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What Inspired: The Last of Us

Back in 2013, The Last of Us came out as a huge hit on the PlayStation 3. Its emotional storyline, gameplay, and the memorable characters gained tremendous praise. Journalists, and gamers, as well as fanboys, fell in love with the game instantly and couldn't escape the pleasure that it made them feel. To no one's surprise, The Last of Us is now reigning among the best selling games on the platform as well as one of the highest critically acclaimed games in the industry.

Yet, the aforementioned, known among players and fanboys, isn't the first game of its kind. The Last of Us underwent several changes before becoming what it is. In addition, the latter took inspiration from various games that in my opinion don't get the credit they deserve. These titles assisted in shaping the game's various mechanics such as the gameplay, the puzzles, and other mechanics. Today, I'll be talking about games and other pieces of evidence that helped shape The Last of Us. I'll use facts, as well as, some of my own analysis in this article.

The starting point, Ico:

Ico has inspired a generation of games yet nobody seems to talk about it. From God of War to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to Rime, it seems that Ico has influenced a handful of games out there and the media barely talks about it. Surprisingly, The Last of Us and Naughty Dog's previous title, Uncharted, also took inspiration from this gem. The folks at MMGN had the opportunity to speak with the developers about the game's inspiration, and one of the designers at Naughty Dog,  Ricky Cambier stated that classics such as Ico and Resident Evil 4 helped them shape the tone and the story of the game as well as the character development.

"We always wanted to take the character-building and interaction, look at something as far back as Ico, and blend it with the tension and action of Resident Evil 4.  Our game doesn’t feel like either of those, but those have bits and pieces of what we wanted to do."--Ricky Cambier

When Neil Drucknman was still a student at Carnegie Mellon University back in 2004, he participated in a lively project where students were tasked to create a game concept that would be pitched to George Romero, an acquaintance of Neil's professor. The latter would pick his favorite idea and the team behind it to build a prototype. Neil's initial idea was to merge three games that influenced him as a creator. One of them was combining the gameplay of Ico, a protagonist much like John Hartigan from Sin City, and the setting would be, of course, set in a zombie apocalypse similar to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

The concept was to center around a cop who would protect a young girl in a world filled with flesh-eating beasts. The gimmick was that the protagonist had a heart condition and whenever it would act up the player would switch to controlling the girl. This resulted in a change of roles, the protector becoming the protected and vice versa. Sadly, Romero didn't see the potential in the project and had chosen another one, "The idea of these characters got shelved," says Druckmann.

Resident Evil 4's survival mechanism:

Resident Evil 4 continues to act as a door of inspiration to many games in the industry. Many gamers were fascinated with what it brought to the table when it released. The game changed the way gamers looked at horror games, especially with its newly introduced over-the-shoulder camera. Resident Evil 4 heavily focused on action and terror and this altered the way gamers looked at third-person shooters as a whole. Not only did Resident Evil 4 bring new mechanics to the gaming industry, but it changed survival horror completely.

Capcom's title went ahead and inspired a handful of games that are forever indebted to Resident Evil 4. For example, Dead Space, Batman Arkham City, Mass Effect, Gears of War. Surprisingly, The Last of Us was also one of the games that used Resident Evil 4 as an inspiration. Naughty Dog was planning to push the tension of basic survival horror and to immerse players into the action while giving them the feel of danger lurking around every corner. Ricky Cambier talks once again about what influenced The Last of Us in the paragraphs below.

"We knew we wanted to really push the story, push the tension of basic survival. We really wanted to give you that feeling of the action. So I think there are elements of this [action and survival] that exist within the genre, but I don’t think anyone had put them together quite like we felt we could."--Ricky Cambier

In addition to this, the designers were aiming to create a realistic post-pandemic world while staying true to the survival horror formula. Combining Resident Evil 4's intense action and the creepy atmosphere to build something different.

"With The Last Of Us you get this very thoughtful approach to survival in a world, which is what we think it would really be like. You’re not going to be able to run at enemies armed across the street, because Joel wouldn’t do that. Joel understands how dangerous the world is."--Ricky Cambier

Stories told through subtexts:

Don't you love it when you stumble across documents and manuscripts recounting additional stories in a game? It grabs your attention, you start reading until you finish it, and then you try to seek the hidden parts only to find the complete picture of the story? This technique makes the player invent the scenarios inside their imagination, giving them the freedom to create what they see fit.

''With the example of BioShock, as well as our game—I played through BioShock, and there’s something to be said for not necessarily understanding exactly what’s going on. That helped me talk to people about it. There’s something about subtlety and ambiguity and subtext. When you see conversations between people out there and this stuff resonating with them, it gives us hope for the industry as a whole. Maybe people are maturing. We’re starting to look at them as an audience in the way that good filmmakers do, using subtlety and subtext in their film making. It’s more interesting to let the viewer or the player figure things out for themselves. We’re all grown up now. I’ve seen enough good stories in books and film. Now I want to see them in video games. When they come, that subtlety really sells. Now I can get in an interesting conversation with Neil about what this means over lunch or something. We find that more interesting, not only as developers but just as people who digest media''--Bruce Starley

Characters and the bond of interaction:

I'm aware that the interactions between Ellie and Joel were inspired by the relationship between Drake and Tenzin in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves which in turn was inspired by Ico once again. It seems like the developers look at Ico as an iconic statue that holds so many hidden symbols that only few seem to notice, the same thing could be said to its prequel, Shadow of the Colossus. If you have played both Ico and The Last of Us, you will notice that each character represent something. Joel symbolizes the world before the pandemic, he is a protector, and a father at the same time. Meanwhile, Ellie symbolizes the world after the pandemic, a pure soul that is not yet tainted. We can also say that she acts as a source of strength to Joel in order for them both to survive in a world full of danger from each corner.

You might be wondering right now, why did I put an Enslaved: Odyssey to the West picture on this paragraph, right? Well, it's the same thing as Ico, except in Ico, both Yorda and the protagonist are trying to escape the castle in order to be free. Meanwhile, in the Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, both Monkey and Trip are trying to survive together. However, they don't do that from the beginning. If you've played the game, you'll know that Monkey met her by accident and as a result, he was forced to protect her from any danger. As you play, you notice that with each hardship, their relationship grows stronger, resulting in both of them reuniting their strength in order to survive in the post-apocalyptic world.

Dead Space and Resident Evil, again:

Dead Space and Resident Evil share the common feeling of players staying on their toes with the constant fear, the terror lurking around the corners, and the enemies that are waiting to eat you for dinner ( I wonder what they eat for dessert though). Dead Space's producer Glen Schofield, at the time working at EA's Visceral Games, concept drew influence from the Resident Evil series, especially the fourth one, and Silent Hill trilogy. The latter often described the game as ''Resident Evil in space ''. Now, you'll be wondering am I talking about Dead Space in the first place. Well, because all of these three games had put a great emphasis on survival in a world filled with danger.

"We really wanted to give you that feeling of the action. So I think there are elements of this [action and survival] that exist within the genre, but I don’t think anyone had put them together quite like we felt we could."--Ricky Cambier

Speaking of Resident Evil 4, the item menu fascinated the team at Visceral Games until they ironed their creativity to come up with an idea that facilitates how players manage their resources, and in my opinion, this in return inspired Neil Druckman and his crew to do the same. You see, instead of pressing the button to look at your inventory, why not just have it in front of your eyes with a click on the button? Let's check the similarities between Dead Space and the Last of Us below.

Shinji Mikami's has surely inspired a myriad of survival horror games out there, and that's truly worthy of praise.

A handful of movies paved the way for the Last of Us' lore:

Naughty Dog's recent games are known for their movie-like presentation, with an emphasis on the plot, characters performance and how they bond together according to the situation. The team took inspiration from adventure films and they helped to shape the overall plot and design of their games.You could tell that Indiana Jones acted as a massive influence for the making of Uncharted, and how Indiana's adventures paved the way for creators to invent a game full of intense action and adventure. With that being said, The Last of Us is no exception in taking influence from movies. I'll be talking about 2 of the movies that inspired The Last of Us.

Children of Men

Set in the year 2027 where the world is in the brink of collapse, and humanity is facing total extinction. There are no zombies in Children of Men, just a panicked population seeking refuge from the apocalypse. With its honest and visceral approach to the human race's behavior when faced with a total disaster, Children of Men was able to suck in it's viewers and hold their attention for it's full run time.

This movie inspired Neil Druckman and his crew to create a chaotic world where humans are fighting for their escape and nothing but their selfish gains. However, through all this chaos, a touch of love and caring throughout the hardship strikes back when gamers notice the warm connection between Joel and Ellie. This shows that the movie played a major role in inspiring Neil and the team. This can be verified by a quote from Venturebeat's interviews with Neil himself. You could tell we drew a lot of inspiration for The Last of Us from Children of Men.Druckmann said.

I Am Legend

You've probably enjoyed walking throughout the empty corners of the city in The Last of Us wondering '' who used to live here? '' '' What exactly happened here? '' It was a mind-blowing sight to look at, but at the same time, it left players to create dozens of scenes inside their imagination, it left them with the ability to create a whole scenario that fits their want. Surprisingly, the movie '' I Am Legend '' and The Last of Us share this common ability to deliver an empty, and eerie vision of the city that once used to be vivid before the apocalypse. The streets are scattered with abandoned cars, shops, homes. These scenes send a message of '' there used to be a life here, but it's gone now''. Another similarity between these two is '' nature reminds us of the beautiful past '' aesthetics. 

Throughout the game, players encountered the famous giraffe that reminded them of how beautiful the past used to be, and it also acted as a fuel to help them get through the hardship of surviving.  Mark Richard Davies, from Enslaved: Odyssey to the west, has also joined Naughty Dog in the making of the Last of Us, and no wonder why a lot of people have spotted certain similarities between the latter and the Last of Us in terms of survival, and the overall world's look.

Bonus - The Last of Us' first-person mode that never happened:

During the development of the game, Naughty Dog considered inserting a first-person mode in hopes of adding extra action and thrill to the game. If this happened, then it would have been the first Naughty Dog's game to do so.  

"We're open [to it], The next game from Naughty Dog could be first-person." - Neil Druckmann

Sadly, after several prototyping stages of the first person, the team agreed that the third person perspective fits with the overall look of the game much better. The latter helped them to capture what they were aiming for from the get-go.