Rebuilding a classic certainly doesn’t sound like an easy task, but that’s what the The Last of Us Part 1 remake is. With us today is Matthew Gallant, Game Director, and Shaun Escayg, Creative Director. Naturally, we had to ask a few questions of them about putting together a title that people have strong memories of.
Interview has been edited for clarity. Check out our review of the remake here!
The original release of The Last of Us was in 2013, which then got a Remastered version for PS4. What made you decide to remake Part 1?
Shaun Escayg: When we wrapped up Part 2, there was a lot of rumbles in the studio where we thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if fans new and old, and ourselves, have the ability to play Part 1 and 2 without the large gap of visual quality, fidelity and technology?”. The original was made for the PS3 after all, and we felt it super important to expand our Part 2 accessibility features into Part 1.
We wanted to approach this carefully because we have this responsibility to do the original game justice. We started with the premise of “staying absolutely faithful to the core experience, preserving all we love about the original”, but build it up using the decade of artistic and technological development of Part 2. We overhauled everything with a new art direction, lighting, redesigned characters, improved animations and facial performances to better match the original performance. We now have more sophisticated tech to capture the subtle nuance to heighten the core experience of our beloved game.
Was there any discussion during the development process to add anything significantly new to the story?
Shaun Escayg: We had this tug of war with the team because not everything that could be added would actually heighten or change the experience. At one point, the Military City had a sort of reimagining to add trees, overgrowth, and kind of make the spaces prettier. It’s a natural instinct to want to improve, but contextually, it started to lose the feeling of being ‘inside the military’ and ‘outside’. It’s a safe haven for humanity but resources are slim. If there was a tree, it would be cut down. What made the place oppressive is the fact there wasn’t much greenery and overgrowth, compared to outside where it’s lush, but dangerous. It’s a subtle but important narrative context that we needed to retain.
We always had to ask ourselves if we were making the original experience better, or making it different in ways that ruined the pillars of the original game.
Matthew Gallant: We had to think about which aspects were dated now. The story, performances, voices, story beats, wasn’t one of those. They’re timeless, compared to the underlying technology of the original game. What we wanted to do was rebuild it with stronger tech, gameplay, and artistic foundation to deliver the original story at its highest level possibleWas there any part of the game that was especially challenging to redesign?
Matthew Gallant: I can speak about a couple of fights; two of the Infected had significant improvements from Part 2 that we brought over to Part 1. First is the Stalkers, that didn’t feel any different from Runners due to memory and processing limitations, and players didn’t realize they were a different enemy type. We gave them unique looks and creepy animations in Part 2, so now the Part 1 fight is one of my favourite fights, to get to play against these fully realized enemies. You can use 3D Audio to hear them sneaking behind you to really enhance the experience.
We also improved the Bloater. In Part 2, we added a charge move which is now in Part 1. The iconic gym area now has tons more physics so the Bloater’s acid bomb can now send objects flying left and right. You’ll get to experience the fight with more interactivity thanks to the next-gen treatment.
What else did the team pay extra attention to in the remake?
Shaun Escayg: The most challenging thing is about being selective about what we add or don’t add to the remake, and managing that was our most difficult task. There were spaces we definitely knew we were limited by technology: adding more enemies can create the feeling of being trapped, or more subtle reimaginings in lighting with more consistency across levels as drastic changes affects the mood and tone. It’s a delicate dance of improving the original experience, but not transform it too much out of context.
It seems a little early to remake the game. Why did you decide to do so, as well as increase the price?
Shaun Escayg: The price isn’t either of our wheelhouses, but I can tell you what we did. Remaking The Last of Us needed us to overhaul every aspect of the game that we couldn’t realize it completely the first time. This is our opportunity to redesign and reimagine the game, rebuilding our characters to be more realistic, expressive, detailed. You get to see all the subtle nuances; our animator, Eric Baldwin, did such a fantastic job crafting the moment where Ellie stops dancing and looks starry-eyed at Riley, and you get to see the conflict in her eyes it dawns on her how much she’s enjoying the moment, and also realizing that she’d be losing her only friend, the love of her life, to the Fireflies.
A lot of passion has gone into pushing the emotional depth for the experience.
Matthew Gallant: We’ve basically made Part 1 match in visual fidelity, technology, etc., to all the other modern PS5 games at its core.
Part 2 was a PS4 title, so why is Part 1’s remake PS5 only and not a cross-gen title? Are there PS5 only elements?
Matthew Gallant: It’s basically much what we already talked about with regards to pushing the fidelity of the game and delivering the story to the highest level possible with all the latest technology; 3D audio, haptics, details, as the core to the vision of what we want this game to be.
What can you tell us about the new modes like Permadeath, or Speedrun?
Matthew Gallant: First of all, for Speedrun mode, it was an idea one of our design team members pitched as he’s really involved in the game’s speedrunning scene and knows what they look for in terms of functionality in optimizing and verifying runs. We consulted with speedrunners to ask what they wanted to see in a mode like this. I hope for the general audience who don’t follow speedrunning, like myself, could check out the detailed tracking we have when finishing chapters in speedrun mode, showing your personal best time. Your best time will be shown in an activity card which you can then compare with other people on your friends’ list for some kind of leaderboard. I think the speedrunning community are gonna dig it, and this would be a great entry point if you haven’t done speedrunning before.
Permadeath is a mode that I feel has a lot of personal investment to know that one false move means your run is over. The Last of Us already has tense, scary combat, and the stakes feel so much higher. I really enjoyed watching streamers play this mode in Part 2, so I’m thrilled that people will be able to experience it in Part 1 too.
Much thanks to Matthew Gallant and Shaun Escayg for answering our questions! With the impending release of this classic, as well as the near future HBO series coming out, this seems like a good time as any to revisit the story with fresh eyes, quite literally! There’s a reason why this has remained so timeless, after all, so it’s time to remember why we love it so much.