Early Drafts Of The Last Of Us Had Ellie As A Love Interest
In the space of a few months, we’ve become obsessed with Ellie. The badass cussing 14 year old companion in The Last of Us is what we all hope our teenage daughters will be like. However, did you know that in early drafts of the game’s script, Ellie wasn’t the adorable teen we know and love. In fact she started out as an older character who served as a love interest for protagonist Joel.
You thought I was serious, didn’t you? Now that would just be fucked up. Naughty Dog may be slightly depraved for that ending which was both unsettling and perfect but they’re not disturbed perverts. Or maybe they are, I don’t know.
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Anyway, there really are some surprising change that were made from early drafts of the game as was teased yesterday. What follows is both truthful and riddled with spoilers.
First off, I’d like to say I was in guessing that the female character torturing Joel in the teased image from yesterday was Tess. Although I had no idea of the context.
You see, Tess as we know her was the third-wheel to Joel and Ellie’s dynamic duo before getting bitten and sacrificing herself so that the other two could escape and find the Fireflies. It was even implied that Tess and Joel had a bit more than a good friendship.
However, early drafts cast Tess as more of a revenge-driven villain. That’s a pretty huge 180 degree turn.
“What’s interesting is that originally in the story, Tess took more of a villain role,” Druckmann said. “Tess was betrayed by Joel and took on a mission to pursue him across the country. That storyline never worked out. The storyline shifted and Tess took on this role where she became more of a believer and she helped motivate Joel.”
Ultimately, it didn’t fit, and the angle was abandoned. “We had a tough time understanding why Joel would take this journey–we weren’t buying it,” he said. “We also had a hard time buying that Tess would go on a vendetta. We could understand her pursuing Joel a little bit, but why would she go for a year around the country? Those things were solved by saying that Tess is going to die when she gets bitten, but her dying wish to Joel is to do this one good thing–help me do this one good thing so my soul can rest because I’ve done all these horrible things.”
I think Tess was a good character for as long as she lasted. She was somewhat sympathetic towards the end and there was a curious dynamic between her and Joel.
Disregarding my bullshit, Ellie did actually undergo some character revisions. As the game progresses Ellie matures and grows into this strong, resilient character that you can’t help but adore. During the game’s development she underwent a similar growth and development to create the tough foundation for the character the game starts with. Early on in development Ellie was more innocent and untouched by the violence and horror around her. She didn’t even kill any non-infected.
That changed quickly to show the effect of this changed, more desperate and survivalist world on a child.
“Ellie’s arc originally was that she didn’t kill any non-infected people until the end, when she was going to kill Tess when Tess was torturing Joel,” Druckmann said. “What we realised is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat, because when she was disengaged from the action for that long, you didn’t care so much. So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn’t going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming-of-age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game.
“That culminates with her conflict with David. That happened pretty quickly, just based on some things we realised about the story and how we had to integrate it into the gameplay.”
As was mentioned yesterday, the game’s ending also saw a sharp turn in tone. In fact, the far more hopeful original ending tested poorly with players. Some even labelled it as anticlimactic.
“The original ending when we pitched the game was a much more hopeful ending, where Joel and Ellie make it to San Francisco, and that is a town run by people who are trying to restore society,” Druckmann revealed. “Joel has killed all these doctors and lied to Ellie, and Ellie just fully buys into the lie. So, you’re left with the idea that they are going to live the rest of their lives in this town. The camera pulls back and maybe everything is going to be alright for these two. I was working on writing, and it didn’t feel honest anymore. After everything they’ve done and everything they’ve been through, that was letting them off a little too easy–especially for Joel.
“When we did focus testing, at least initially until some of the hospital stuff started coming together, it tested very poorly. People said it’s unclear, anticlimactic, unsatisfying… A lot of people at the company felt the same way. A few designers didn’t like the ending I had in mind. But then, as time passed and they thought about it, they came around and really appreciated. I think that happened with other people, too.”
It’s always interesting to see where a game started off. Tess being a key villain, Ellie having more of a peripheral role and a hopeful ending would surely have greatly diminished this game. The ending alone, as we finally saw it, is simply brilliant. It’s both jarring and perfect because you want Joel to make that choice. It excellently highlights the importance of the relationship him and Ellie have with each other and just how much each one needs the other to keep going in this world.
Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley will host their panel at PAX Prime at the end of August to discuss more of the revisions and rewrites that one of this year’s Game of the Year contenders went through before arriving at the brilliant final product we received.