During a broadcast from DICE Summit 2017, The Last of Us Part II Director Neil Druckmann, who also Co-Directed Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Last of Us, gave a pretty detailed explanation of how he writes his games.
Druckmann mentions that initially he needs to be able to confidently talk about the story, figuring out enough of it usually on index card featuring the simplest version of the story beats. That way he can see the arc and know where the ending is, as the ending tells him what the story is about.
Once that’s done, he works with the design team and the art team to start developing the look of the game and how it plays, essentially starting to create assets, including a gameplay prototype, preview animations, concept art of environments, helping him visualize better the game in his head. Talking to other developers, they’re “kinda like playing the game” in their heads.
At the same time, the story starts to get more fleshed-out, even if it’s still on index cards. Druckmann normally tries to hold off as long as possible from putting words on a page, as he doesn’t want to get attached to anything yet. He wants a lot of ideas that can be iterated on in order to find the best ones.
At some point, closer to when the team needs to start shooting scenes, and casting actors, that’s when the first scene gets written. That can be shared with the team, and reveals more of the characters. Around at the same time, the pitch comes together, with all the visuals and animations prepared, the team is brought to the theater in the studio, and is walked through the entire experience of the game with as much detail as possible. That lasts between one and two hours, describing things like beginning, characters, gameplay, story arc, conflicts, emotional turns and more, beat by beat.
That session is recorded, and saved on the studio network, so that developers can constantly reference that while they try to capture the tone that they’re after for the game. That presentation, according to Druckmann, is what helps guide the team the most as they go over story, gameplay and aesthetics.
Druckmann and his team at Naughty Dog are currently working on The Last of Us Part II for PS4, even if the game still doesn’t have a release date or window, and it’s quite early in development. You can check out the debut teaser trailer, a new music theme, and the impressive performance capture tech being used on the game.
Incidentally, speaking of writing, Druckmann Tweeted about the upcoming Uncharted movie today, mentioning that no one at Naughty Dog has ever read the script, so they have no idea about it, including its tone.
No one at Naughty Dog has read the script. No idea what the movie is about let alone its tone. https://t.co/lc64Pevqyk
— Neil Druckmann (@Neil_Druckmann) February 23, 2017