The Last of Us Developer Talks Faking Open World Levels and Weenies

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The Last of Us Developer Talks Faking Open World Levels and Weenies
Ricky Cambier on how Naughty Dog leads players
With Naughty Dog’sThe Last of Us finally on shelves and gamers the world over embracing its unique brand of survival horror, we got the chance to catch up with lead designer Ricky Cambier for a post-mortem, including diving into player reactions and the way people approached and responded to that ending.

We also talked to Ricky about his specific work which was on certain levels – reading on would be a SPOILER if you haven’t finished the game yet.

You've been warned!
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Cambier was involved directly in the levels where you get to control Ellie and when we asked for an example of how designers lead players through the world, he used an example from the deer hunt.

“I was seeing some great feedback about how some people were thinking it was just this great open deer hunt,” says Cambier. “And yet in the end I guide them directly to this building that they go through. And it’s really just about keeping the player invested in the experience so that they’re kind of doing what you want and you can set up those views and those vistas.”

He says that it’s all based on a design ethos the company has followed since Uncharted which is itself rooted in something you may have actually seen in the real world: “ [In] game design in general there’s the idea of the Weenie. Which is back to the Disneyland example of how when you’re walking in Disneyland you can see the castle off in the background and you wander and do rides and you can still see it and its getting closer. And you keep going. So we found little ways of having that macro goal always out there but getting the player really invested in the micro goal.”

The Weenie is an actual term, coined by Walt himself, that refers to the layout of the Disney parks and anyone who has played The Last of Us will remember many obvious uses of this mechanic when your objective looms in the distance. But it’s clear that Naughty Dog use it on a grand and intimate scale throughout the game.

Cambier narrates the thought process of a player: “So I was just hunting this deer and following this blood trail through this forest that was huge and then I happened to come to this building and this mine shaft…!’ But we led you there! In a very specific way and if you step back the space isn’t as big as probably you thought but because of the layout or the way we put the trees and the view and the vistas, we’re just crafting this experience.”

It’s an interesting insight into the challenge of funnelling players while also making the world feel bigger than it really is, through clever use of assets and a mix of story and gameplay elements. NaughtyDog are undoubtedly some of the best in the business at this particular art, with The Last of Us remaining cinematic throughout its lengthy running time while also giving the player plenty of apparent freedom.

You can read the full interview with Rickey Cambier here and our review of The Last of Us here.


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