The Last of Us Director Neil Druckmann explained something this week that has the internet stirring with mixed criticism, as well as hopeful optimism. It’s no secret that the development on The Last of Us Part II was a nightmarish ordeal. Stories about crunch and inhumane conditions in the video games industry are a dime-a-dozen, and it really needs to end. But a big part of the problem is the marketing machine that never seems to slow its roll.
Speaking to ComicBook concerning the upcoming adaptations of the iconic The Last of Us franchise, particularly the live-action adaptation from HBO featuring big-name talent like Pedro Pascal, he was surprisingly candid about the history the studio has with their development. “You’re right, we did announce Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part 2 way in advance, but that actually caused a little bit of the work-life balance issues that we’ve sometimes had at the studio,” Druckmann told ComicBook.
And now, with this announcement, we’re getting even more of the franchise split across multiple projects. But, it seems that leadership at the company is trying to be better and spacing out the deadlines a bit.
“By delaying that announcement a bit, we could play with the schedule more and we’re more conscious now about how we’re approaching production. So there’s our [The Last of Us] multiplayer project and there’s another project that I will not say anything about that’s beyond that that we’re also very much excited for.”
The current crop of games includes The Last of Us Part 1, a full remake of the 2013 classic. Gamers will get to relive the horrifying journey of Ellie and Joel as they trek across the ruined landscape of a post-apocalytpic America in search of uncertain answers, and a possible new future.
Will Naughty Dog be better?
It would be ironic if it was funny at all that the themes and hope and a thriving future feature so heavily in these games. Why? Because of how ruinous crunch was in making them. Casual and confirmed testimony across the internet describes crunch in the video games industry as a “death march” which leaves the people affected by it permanently scarred. One particular story from 2020, confirmed by Kotaku, described physical danger and mental exhaustion in the extreme. In short, Naughty Dog has been a source of problematic crunch for a long time.
The studio has developed quite a negative reputation over the years, and Druckmann has oft been indirectly cited by some sources as a major contributor to the problem. It certainly didn’t help the public perception of Naughty Dog when the sequel came out, and was savaged by a certain element of the gaming public for various issues with its writing and characterization. Of course, the game was still buried in awards and heralded as a return to greatness, even though more and more elements of the gaming press and public both called out the hypocrisy of lavishing a game with such obviously damaging costs with copious awards.
Hopefully Druckmann actually means what he says in these comments. It’s very much undeniable that this kind of practice can’t continue if the games industry is to survive and mature. For all the talk about the maturation of the medium into art, it still has a long way to go.