Last Of Us EP1: At The Movies

By Shamus
on Sep 17, 2014
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

I’m always saying that games shouldn’t be so concerned about trying to be movies. A good game should tell its story in the flow of gameplay, and anytime the player can put down the controller and continue to proceed should be looked at as a possible failure of the game to do its jobThe are exceptions. TECHNICALLY you can put the controller down when Sam Fisher is hiding from The Bad Guys, but that’s not the same thing.. And no, throwing gotcha quicktime events over a cutscene doesn’t solve this problem, it makes it worse. Now I’m playing a really terrible videogame that’s distracting me from the [marginally] more interesting movie. Gameplay ought to have some degree of human decision-making in it, and “Press X to Not Die” isn’t that. I mean, when you’re watching a movie you’re choosing NOT to pause it, but that doesn’t make it a game.

HOWEVER!

If you are going to use a game as a delivery vehicle for a movie, then this is how you need to do it: You need to make a proper movie. I am irritated to the point of intolerance with games that interrupt our playtime for movies that are bad, poorly-paced, cliche-ridden, ham-fisted, utterly predictable, filled with glaring plot holes, tonally confused, boringly shot, and completely tediousThe Resident Evil series comes to mind. And Fallout 3. And Assassin’s Creed 2. And Dead Island. And Thief 2014. And Watch_Dogs. And Far Cry 3. And Mass Effect 3. And… now that I think of it, this list might be too long for a footnote.. The reflexive defense is, “It’s just a game, you’re not supposed to worry about the story!” Which is kind of my point: If the story doesn’t matter, then why are you wasting my time with it? Why did you waste money making this crappy thing that you didn’t want to make and I don’t want to watch?

Spoiler: I don’t think The Last of Us is that great of a movie. It’s leagues ahead of most videogame stories. It’s got solid cinematography, great environments, expressive models, and a decent story to tell. But if this was in the theaters it wouldn’t be a blockbuster or anything. It would be something like World War Z (the movie) or Daybreakers: Competently executed and entertaining, but otherwise unremarkable disposable entertainment.

Like Chris said: Last of Us is the best possible version of a fundamentally flawed design.

Also, BioWare: Watch this to understand everything you did wrong with your “some kid died” moveSpoiler: Everything. You did everything wrong..

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Footnotes:

[1] The are exceptions. TECHNICALLY you can put the controller down when Sam Fisher is hiding from The Bad Guys, but that’s not the same thing.

[2] The Resident Evil series comes to mind. And Fallout 3. And Assassin’s Creed 2. And Dead Island. And Thief 2014. And Watch_Dogs. And Far Cry 3. And Mass Effect 3. And… now that I think of it, this list might be too long for a footnote.

[3] Spoiler: Everything. You did everything wrong.


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  1. Talby says:

    I share Shamus’ reaction. This is why I see TLOS as decent, but not great, both in gameplay and story. It’s a movie worth watching once, and a game worth playing once, but is quickly forgotten.

  2. Aldowyn says:

    This episode was a lot more positive than I feel like a lot of the rest of the season is going to be, particularly based on this blog post. I don’t have a PS3, so I have no experience with Uncharted or the Last of Us, so this should be interesting.

  3. ehlijen says:

    I’m not convinced interrupting the game for story bits is a flawed design paradigm, especially not if it’s skippable.

    I’d much rather have a movie/text dump I can skip the second time through than be made to actually play through the break in the action/exposition bits.

    Take the talky bits of Half Life 2. Yes, it’s great that they didn’t interrupt the flow. But make them much longer, as you would have to for any story not as simplistic (but good in this case), and you have to wait a really long time basically doing nothing of consequence. With a movie it’d be one button and you’re back in the action.

    And keeping the story fully immersive is pretty much limited to a specific set of genres. Flight/space/mecha sims wouldn’t be enhanced by making the player walk from the briefing room to their machine every time, nor by having them be able to jump up and down on their chair during the briefing. RTS games have only the vaguest concept of a player character anyway, and pure puzzle games not even that. And god/space 4x games have a different mechanic to show every other part of the game anyway.

    I actually feel that because spoiler warning is limited in its ability to showcase games to first/third person RPGs or adventures, you sometimes seem to talk as though those are all the games there are. Is that just a case of not wanting to constantly repeat the same qualifiers? (If so, sorry for wondering otherwise).

    Stories certainly can make or break a game. But so can fun game mechanics. Either can save the game from the other, but sometimes players want one over the other. Of course it’s best when they reinforce each other.

    In short, fully immersive experiences have their place and I admire them. But so does deliberate separation of game and story.

    • Shamus says:

      ” Is that just a case of not wanting to constantly repeat the same qualifiers?”

      Yeah, exactly. We’re usually talking about AAA gamplay / cutscene / gameplay games, and those are the ones everyone is familiar with. Obviously things get murky when you dive into the indie scene.

      • ehlijen says:

        Gotcha, thanks for clarifying :)

        Guess I’m still stuck in the past when other genres could make the triple A list…*nostalgia*

        • Doomcat says:

          If you don’t mind me adding in my 2 cents — thinking back on Starcraft, they did indeed do the briefing rooms as skippable movies, though they would also have hero units do things to each-other during the action as I remember, such as (spoiler for Starcraft 1) Kerrigan being abandoned on that one planet to a zerg invasion.

          I think its a bit cooler to have seen that happen in-game to a unstoppable wave of zerg then to have it simply shown to me cutscene style. (Though I will admit, it does lock your camera to where you can see it happening)

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Yes,starcraft 1 had excellent banter both(threeoth?) in briefings,in cutscenes,and in game proper.Plus it was,and still is,a well told story.Which is probably why blizzard retold it a brazillion times afterwards in warcraft eu.

          • Aldowyn says:

            My problem with all those ‘unstoppable waves of zerg’ is that.. they seemed pretty stoppable. Terran defenses are *nuts*

            Another note is that SC1 is an exception to the “RTS’ don’t have a defined PC” tendency mentioned above.

            • Alexander The 1st says:

              “My problem with all those ‘unstoppable waves of zerg’ is that.. they seemed pretty stoppable. Terran defenses are *nuts*”

              Especially with power overwhelming.

              (More seriously, having the unstoppable waves of zerg shown in-engine, even if it doesn’t work perfectly, helped bridge the idea that Kerrigan was in trouble – you could see her and the base getting attacked and losing health without help from others, and it showed it in the health bars instead of because the cutscene says a particular shot should be fatal.

              I mean, later on, Joel will probably be taking some bullet wounds like Sarah did here, and be totally fine. Maybe not all at once from a machine gun, but the game isn’t representing her death in a systemized way; she doesn’t die because she ran out of health, she dies because…well, the cutscene says she dies.)

              “Another note is that SC1 is an exception to the “RTS’ don’t have a defined PC” tendency mentioned above.”

              I don’t know if I agree with that – SC1’s protagonist is still just a drag-along character – they have a name usually, but they’re just dragged along for the ride, and never actually say anything or directly influence the plot themselves. Which still makes them just as disposable and/or swappable as the Dune 2000/Red Alert protagonists.

              • Felblood says:

                Actually, until brood war, none of the SC1 player characters got names.

                Later games an expansion packs would introduce characters and quietly hint that these are the same Cerebrate, Executor and Magistrate, but in vanilla SC1 they are defined entirely by their rank and their relationships with the other characters.

                I found this particularly jarring with Executor Artanis, who suddenly has not just a name and a voice, but an opinion on every little thing, which he won’t shut up about. His constant hero worship of Tassidar really felt wrong, after he was a silent protagonist for so long.

                Plus, I always wondered why they felt the need to introduce a new silent protagonist for the Broodwar Protoss, when you are basically stepping into the same shoes.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      But not every game is designed with repeated playthroughs as their main pull.Your example of half life 2,for example,is much more focused on delivering a strong narrative on your first go,than on repeated ones.

      In fact,there are very few games where repeated playthroughs are the center stage.Roguelikes as a genre are that,and so is dead rising 1 and 2.

      And of course,there are sandbox games,where it doesnt really matter what the story is,as long as you get to dick around,like skyrim.

      • ehlijen says:

        I actually found Half life 2 pretty fun for replaying. It’s got automatic load points for every chapter beginning, plenty of secrets to find and the gunplay isn’t too bad to just jump in for a bit of relaxing shooting now and then.

        As a bad example: ME3 was supposed to be replayable (new game+), but would torture you with a terribly inconsistent approach to what part of the fluff dialog was skippable and what part wasn’t (in addition to throwing in player lines so you occasionally had to reply to the dreary crap you didn’t want to hear the first time).

        But really: I think unless you truly want to just tell a good story with your game, fun mechanics should be the no 1 priority, and if you nail that part, people will naturally want to replay the game. Or is that just me? (Honest question, I’m not sure how out of touch I am)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its not just you.In fact,many(TotalBiscuit)will argue that fun gameplay should always trump everything else,even if you have a story to tell.

          Me,I think that games are a composite medium,so in the end its the whole that matters.If you dont have a story to tell,completely supplementing it with raw mechanics works just fine.If your mechanics are shoddy,supplementing it with presentation works just fine.Of course,not all of these have the same pull,so replacing a story completely with fun mechanics is much easier than the other way round.

          • Ranneko says:

            This is totally off topic, but I have noticed that you don’t seem to put spaces after commas and periods, could you please try to? It makes your writing much more readable when you do.

            Not intending to be mean by saying this, hope it doesn’t come off that way.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              I use proper punctuation and proper punctuation styles only in official correspondence.Unofficially,I dont care about those(well technically I do care since over the years spaceless punctuation has turned into my style rather than just laziness as it was in the beginning).

              • MichaelGC says:

                Yes, I think by this stage that if you did decide to change it up, I’d be wondering why your comments suddenly have these giant yawning gaps in between sentences, and/or I’d be trying to clean what appear to be apostrophe-shaped motes of dust from off my monitor.

            • Aldowyn says:

              … I am shocked that I never noticed that.

            • mwchase says:

              You think you’ve got it awkward. I wrote a user script that rewrites all of the blog comments and forum posts to use consistent spacing. How on Earth would one bring that up without, for example, the context provided by your comment?

          • Benjamin Hilton says:

            It is a difficult balancing act. I mean one of my favorite games is Spec Ops the Line. I love everything about it…but I have only played it once, and may never re-play it because honestly I’m not sure I’ll ever want to go on that particular emotional journey again.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I’ll say this as someone who tends to be a fan of these types of games. If you don’t have the time or inclination to devote hundreds of hours to an RPG, 4X, open-world sandbox, RTS, or online multiplayer of whatever genre, these cutscene-action-cutscene games are nice compact little time-killers.

      Sometimes, when I have the time to spare, it’s nice to find a game I can play a couple of hours a night over the course of a week or two, with mechanics (usually pulled from Gears/God of War) just good enough to be enjoyable, and a narrative just interesting enough to make me want to see the next cutscene. It’s a popcorn movie of a game, fun in the moment, but probably has little lasting appeal. Naughty Dog is really good at this; the new Tomb Raider and the Arkham games are basically this with more Metroidvania elements; Max Payne 3 (despite Chris’ understandable issues with that game), etc.

      I think Chris’ TLOU Errant Signal was pretty prescient that this format of game is just about played out, though. There’s a lot more easily-acquired titles, of decent quality, in the indie scene now, than even a few years ago, Project Greenlight criticisms notwithstanding. These days I’m finding those indie games are meeting that need that the movie-action games previously addressed.

      • Kingmob says:

        I’ll add to this that they are generally more fun to play if there’s an audience (in this case my girlfriend). She has very little interest in games, but she enjoys watching me play games like these, or more generally, games which have a strong focus on story. She absolutely loved Brothers for instance and Allan Wake was a hit as well as is luckily most of the adventures I play (my favourite genre).

        It is a way for me to share my hobby on a Sunday where we would otherwise be doing different things. Not that that is bad per se, but I enjoy shared experiences more in general.

    • Kalil says:

      “Flight/space/mecha sims wouldn’t be enhanced by making the player walk from the briefing room to their machine every time, nor by having them be able to jump up and down on their chair during the briefing.”

      From what I’ve read from the distraught pre-orderers, this is pretty much precisely what X: Rebirth did – they added the ability to wander around space stations to their spaceflight/trading empire game. It sunk like a rock, damn near destroying a successful franchise.

  4. Isy says:

    I watched The Last of Us on Youtube as said movie, and enjoyed it well enough (I experienced GTA4 the same way, which might be why I like it a lot more than anyone else I know did). I’m curious to see what I missed by not playing the game, and if the answer is going to be “anything”.

    • Carlos Castillo says:

      Although I haven’t seen any such videos to know what they show you, I’m assuming it’s mainly cutscenes between gameplay segments.

      In that case you probably missed:
      1. A lot of character development. Example: You probably saw Ellie’s first kill (with a gun), but not how she acts for the next section after Joel yells at her for disobeying him. Her dialog and animations are a lot more petulant, she says “Joel” a lot in the “you’re not my real father” sense.
      2. The visceral feel of the combat. Like Spec-Ops, the game has audio, animation, and mechanics for the combat that make you feel far different about the violence then in a game with a similar play style like Uncharted or Gears of War. There may be gore, and a lot of killing, but the changes make it feel more like a struggle to simply stay alive, and (hopefully) you feel more about the horrible things Joel does to stay alive and protect his own.
      3. There are a lot of artifacts to pick up in the game that add to the lore of the areas you are passing through. Pittsburgh became the raider hell-hole it did because of a successful rebellion instituted by the fireflies. There’s a running story of an man out at sea during the apocalypse who comes back, creates a safe haven in a sewer system and invites some decent people to stay with him. Each message, even the “everyone is dead due to a silly mistake” message tries to put a positive spin on events to represent the author’s faith in humanity, which is a refreshing counter to poor conditions of the section you are in, and the area you had just finished (ie: Pittsburgh).

      Although Seamus says the game is a decent 3-hour movie, there is a far greater portion of the game that is not cutscene, and is equally important to the character development, as well as helping the audience form a connection with the characters. In many ways it’s more like a Miniseries or a season of a TV show, where the extended period of time with the characters, and the setting is useful in it own right.

    • SpiritBearr says:

      You missed a lot of dialog between characters from just passing chatter to real character building.

      However for plot points there wasn’t a lot you missed outside how they ended up at the locations for the cut scenes. The most important of these would be the one where Joel falls and gets hurt. There was only one real moment that was them seeing the corpse of a companion that stays behind (Tess).

      There is also details like Sarah’s room where for that room at least it looked like a real lived in room.

      The game play for me was annoying due to the usual forced RPG mechanics that are being used on a 40-50 year old ex bandit, now smuggler. Then there’s a limited inventory management which helps put tension in the game but also just served to annoy me because everyone else is smart enough to find a knife that won’t break every time.

  5. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Depends on what you’re after whether the movie approach works.

    Wing Commander, X-Wing, and Top Gun did pretty well with the Cutscene-Mission-Cutscene system. I suspect it is important that all three such games are flight simulators. We can probably extend it to EarthSiege and the Mechwarrior games that worked the same way.

    In the case of the simulators, having the cut scenes in between missions acted as a release from the stress of the games -though I mean both release and stress in a good way. The story advanced during the briefings and the missions, but the real payoff was in the cutscenes. I don’t know that it would work as well to try and achieve that while sitting in a cockpit (though in X-Wing Alliance I did plenty of formation fly-by’s of Home One after a successful mission just because I could).

    • Ranneko says:

      Yeah, I quite like cutscenes as mission briefing/debriefing. I also enjoyed seeing that in older RTSes like Command and Conquer and KKnD.

      • ET says:

        Yup. This is, I think, the best way to use cutscenes in a game – Break from an hour-long mission, and update us on some more story. I really liked the stories in the first Red Alert. Sure, it’s cheesy B-movie schlock, but it’s well-executed, entertaining schlock. :)

  6. newdarkcloud says:

    Since Shamus is a father, who is around the same age as Joel (I think?) in The Last of Us, I’m very interested to see his thoughts on Joel and the bond he forges with Ellie over the course of the game.

    I’m also somewhat surprised we managed to talk about ME3 in this episode. As I was playing the scene, I didn’t even think about how “Some Kidd Died!”. But you’re totally right in how bad Bioware looks when you make that comparison.

    I look forward to seeing this season, and I’ll be cool to see you guys maybe branch out into console games after this.

    • Volfram says:

      “Since Shamus is a father, who is around the same age as Joel”

      With a daughter about the age of Sarah, as I recall. Yeah, that had to be hard.

      The emotional connection wasn’t really there for me, because I’m not a father, don’t ever intend to be a father, and have spent several years working very hard to numb some of my less pleasant emotions, but I could see it. If nothing else, the player will gain an attachment to Sarah just because she’s the first character you play as. You start the game as a lost, confused child who is powerless as everything happens around her.

      I’d say they built about as strong a bond between the player and Sarah as they could, given the amount of time she’s there.

      • James says:

        “”“Since Shamus is a father, who is around the same age as Joel”

        With a daughter about the age of Sarah, as I recall. Yeah, that had to be hard.””

        I;m a single guy in my early 20’s and that was hard, and i cant help but compare it directly to Mass Effect 3, and how badly Mass Effect comes off compare to it.

        But yea that scene was hard the first time i watched it and its no softer now

        • newdarkcloud says:

          I teared up during that scene. Whoever the young actress who played Sarah was, the whines she was making during that scene were absolutely gut-wrenching in a way you rarely see in gaming.

        • Volfram says:

          As I said, I’ve been working hard for years to numb myself. I managed to get through Up and the first 3 episodes of The Sunday Without God without crying(That second one’s HARD.), but I can definitely see where the emotional attachment is.

          Broke down after playing Passage, though.

          The more I think about it, the more I realize just how hard that scene must have been for Shamus to watch.

  7. Image very relevant. Well is you want the plot explained to you in a no nonsense fashion.

  8. Mormegil says:

    I’m concerned for the end of this season already – the Isometric podcast were discussing TLOS and saying that the end of the game is a great example of where the story is heading towards a climax but the gameplay is just a slog.

  9. Chamomile says:

    I think Campster’s being pretty uncharitable towards Joel in the pre-apocalypse scene. He seems like he’s doing the best he can for his kid. Having work troubles or not being able to be there all the time don’t strike me as automatic condemnations of character, more like just Joel having it rough. He sounds pretty lower-middle class what with his concerns about a contractor, and he’s a single parent on top of that. He’s stretched thin. What’s amoral about that?

    • Shamus says:

      While I can’t speak for Campster, I get the same vibe: It’s not that Joel is a BAD guy. It’s that he’s “troubled”. Like, most videogames will show dad come home after work, look at the kid’s drawings, cook dinner, talk about their schoolwork etc etc. LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY ARE. DOESN’T THIS GUY LOVE HIS KID SO MUCH? Instead this guy rolls in at midnight after leaving the kid to fend for herself, and once he’s home he’s still wrapped up in his problems and not asking her about her day. It’s not that he’s a bad dad, it’s that the game is showing us that this isn’t an idyllic family.

      Strangely, I think this makes the loss more painful. Perfect families feel kind of distant and fake sometimes, and when one of them dies it feels like the writer only created them in order to kill them off. (Which, OF COURSE they did, but you’re not supposed to notice if the movie is doing its job.)

      • Benjamin Hilton says:

        I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but the loss of Sarah still hit me hard. Maybe it’s because I’m at the point in life where I’m envisioning having kids in the near future, but I also think part of it is that the kind of kid that makes jokes about drugs is the kind of kid that I would want.

        To clarify, (so people don’t think I’m crazy) that off hand joke really sets up her personality. I’s clear that she doesn’t actually do drugs, but she clearly has a subtle worldliness beyond her years. That is the kind of person that you look at and can tell that they would grow up to be a strong intelligent, and probably wise, person, making the fact that she never gets the chance to grow up all the more heartbreaking.

        Not that all death isn’t heartbreaking, but In games death gets taken for granted very often, so the fact that there was enough characterization in a short amount of time to make me care about here death is impressive.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I don’t have kids either, but that sequence was a big gut punch for me, too, because I was that kid at one point, a long time ago. throwing together random leftovers or Ramen noodles for supper, sleeping on the couch (or just generally eschewing bedtime mandates if I didn’t feel like sleeping), giving gifts that are completely random, out of the blue things that people never even said they wanted because I came across an opportunity to get free/cheap stuff (an offhand joke about “I’m secretly a drug dealer” does wonders compared to “I know someone who won it in a lottery and didn’t want it”).

          There’s a lot different in there (Sarah’s bedroom was a lot more of a low point for selling the character to me, also she’s a she and I’m a he), but the character rang true enough for me and kids I’ve known for the loss to have real weight.

          • Benjamin Hilton says:

            I think your comment shows some of the genius at work here.

            Shamus looked at this scene and said it was clearly meant to pull on the parental instinct hearts strings.
            I looked at it and thought “Clearly this is supposed to show how sad the loss of her future is.”
            You saw this and felt the child’s situation ring true.

            It’s subtlety gives it applicability to different viewpoints so that everyone can find their own truth in it.

            • ET says:

              I had a similar feeling towards the scene with the uncle, telling Joel to run, and he’ll catch up with them. Like, that scene seemed very realistic to me. Namely, that once his brother is in “dad mode” he forgets that his brother is an adult male, with a gun. Yes brother, he can probably take care of himself better than your 12-year old daughter who has a broken leg.

              I’ve had pretty much the same thing happen, but with my nephew wandering towards the hot oven…and then my brother or sister in-law are telling me to watch out for the hot oven. Yeah, I don’t think my brain forgot how fire works, just because you became parents. XD

              • guy says:

                I don’t get that sense from the scene with the uncle. He’s trying to hold a door shut against multiple fast zombies. I would genuinely expect that to end with getting pulled down when he tried to run or maybe shooting one before getting tackled.

        • James says:

          Additionally she didn’t die in a explosion or anything like OMG A KID DIED SAD PIANO SCORE, her death was powerful because it was quiet a Troy Baker is a excellent voice actor who really sold his grief.

      • evileeyore says:

        I don’t even know about troubled.

        Sarah had the life I lived as a kid. By ten I was cooking my own meals, keeping the house, while my Mom worked 14 hour days, 6 days a week. Getting home just before midnight to crash and then leaving again by 6 am. Sometimes she slept at work (she was a Home Care Nurse) and I wouldn’t see her till Saturday or Sunday (she took one day off a week).

        That was my early and middle teens.

        I strongly emphasize with both Joel and Sarah and seeing her die hit pretty hard.

      • newdarkcloud says:

        I didn’t even question that because I live in that kind of household. Joel’s not poor, but he’s still constantly busy and struggling to get by, just like my parents.

        It’s a life that a large number of people instinctively understand.

        • Shamus says:

          Sure. But in the context of a movie this usually means something. Like, if a parent is on the phone and their kid wants attention and the parent ignores the kid. Happens all the time in real life. We all have phone calls and kids interrupt sometimes. But in movie shorthand this tells us, “This parent is distant and preoccupied with work.” This scene feels exactly like that.

          • Abnaxis says:

            That’s the weird thing, though. Usually, when you encounter a case of Hollywood shorthand, you don’t get so many different interpretations.

            I don’t know if the interaction between them is shorthand, it could be the developers knew what they wanted to convey and they did it deliberately and quickly. Which is like shorthand, but more nuanced and harder to pull off.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Had the same reaction myself.Why does Chris think this opening says anything bad about the father?He has troubles,but he still cares quite a lot about his kid.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Yeah, that part of the video was…awkward. I mean, as a ten year old there were plenty of times where I had to stay home and fend for myself, and I don’t think my caretaker(s) were doing a terrible job or were bad people because of it. They had to work to feed me and pay for my medication, and that work rarely happened on a convenient 9-5 schedule.

  10. Volfram says:

    Full confession: when The Last Of Us was announced, I heard “Yet ANOTHER post-apocalyptic game,” and lost all interest. Oh, and apparently this one ALSO has zombies.(Lolspoiler!)

    OK, sure, Naughty Dog have a good track record, but I figured at worst I skip a decent game.

    I’m kind of looking forward to this season, as a result.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Team Buttskarn here.Never played it.And never will(since there is less than 1 in a million chance of this getting ever ported to PC).I was thinking of watching a lets play of it,but never got around to.So thanks for this guy.So far,Im enjoying the game,and see why so many people gush about it.Still is not worth buying a whole console for it,though.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I strongly suspect once you finish watching this SW season, there will be no need to play it. My friends actually came over to watch me marathon this on a Saturday, and even though I offered them the controller several times, they were happy to just watch me play, sit back during the cutscenes, and drink beer. It was almost like we were 10 years old again, trying to finish Ninja Gaiden or TMNT on the NES.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I have a new favnon:
    Someone high up in bioware has played the last of us,and thats why Casey Hudson was fired.Its really comforting to think of it like that.

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    Footnote [3] made me LOL.

    Agreed about story jammed into games where it doesn’t belong. Well said.

  14. Akuma says:

    One thing I find interesting about Joel’s character is his drive to live. Another story would have made him depressive with suicidal tendencies after losing his daughter, so maybe he’d try to be a hero of self sacrifice. That’d be easy to write because the source of Joel’s happiness is gone now and a lazy writer could use that to make a tragic hero figure who is saved by the appearance of Ellie.

    But Jeol is actually hungry for life, and he will do anything to stay alive. This is of course what leads him to being kinda of a dick, and maybe a little bit of a monster? I don’t think that drive is ever really explained, but I don’t think it needs to be. I think the angle is more about the survival instincts going into high gear. Joel doesn’t have a philosophical reason to continue living, he just does.

    Part of the story is actually Joel letting go of that hunger for life and actually thinking about another person for a change. Just interesting to me.

    • Fizban says:

      Though I haven’t seen or played the game (I’ll follow SW at least for a while), I don’t like the phrase “hungry for life.” I agree with your survival instinct angle, but I see it more as: losing his daughter destroyed/turned off his other desires. And if you turn off your conscious desires (including your conscience, heh) you’re left with nothing but survival instinct. It’s definitely a nice change from the usual deathwish trope.

  15. urs says:

    Yep. Thanks for this! I usually don’t watch the show* but I’m absolutely going to tag along for this one. Would love to play it, alas.

    *and on a related note, the one Spoiler Warning i did watch was The Walking Dead because it being so much of a Story > Gameplay thing I wasn’t interested in playing it but wanted to know what is was all about. And then I stopped watching and bought it and how glad I am I did.

  16. Raunomies says:

    The speed of this apocalypse was a good discussion point: in game it seems like first there are patients and then APOCALYPSE happens, all sick awake and attack the streets at the same time. Something like current ebola outbreak (with zombie twist) would have been more horrifying where things are bad and then get worse and worse with news spreading panic for days that not everybody is staying dead and then containment fails.

    • el_b says:

      you see from the newspaper that there have been smaller outbreaks before this so it doesn’t just happen at once. pretty sure I read somewhere that it is meant to have been spread by genetically altered crops being infected. Since it is airborne and people would be eating it all over the country it does make sense that it would spread very fast. The fact that the infected are runners really doesn’t make things any better.

  17. kdansky says:

    Imagine you play a round of Chess, and after every turn, you get to watch 5 minutes of Inception. I mean, Chess is a very good game, and Inception is a very good movie, but I would enjoy both more if they weren’t connected in such a hamfisted way.

    AAA gaming gets it wrong to the point of annoyance.

    That’s why actual game designers like Burgun have concluded pretty drastically that games are better without a plot, because it always jars with each other. On that note, I like how Auro (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=air.DinofarmAuro it’s a rogue-like / puzzle game) did it: You get a story mode tutorial, and then the meat of the game is story-free. I think this is where serious gaming needs to go, and we’ve seen it quite a bit in recent times.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “That’s why actual game designers like Burgun have concluded pretty drastically that games are better without a plot, because it always jars with each other.”

      No.Just because some(ok most)games do it wrong,doesnt mean it cant be done right.Half lives do it right,with story being delivered through the gameplay without ever taking control away from you.Spec ops the line does it well,where the gameplay is part of the story the game is telling,and it simply wouldnt work without all the history behind it.Stanley parable does it right,where story and gameplay are tightly interconnected.Bastion does it well where the story is the background giving context to what you are doing,but never interfering with it.Etc,etc.

      The thing all of these examples do,however,is that they tie the way the story is told to the way the game is being played,which is why the two mesh well together.The problem with some(*sigh*,most)other video games is that they separate the story from the gameplay,and deliver the two in a different way,which leads to ludonarrative dissonance[/obligatory Campster quote].

      • kdansky says:

        You’ve not understood how serious the problem is (and you also have not understood how to use punctuation, making my eyes bleed). The issue is that game mechanics are about giving the player choices, of which they have to find the good ones. From “where do I put this block?” in Tetris to “when do I need to jump?” in Mario.

        On the other hand, stories are about forcing the player to follow a specific path. The writer tells a story they wrote, and to do so, they must remove the player’s choices from the equation or else their story falls apart because the Dragonborn went farming instead of slaying dragons. And if you don’t give the player any choice in the story department, then you’re at Last of Us, weaving cut-scenes into completely unrelated combat games.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “The issue is that game mechanics are about giving the player choices”

          No,game mechanics are about giving the player limited options.Sure,you can choose when mario will jump,but you are still following a predetermined path from left to right,from start to finish.You are still constrained by the predefined rules of the system.

          Rarely does a game give you much freedom,and in those cases they usually dont have a story at all(minecraft).

          Furthermore,stories are rigidly predefined only in rigid media,like movies.At their beginning however,in oral storytelling,the storyteller had the option to change the story in a plethora of ways depending on how the audience responded.They could go on long tangents if prompted to explain something,speed up some parts,slow down some,overdetail something,underdetail something else…Today,we can best see this in pnp rpgs,where the storyteller(game master) works together with his audience(player)to weave the story until its completion.

          Video games are in between these two extremes of storytelling,giving more freedom and agency to the audience than the movies,but still having more constraints for the storyteller than oral method.

          “and you also have not understood how to use punctuation”

          I understand how,I just choose not to do it.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      It’s fairer to say it depends on the game. Maybe something like an RTS or 4X just needs a basic framing narrative like “These factions are at war/in competition with each other over land and resources” to contextualize the gameplay. Then the devs can foster emergent storytelling through lore and codex entries and such, but otherwise the story doesn’t have to be a factor.

      On the other hand, can you really have an RPG without a story? Without one, you’re basically playing a tabletop wargame with digital miniatures and dice. And even most of those have a framing narrative.

      And sometimes a game takes a chance and surprises you. I would never have expected a straightforward puzzle game like Thomas Was Alone to have a narrative, but Thomas’ was actually entertaining without being too intrusive.

      • Aldowyn says:

        The thought of TWA without a narrative was so foreign to my perception of TWA that I went ‘wait, what? Are you nuts?’ before realizing… wait, that game is so abstracted it totally could be just a (mediocre) puzzle game.

  18. Carlos Castillo says:

    It was brought up that Joel is a smuggler, with the inevitable Han Solo reference, but I believe that he’s more Chewbacca.

    While Tess and Joel are together, he’s the muscle, she’s the boss. She’s the one most NPC interact with, and if he gets involved, there will usually be pain and blood. However, he isn’t a meat-head, he is the one who often advises against doing foolish things, and when they are in the “wilderness” she defers to his judgement, as he is the survival expert.

  19. Blake says:

    When I played this game I got a bit over 4 hours into it (around the time the crafting came into it) before I gave up and the gameplay just wasn’t for me.
    It made me sad as I absolutely loved that first scene, then didn’t really find anything I enjoyed afterwards.
    I decided I’d rather TLOU: The Movie to TLOU: The Game, and now I get to see it!

    Here’s hoping you don’t get tired of it!

    Also: good work Josh getting the console setup running.

  20. Grudgeal says:

    You know, it’s funny but what strained my suspension of disbelief the most this episode wasn’t the zombie apocalypse, it was how a single father in what we’d call working class (possibly in construction like a plumber or electrician? ‘Blue-collar’?) in danger of losing his job can afford to keep a two-story, two-bedroom house with a garden and patio in a metropolitan suburb.

    • el_b says:

      A lot of people spend beyond their means, especially in America. Also, what’s to say He was always having work problems?

    • guy says:

      We only get the tiny conversation, but he sounded important to me. I mean, he works construction, but he was talking about “the contractor” and it sounded like he was speaking to a subordinate. I think he was a foreman at the very least.

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      In all fairness, in the southern states houses literally cost a fraction of what the same property would elsewhere.

      • evileeyore says:

        And who says he didn’t already own it? He could have been burning through savings to keep his home and working extra to make ends meet.

        Once you actually fully own a home (property, etc), keeping it up becomes much easier.

      • Nick says:

        … well, good to know that US Southern house pricing isn’t done in irrational currency. That would get awkward

      • David W says:

        Yeah – I’d expect a house like that in suburban Texas to cost maybe 100K. Heck, my grandparents’ house fits that description well except for being in Pennsylvania and sold for ~95K when they had to move out.

        Pretty easy for that to be in reach. If anything, I’d think he’d have to be struggling for that to be all he can afford. That’s like $600/mo including taxes and mortgage insurance; you can almost afford that on minimum wage. Skilled labor like construction always pays more than minimum wage, at least as long as the job lasts.

  21. el_b says:

    great run so far guys, but you might want to fix the brightness, it gets pretty damn dark later on…in more ways than one.

  22. Daniel says:

    Am I the only one who read “Daybreakers: Competently Executed” as a title? I’d watch that.

    Though maybe it’s a sign that I’ve gotten too used to colon-based silly names.

  23. guy says:

    Wait, wait. At 5:37, is that a working mirror? They have working mirrors in this game?

  24. Abnaxis says:

    I’m not sure if you are meaning to say that the idea of lengthy non-interactive cutscene > gameplay with no story elements > cutscene is a flawed design or if any non-interactive cutscenes period are a flawed design. Like, I’m not sure if you’re against gameplay/story segregation, or if your belief is that the player has to be driving, all the time, or the game is flawed.

    If the notion is the former, I’m on board with that. I think an ideal case is for the gameplay and the story to work to enhance one another. As it stands, I think the general philosophy is that the story is there to be subservient to the gameplay–to provide a reward structure and a justification for player actions and thus increase interest in playing–and that is why we see so many terrible stories. As many have so crassly put it before, the story in a game is like the story in a porn movie–it’s presumably not the reason anyone is engaged, but it still needs to be there.

    However, if you are saying instead that non-interactive cutscenes are a de facto worse design choice purely because the player isn’t giving input and such cutscenes are thus fundamentally flawed as a technique, I have to vehemently disagree. Stories require conflict. Often, that means that something has to happen to the protagonist, that is beyond their control.

    That’s hard to do if you have a player in control. The player in all likelihood knows what’s going to happen and will do everything in their power to subvert it. That’s ok, and it’s possible to herd players into a place where stories can be told for many types of conflicts, a la Half Life. However, there other types of conflicts where it just doesn’t work. In fact, I think a lot of the more heinous examples of poor gameplay design instances like DIAS result from a developer trying to leave the reigns in the players hands when it plainly wouldn’t work.

    Take that scene in TLOU where Sarah dies. How would you ever design that in a way that never took control from the player? Remember, when in control, most players will try to “win”. They will find rocks to hide behind. They will arrange it so Joel is in between the soldier and his daughter so he can take the bullet. They’ll try any number of different arrangements, and every time they think it should work but it doesn’t they’ll feel cheated.

    Back when you first started talking about DIAS, you had a good example from GTA where you came up with many creative solutions to a system that was cheating to make you follow their story. THAT’S what happens when storytellers need something to happen but they insist on making the player do it because of a (I think) misguided notion that if the player isn’t driving it automatically means something is wrong. That boils the design choices down to A) use cutscenes to make things happen to the protagonist, B) use cheatery constructs intended to maintain the illusion of choice that crumble if the player ever tries to actually take advantage of their power, or C) never try to tell a story where bad things happen directly to the protagonist (or rather, severely limit the ways by which bad things can happen to the protagonist).

    Option B is terrible and Option C is worse. Obviously, Option A done wrong is no walk in the park either, but the ultimate TL;DR point of my post is that cutscenes have their time and place, and games aren’t made worse by their presence if they’re used right. If I want to tell a story about fatherhood and redemption a la TLOU or TWD, there are going to be times where I want something to happen to Joel or to Lee where I want the player focusing more on actual events and their consequences, not on how to subvert them. That’s not flawed design.

  25. Patrick the Marginally Talented says:

    Cinematics in video games serve the same purpose as gratuitous explosions, buxom women in tank tops and never-ending battle sequences that plague movies like the transformers, or the last Superman…story…thing….

    They look great in a trailer and 60 second super bowl ad.

    Actual gameplay doesn’t make for great marketing. Cinematics do. It doesn’t have to make the game better, it has to sell it. And you know damn well that some marketing clown is standing over the designers telling him what he needs to sell the game for the next Expo-hyper-con 3000.

    “Give me more hi-res…. Make that skirt a little shorter…. How about a nice panorama of the Tokyo skyline….Can we make her hair purple? Research shows our key demographic likes their Bi-racial women to have colored hair….” IMO Cinematics aren’t made to enhance the game, they are made to sell the game.

  26. Benjamin Hilton says:

    On the subject of Joel’s age, I also really enjoy that fight’s aren’t really easy for him. When he beats down a person or zombie with a bat you get a real sense of the effort he puts into it, how much he is straining his muscles with every swing, and how winded he is afterward.

  27. Max says:

    “But if this was in the theaters it wouldn’t be a blockbuster or anything. It would be something like World War Z (the movie) or Daybreakers: Competently executed and entertaining, but otherwise unremarkable disposable entertainment.”

    I don’t think you wanna make that equationn. It might be something like World War Z, but WWZ WAS A BLOCKBUSTER. It was, in fact, Brad Pitts highest grossing movie! So, it is kind of a high praise for Last of us to be compared to World War Z.

    I am personally a big fan of movie-like games like Beyond: Two Souls or Heavy Rain. However, you have to perceive them like interactive movies rather than games. They are more an artwork than a game. And especially Beyond had some really amazing performances from Kevin Bacon and Ellen Page.

    I think the last of us is somewhere in between the story emphasis of Silent Hill 2 and an Action game, not really an interactive movie. Still when it comes to athmosphere it was the best AAA game I played in the last few years (excluding GTA V and Walking Dead)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “It was, in fact, Brad Pitts highest grossing movie!”

      Really?Thats a damn shame.I loved Pitt ever since I saw his performance in 12 monkeys,but damn does he star in some crap.And to see him make more money from shlock than from intelligent movies is a shame.

    • Shamus says:

      I shouldn’t have said blockbuster, since that implies nothing more than ticket sales. I mean, if we’re going to measure quality by ticket sales, then Transformers is one of the best movies ever.

      Instead I’m talking about about… cultural impact? Like, even today you can quote or reference the Matrix, or Bladerunner, or Terminator 2, Godfather, Shawshank Redemption, or Casablanca, and people still know what you’re talking about all these years later. Costumes and themes visual moments from those films permeate our culture. The same isn’t so of WWZ. It will be mostly forgotten.

      The point is that there’s a difference between something that makes a huge cultural impact and something that burns brightly and vanishes. The Last of Us is supposedly this pinnacle of games-as-movies, but when measured against movies it’s not all that special. The BEST movie-game is just an ordinary movie.

      • Aldowyn says:

        I’m curious how much we’ll be talking about TLOU in 5 years. People don’t talk about Uncharted that much any more. Or maybe it’s just because I’m not a playstation user.

        • Ithilanor says:

          Seems like it’s entered the popular imagination as a shorthand for games with pretty cutscenes and a tad of interactivity, even if specific details aren’t preserved. (Also not a Playstation user)

    • Vect says:

      Erm, Willem DeFoe (AKA the Green Goblin) was the one in Beyond: Two Souls, not Kevin Bacon.

  28. Daemian Lucifer says:

    All this talk about “Look at how well a kid died here,lets laugh at how poor it was in mass effect 3”,and yet no one remembers a kid dying in modern warfare 3.It was even worse than me3.I mean look at it.CAUTION:It may offend some by how lazy it is.

  29. Vect says:

    I will say that what makes Sarah’s death more effective than others is the fact that:

    1.) The game actually built up Sarah as a likeable character with a believable relationship with Joel in the few minutes we spend with her, unlike most other games where the kid is just some random civilian who dies. As a character, I can totally buy her smartassedness in the way that a lot of precocious pre-teens are at that age and it’s clear that she and her dad are close even if her father’s struggling to make ends meet.
    2.) The really good acting from both Joel and Sarah’s actors (the latter in particular made some really horrifying death gurgles).
    3.) What Campster said. Sarah’s death isn’t just a forced sad moment. It plays heavily into Joel’s character and as an establishing point for his relationship with Ellie.

  30. Adam Phant says:

    The car crash at the beginning has always bothered me. The car is going fast enough to roll the truck over. Nobody is wearing seatbelts. None of the airbags are deployed. The only injury is Sarah’s broken leg.

  31. Fulbert says:

    “Spoiler: I don’t think The Last of Us is that great of a movie. […] if this was in the theaters it wouldn’t be a blockbuster or anything. It would be something like World War Z (the movie) or Daybreakers: Competently executed and entertaining, but otherwise unremarkable disposable entertainment.”

    But Shamus, The Last of Us WAS in the theaters. It was called Children of Men and the preamble was a tad different (i.e. the society shattering plague wasn’t the zombies but something else), but the story itself is identical to the one of TLOU (or should I say, the story of TLOU is borrowed verbatim from Children of Men), and the film was absolutely amazing. It was directed by Alfonso Cuarón (of the Gravity fame) and boasted a depressing atmosphere, great acting and camerawork that has to be seen to be believed. It was one of the greatest films of 2000, and I have a feeling that TLOU borrows more than just the plot from it. I think it might be interesting for you to watch it and compare it to the game.

  32. Dragomok says:

    I’m somewhat surprised neither Shamoose nor comments mentioned Fable 2 cutscenes.

  33. Niel says:

    One of the most amazing games i have ever played, well done.

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