Here we are in day two of our Last of Us journey. Today we’re going to look at how Naughty Dog has evolved their storytelling techniques from their early days with the Crash Bandicoot series up to their latest, The Last of Us.
Years ago videogame storylines were fairly simplistic. Rescue the princess and have a good time while doing so. When role-playing games were introduced stories became much more epic in design. Suddenly scripts went from being a few lines on a loose-leaf paper to hundreds of pages. Platformers were one genre that never really advanced much through the art of storytelling. All that evolved was the fancy computer generated full-motion video shown before you started to play.
When Naughty Dog burst onto the PlayStation scene with the very first Crash Bandicoot in 1996 the storyline, while humorous, was more or less just like Super Mario 64, ultra simplistic. Sure there were a few cutscenes to show the “power” of the PlayStation’s CD, but more or less the story focused on saving Crash’s girlfriend. Nothing too extravagant. As the series progressed the way the stories were told remained more or less the same, although the plots got somewhat more intricate.
When Naughty Dog moved to the PlayStation 2 and created the Jak & Daxter series, the way in which they told their story started to evolve, especially with the second part of the series. Here NPCs would give some back-story as players walked by them. There was the main storyline revealed by cutscenes, but also additional elements players had to discover on their own.
It wasn’t until the PlayStation 3’s Uncharted series that Naughty Dog really expanded their storytelling abilities in a far greater degree. It made sense too, here they created an action adventure series in the same vein as Indiana Jones, and without a good story to link everything together the series wouldn’t have been as successful as it has been. From the core storyline revealed through cutscenes to the banter between Nathan Drake and the other characters around him, players were constantly moving the story along, delving ever deeper into the mysterious world. Artifacts and other hidden goodies also expanded on the background of wherever players happened to be exploring. It was the smart use of dialogue that really pushed the boundaries because Nathan and friends felt like real people. The fantastic voice cast did an incredible job of making the scripted dialogue feel completely natural, and that sucked players in more than anything else.
With The Last of Us, Naughty Dog has come full circle. Not only do they have real-time cutscenes that slowly reveal what’s going on, but for the most part the story is told through the eyes of the characters you play. You live the story. By walking around the game’s massive world you can listen to conversations, watch old programs or read newspapers to give you all the back-story you require. What’s so interesting about this system is that it’s left up to the player to decide just how much story they want. The game will push players along so that they know main objectives and the overall story arc, but those looking for more have easy access to it.
The dialogue is equally as impressive as it was in Uncharted, but because you’re much more involved in the storyline, it’s even more natural. You really feel like you’re part of this changing world. From the moment you start the game, everything comes together in such a way that you’ll want to keep moving forward to learn exactly what’s around the next corner, and why such and such is happening.
What caused the outbreak? Who are the infected? Why are Joel and Ellie even together? What’s the purpose of the game? Those are general question you’ll have to work through the game to answer, but there are so many more once more characters are introduced. What is the motivation behind the actions of these characters? What would you do if you happened to be placed in this insane world?
Naughty Dog has perfected the art of storytelling, and come June 14th you’ll be able to experience it for yourself!