The Last of Us
Recently, we had a chance to speak with The Last of Us lead multiplayer designer Erin Daly about the game's unique approach to multiplayer. Also, Sony sent us some new multiplayer screenshots.
The Last of Us, in single-player, is far from a run-and-gun shooter. So, when you approached the multiplayer component of the game what was your philosophy of how you would weave that into the structure of The Last of Us?
Erin Daly: The key of the process is really to capture that essence of survival and explore the tactical gameplay that you get in the single-player. You can use lots of different tools to accomplish your goals. It's not all about, like you said, running and gunning and having the best team. And obviously, in the multiplayer, PvP experience, it's really difficult to capture that. There's very few games that manage to achieve that kind of core-based tactical kind of feel and still be fairly accessible to a broad audience and still have a lot of core, kind of fun factor into it.
So obviously there's still some kind of core shooter gameplay in the multiplayer. If you want to, you can try to and play a run n' gun kind of game, but we really did a lot to try and ensure that the players who were playing more stealthily and playing more tactically would be at an advantage. We obviously leveraged a lot of the systems we had existing in single-player to manage that. So we had the crafting system obviously, the listen mode [a kind of "radar" view akin to Batman: Arkham Asylum's detective mode - Ed.] and then we layered a few new systems on top of that like the marking system, the radar- to really slow down the pace of the game. I think where the game really shines is in those little cat-and-mouse encounters where you spot the enemy and he spots you. You both know roughly where each other are, but you're not immediately shooting at each other because it's actually more of a tease to stay in cover, wait for the other guy to move first, and then try and pop out and shoot him. But if he's crafting - maybe he's actually preparing a bomb- he's going to throw a bomb at you or a Molotov or a smoke bomb or something like that. So there's just a little bit of those guessing games that can happen and we really tried to play those up and make sure we were delivering the essence of survival and tactics into the competitive space.
Talk about the marking and radar stuff because it does get to be a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game where you do have some information but it's limited.
Sure, I mean so our philosophy there was, like, we wanted to-just like you said- give you just enough information that you had an idea where the threats are. Because, obviously, threat detection is such an important part of the competitive experience. Especially when the lethality of the game is as high as it is- which it really needs to be to kind of deliver on the authenticity of this super-realistic kind of world, where it's a few gun shots and you're gone. So, it's kind of like we kind of need to strike a balance there between giving you some information about where the enemies are at and also forcing you to kind of move more slowly through the world.
So, what we do with the radar is: players show up on the radar when they're sprinting. That was a really big change we put in early on so that we could just slow the pace of the game down and force players to try and creep around a little more. And we put a range limit on that so if you're really far away from the battle you can still sprint just to get into the conflict, get closer to your teammates. But when you start getting closer to those battles, you start thinking, "Ok, maybe I should slow down a bit here 'cause if I'm moving quickly the enemy is going to hear me because I'm making these loud footsteps." That's the reason why you're showing up in the radar.
And then on top of that we added the marking system so that players who do spot an enemy but don't have enough time to shoot them can at least help their teammates mark them, get some parts for themselves with the in-game economy system and then give their team that awareness of where these threats are. On top that we kind of layered on a few other kinds of counters to that, certain survival skills you can equip to keep yourself from being marked. If you want to, [you can] make marking more powerful you can make it last longer or make enemies glow through walls, things like that. There are a few other little twists of that as you get deeper into the progression tree.
There's quite a bit in terms of stuff to either unlock 0r buy with the in-game currency. Talk about all the stuff there is to do in terms of load out and progression in the game.
Our philosophy was to create a really layered set of interesting choices for the player. So, the choice of, before you go into a match, what's your build going to be? And this is classic thing that exists in a lot of multiplayer games today. We really wanted to try and kind of take that to a little more of a kind of a RPG level by giving you a set of points to spend. And so what you do there is you start out with only load-out points and as you progress and gather more and more supplies you're unlocking more load-out points and those are going to let you equip more things on your guy to go into the game with. And so you've got your initial small firearm- pistols, basically. And then you've got your larger firearms which are the rifles and you can decide if you want to pick a more expensive rifle for example or one with a silencer that's going to cost you more load-out points. But the trade-off is that obviously you're giving up some of the survival skills because you won't have as many points to spend on those.
And then, of course, you've got your survival skills. There's quite a few of those, and each of them have different levels of upgrades to them which make them more and more powerful. And then you've got your purchasable log which lets you decide if anything, if you want to carry something a special weapon you're going to be able to purchase in maps with the parts that you're earning. So that was our way of kind of giving players access to these power weapons which are really pretty big game features. But not making it so random like, you know, in many games they're just kind of spawned on the map and they're cycled on a certain time limit. We wanted to add a little more determinism to it and make it a little more intentional. So players who like really want to play, say, a run and gun play style can say, "Okay, I'm going to take a shotgun, and so when I have enough parts I'm going to be able to buy that shotgun in-match. And it's going to turn the tide for me."
Basically, both the main modes are sort of variations of sort of a team death match mode- Supply Raid and Survivor. Could you tell our readers about Supply Raid and Survivor, what they are, and what the differences are there?
Sure. So, our philosophy there was, even though we don't have a very big breadth of game modes, is to kind of go for depth over breadth and try and create a deeper game experience. Like we mentioned, a little more layered and there's more of that depth there. So, we focus on just a couple of modes which are somewhat similar to most of the team death match experiences but those are also some of the most popular experiences that players are after so our philosophy was how do we take those core experiences that players love playing but put them, and take them into our universe and make them feel more survivalist and more weighty in terms of the tension of the match? So what we created was kind of a twist on the tedium where you're just kind of- where each team has a certain number of reinforcements. And that kind of ties into the fiction that there's these kind of warring factions going on. There are the hunters, the Fireflies, [and] they're fighting each other and they have a limited number of guys to bring to battle. So as you're progressing through the match, you're burning through your teams' reinforcements. And when you're down to just like the last four, we give you a special notification that tells you that it's sudden death now, this is your last life. And if you get down to being the last one standing you get a special notification for that. And we actually do it, play it with a little of the game rules at that point to kind of savor that last guy and give him a chance to come back. So if you managed to get one of the item stashes if you're the last guy we actually give you more resources at that point and give you a chance to kind of try and pull from behind, and pull out a win for your team.
In the other mode, Survivor, that the mode that really best exemplifies the survivalist aspect of the game. Because you only have one life, it becomes much, much more precious. And we have notes in our focus tests, initially players just kind of running out and having these really quick rounds where everyone is just rushing and quickly killing each other off and the round will be over. And, as they play for a little bit they realize, "Okay, if I actually just wait a little bit and use listen mode and try and get to a couple stashes and craft some stuff I'm actually being really effective in taking out the enemy team." So we start noticing players playing a lot more craftily. And that was cool because that's really kind of the vibe that we're going for is that more tactical play.
What are some of the tactics and strategies and ways that playtesters have been playing the game that have evolved in ways that you didn't anticipate or just that you thought were interesting?
One thing we've noticed that is definitely one of our goals was to try and support the different play styles that you see there in multiplayer. Some players really like to hang back and be a sniper, so we wanted to make sure we support that playstyle well. That's why we added some of those extra marking abilities to allow players to hang back but still help their team a lot. And of course the purchasing system allows the snipers to, you know, sustain a perch if they're doing well enough they can buy enough ammo to keep firing. We had players internally who [said], "Yeah, I love playing sniper. And I like the fact that I can hold my perch off for a little bit and hang back."
We have other players who really like playing support. So we made sure to try and, as we were developing we were like, you know, "We don't have enough things to let these guys help their teams." So we had a revised system which is a really core part of the core gameplay to make sure that there was a lot of teamwork there in terms of keeping their team alive. We didn't have enough other systems so, the feedback from those players we decided to just try and add some other systems to kind of support that play style. So we added the gifting system which you can do through one of the survival skills you can equip- I believe it's [called] "crafting master." And if you equip the higher level of that skill, every time you craft an item it gives you a percentage towards a gift. And when you've crafted two or three items you've now got this gift item you can give to your teammates. And so you might be able to give your team a free Molotov or a free bomb or a free smoke bomb or a shiv or something. We also added the ability for players to actually heal their other teammates directly- even before they've gone down. So if you're trying to play support style you can basically earn a lot of parts and help your team quite a bit using those abilities and kind of hanging back. It's kind of like the medic class in Battlefield but it's a little bit different because you've got to think about whom to try and support using your crafting and healing on the fly.