The Last of Us phenomenon is catalyzing the public’s attention: but where does it come from? And what about George Romero and Elliot Page?
It’s been three weeks now The Last of Us is monopolizing the attention of TV series enthusiasts, also polarizing the discussions of video game enthusiasts regarding the usually bankruptcy practice of film transposition, which in the case of the HBO serial has instead given enormous results. But where does this success come from? How was The Last of Us born? In this special we will tell you some interesting anecdotes about it, without giving you any spoilers on the plot of the video game or the TV series.
The first version of the game was released in June 2013, on PlayStation 3, a year and a half after the announcement of its existence at the end of 2011 and after a gestation that lasted about three years. The core of the story, however, was in the thoughts of Neil Druckmann from a long, long time ago.
Druckmann, now a leading game designer, producer and vice-president of the game development studio, Naughty Dogin the second half of the 2000s he was a simple – albeit brilliant – designer who entered the company in 2004 as a programmer, whose idea was liked so much that he implemented it in the new IP action-adventure that ND wanted to try to develop, after the great success of the first two Uncharted. The basis would have been similar, but both the style of gameplay and that of the story would have had very different inspirations, in a survival style, with stealth elements and a dramatic story as a backdrop.
Druckmann’s idea (refined by the entire team as the production developed) was perfect: a reluctant parent figure with a tragic past and a difficult and mysterious goddaughter working together to survive in a world at drift.
Druckmann had had this story in mind for years, and had already tried to give it physical form in various ways. When he was still an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, a young Neil had the opportunity to participate in a project that saw the direct participation of none other than George Romero, famous filmmaker “father” of the zombie genre. Each student had to submit a project idea and the one chosen by Romero would be carried forward by the class. Guess what was the concept created by Druckmann? That of a tough cop tasked with protecting a little girl during a zombie apocalypse. The concept had two peculiarities: the male protagonist was suffering from a heart condition, and in situations where he was suffering from his illness, control passed to the girl, reversing the roles of the protector and the protected character, and exponentially increasing drama and tension. In addition, the title was inspired by ICO, in the relationship between the two protagonists and the fact that the girl was silent, which made the attempts at communication between the two even more poignant. However, Romero didn’t like the idea very much, ending up in a drawer.
Druckmann, in any case, even after graduating and joining Naughty Dog, felt he wanted to develop that concept, and tried to do it through a comic: there had to be six issues, and the series would be titled The Turning. In this version, the policeman was instead a criminal with a tragic past, in which he had lost his daughter and, with it, her humanity, but the meeting with a little girl who needs him changes his life. He sounds a bit like the Leon with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, and it is not certain that there could not have been some inspiration other than that declared by John Hartigan of Sin City.
Once again, however, the project founders because the storyboards proposed to specialized indie publishers are not sufficiently appreciated.
The revenge of The Turning will arrive only within The Last of Us: the old cabinet with which Ellie “plays” in one section bears the title “The Turning” on the body, which therefore, at least in fiction, has had the opportunity to to exist.
Years later, Druckmann convinces Naughty Dog’s upper echelons to try modeling their new IP on his pitch, but there’s still a long way to go. Thus comes the intuition that strengthens the concept. The monsters will not be generated by chemical mutations, viruses or the like, but it will be something decidedly original, albeit based on reality: the infection with cordycepsof which the game designer becomes aware through a documentary, remaining immediately fascinated by it.
The young female protagonist is immune to the infection, and the male protagonist must save her also because by studying her a miraculous cure could be found. At this stage, the game was titled Mankind, but it brought with it a controversial element: the infection was specific to the female gender, which was therefore leading humanity to extinction. Druckmann himself soon became convinced that this was a potentially misogynistic twist, and thus spread the contagion to all genres. Moreover, Druckmann wanted to bring out the contrast between the male anti-hero (whom we will discover capable and determined, but also fallible and wracked with guilt) and the female one, who had to be far from the sexualizing stereotypes typical of many video games, so he wanted to avoid a counterproductive idea like the original one.
And, speaking of the female protagonist, there is an anecdote that is now almost confused with the legend. The first rendering made public of the face of the protagonist Ellie, in fact, looked a little too much like that of Elliot Page as a teenager, when he came from films like Juno, X-Men – Final Conflict And Inception. Even the name, in fact, is practically the same: it’s hard not to think that there was a direct inspiration. Nothing strange, in hindsight, because video game characters have been ideally modeled on really existing actors countless times, and only with the advance of motion capture technology first and then of performance capture (as well as the increase in investments in themselves) Hollywood actors were invited to participate directly in videogame projects.
This did not go unnoticed by the PlayStation user community, and the person concerned was also asked about it (on Reddit) what he thought.
I guess I should be flattered, but since I’m actually starring in a video game called Beyond Two Souls, that’s not something that was appreciated.
A phrase that does not actually imply that she was personally annoyed, but perhaps the top management of Quantic Dream, who had actually hired her and not “borrowed” her without permission. In fact, the situation was slightly embarrassing for Naughty Dog and for Sony itself, given that the two video games were both PlayStation 3 exclusives at the time: when the adventure developed by QD was announced, TLOU had already been in production for some time, so the ND team had probably taken a cue from Page unaware of being on the razor’s edge: the fact is that, without proclamations or answers of any other kind, Ellie’s character design changed, with somewhat different facial features, also inspired by the actress who gave her voice and movements, Ashley Johnson. The name of the protagonist was not changed, however: it would have been a direct admission of “guilt”.
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