The Last of Us Lead Designer: You Will Come to ‘Rely’ on Ellie
Keeping Ellie from becoming a burden of a character meant making her useful to players, Minkoff said. She’s not just in the game to get into danger — she’s helping Joel out in a number of ways. During our hands-on time with the game, we didn’t get to see much of this, beyond Ellie and Joel’s smuggler partner, Tess, fighting back against infected enemies as they charged toward them and Joel.
However, Minkoff said there are a number of ways that Ellie will prove her worth through gameplay, and through which players will interact with her beyond listening to dialog between the two characters.
“She becomes ultimately indispensable in combat, where you completely rely on her being there with you and helping you. You start to rely on her the same way that Joel is relying on her,” he said. “We want you as the player to parallel the arc of Joel, who’s kind of this loner, stepping into this kind of protector role, and the protected, Ellie, becoming someone who he relies on, and the player now relies on her as well….
“Of course, there are cutscenes, but the big thing for us is that we want you to, through gameplay, build this bond. So yeah, there are the exploration moments where there’s dialog between them, but then there are also puzzle-solving moments where you have to work together to survive; there are also combat moments,” Minkoff said. “And we’re not quite ready to talk about what Ellie’s skills will be as you progress through the game, but by the time you reach the middle of the game, Ellie will have a whole raft of skills that you’re completely relying on in combat. She’s completely taking care of herself, she’s AI-controlled, and she can do all sorts of things in battle to help you out. And not just in battle, but when you’re scavenging and looking for supplies. She can bring you supplies that you missed and bring them over to you, and help you out and give you supplies that you would not have had. She can hand you ammo during combat. So there are all these things that she’ll be doing to help you out.
“On top of that, the emotional bond that you build from going through all of these difficult sequences together and knowing that she’s been there for you and helping you out. Our focus is really on building these bonds with multi-dimensional characters, and as their relationship changes, seeing how that is reflected in gameplay.”
It will undoubtedly be a tough challenge, though from the sounds of things, Naughty Dog is bringing lots of good ideas to the table. A number of games before have attempted to create AI characters that players can relate to, from Resident Evil 5 and 6 to Kane & Lynch and beyond, but it’s rare that any game succeeds, however. The Last of Us hits Playstation 3s on May 7, and we’ll find out then whether Naughty Dog succeeds.