The Last of Us
Naughty Dog is attempting to deliver a very different gaming experience with The Last of Us. The ambitious team wants to craft a tense atmosphere, believable relationships, and a post-apocalyptic world like we have never seen in video games. While The Last of Us is a brand new IP, the talented crew at Naughty Dog is citing myriad sources of inspiration for the game. After chatting with the team for our March cover story, we came away with a list of Naughty Dog’s key muses.
No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers’ film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s grim novel is serving as inspiration for The Last of Us on several levels. “The psychological impact that this movie had was completely inspiring,” says director Bruce Straley regarding his first time watching the film. Like No Country for Old Men, Naughty Dog is aiming for the “less is more” approach to the game’s soundtrack. The Coen brothers’ movie had a mere 20 minutes or so of total music (about five minutes of which was during the credits). This allows for viewers to get sucked into the subtle noises like footsteps and breathing to increase tension. Naughty Dog is also looking to the film as an overall inspiration for the game’s gritty, brutal tone.
BBC’s Planet Earth
We've already spent a ton of time analyzing the Planet Earth footage about the cordyceps fungus, which turns insects into infectious zombies. The real life phenomenon is the core inspiration for the civilization-ending disaster The Last of Us. Watch the video above to watch Naughty Dog discuss their initial reactions to the brief clip, along with other key inspirational pieces of art.
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuarón’s movie version of P.D. James’ book, The Children of Men, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the future of humanity hangs on the line. It’s a stark, realistic portrayal of a man’s desperate quest to fight against deranged survivors to deliver precious cargo that could save humanity. Naughty Dog wants The Last of Us to stand out from the plethora of other titles set on a ravaged earth, and using this bleak story as a muse can’t hurt.
The Walking Dead
Whether you’re a fan of AMC’s TV series or Robert Kirkman’s comic series, The Walking Dead is one of the definitive ongoing end-of-days tales. At a glance it appears to be all about the zombie apocalypse, but spending any amount of time with the gripping saga reveals that humans end up being the real monsters. This story of a band of survivors intermittently fighting zombie hordes – and each other – echoes Naughty’s Dog’s insistence that the fungus-infected enemies will play a smaller role in the game than you might think.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
This piece of historical fiction focuses on two young men’s attempt to sneak through Leningrad as it is being occupied by Nazi forces. A mix of suspense and humor creates an interesting contrast as the two unlikely allies search the shattered city for supplies. An unlikely duo, tension-breaking levity, and an oppressive environment make City of Thieves a good tonal reference for Joel and Ellie’s harrowing adventure.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Both Alan Weisman’s non-fiction book and the documentary of the same name show how nature might reclaim the world as our sprawling cities rot away. One look at concept art or the trailer for The Last of Us reveals the obvious influence The World Without Us has had on Naughty Dog. The developer wants to deliver a post-apocalyptic world like you’ve never seen, filled with the lush greens of a rebounding mother nature instead of bland browns and sepia tones.
Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky
The cordyceps fungus is the central disaster that rocks the world of The Last of Us. To gain better insight to how diseases can ravage America, Naughty Dog turned to Polio: An American Story. This non-fiction work documents the polio epidemic that rocked the nations in the 1940s and 50s. Given that the real life cordyceps fungus helped spark the idea for The Last of Us, it’s suiting that the team would look back on a real historical disaster for further research.
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
A piece of historical fiction set in 1918, The Last Town on Earth focuses on a town undergoing quarantine to avoid succumbing to the Spanish flu. Things become hectic as the flu eventually infiltrates the populous, spreading infection and treachery as the citizens turn on one another. Naughty Dog has openly stated that players will primarily be battling humans in The Last of Us, and this glimpse into a threatened urban environment is rife with examples of man vs. man.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Naughty Dog looked at Cormac McCarthy’s sad tale of a father and son’s trek through a desolate post-apocalyptic world pocketed with groups of depraved cannibals and other unsavory characters for inspiration for the relationship between Joel and Ellie. Like Ellie in The Last of Us, the son in The Road was born after a catastrophe, and the shattered world is all he knows. The raw, unyielding picture McCarthy paints is both impactful and believable, which gels with Naughty Dog’s vision for a new kind of post-apocalyptic survival tale.
Naughty Dog looks to the Coen brothers’ version of a classic tale about a seemingly soulless man’s journey to help a young girl seek out revenge on her father’s death. Again, Naughty Dog is interested in the relationship between a hardened journeyman and an innocent-yet-tough youngster growing up in hard times. From what we’ve seen, there are definite parallels between The Last of Us’ Joel, a black market dealer-turned-bodyguard, and True Grit’s “Rooster” Cogburn, a washed up, alcoholic gun for hire.
Road to Perdition
Similar to True Grit, Naughty Dog draws inspiration from the core relationship in film/graphic novel Road to Perdition. It’s the story of a hitman fighting tooth and nail to protect his son while seeking revenge on his wrongdoers. Naughty Dog wants players to feel a strong connection to Joel and Ellie, and is looking to Mike Sullivan’s emotional quest to protect his son for ideas.
The Last of Us creative director Neil Druckmann on Road to Perdition and True Grit:
“You have these male, violent characters that have gone someplace dark that are essentially dead inside. They get a chance at redemption when they are introduced to this kid, this person who still has some innocence left in this world. They’re helping them fulfill some part of them that’s missing. And for the kid it turns into this coming of age story were both of these characters are pretty capable and pretty brave relative to the circumstances they’re in.
“Through this protector, through this adult that they’re hanging out with who’s in some ways corrupting them but in some ways giving them the tools to become independent in this world.”
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