The lights are on
We partnered with Naughty Dog to show off The Last of Us in a cover story back in March 2012. During that cover story trip, game director Bruce Straley and creative director Neil Druckmann pitched us on the game before showing off a section of gameplay. Before Sony ever greenlit the project, the developers had to go through an even more rigorous pitch process that outlined story and gameplay elements of the game that were left on the cutting room floor. During a PAX Prime 2013 panel today called “Pitching The Last of Us”, Naughty Dog showed off unused enemy types, an alternate storyline, and a hilarious musical outtake.
Naughty Dog showed off enemy character designs that never made it into the final game. Before the team landed on the fungal infected you see in the final product, the zombie-like creatures looked like bald, fanged beasts with stringy fungus growing off their back. Another scrapped encounter shows Joel scrambling away from an infected elephant with tendrils of fungus extending from its legs and blooming mushrooms on its head.
Naughty Dog also explained the alternate storyline for the game, starting at the beginning. In the original The Last of Us, Joel partners with Tess to smuggle Ellie out of the locked-down city. In the alternate story the gang is halted at a security checkpoint. Ellie is screened for infection and comes up positive, but the guards don’t care that she may carry an immunity that could save humanity. Joel sees Ellie at gunpoint, which reminds him of his dead daughter, and goes berserk. He kills the guards, leaves with Ellie, and ends up betraying his partner Tess, who embarks on a cross-country pursuit of vengeance.
The meat of the game would play out similarly, with a few slight changes. Ellie and Joel were originally going to find a puppy during the game and adopt it. Ellie was also originally going to use her immunity to traverse areas polluted with infectious spores, allowing players to control her earlier on in the adventure.
Druckmann and Straley also revealed more about the game’s original conclusion. Originally, Joel delivers Ellie to a doctor at the end of their journey who evaluates Ellie’s immunity. He finishes running his tests on her, turns to Joel, says “It’s complicated”, and it cuts to black. From here it would flash forward to Joel driving Ellie away in a truck, telling her that the immunity wore off and it’s too late to create a cure. Meanwhile, Tess catches up with the two in her furious rage and there’s a showdown in an old ranch house. Joel convinces Ellie to escape through a small vent shaft and steal Tess’s car to escape while he holds her off. Tess captures Joel and begins to torture him to find out where Ellie is (see image above).
The game then flashes back to the doctor saying “It’s complicated”. The doctor tells Joel it’s impossible for Ellie to survive the operation that would save humanity. Joel, feeling Ellie’s life being threatened once again, kills everyone and dooms the world.
The story then flashes forward again to Tess torturing Joel. She eventually points a gun at his head, the camera pans away, and a gunshot is heard. The action suddenly shifts to Ellie. She has driven away a bit but finally decides she can’t abandon Joel and turns back to help him. She finds the ranch house, follows the sounds of Tess torturing Joel, and Ellie shoots here dead before she can do any more harm. The game ends hopefully with Joel and Ellie finding a civilization in San Francisco trying to sew the seeds of a good future.
While the story of the final game is quite different in some ways, it still ends with Joel killing doctors to protect Ellie. However, the playable scene where Joel murdered at least one doctor was originally a long cutscene. Marlene was planned to enter the operating room and try to convince Joel not to take Ellie. After internal debate, Naughty Dog finally decided to make this climax playable and move the confrontation with Marlene into the parking garage.
Naughty Dog showed off one outtake for this extended operating room cutscene where the voice actors burst out into song. As it goes, Druckmann told Marlene’s voice actor, Merle Dandridge, to sing her lines like she was in a Broadway show. Dandridge does so with gusto in the footage Naughty Dog showed off. Joel’s voice actor, Troy Baker, wasn’t let in on the joke. However, the actor quickly snaps into the new mood and sings his lines expertly. The resulting outtake had the audience at the PAX panel rolling with laughter and applauding at the voice actors’ surprising singing skills.