Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic adventure game The Last of Us was celebrated by critics upon its release in June 2013 for PlayStation 3. But some at developer Naughty Dog didn't think the studio had a hit on its hands until the game's development was wrapping up, key designers reveal as part of a new interview.
"Quite the opposite," co-director Bruce Straley says in the latest Conversations With Creators video when asked if Naughty Dog anticipated the game's huge success. "We thought it was going to tank."
Not only that, but Straley said he worried that if The Last of Us was poorly received, it would sully the name of Naughty Dog itself.
"We thought we were going to ruin the name and image [of Naughty Dog] that's been so heartily built for years with blood, sweat, and tears," he explained. "We thought we were ruining Naughty Dog's image."
Neil Druckmann, the other director for The Last of Us, added, "The joke we would say throughout production was that 'This game is the downfall of Naughty Dog.'"
So what was wrong with The Last of Us? Lead designer Anthony Newman explains that some of the issues had to do with game mechanics. These problems were eventually overcome due to some "lucky breaks."
"A big part of it was on the mechanical side; I thought, 'We'll be lucky to scrape by with an 85 Metacritic.' Just because it wasn't gelling," Newman said. "It wasn't coming together. So it was really a a set of really lucky breaks in terms of gameplay decisions we made that really made everything fall into place and turned it into a fun game."
Not until the point when development on The Last of Us was wrapping up did Naughty Dog feel it had something special on its hands. Druckmann said he began to feel more positive about the game's outlook when people from outside of the studio played it and were blown away by the story and writing.
Part of the reason why The Last of Us' story resonates so strongly is because it carries a powerful, universal theme. "The most intense love you can have is between a parent and a child," Druckmann said about the Joel and Ellie relationship.