It’s the day of the Last of Us Outbreak! We took some of Halley Gross’ time to ask her a few questions regarding her involvement in The Last of Us Part II, as co-writer! Read on for this Southeast Asia exclusive interview! For more about our hands-on gameplay experience of Part 2, go here.
A quick primer on Halley Gross: full name Halley Wegryn Gross, the 34 year old woman has been involved in screenwriting before Part II. Her previous works include Westworld, Emerald City and Too Old to Die Young.
It’s kind of an insistent terminology, as it’s called The Last of Us Part II, and not simply referred to as a numbered sequel like The Last of Us 2. Gross explains it’s because the game is an extension of the first game. It’s another chapter in Ellie’s, and Joel’s story in the battered world they live in.
Gross’ prior experience has been writing for the screen, and now she’s co-writer for a game, and not just any game either. She tells us that there are certain parts of the process being similar, as both the shows on the TV or silver screen and that of games are about the stories – the stories and the characters, and you’d want to make characters that you find fascinating and interesting.
Put these characters into difficult situations and challenge them as much as you can, is how she puts it. “Test how much they [your characters] are willing to fight for what they want.” She goes into the differences at this point, describing games as a living medium and finding it wonderful. “Neil [Druckmann, creative director of The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II] and I created an outline, but then that outline evolved and changed as we worked with the designers, animators, and artists,” Gross shares. “As the game grew, we realized they didn’t quite work anymore, and we were in a position to change that, which you can’t really do in film and television. You have to finish that [film/TV show] before you make it.”
We asked about the motion capture photos she’s shared on her social media, but Gross is unable to disclose anything about it, apart that it’s fun and the suits are hot. She expresses her admiration for the actors, being able to face a camera in a different way unlike regular film sets.
We’ve seen the pretty gritty and violent peeks into the story of The Last of Us Part II. The Last of Us had a message of love, but now it’s steering into the exploration of hate. Ellie’s growth as a person is being focused on here. We can see how difficult the world she’s in can be to live through. There’s systemic violence along with her emotional trauma, and we are to see how all of these has impacted her soul. Gross doesn’t think most, if any of us, would be able to make it in such a hostile world like Ellie’s. Her pain and the hate that comes with it can’t be ignored, and the team wants to be honest with who Ellie is becoming.
While we can’t get an exact figure on how big The Last of Us Part II will compare to the first one, Gross believes it’s about 50% bigger by her estimation. It’s massive in both length and width, with bigger levels, more cinematics, characters and the animations that come with it. All she can assuredly say now is that the game, coming out on 21 February 2020, will be bigger in every way.
We get more information regarding the Washington Liberation Front (WLF) within the game, which Ellie will be encountering in Seattle. The WLF have been in the territory for over 15 years and are aggressively anti-outsiders, caring only for each other and themselves. Anything else is a threat they shoot on sight. From this, we can get the impression the WLF are incredibly scary and undoubtedly evil, and Ellie will have to somehow negotiate.
Nevertheless, Gross mentions how they want to humanize even these characters that we’re not supposed to like, not merely focusing on the characters they do love. The AI system has characters call out each other by name, and will mourn their deaths. Sure, they are in Ellie’s, by extension, the player’s, way as enemies and obstacles, but who are still people. Ellie’s violent acts won’t just have a cost to herself, but also to those around her.
In making the world feel real and fleshed out, we will be able to see various cameos, tidbits or trivia scattered around. Gross says this is to make every space you experience new and exciting, and to be able to tell a story. A gamer character would own consoles or games from the time before, for example. She hopes players will be exploring and finding interesting things as reward for investigating every nook and cranny.
The team is currently focused on making sure The Last of Us Part II will be a complete story, so a continuation is not currently in the works. We can ask about Ellie’s new tattoo, though, and Gross informs us it’s in part to hide the bite mark that also has an acid mark layered over it. We, as the audience, are aware that Ellie is immune, but she still puts on a mask, effectively hiding a part of herself from Dina, whom we’ve met in the trailers. Gross even drops the fact the tattoo is from an ex-girlfriend of Ellie’s, a point of tension with Dina later in the narrative. As for other characters spied in the trailers, we’ll have to wait to find out more just how important they are or were to Ellie.
Ellie is 14 in the first game, and she brings some of the same characteristics to her young adult self: still loving in a big way, still scrappy and still capable. She’s able to go out on patrols by herself now, making her own choices, and falling in love. When a tragedy occurs, it lights a new anger and hate that she hadn’t had before, and we’ll be seeing how that changes and defines Ellie in Part II.
Speaking of which, Ellie’s lived through a lot, and survivor’s guilt comes up. Part II isn’t Ellie’s first exposure to trauma, with her already acknowledging the fact at the end of the first game: “Everybody that I have loved has either died, or left”. It’s the nature of the world she is in, and it would surely have an impact upon her soul. Gross says they want to talk about why Ellie continues to survive, why she continues fighting, and what she’ll eventually get out from her quest for justice. How does that define her, being the last person standing, and her responsibility to that.
The focus of the game will be solely on a single-player experience due to the scale of Part II. As such, we asked if Gross has been able to play the game. She says “constantly”, and is quite proud of the product. She gushes about the talent at Naughty Dog, talking about big and complicated setups, and how she can do so many things and find out something new each time. New ways of traversing an old setup, triggering new enemy reactions? “I find it a great way to spend the work day. I’m really lucky.”
Part II has both new and recurring characters. New characters in a new story seems easy enough, as you can build them from scratch. How is it then, working with pre-established ones? Gross tells us how she’d fallen in love with both Ellie and Joel, and how that was one of her reasons for wanting to be on board for Part II and furthering the story Naughty Dog had in place. She mentions how, in creating new characters, they wanted to bring in original ideas, and that Naughty Dog itself has been incredibly diverse with plenty of perspectives.
It forces her to be continuously creative, Gross says, to work with so many people and with a vast array of viewpoints to not just show a single side of the story. Ellie will be seen both with someone – like Dina – and alone, and she imagines players will be able to feel both the sense of support, and that of solitude.
Last but not least, Gross hopes that players will love the game, that it will excite you, ask interesting questions and find relatable characters you can see yourselves in. Shout out to you Malaysian gamers! Have an incredible time, and keep wanting to play, share and make games!
The Last of Us Part II is slated for a 21 February 2020 release. Check out the various game editions here!