The Last of Us EP32: Joel the White

By Shamus
on Dec 18, 2014
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

At around 14 minutes Ellie gets to this big house, and there’s already Raiders roaming around saying, “Find her!” We’re a mile away from where they thought she was, and they don’t have radios.

Can you imagine what this scenario must look like from their point of view? David said he wanted Ellie alive. So he sent out almost a hundred guys to track her. (It must be that many, assuming we’re not so unlucky that we just happened to run into all of them. I assume there must be still more guys searching all the other buildings in the area.) Instead of the entire group following her trail in the snow, they scattered themselves all over the entire region and began searching all the buildings.

Of course, there is a good reason for this. We needed more gameplay padding here and we already had the sound files for the raiders telling each other to look for the girl.

This is how I picture the design process at Naughty Dog:

  1. Hire supremely talented actors and have them perform a brilliant script on a high-end mo-cap stage.
  2. Have talented artists design gorgeous ruins,brimming with detail and flavor.
  3. Then some asshole comes in and mindlessly fills the space with raiders without regard to tone, pacing, or coherency.
  4. Then an even bigger asshole comes along and notices that there are still a few rooms in the game that don’t have mooks for you to gun down. He fixes this with some quick copy & paste work.
  5. Then Eugene comes along and figures, “If one bandit in every room is good, then two bandits will be twice at good!”

Dammit Eugene. You suck.

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From the Archives:

  1. Greg says:

    I really have to wonder what playtesters’ reactions were, that this got shipped as it is. Or do playtesters only test gameplay mechanics, and get ignored on story bits? Because the reality dissonance between cutscenes and gameplay just gets worse and worse and worse, and I find it hard to believe that even John/Jane Q. Gamer, if they’re paying any attention at all, don’t become more and more annoyed by the game as it goes on.

    • Tizzy says:

      AFAIK, most playtesters are unpaid enthusiasts. Getting to go inside a game studio and play must feel pretty sweet, and you wouldn’t want to be overly critical and risk jeopardizing this.

      Also, I doubt that they’re doing across the board feedback. They’re mostly looking for bugs in the first phases, and trying to understand how players approach the game and make use of the UI later. Even if testers want to give story feedback, not sure that they would have the chance.

    • Alex says:

      My guess is that they were ignored. I’ve been on both sides of the playtesting table and with some companies it’s really hard to push through any kind of critique more nuanced than “THIS DOES NOT FUNCTION!”

      • Tizzy says:

        The other people they will get feedback from is fellow employees, who get to try out the games every so often.

        Same thing: you’re going to want to be VERY careful about the kind of feedback you give.

  2. Jake Taylor says:

    I don’t get any sort of dissonance from things like this, nor do I realize anything is wrong. I played this entire game through without ever once wondering why were were so many bandits or how their society doesn’t work; if I’m enjoying something, I tend to accept everything as it’s presented to me. I only start noticing problems and becoming bothered by them if I’m already frustrated or annoyed about bigger things.

    Someone said on the last video, “welcome to the worst part of the game!”. I never felt that way myself; I was having fun, so I wasn’t noticing anything everyone’s been complaining about. I guess my only point is that things that are problems for some people that pull them out of the story, aren’t even noticed by others.

    Subjectivity is a really weird thing.

  3. Merzendi says:

    One thing I do like here is that they reinforce the whole thing of David talking about a crazy man by having the cultists actually run away from Joel when he appears. Even in Tom Braider, the game started to behave as if Lara was scary in the story, but I don’t believe anyone actually attempted to flee from her.

    • Galad says:

      There *was* one scene in Tom Braider where, iirc, someone tried to run away from Lara (probably unsuccessfully) and she reacted something like “That’s right, motherfucker, RUN! MUWAHAHAHA!”

  4. Bropocalypse says:

    Long, repetitive gameplay isn’t revealed in trailers, and a lot of first-post reviews don’t account for glaring issues like this. And I suspect that half the time, you tell someone “there’s too much {X} in this game” they’ll ask what the hell is wrong with you. “How can there be too much of a thing? You can just stop playing it!” And then they buy it because they dismissed your backwards thinking, which they will forget before they get to the repetition.
    So these end up not being market forces.

    • MrGuy says:

      I think it’s more than a little the “if some is good, more must be better!” approach. Let’s say you have some gameplay that you playtest. Some things will suck. Some things will be well received. The trap it’s easy to fall into is “OK, let’s cut all the stuff that tested poorly, and also RAMP UP the stuff that tested well. Because that’s what people have told you they like. So let’s give them that. It’s hard to recognize “the reason this tests well is that it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, so let’s be happy people like it and stop right here.”

      If the first scarce ammo gunfight you had with David was pretty cool, then doing three more in quick succession will be even cooler! If a tense stealth-ish fight through a group of buildings is interesting, let’s do the same thing at the next group of buildings!

      Lots of games do this. I felt Deus Ex:HR was really bad in some ways. “OK, while, I did some exploring and found an air vent to sneak by the bad guys. Cool!” turned into “Oh. Bad guys again. Guess there’s an air vent around here I’m supposed to look around for. Box moving time again!” Something that felt rewarding turned into a chore. Not because it wasn’t really a fun mechanic, but because the devs felt the need to squeeze every morsel of juice out of it, even after the joy of it wore off.

      That’s a real popular song! Who wants to hear of it 50 times more?

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        There is also a “x$ for a game only y hours long” thing*. And those story parts? Real expensive to make.

        *Not saying this is an invalid argument, in some genres more than others.

  5. silver Harloe says:

    That horse will feed more of them than the little girl.

    One positive thing to say: at least he took months to recover from that wound, instead of just sleeping off like Lara?
    edit: Shamus actually found it to be the opposite of that.

    • SyrusRayne says:

      I didn’t have a problem with Joel’s recovery. It felt like it took some time, with the timeskip and all. Plus, though Josh doesn’t comment on this, Joel actually plays pretty sluggishly at the moment. He’s slower, he /feels/ wounded. I don’t know if this is just a difference between him and Ellie, or if he’s actually slower since being wounded, but it was enough for me.

    • Matthew I says:

      Isn’t it a little strange how that horse is effectively a low-tech car? When he/she isn’t needed, he/she is just parked (er, hitched to some post) and patiently awaits the return of his/her owner, he/she never disobeys a command or shows any independent thought, and Ellie apparently never has to feed or take care of him/her at all. Written well, that horse could almost have been a third character, but no, it’s just a replaceable car stand-in.

      • Ithilanor says:

        It’s not as bad as the horses in Mount & Blade*, at least, which act almost exactly like motorcycles. It’s a good point, though. This horse is a long way from, say, your horse in Shadow of the Colossus.

        *came to mind from watching Rutskarn’s streams

    • Protocol95 says:

      I’d be more fine with it if they limited your inventory. A health kit and a rifle/melee weapon and maybe a pistol would be better I think.

      Also in order to balance it what with less ammo I imagine they could throw less people at you like a squad of guys at most and not… this. Balances challenge and story hypothetically.

  6. Ithilanor says:

    While we’re talking about great performances, Nolan North does a really good job as David. If the story’s going to go down such a creepy path, at least his role was executed well.

  7. Tony Kebell says:

    @16:00 Mumbles? Have you seen the comment on some of these videos, you HAVE built a cannibal cult.

  8. silver Harloe says:

    “You have my horse, you have my buck. I saw at least one other live buck around here. I provided you with a ton of corpses back at the mall, and like 20 more when I tried to ride away. You should be drowning in meat. You literally have no reason except vengeance to kill me. If your fellows want revenge so badly, my saying ‘yep, I’ll eat people, too’ won’t save me. If they don’t care, then your best course of action is to let me walk away from here, then you don’t even have me as a prisoner to feed. Unless your grand mission in life is to have me reduce more of your men to future meals? Because so far, I’ve only been killing the ones in my way. You really, really don’t want to see me actually try to reduce your numbers.”

    “Next time you try to kill me, send your fattest, juiciest guys first, if you see what I’m sayin’.”

    • Sleepyfoo says:

      It would be awesome if they Lampshaded it like this. I don’t have high hopes for it though.

      Then again, given the number of people killed, maybe they aren’t drowning in meat if they still have this many to throw away. : )

    • MrGuy says:

      Actually, this would be an AWESOME reason for David (who thinks everything happens for a reason) to use you. He’s built this giant band. It’s way too hard to feed everyone. A significant number of their people consume way more than they produce. And they’ve exhausted the food in this area, to the extent that they’ve had to resort to cannibalism.

      David’s a realist, and he sees his band is too big to survive.

      But he can’t abandon people. He might not have the heart, but more importantly doesn’t have the ability. If the 30 best men slunk off in the night, the others would follow. He can’t put it to a vote or tell some people to leave – they’re all well armed, and attempting to cull the group would lead to violence, and quite a lot of your “chosen few” might die. He’s trapped by a bloated, weak, and way-too-large group.

      But in Ellie and Joel, David recognizes a force of nature. They’re not just opponents – they’re highly skilled opponents. So he uses them like wolves to thin his heard. He can’t send the weak away, but he CAN send waves of guys into a situation where the weak among them will be killed. And in a way that doesn’t jeopardize his leadership – hey, I didn’t kill anyone! I just gave you a mission.

      In the end, David captures you. And then he lets you go – David’s got no grudge with you. He got what he wanted – his band of 150 has shrunk to a manageable 20 thanks to you. Thanks to “natural selection,” it’s the best 20. They’re still big enough to defend themselves, but small enough to live off the land. David thanks you for the service you’ve done him – doing what he couldn’t do himself.

      • I figured David thinks everything happens for a reason because he’s seen the face of fate, and it’s a drunk bald guy in Las Vegas sending beardy emo guys with little girl sidekicks after him and his pals in unstoppable fury.

      • Ivan says:

        I really like where you’re going with that but I think the only possible conclusion is that they kill you after they finally manage to capture you. I mean David has made you the enemy, he can’t simply let you go just because you technically did exactly what he wanted you to do. He’s got a lot of angry men who he has to handle right now and if he just let Ellie go then they would likely turn on him. The only thing that makes sense is to curb their lust for revenge by killing you and Joel. But as Joel is still unaccounted for they keep you hostage to use to try to capture Joel. If they killed Ellie then Joel isn’t likely to stop until he kills them all.

  9. Twisted_Ellipses says:

    I think Mumbles might be reiterating a myth about cannibalism. You don’t go crazy from eating people (although it probably wouldn’t help your state of mind). You are more vulnerable to protein transmitted diseases like CJD, but I’m really not sure how likely that A. the victim would have one and B. the eater would contract it.

    I think the presence of cannibalism might be due to the influence of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road .

    I’m now going to stop writing about cannibalism because I’m creeping myself out…

  10. methermeneus says:

    I actually had a really big problem with the cannibals, specifically with the butcher. Now, Shamus mentioned the waste of meat, tossing an arm on the floor like that. That’s one big thing. (It’s probably meant to mimic how, in the first world, we tend to eat only parts of the torso of a mammal, but this is a subsistence society: Shanks, marrow, that’s all good stuff, for stew if nothing else!) However, to make matters worse, it’s obvious to me that no one did their research on cannibals because, if they had, they’d have known that, while various cannibal groups have had their traditional favorites, the personal opinions of most individuals among those groups is that the palms are the best part!

    Source: I can’t find it anymore, unfortunately, and now I’m probably on an FBI watch list or something for trying to relocate it. It was from some researcher who went to some tribes that enacted ritual (funerary or postbellum) cannibalism and actually asked the tribespeople what they thought of it.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “in the first world, we tend to eat only parts of the torso of a mammal”

      Really?Thats stupid.Legs are the best part of veal,lamb and wild pork.Also frogs.Then of course theres cheeks and tongue which are quite delicious,and the brain which works as an excellent spread.

      • Phill says:

        Actually I think a lot of people assume everything is torso when it isn’t. A lot of meat is in fact from the flanks (rear legs). Although it is true that people buying in supermarkets tend to buy only a few specific cuts.

        I can buy two chicken breasts for a certain price. I can get the same quantity of meat in chicken thighs (after removing the bones) for about half the price (and it tastes better too). The difference in price is almost entirely because everyone buys breast by default, meaning that the less popular parts (drumsticks, wings, thighs) are much cheaper – almost by-products.

        But because people only see a few common cuts of beef, they think that is all they are eating. The rest of the meat still gets used, it just turns up in sausages, burgers, convenience meals, MacDonalds, sandwich meats. And the quality of these ranges all the way from good meat from less popular cuts, all the way down to intestines and “mechanically recovered meat”

        But on the whole it is true that, certainly in the UK and USA, public tastes have become very limited in terms of what they think of as ‘meat’ that you buy in a supermarket, and consequently a great deal of knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of different cuts, how to prepare them effectively, and recipes using them, have been lost. Which is a shame. A lamb chop is pretty dull. A slow cooked lamb shank on the bone is gorgeous. And I’ve got some recipes for calf brains that I’m certainly far too squeamish to try ;)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “I can get the same quantity of meat in chicken thighs (after removing the bones) for about half the price (and it tastes better too).”

          Ehh,tastes very.I like breasts better.Though grilled wings are the best.

          “And the quality of these ranges all the way from good meat from less popular cuts, all the way down to intestines and “mechanically recovered meat””

          Intestines (and stomach) are actually quite good,if you clean them properly.That,however,requires lots of work that Im sure youll never find in any of your regular stores.So unless you know someone who has small to modest animal farm*,you have probably never tried any of the specialties such as chitterlings**.

          *As soon as you have a bunch of animals,you really stop having time to properly clean and prepare them.
          **You can find them in plenty of restaurants,but mostly they taste awful because they werent properly cleaned and prepared.Ive managed to find exactly one place in some 100 km radius of me that has good chitterlings.Discounting,of course,my aunt that has a small animal farm.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So ellie can survive 5 bullets,with more than half her health,but the horse cant survive 1 bullet?I love scripted cutscenes that make no sense.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ok,ellie killing people with a small knife is really ridiculous.Yes,you can stab someone with that knife and they would bleed to death,but they sure wouldnt be dead in seconds.Meanwhile,joel got an appendectomy from a big ass spike that ran through his whole body,and he is still alive months later.Its just crazy.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      The spike didn’t take Improved Sneak Attack, that’s why.

    • MrGuy says:

      I think they actually try to make the animations of Ellie using the knife be blows that actually would be near-instantly fatal (or at least instantly debilitating leading to quick death).

      There are a lot of animations where you see Ellie stabbing someone in the side of the neck (usually several times). That gets the airway and the carotid, and it really would put you on the ground. There’s a new one to me in this episode where she stabs someone through the eye, which plausibly gets to the brain (similarly if she stabs at an ear). When she stabs someone in the chest, we often see her going for the heart. Those are real “drop here and die right now” stabs.

      Then there are some dumb ones. I’ve seen Ellie apparently stab someone through the top of the head, which is…implausible, though I guess it’s a real instant kill if you pull it off. And for some reason a number of her torso stabs are “in the belly,” which clearly is NOT something that brings you down in one shot.

      With some exceptions, I think they try to make her knife kills seem like plausible instant kills. Better than some of the gun kills (I recall in the last episode Ellie shooting someone in the shin and having it be an instakill).

      Still doesn’t help with the verisimilitude that you shooting someone in the leg once kills them, they shoot you in the torso multiple time and you really need to think about stopping for three seconds to put a band aid on it.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The problem I have is with how small her blade is.Sure,she could stab someone in the eye and maybe (thats a big maybe) reach the brain,but its more likely she would just poke their eye out.And while that would make someone go down,and probably bleed to death,they wouldnt just drop dead on the spot.Same goes for the neck.Chest,no way,thats why we have the ribs for.You cant just get to the heart with any knife you find.And even if you are lucky/skillful enough to go between the ribs,theres still plenty of flesh to go through.It would hurt,but it would be the least lethal stab.Even going for the kidney,while not instantly fatal,would make the enemy go down sooner.

        But yeah,shooting is just hilarious.Even in this episode she shot a raider in the knee and killed him on the spot.At least with stabbing ellie is relentless and keeps poking until the guy goes down.Though I dont see how that would bring down a zombie.Heck,how is joel able to stab a zombie to death?With half a scissor no less.

  13. I will freely admit that I don’t often pay 100% attention to the visuals, but all the talk about David being a pedophile made me wonder if he had any other options. Are there any female raiders/cannibals seen in this game, or are they all dudes?

    I’m not saying that Dave’s actions are excusable “because apocalypse,” but I do wonder if there have been any women among the raider-cannibal-suicide mobs?

    • Shamus says:

      That’s ANOTHER thing…

      Given the sheer amount of fighting in this game, we have to assume armed conflict is common. And it’s 99% men. The world should be even worse off than post WWII Japan or Germany. We should be running out of fighting-age men and overflowing with women.

      • MrGuy says:

        Meh. It depends.

        Back in Boston, we were paired up with Tess, and Marlene leads the fireflies. Tommy’s wife is the leader in their little settlement. When they’re storytelling, they make a plausible world where “guys do the fighting” is a thing of the past.

        Even in David’s band, they at least lampshade a bit by having a camp with “women and children,” and in a world where long-term survival is highly threatened, you could understand keeping their women away from the fighting (28 Days Later has a great-but-super-creepy take on this…) I agree this would make David’s little band more women-heavy as Ellie kills a ton of dudes. But it’s also a question of whether the gender ratio started as even – if he’s signing up recruits as “people who wander in the door,” he may GET a lot more men (what if small towns don’t let their women leave the city gates because breeding? It’s a post-apocolypse…) Would be nice to build more world around this, but I could buy some explanations here.

        The only parts that really bother me are the pure raider towns, but those are so stupid anyways that the gender imbalance in the mooks you shoot isn’t even top of my list…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well,as Phrozenflame500 mentioned in the previous topic,its technically not pedophilia when the kid in question is a teen.Its ephebophie,and it makes sense for a world with scarcity of humans.Its still creepy though,especially because weve grown to like ellie so much.

  14. Eugene of The Naughty Dog says:

    Why are you so mean towards me Shamus? I have a family to feed, and they promised me a bonus for every raider I can cram in the game. I had no choice, I had to survive. Cannibals fed my family through the winter.

    Your words hurt me :'(

  15. Alex says:

    Re: Ellie and Lara Croft

    Beyond the fact that Lara’s an adult who has spent her entire life being groomed for the adventurer-archaeologist life, I’d also say Tomb Raider works better because this is her unique attribute. She is not the only person to have washed up on the island over the decades – wave after wave of people have been in the situation Lara was in, and you can plausibly say it was only a matter of time before somebody succeeded via this infinite-monkeys-infinite-typewriters strategy.

    With Ellie, she is not one of hundreds who happened to come out on top. She is already unique – and uniquely valuable – due to her immunity to zombification, and having her doubly unique by also being a complete badass stretches credulity.

    • MrGuy says:

      She was raised in a military school, with a culture of discipline, and where every day she was taught how to kill Fireflies. She’s not self taught. And she’s not one of those characters who goes from “which end do I point at them?” to “deadeye marksman” in the length of a cutscene. The fact that Joel never gave her a gun doesn’t mean she didn’t know how to use one.

      I think of the two main attributes, having her be handy with a rifle is a lot more plausible than having her be the chosen one.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Cannibalism does not make people crazy.The prion disease that can spread through cannibalism is not a 100% certainty.Its a danger,but not one that is bound to happen to anyone who enjoys the pink flesh.

    Though social stigma that surrounds cannibalism and stuff involved in obtaining large quantities of human flesh can make one crazy in other ways.

    • Taellosse says:

      Aren’t prion diseases mostly only a risk if you eat the brains? I seem to remember reading that at some point.

    • Ivan says:

      Yeah I was going to say. What is the culture around this cannibalism? Do you only eat outsiders? Will you eat your own dead if they were killed by something else? Will you kill and eat each other only when you get desperate? Will you eat each other when you get the munchies?

      I mean the former makes the most sense, I don’t think it would be too psychologically damaging to your group if you only ate outsiders. But if you eat each other for any reason… I mean how could you do that? and how could you trust each other knowing that you could be next on the menu if something goes wrong? People already don’t sign up to be organ donors out of the fear that doctors will be more likely to try to save their organs rather than to save them.

      In any case, you would certainly appear to be crazy to anyone outside your group.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        There have been plenty of cannibalistic cultures where they would eat their enemies and their fallen alike,the first to gain their strength the second to show respect.So its not that big of a deal for a tribe thats doing it for ages.The problem is when it gets introduced as a new concept.

  17. Given how tedious some (a lot?) of those here find this kind of combat, it makes me wonder if Steam not only tracks how much of a game players get through, but where they stop?

    It’d be interesting if it was places like this, the Deep Roads, etc. was where a significant portion of players had decided not to complete the game. I wonder if devs would take notice or if they’d just shrug and keep adding their hordes of mooks.

    • Phill says:

      I don’t remember the steam API having any analytics capability, but there are plenty of other options. Pretty much any non-indie game these days is going to try and have analytic data that gets sent home if possible for the developers to note things like what fraction of the player base get to various points, try various actions, use various weapons, play different game modes and every other stat you can think of. Its easy to go in games with online components. Maybe not so much with single player offline games, although thanks to things like steam people do tend to end up connected online most of the time anyway.

      How much use any of this is is more debatable ;) A lot of companies end up with large amounts of data and no real understanding of how to draw meaningful conclusions from it.

      • The Steam client does track a lot of data, mostly regarding achievements, which are often linked to points in a game. You can see how many players have finished the Fallout games, for example, as the final quest awards an achievement.

        I believe Shamus mentioned that there are analytics about bits of Half Life 2, such as what percentage of players threw the can at the metrocop in the train station. If they can track that, I’m assuming it’s possible to track other things, though perhaps not unless it’s their own games.

        • Phill says:

          The steam API handles achievements etc., but it doesn’t actually track any data itself apart from play time, because it can’t. Individual programs do their own internal tracking of data for achievements (plays has killed 15 out of 37,000 rats to get the “I have no social life” achievement. The game then informs the API of achievements awarded, progress etc.

          All the steam client is doing is displaying what the game tells it to. The client itself doesn’t do any of the tracking or logic for this.

          The half life 2 example (and analytics generally) are the same – the client is too dumb to know anything about that sort of thing. The game tracks the data, the game reports the data to some company server or another, using custom code or some third party library. From what I remember the steam functions exposed to the game code didn’t include any analytics functionality, although I wouldn’t be surprised it it got added in to the API at some point.

          But even if they do, it’s still nothing to do with valve what any given game choses to track. Valve are at best providing a convenient interface for games programmers to fire data back to their home servers somewhere.

  18. Ivan says:

    So it seems like the number of people you kill is actually cannon. I mean it would have been easier to ignore if the game never acknowledged it but didn’t David say that he lost 40 men to some crazy dude with a girl? Or maybe I’m miss-remembering the quote. Anyway, I just assumed that the people you kill are just there as a video game abstraction. Like how someone would exaggerate when telling a story; but now it looks like you have literally killed hundreds of men over the course of the game. Have you literally eaten hundreds of bullets as well? I thought Joel was supposed to be an ex-raider not an ex-kryptonian! Why is he such an unstoppable killing machine?

  19. djshire says:

    Ask Mumbles, she’ll tell you the best way to prepare human…is that you have to disarm them first

  20. Kamica says:

    The guy who did/orchestrated the AI for the human(not zombie) characters had a talk at our school (He apparently also did the AI for at least two Uncharted games). Im personally not too fond of his work =). (The human-shooting bits in the Last of Us were the annoying bits, and pretty much all combat in the Uncharted games was annoying)

    Other than that, I really liked the games =D.

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