Widely considered to be one of – if not the – best game’s of last generation, Naughty Dog struck a chord with The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic tale of survival lined with engaging characters, nerve-shredding moments and a wonderfully realized game world. It may came to your surprise, then, that prior to release the studio believed that the new IP “was going to tank.”
Speaking during PlayStation’s ongoing Conversations with Creators web series, Co-Director Bruce Straley even went so far as to the say that he worried the third-person adventure game would tarnish the Naughty Dog brand.
“We though it was going to tank. We thought we were going to ruin the name and image [of Naughty Dog] that’s been so heartily built for years with blood, sweat, and tears,” he explained. “We thought we were ruining Naughty Dog’s image.”
It’s a frank admission from a studio that prizes itself on genre-defining releases. Not only that, but it also underlines the internal pressures, and perhaps internal standards, that were looming over The Last of Us before it hit the market two years ago. For Lead designer Anthony Newman, though, these problems weren’t necessarily in relation to the game’s story or performance capture; instead, he believed that technical hiccups would have ultimately been TLoU’s undoing.
“A big part of it was on the mechanical side; I thought, ‘We’ll be lucky to scrape by with an 85 Metacritic.’ Just because it wasn’t gelling,” Newman said. “It wasn’t coming together. So it was really a a set of really lucky breaks in terms of gameplay decisions we made that really made everything fall into place and turned it into a fun game.”
As you may recall, Naughty Dog opted to delay The Last of Us by around a fortnight as it was nearing its summer release. In hindsight, many of the developers cite this crucial two-week extension was the saving grace that dragged the game from an 8 to a 10, effectively creating one of the more memorable releases of a generation.