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Interview: Druckmann & Hicks on THE LAST OF US & Zombie Fatigue

Neil Druckmann is Naughty Dog’s creative director and one of the driving forces behind The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic game that has tantalized game fans since last year’s E3.

Before we get our hands on the game, though, Druckmann has teamed with both Faith Erin Hicks and Dark Horse Comics to delve into the origins of both the game’s central character Ellie and the world that the game’s main characters will inhabit in The Last of Us: American Dreams, a prequel comic book series.

In our interview with both Druckmann and Hicks, we talk about the difference between the artistic style of the comic and the game, and why Naughty Dog has been careful to keep The Last of Us from being labeled a “zombie game”.

Can you describe the difference between writing the story for a game and writing the story for the comic and also were any elements from this prequel story thing that were initially part of the game?

Neil Druckmann: They’re pretty different mediums. I guess the cinematics are a little similar cause it’s more linear, but more the systemic stuff, the interactive stuff… you’re writing it on an Excel sheet because you’re looking at events that could trigger dialogue and you’re trying to keep track of the emotional state of the character. So you’re trained to write systemic dialogue, but writing for the comic… I guess, I don’t know — themes are the same, the characters voices are the same, but it’s nice to have a partner like Faith that really understands the medium to help me out.

Faith Erin Hicks: You know, the comic, I think it’s just different. Not necessarily in terms of the dialogue, it’s just different in terms of the pacing. Like, obviously you know games and comics are completely different artistic mediums. When I’m writing comics I have to think about the paneling, I have to think about the pacing, and then with this comic in particular — it’s a twenty-two page, four issue series — I also have to think about the length. I mean, do you think about that in gaming, the length of the game? I’m assuming you do as well.

Neil: We’re constantly… you’re looking at how many minutes of cinematics [you] have, what’s the length of the game, and the length of the level. Then you’re kinda making cuts and adjustments based on that. So I guess it’s just on a bigger scale, at least with this series.

Aside from Ellie can we expect to see anyone else from the comics move over into the game?

Neil: Without spoiling anything, I’ll say there are a lot of events that are definitely influenced in the story of the game. That’s all I can say.

There’s a stark difference between the way the game looks and the way the comic book looks. What was the thinking behind that, behind having such a difference between the visual footprint of the comics and the game?

Neil: I guess when we were first approached by Dark Horse to do this book, me personally, I didn’t want it to be just an action book or a horror book. I want it to be a coming of age story of two teenage girls living in what just happens to be a post-apocalyptic world. So the artist we were looking for was someone that could tell that kind of story and I was really drawn to Faith’s writing because I was really moved by some of her previous works.

At no point were we trying to replicate what we’re doing with the game, we really wanted the comic book to stand on its own and find someone who was really strong in that medium and Faith fit the bill.

You’ve been very careful to keep this from being labeled a “Zombie game”. Does that have anything to do with concerns about zombie fatigue or that that label might limit your audience?

Neil: Maybe. It’s mainly just — at least in games — so much of it has been based on the horror and the monster and so little of it has been based on character and relationships and character arcs. So we really wanted every step of the way to say, “this is the journey of Joel and Ellie”. There’s this outside threat, there’s these infected that are applying pressure on the characters that are forcing them to make really hard choices, but the story is about Joel and Ellie. In the comic book it happens to be Ellie and Riley.

Faith: Yeah. I mean, I was just going to say, I fell like it’s almost… not incidental that the infection is here and there’s this incredible threat from the infected in the comic, but the threat could be humans or any kind of situation, or any kind of…

Neil: Or it could be a natural disaster?”

Faith: Yeah, exactly, it could be anything, but the comic — at its core — is about these two teenage girls and what they have to go through and their, I guess, evolution from innocence to experienced. Which is personally really cool for me, I really enjoyed the story that we’ve created. I think it’s something very different, I mean the best zombie movies always have something going on underneath them, right? Like some sort of social context or something that they’re commenting on — it’s not really about the zombie itself. It’s like, “what does the zombie represent?” or that kind of thing.

You can buy The Last of Us #2 at your local comic shop and on Dark Horse Digital. 

The Last of Us game comes out on June 14th on PS3

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Jason Tabrys

Jason Tabrys

In a white knuckled fury, Jason just deleted the bio he's been using for years so he can rap at you and come correct.

His name is Bing Bong, he's an archer and such. Also, he occasionally writes for Screen Invasion, Comic Book Resources, Screen Rant, Nerdbastards and elsewhere.
Jason is really getting used to this whole "referring to himself in the third person thing."