5 things you didn't know about 'The Last of Us'

ByMarc Saltzman, Special For Usa Today
June 03, 2012, 8:48 AM

— -- Among the many hundreds of upcoming video games on display at next week's E3 Expo in Los Angeles, few have the buzz surrounding them than Sony's The Last Of Us.

While a release date has not been announced, this PlayStation 3 exclusive is currently in development at the award-winning Naughty Dog studio — best known for its Uncharted series, and Jak & Daxter and Crash Bandicoot games before that.

The action-heavy post-pandemic adventure follows Joel, a middle-aged anti-hero, of sorts, who takes a young teenage girl, Ellie, into his charge as part of a smuggling job. The two must traverse the country amidst numerous threats and other dangers that stand in their way.

While Naughty Dog remains tight-lipped about game specifics — to be revealed next week at E3 — we caught up with creative director Neil Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley, who shares these five little-known facts about the making of The Last of Us.

Infected inspiration

The genesis of the idea behind the story for The Last of Us came from the BBC documentary, Planet Earth. Footage of the Cordyceps fungi decimating a colony of ants sparked the question: What if this attacked humans? What would become of civilization as we know it? The movies Children of Men and 28 Days Later also played a large role in the narrative development along with various books on epidemics and infectious diseases.

Rugged cast of acting vets

Naughty Dog has a history of great acting performances in its games. The character-driven story of The Last of Us leans heavily on that heritage — and demands supreme acting chops. The Last of Us features a wildly talented, varied cast with extensive film, TV, video game and anime experience. Troy Baker voices Joel, a brutal survivor with few moral lines left to cross. Troy's list of video game and anime voiceover jobs could fill a short novel, and he has found time to work in film and television as well. You may remember the under-fire waitress from the New York City cafe in Marvel's The Avengers? That was none other Ashley Johnson who plays Ellie, a 14 year-old girl who only knows the post-pandemic world of The Last of Us. Ashley Scott, best-known for her role in the TV series Jericho, has joined the cast in an unannounced role. Annie Wersching, known for her role in the TV series 24, plays a part yet to be announced, as well.

Ruin photography

The world of The Last of Us is one of decay, ruin, infection and decimation — yet great beauty. Nature has reclaimed what civilization has made. There are vines growing out of the sides of crumbling buildings. Floods reflect the sunlight on once heavily trafficked interstate highways. The inspiration for this kind of world came from exhaustive research and reference trips by Naughty Dog developers. They looked at various environments and snapped photos in a practice that has been termed "ruin photography." Sites such as opacity.us and urbanexplorers.net, along with many other similar sites, serve as reference for the savage, nature reclaimed world of The Last of Us.

No leaks from us

Naughty Dog had been working on The Last of Us since Uncharted 2 finished production (in 2009). In the two-year span between inception and announcement, the project was almost revealed more than once. A voice actor on the project once listed "T1" and Naughty Dog's name attached to it on his IMDB.com page. T1 is the internal code name for The Last of Us, but this was never revealed until recently. Creative director Neil Druckmann also once left his iPad, filled with art and other files about the game and unlocked, in the back pocket of an airplane seat. Yet nothing leaked. The Last of Us was announced to great fanfare and media excitement on the Spike VGAs in 2011 after much speculation and rumors swirled about who might be developing the title. E3 2012 will bring another barrage of information about the game.

Almost didn't happen

Originally, The Last of Us wasn't the game the Naughty Dog's second development team was going to be working on, as many different ideas were tossed around during preproduction. One of the stickier ideas was returning to the Jak & Daxter franchise. Naughty Dog explored the possibility in depth looking to reboot the characters and the world for the next-generation audience, while applying learning garnered from the Uncharted franchise. Ultimately, it felt too forced, and like a compromise, so the folders and folders of ideas were scrapped. However, Naughty Dog has not ruled out the idea of returning to the Jak & Daxter franchise at some point.

Contact Saltzman at techcomments@usatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter: @marc_saltzman.

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