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Nature’s Revenge: The Environments Of The Last Of Us

by Tim Turi on Feb 17, 2012 at 09:00 AM

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Photo courtesy of Marchand and Meffre

Gaming is no stranger to post-apocalyptic worlds, but Naughty Dog wants to deliver something you’ve never seen before with The Last of Us. The game takes place in a world where a deadly fungal disease and widespread strife has wiped out most of humanity. As the years tick away, nature begins to reclaim the buildings, roads, and other man-made structures our race has erected to keep it at bay. Straying from the dull grays and browns of many games that follow a catastrophic event, Naughty Dog looks to real life ruin photography to capture the haunting beauty of a world reclaimed by the elements.

Naughty Dog has cited numerous pieces of literary and film inspiration for The Last of Us, but the most relevant to shaping the game’s physical world is arguably The World Without Us. Both the non-fiction book and documentary paint a picture of a future world where tree limbs burst through office buildings, vines ensnare the pavement, and huge structures crumble without human maintenance. While the imagery described in The World Without Us may seem fantastical, you don’t have to look further than the American Rust Belt for a glimpse into modern decay.

A style of photography focused on capturing this degradation has cropped up over the last few years. Naughty Dog has studied these impactful images of present day ruins to inspire the world of The Last Of Us. While the developer has not named any specific muse, I’ve found striking parallels between the decayed scenery of The Last of Us and The Ruins of Detroit, by photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.

Packard Motors Plant

Fort Shelby Hotel

Fisher Body 21 Plant

Ballroom, American Hotel

Donovan Building

Classroom, St Margaret Mary School

Naughty Dog isn’t content with simply popping main characters Joel and Ellie and some bad guys into these interesting environments. The developer is paying careful attention to the composition of every location to elicit different emotions from the player. For example, the lush greenery and open air of an overgrown highway may evoke a sense of calm. Conversely, the underpass of the same road may have support beams crossing at rigid angles and prominently feature the color red to instill fear and claustrophobia.

During The Last of Us demo we saw when visiting Naughty Dog, we were shown an attack made on Joel and Ellie by a band of desperate hunters. The color script below distills the locations featured in this assault down to their basic colors and geometry.

Color script from The Last of Us

Now that you’ve seen how much careful planning Naughty Dog is putting into the locations in The Last of Us, it’s your turn. Try applying what you learned from the concept art to the photos of real life ruins. Would the mellow colors and rectangular shapes of Fort Shelby Hotel make a player feel comfortable or tense? Is there an opportunity for an ambush among the green trees and open road in Packard Motors Plant? Take a moment to apply the lens of Naughty Dog’s game design to these photographs and perhaps you’ll notice something different. It only takes a little bit of imagination to see just how much potential Naughty Dog has to deliver an end of days world unseen in games.

Be sure to check back and visit the hub all month long for more on The Last of Us.

Thanks to Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre for permitting use of all photographs found in this article. Visit their website by clicking here.