The Last of Us: giving us something to believe in

Wednesday, 15th August 2012 18:10 GMT By Dave Cook

The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog views acting as a crucial element in this tale of a world gone wrong. Without believing Ellie and Joel’s strife, that world decays. VG247′s Dave Cook spoke with the studio and lead actors to find out more.

Naughty Dog’s community strategist Arne Meyer explained that The Last of Us is “a game of contrast.” Joel was born before the fungus pandemic that wiped out most of the global population, and Ellie was born after the fall of humanity, forced to grow up inside a small, isolated quarantine zone.

They’re two wildly different people, yet they share a common goal: Survival. As Meyer points out, “People resort to very dark places as a means of survival”, and stressed that throughout the game’s narrative, his team wanted to show, “The best and worst of mankind.”

“The beating heart of what makes The Last of Us unique is its cast. With the city streets devoid of life, and with only each other to depend on, their special bond grows and shifts throughout the story”.

That last line is important to today’s gamescom session. In this instance, Joel is the worst of mankind, forced to do terrible things to survive, while Ellie is the inquisitive, innocent mind, wandering into a harsh new world she knows nothing about. She’s fascinated by the city around her but Joel doesn’t turn his back on it for a second.

To deliver a believable air of tension between the two leads – be it a loving bond, or a sense of parental guardianship – Naughty Dog looked to actors Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker to bring Ellie and Joel to life.

Shooting scenes for almost two years and counting, Ashley’s background is in television, while Troy is a darling of the game circuit, having starred as Batman: Arkham City’s Two-Face, Final Fantasy 13′s Snow Villiers and many more characters.

After an introduction to the cast, we were shown an in-game cinematic that was first revealed at Comic-Con. It begins with Ellie, Joel and an older man named Bill rushing inside a safe house after escaping from a pack of infected enemies, barring the door behind them.

Bill – once a long-time friend of Joel’s – turns on them, handcuffing Ellie to a wall and turning his gun on them both, demanding to know if they’ve become infected, screaming at them for an answer. Joel diffuses the situation and together they venture out into the city again in search of car parts.

It’s not a new clip, but Naughty Dog then shows us the scene being filmed on one of the studio’s many ‘cages’, which are essentially motion capture spaces on the studio floor. We see Ashley and Troy acting out the scene just as we saw it, shouting out every line as it sounds in the game.

The scene then slowly build ups – through basic character model skins, textures, backdrops, shadows, lighting and many more intricate, precise and painstakingly created elements until the scene is playing out just as it does in-game. It’s an incredible thing to witness, made all the more surreal by having the actors sitting in the same room.

Both Troy and Ashley then discuss their involvement in greater detail. Ashley reveals that she was the first choice for Ellie, and that Troy was cast as Joel after many actors failed to make the grade, but that both stars fully believe in the script.

We hear stories of how both actors are gamers, about how they knew what was asked of them before they accepted the role, and that this understanding of the medium – which was also discussed last year in Nolan North’s Uncharted book – is is key to elevating them from being good game actors, to outstanding, unforgettable leads.

The beating heart of what makes The Last of Us unique is its cast. With the city streets devoid of life, and with only each other to depend on, the focus of Naughty Dog’s harrowing tale is in their special bond that grows and shifts throughout the story.

The Last of Us – gamescom 2012

It places pressure on the lead actors, but it’s a challenge they relish. Troy was especially keen on a line in Joel’s character bio that called him a man with, ‘Few moral grounds left to cross’. It’s something that he found difficult to grasp at first, being a man who lives in the relatively sane real world.

The Last of Us has been a gruelling project for them both, but their trials are our gain, because their acting bleeds enthusiasm, as well as real chemistry, which comes from Ashley and Troy becoming the best of friends throughout the game’s production.

Why have they succeeded where many actors fail to register? Both Ashley and Joel took to the roles by asking far reaching questions about who the characters were as people – just as we will ask questions of them when we get to play the game next year.

Why does Joel fight to live when his life seems so awful? What was the downfall of humanity like to live through? Why is Ellie so fascinated by the decay and death all around her?

What does it mean – to them – to know that they are among the last of us?

The Last of Us is a PS3-exclusive expected sometime next year.



  1. Levester

    wow. really? “The Last of Us: Naughty Dog gives us something believe in”???????
    cmon. just copy paste you article into word before you upload and then fix all the grammar and spelling mistakes if you don’t have the 10 minutes to read it over before uploading. unprofessional. dont expect to be take seriously until you guys start cleaning up these GLARING mistakes. did you fail grade school? this shit is getting a little old. i dont care about comments or anything like that, as u can see i myself have some spelling mistakes in this very post, but if you write an article, how can u expect people to care about your opinion, or for that matter, the coverage of the site, if you cant show that you care enough about the quality of your writing and your reporting that you take the 10 minutes to fix stupid little mistakes???? READ ALL OF THIS COMMENT CUZ IM SRSLY GETTING SICK OF THIS SHIT.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    Rebuttal retracted. Sorry Pat.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Patrick Garratt

    Ignore him.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. ejams

    @1 – These are very busy people, especially with them reporting on new things as they happen at gamescom right now. Patience is a virtue, and besides that, you obviously know what the article is about. Be nice about it, and the kind editors shall fix it when they have a spare moment, eh.

    EDIT: heh, didn’t see your posts guys but doesn’t take away from the message.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. polygem

    i want to read the news as soon as possible, i really don´t mind some grammar and spelling mistakes…you can always fix those later. no problem at all.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Christopher Jack

    These guys update so fast just to get the news to us as soon as they can & I respect that & can easily forgive a few mistakes. In fact, bar live blogs, I reckon these guys are among the fastest to update us with gaming news hence why I tend to check here first before any other gaming website. If you can’t handle a spelling or grammar mistake, I think you need a reality check, mate.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. SlayerGT

    @2 Good read Dave. Can’t wait for this experience.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. ManuOtaku

    #1 “how can u expect people to care about your opinion”

    And How do you expect people to care about your opinion when you are been so harsh and unpolite, empathy is a relly good thing, you should try it more often.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Ireland Michael

    @8 Criticising someone else’s writing without using proper punctuation, capitalisation or spelling yourself.


    Good article. I have some issues with The Last of Us myself, but that’s a kettle of fish I really can’t be bothered to open right now.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. ManuOtaku

    #9 Thats was torwards me???,if thats the case, i didnt criticize his writing, only his way of sending the message in an unpolite and rude way, keep in mind English is not my first language.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. OrbitMonkey

    I like the grammatical errors. Helps me feel all superior as I sit in my basement sipping mountain dew and scoffing cheese puffs

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @11 haha :D

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Omelette

    @9 You are being an unnecessary dick to Manu here.

    This game will be good. This is just sad that this is a PS3 exclusive. Meh.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Ireland Michael

    @8 @13 Oh shit! Whoops! That was a typo. It was meant to be aimed at @1. I am so sorry for that.

    You know I think you’re awesome, Manu. <3

    #14 2 years ago
  15. manamana

    @1 you are such a prick.
    @Dave good stuff, thx!

    #15 2 years ago
  16. ManuOtaku

    Ok Ireland i wanst sure, dont worry no harm, same here.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Dragon246

    If you are bothered you could have politely said so and I am sure Dave would have made the changes. Besides no need to get agitated over such small matters.
    TLOU looks good. I hope it could feature multiple endings based on your actions and combat style, but I think that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. stealth

    A generic lookin game…..woopie

    I believe in it

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Beta

    Awesome write up Dave :) I’m purposely having a media black out on this one as I spoiled Uncharted 3 for myself. I already know I’ll love it ;)

    #19 2 years ago
  20. DSB

    The acting in the old days was nothing to write home about, but it is kinda sad that this suddenly has to be pulled out as “something special”.

    I recently went back to Anachronox and I’m just blown away by how it plays with something as simple as camera angles. Back in those days, that kind of extra touch was always worth doing. Today it would probably be called a waste of time, in favor of adding some superfluous feature, purely because it was in some other recent game.

    What it does is give a game soul. I think it’s borderline disgraceful that you have to play games from over a decade ago, to find that today.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. absolutezero

    So Camera Angles gave a game soul but improvements to digital acting… removes it?

    I dunno about that. I will say that the stilted dead eyed jerkily animated monstrosity that was Mass Effect conversations were lessened massively by the technical shortcomings of Bioware.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. DSB

    @21 I didn’t even come close to saying that. Any improvement to the craft is much needed if you ask me, and it certainly does look like The Last of Us has lots of it.

    I just think it’s weird that you generally have to go 10 years back to find developers who are actively exploring something as simple as “the shot”.

    To me it should be a given that a team of developers try to put a bit of flair into their craft. In which case it would make for some underwhelming PR. Sadly that’s not the case.

    #22 2 years ago

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