hicks and Neil Druckmann. But it also fills in a bit of the blanks after Joel has been impaled an Ellie taking care of him.

JAYLEE: I loved this DLC.

STACEY: Me too!

JAYLEE: Just everything about it—ok not everything about it. I actually, I didn’t care—I know this makes me probably terrible—but I didn’t care about the whole Joel business.

STACEY: Oh, no. Me neither.

JAYLEE: It was just a means to an end—to get us to the Riley. And just their story was so interesting. And I loved in the flashbacks how you kind of put all these game mechanics in a different context. So you’ll see that when you’re trying to do water guns, you’re trying to listen in and find her using your little listening mode.

STACEY: Which never worked for me, like, she would just disappear. I don’t know why. But, yeah. I really liked how they decontextualized these violent behaviors and things like, there’s some great articles on gamespot that really delve into what this means, but the idea that they decontextualize these behaviors we associate with fear and violence, and make them something that came to represent joy and play, was just really interesting. And I think I would have enjoyed the game proper a lot more if it did more of what Left Behind did in that it showed us another side of this world and it wasn’t just doom-gloom-violence. There was a capacity for love, and a capacity for play, and a capacity for childhood.

JAYLEE: I think we see in Left Behind we see that the younger people who are affected by the world ending basically, they can carry on, whereas the adults have a much more difficult time because they know the before. And they, and that was their lives. Whereas their lives were brought up in this, so they can have fun throwing bricks through car windows.

STACEY: And imagining playing a game.

JAYLEE: And being the brick fucking master.

STACEY: Yeah, one of the parts that I thought was really nice was the part where they’re playing the video game. And of course the machine’s broken, so you’re essentially inputting commands that you normally put in a fighting game—albeit a rudimentary one—and you’re having it all narrated to you, which was really just a fascinating sequence and really deconstructed this interface that we’re used to. And it did kind of, how you said, illustrated how these kids were still allowed to be kids and adapted to this post-apocalyptic world.

JAYLEE: And I think, on a similar note, a lot of games rely on exposition-heavy scenes to show relationships, but this one you were using gameplay the entire time. Like, going through the Halloween store and changing your outfit…

STACEY: I loved that part.

JAYLEE: You know, playing a game of Brick Master.

STACEY: And the Photo Booth, oh my god.

JAYLEE: It was so heartwarming but also you knew where it was going. And so there was just this looming danger. And then the pun book makes a grand return…

STACEY: It’s kind of the origin story for it.

JAYLEE: Not the origin story of Ellie or Riley, the pun book. The most important character in The Last of Us franchise. But no, I just… I thought it was just a lovely story, and also terribly, terribly heartbreaking. And then there was this beautiful moment when they kiss! And, and, my heart grew three sizes that day.

STACEY: But then you know what’s coming, and it’s just, “can’t it last a little bit longer?”

One thing going back to the… recontextualization? Is that a word? of the violent gameplay that really struck me, right after I played this, I watched that documentary that Naughty Dog and Sony just put onto most video streaming sites for free. And, um, one of the things that really struck me was that Neil Druckmann had this quote about how violence functions in the game. He believed that it was something that you should be appalled at, but you ultimately understand why you have to do it. And in the game proper, I really struggled with that. I didn’t really understand why you had to do it. It felt like the only reason you had to do it is if you don’t you get a game over. Because this provided another context for it, it kind of retroactively gave it that reason. Like I think I said earlier, it gave another dimension to those actions, and kind of helped root it in a narrative space rather than just this empty ludic action.

JAYLEE: The big part of the DLC where you’re actually using these in the traditional violent sense is ultimately the most boring segment of the game. When you’re just trying to get medical supplies for Joel, or. you know, just randomly shooting people up because they’re trying to get into your space. It was almost a shocking different between—there’s so much depth and nuance in what was happening in Left Behind, and then you get to—“Ugh! I have to shoot 10 guys to move on!”

STACEY: Yeah, it felt like, “come on, come on! I want to get back to Riley!” I feel like the purpose of that was to tie Riley and Joel together and explain why Ellie is so dedicated to Joel—the idea that she lost someone before, which was something we already new both from the comic, obviously, and from her monologue at the endgame—and that’s why she’s so fiercely protective of Joel. But it almost had the opposite effect because every time he’d come back, I’d be like, “Oh, god, Joel’s back. Let’s get back to the characters I actually care about.” And while I really liked the idea of being able to use the infected against the humans and vice versa, I felt like it was too little too late.

JAYLEE: I felt like it was too little, but at the same time, I’m not sure if it was just me, but I wasn’t very effective at that. I felt it should have been more effective. I should have been able to walk past these guys because if I was somebody being attacked by a zombie and there was a little girl walking by me, I would shoot the zombie.

STACEY: Which, again, that gets back to my problem with the main game: just the fact that the zombies and the people are interchangeable cannon fodder. They don’t feel three-dimensional like they should—like the rest of the game does. But, I mean, I’m terrible at the game in general so I’m probably not the best barometer for whether or not it’s effective.

JAYLEE: Well, I’m great at it—no I’m just kidding.

STACEY: OK! Then it’s terrible!

But yeah, I didn’t feel like I ever got to really use it or that it really worked.

JAYLEE: But I think… there’s not really a proper way to segue to kind of the semi-controversy that’s happening with Naughty Dog right now.

STACEY: Well, it did come right off the back of the announcement of a Last of Us movie. Yeah, we did just learnt hat Screen Gems and Sam Raimi? Ray-mi? I don’t know how to pronounce his name—which will be a trend you’ll notice in this episode. I can’t pronounce people’s names

They are making a feature film based on The Last of Us, and it will be based on the story itself rather than some kind of side-story. And right after this announcement, we have learned that Uncharted’s head writer and producer has been ousted from the company. The initial IGN report… reported that she was possibly forced out by Neil Druckmann, but I think it was Polygon has since published an article denying that—though it doesn’t deny that she was forced out, just not personally by the creators and driving creative forces behind The Last of Us.

JAYLEE: There’s really no way of talking about this without speculating. But, IGN was the first people to break this news. And they very specifically pointed out Neil Druckmann and the other guy—heretofore referred to as The Other Guy..

STACEY: Let’s blame him!

JAYLEE: Forcing out Amy Hennig in a way. And, you know, Naughty Dog didn’t have anything prepared. So, it makes it feel like, to me, this wasn’t exactly a parting on good terms—they didn’t have any PR ready for this. It just kind of, came out.

STACEY: There was no, “oh, she’s leaving us to pursue other opportunities” Or one of those things you usually get.

JAYLEE: Yeah, “we enjoyed our time with Amy… and la-da-da-da” Basically they were like, “whoa whoa whoa, don’t—how DARE you talk about Neil Druckmann that way! It was us! Not him!”

I don’t know. For me it kind of reeks of, like, the higher ups are kind of falling on the sword because Neil Druckmann’s name now sells games.

STACEY: Right, they don’t want to tarnish the auteur. Which, I didn’t like Uncharted 3, which was the last big game she worked on, but, I mean, I’m really afraid for the future of the Uncharted series, which I know sounds really overwrought and over…melodramatic, perhaps? But, I mean,it’s a fine line. Just playing the other Uncharted games or trying to read that terrible novel that was published that was NOT written her… whenever Amy Hennig is not writing Nathan Drake, he comes off as sounding like this misogynistic jerk. Like, the first few pages of the Fourth Labyrinth is just an inner monologue of him complaining about how much he hates this girl he’s protecting—and how prissy and ditzy she is. And in the Golden Abyss, a lot of the humor is based on feminizing each of the other manly men and kind of poking fun at their masculinity—not in a way that is at all self-aware. And it, it’s kind of surprising that that should be such a fine line between being kind of a lovable, if not very prepared and heavy on the improvisation guy, and a flat-out jerk, but apparently it is a fine line, and I’m concerned what the series will become without her giving the character that warmth and that compassion to balance out some of his… perhaps more callous actions.

JAYLEE: And Golden Abyss, the Vita title, it was fun, but it was totally forgettable. And there was a character—there was The Mean Guy, and then there was Not Elena. And so, that is what I have come across in a game of Uncharted not written by Amy Hennig.

STACEY: Right, and I feel like the comic-the motion comic they released leading up to Uncharted 2 was very similar. There was, like, Mean Guy! Not Elena! And Nathan Drake going on a whacky adventure with them. And it just, it didn’t feel very fleshed out. Which, yeah, not boding well.

JAYLEE: Yeah, when people play in this particular sand box, I don’t know why, but it doesn’t work out that well.

STACEY: Which is I’m sure why the movie for Uncharted has been stuck in production hell for, like, ten years.

I mean, Uncharted is very unique in that it is a property based on Indiana Jones, that apes from Indiana Jones regularly, that comes off as kind of a loving tribute and pastiche then something that is seen as… Sahara, or The Mummy, or something.

JAYLEE: Ugh.

STACEY: Exactly! And I don’t know if it’s because it’s new to the format, as in, we don’t have a bunch of The Mummys and Saharas running around in gaming. The closest that we had is Tomb Raider, which has your adventurer but is thematically and aesthetically very different. I’m not sure if, even with Amy Hennig at the wheel, if it would somehow transcend the medium in film. Yeah, it’s going to be difficult for the series going forward and I’m going to be apprehensive watching it.

JAYLEE: Especially because we really don’t know anything about the PS4 version of Uncharted that’s coming out. But a lot of people are speculating that, with Amy Hennig gone and Neil Druckmann helming it, that it’s going to be darker. And, I don’t know, I am not interested in playing a darker Uncharted. I feel like that’s where they were trying to go with Uncharted 3.

STACEY: I’m not sure. Uncharted 3 felt to me—I have a lot of strong opinions about Uncharted 3—but it felt to me like it was trying to be The Last Crusade—which is not a dark movie at all. But, it kind of, it fell into this trap of just hitting story beats and not really tying them together in a way that was meaningful.

There were some really interesting opportunities to deviate and explore what it means to be an Uncharted game. Because it seemed to be turning inward to be very introspective. The whole revelation that Nathan Drake’s whole identity is fabricated—that he’s not actually related to Sir, um, I almost said Sir Nathan Drake, to Sir Francis Drake. And there’s lots of interesting deviations from The Last Crusade. Like, The Last Crusade opens with young Indiana Jones stealing an artifact from a bunch of thieves to give to a museum, where Uncharted 3 opens with a young Nathan Drake stealing from a museum. I feel like a stronger game would have explored those deviations, and, like I said, what it means to be an Uncharted game, but it didn’t. It just hit the beats. It had him stealing something; it had the big ‘let it go, Indy’ moment at the end with the father figure. I forget even where I was going with that—I don’t think it was necessarily darker. It was just a misstep in an attempt to pay tribute to its source material in a way.

JAYLEE: Instead of telling its own story it relied too heavily on another story to kind of—

STACEY: Right. The Uncharted series has always been about pastiche, which we kind of talked about in our Last of Us video—oh, look at that! But like, it kind of stepped over that boundary so instead of being pastiche which is, you know, is taking something that already exists and giving it new meaning, to just being an imitation.

JAYLEE: And also, Amy Hennig was the only writer on that game, so we’re not saying that she’s infallible or anything, but Naughty Dog… it’s hard to not look at the gender politics in this. I mean, she helped create the most successful franchise for the Playstation 3.

STACEY: And it was so influential too on other games. Like every game that came out after that had a giant set piece like the train.

JAYLEE: Yeah, Tomb Raider would have not been rebooted as successfully had it not been for Uncharted.

STACEY: I’m sure we’re not going to hear what happened for many years—if that. But it’s disheartening to see someone of her renown allegedly forced out. I’m sure some other company will snatch her up because she’s amazing.

JAYLEE: Or she’ll start her own, who knows?

STACEY: Or she’ll start her own because she’s also amazing. But it’s very disheartening now, and I’m going to be, I guess the best way to say it is holding anything Naughty Dog at arm’s length to kind of see what they’re doing.

JAYLEE: So that does it for our Left Behind-slash-actually-Naughty-Dog-Amy-Hennig-Uncharted discussion. If you have any thoughts about The Last of Us, Left Behind, Amy Hennig’s departure, or the Uncharted series as a whole. Please let us know in the comments and we’ll get a conversation going. Until next time, subscribe to us on youtube where you can stay up-to-date on our latest videos, and our next Water Cooler discussion will be about TellTale Games’s The Walking Dead, episode 2 of seasons 2.

ELLIE: “Am I ever going to get to play a video game?”

“‘Your chances are dismal.’”

“Fuck you, skull.”

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