'The Last of Us 2' Co-Directors Discuss Joel, Music and Violence

Perhaps no trailer garnered more discussion at E3 2018 than The Last Of Us Part 2 , in large part due to a shouldn't-be-but-is controversial kiss, but also because of the gargantuan levels of hype surrounding the follow-up to one of the most universally acclaimed games of all time. Newsweek caught up with Naughty Dog Co-directors Kurt Margenau and Anthony Newman at E3 to gain insight into the process, and challenges, of creating such a highly anticipated title.

Editor's Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tender moments will provide contrast for brutality in TLOU 2. Naughty Dog

How do you feel about the reaction to the trailer so far?

Kurt Margenau: It's been great. It's been really positive. [Fans] are picking up on the new mechanics and how we tried to show we've evolved The Last of Us. They appreciate the story and the tender moments just as much as the action-oriented ones. I couldn't be happier.

How far into the game does the trailer take place? Is it one transitional moment from the kiss into the brutality or was it just cut that way for the trailer?

KM: Both of those things exist in the game, and we're telling our own little condensed version of things for E3. But everything we're showing is kind of a piece of a puzzle of a bigger picture. So there's some consideration for this being an E3 thing.

What will surprise fans the most about this new game?

Anthony Newman: People are going to be really surprised by the intelligence of the AI. When we're playing the game now, we actually have a lot of almost eerie moments where the AI is really picking up on what's happening and reacting to what we're doing. So far that's been a big thing for me. In general, the amount and breadth of new mechanics and player abilities and enemy classes, like the heavy melee with the pickaxe or the bow and arrow enemy that inflicts a status effect until you pull out the arrow, people are going to be pretty surprised by the novelty of the new mechanics on offer.

What types of things have you done story-wise that you think people will identify with?

KM: It's a given people will be surprised by the writing, the story twists and turns, and the relationships that build over the course of the game. Continuing the Joel and Ellie relationship as we get into this game and getting to see what's happened in the last five years ... we're showing a little taste of that with the opening of this E3 demo, which is in Jackson, five years later, and has a sense of normalcy for their world. There are still infected out there, there are still bad groups of people out there, so they have to constantly be controlling and doing upkeep on this sense of normalcy that they have. And then bad things happen.

AN: [Creative Director Neil Druckmann] is three-for-three with Writer's Guild awards, so ... [laughs]. People should expect the same level of nuance and care that's going to go into this narrative. And it's characters that you have loved from the first game and getting to see how their story continues, and new aspects of their personality and how they deal with the challenges of their world.

KM: And it's a game about being a teenager, with all the things that happen in that time. The romance, hormones side of it and the angsty side of it. In a lot of ways, that's why we chose this demo, because it shows that really well.

New skills help Ellie meet new threats. Naughty Dog

How do you find a balance between the inherent goodness of your characters and the brutality of their actions?

KM: People can relate to all of those things. We set this world up to be what happens when things are stripped away, when there's no law. People have to fend for themselves and build these societies. Relationships are very important in this world because it can mean life and death. The stakes are always very high. It's just a given in this world that it is violent, that it is brutal, and you almost have to balance it with the human side of it.

AN: It's important to see what's at stake. The sweetness of these relationships, the care that you have for the people around you. That's what's at stake in a world this brutal when you venture out and have to make your way in a world where everyone and everything is against you. TLOU, at its core, is really a game about humanity, about how humanity deals with crisis and these hardships.

KM: Every mechanic, every action, every encounter is informed from the motivations of the character. Making sure that isn't out of line is one thing we always wrestle with when we're discussing and beating out these levels. 'Where is this character? What is their relationship? We can't do this because it doesn't make sense for where they are right now.' That's always a thing we think about.

AN: People wouldn't believe the hours of struggle that go into ensuring that what the player is actually doing is consistent with the character's motivations and where they're at with the story. Just racking our brains to figure out what's a way to do things gracefully and in a way that honors the characters.

Violence is supposed to be unpleasant, and TLOU 2 wants players to confront that idea with every encounter. Naughty Dog

What was the most challenging part about this project so far?

AN: What we're trying to do with the melee system is pretty new. We're trying to bring the complexity, nuance and depth of a more devoted melee/action game and pair that with the animation fidelity that Naughty Dog is known for. That's actually a pretty tricky problem, to find a way for things to be emergent and have the mechanics they need to have but also look as good as we're gonna make them look. That's been the biggest challenge so far.

KM: For me, it's the AI. How to make it so when you play the game it feels natural, feels like the enemies are humans. They talk to each other, they share information and check-in in a systemic way. They call each other by name. We're trying to imbue them with more humanity, so that they don't just feel like NPCs to murder. They are people, they have a group, a culture, rituals. Bringing all that stuff together, systemically for a video game, is very hard.

How much good music are we getting in this game?

AN: A ton. A ton.

KM: The music from the demo is this band called the Crooked Stills, which does both of the songs at the dance. Gustavo Santaolalla is back as our composer, and there's an additional composer doing music for this demo, Mac Quayle. He was the composer for Mr. Robot and is doing some music for combat in the game.

Without giving away too much, how do you write for two characters who are in very different parts of their lives? One has a whole lot of experience in a world that no longer exists and one has a whole lot of experience in this world to look forward too.

KM: What excites me about the game is that we're gonna get to see how Joel and Ellie's relationship has evolved. It's a complicated relationship after the events of the first game. It's been five years, and we're going to see more of how they are now and where they go in the course of this game.

AN: It's just exploring who Ellie has developed into. She's picked up a lot of new tricks beyond what Joel has taught her expressly in the five years since the first game. Being able to craft an explosive arrow, going prone to hide under trucks or being able to squeeze through, she's really increased her arsenal of abilities to account for the fact that she's more slight and less of a burly person than Joel. So she needs to be able to draw on a lot more resources in order to be deadly and effective in this world.

So can we expect her kills and kill animations to be more of a struggle like what we saw in the trailer, whereas Joel might have faster, cleaner kills since he's a more powerful person?

KM: It's reflecting her emotional state while honoring real life and staying grounded. Like, what would really happen if you plunged a knife in someone's neck? We're seeing where this character can go when bad things happen.

AN: We also always try to honor the humanity of the enemies that you fight. So obviously a feature like them referring to each other by name is a new tech thing we've done to help demonstrate that humanity. But also, anytime there's a takedown or kill, we always try to show what's happening to that person, to reflect that these are real people you're dealing with. Violence isn't a pleasant thing, and people tend to find playing certain aspects of TLOU unsettling. And that's part of the point; we take a look at these elements of violence because they are unsettling and not pleasant.

KM: The game is a conversation about violence. We're not shying away from that.