When the first preview for The Last of Us debuted at the Spike Video Game Awards in 2011 it was a revelation. Naughty Dog’s latest third person epic (following their Uncharted trilogy) showed a post apocalyptic America in which players inhabited the lives of two survivors fighting their way through environments steeped in organic realism.
Nearly two years later, the depth of the visuals and storytelling promised in that trailer can finally be experienced tonight at midnight when the game hits shelves. Early reviews have been glowing, praising the team at Naughty Dog for the cohesion of their vision, and we’re proud to recognize a group of Full Sail alumni among those who brought the world of The Last of Us to life.
Over a dozen graduates worked on the game during its development cycle, including:
- Heather Cerlan (texture artist; Computer Animation, 2006)
- Carson Del Greco (animator; Computer Animation, 2010)
- Keith Guerrette (effects artist; Computer Animation, 2005)
- Nathan Horne (senior technical artist; Computer Animation, 2007)
- Corey Johnson (character artist; Computer Animation, 2006)
- James Jones Jr. (animation lead; Computer Animation, 2006)
- Jonathan Mayer (music producer/engineer; Recording Arts, 2000)
- Ryan McGeary (animator; Computer Animation, 2006)
- Kevin Mullin (lead technical director; Computer Animation, 2005)
- Michael Niederquell (sound designer; Recording Arts, 2005)
- Matt Slanchik (quality assurance team lead; Computer Animation, 2007)
- Tyler Thornock (technical animator/rigger; Computer Animation, 2006)
- Spencer Whitfield (quality assurance; Game Art, 2010)
In the week leading up the release we spoke to effects artist Keith Guerrette, who opened up about the type of experience the developers set out to make, and the reaction they’ve received now that players are able to delve into this carefully crafted world.
Full Sail: Many of the reviews have praised the game’s story and atmosphere, this doesn’t sound like your typical survival action game.
Keith Guerette: Right off the bat they wanted to have a very different tone. They wanted it to feel really dirty and gritty, to see how much emotion they could put into this game. Almost similar to a Coen Brothers movie, where it presents a mood that’s not a standard feel good blockbuster. That was one of the larger driving factors, and one of the reasons I love Naughty Dog – everyone around me is pushing to make sure we give the player some kind of emotional journey. I’m really proud to be part of a game that was able to pull off such a unique mood.
FS: That sense of realism also translates to the visuals, which seem to really live and breathe. What was the role that you and the visual effects team had in helping create that?
KG: A huge challenge of ours was trying to find new ways to immerse you into the environments in ways that make sense – ways that should be happening in real life, but that games in the past hadn’t been able to do. So we took extreme care to add as much as we possibly could. The way that a flashlight shines on a wall, things like that. There’s a lot of subtlety, because we spent a lot of time experimenting, and trying to take it as far as you could.
FS: Can you give us an example of technology you’re especially proud of?
KG: We spent a long time working with bubbles, and figured out how to recreate the reflections and monochromatic variations that would happen on a normal soap bubble. Once we found easy ways to do that in real time, we applied it to the blood in the game. So if you pay attention to it, the way the blood looks was probably a year and a half to two years of constant innovation.
FS: Your team will be at this year’s E3 Expo promoting The Last of Us, how rewarding is it to see all the hype after working so hard on one game?
KG: Once the press comes out and I see the reviews and the fanfare it’s really rewarding, it’s my rock star moment. What I actually prefer are the comments from friends, watching them play the game and get into it and hear their feedback. When you watch someone else play you see all these things you didn’t know were going to happen. The way they play the game and what they experience is every bit as valid, if not more, as what we intended.