Interview: Naughty Dog Audio Team on The Last of Us

All things gaming. From design to implementation.
Post Reply
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 412
Joined: June 6th, 2013, 4:15 pm
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Sound Designer

Interview: Naughty Dog Audio Team on The Last of Us

Post by MikeQuell » April 14th, 2014, 6:41 pm

The Frontliner did a nice piece with some of the guys from the Naughty Dog audio department on their work for The Last of Us. Check it out!

Whole interview can be found here: ... team-44458
One of the interesting things that comes to mind about critically acclaimed games like The Last If Us is how the team dealt with challenges. It doesn’t appear to be much wrong with the game, but you guys must have encountered problems. What were some of these and how were you able to solve them to produce what appears to be a near-perfect game?

Scott: My biggest challenge is always dealing with transitions between different music pieces. There are about 1200 segments of music in this game, and each of those require transitions, whether it’s overlapping music or varying levels of intensity during a fight scene. I’ve played a lot of games where the transitions are very jarring, so I spent time on this.

Phil: Bruce and Neil did a great job of directing this game, but at the same time, there was a lot of trial and error involved in making it. For example, we went through a lot of iterations with the Clickers. During the viral campaign for the game, we uploaded a video to Youtube which had Clicker sounds that me and Neil had made in my office, recorded into an iPhone. It was a silly clicking sound that I had made with my voice. But we evolved the sounds from that and it became much more. We also worked collaboratively with other departments, and it’s exciting when we see someone from the art department draw a Clicker for the first time, and it has no eyes. So we figured out that they use echo-location. So everything we do informs itself down the line, and we thrive on that challenge.

Derrick: We tried a lot of different things for the Clickers. Sound Deluxe DMG sent us some samples of ideas they had, which inspired me to try different things. We took some of their ideas along with what we were already working on and played around with it. When we finally decided to bring in some voice-actors, I thought of Misty Lee, whom I had worked with on Soul Sacrifice for the Playstation Vita. She had a great scream and was very emotive. She should get a lot of credit for the female clicker sound. All the weird dolphin-like sounds are her, mixed with with some sounds me and Phil made. The real challenge came when we had created all of this, and then played it for Neil, and he said “No, it’s too much“. We were like, ”We think it sounds scary. Why don’t you like it?“. But if Neil doesn’t like it, it’s back to drawing board, which is actually something I agree with. We end up doing better work this way because we constantly refined our process. We ended up sitting with Neil through-out one of the opening Clicker scenes, and he would give me pointers like “Mute this, solo that, give it more space here“, until finally he said “That’s it. Minimal“. The right amount of activity and negative space is what gave us the signature Clicker sound.

Erick: The Stalkers and the Bloaters came on late as well, but luckily there had already been so much iteration with the Clickers that when I came on, the language had already been set. But for the Runner sounds, we had to cast more actors because what we had at the time was coming off as a little campy. We needed more desperation in their voices, and not just a zombie-like rasp.

Phil Kovat: One of the things that Bruce stated early on was that the people in this game weren’t evil. It’s the Cordyceps fungus that’s driving them nuts. So we were always string to achieve this sonic dichotomy of “I don’t want to eat you, but I have to“.

Erick: That’s why the sound of the Runners is almost psychotic, like people losing their minds, and not just mindless noise.

Derrick: Yeah. During some of the voice-over sessions, we told the actors to imagine things like petting a dead cat and singing to it. It was the kind of visualization we thought would help for getting certain emotions out of them. I remember saying to one of the actors, Otep Shamaya, “Remember that scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre where they find the dead grandparents in the attic?“. She says “No, but go ahead“, and I was like “Well, imagine you’re in the attic and you are (singing to them) as you rearrange their clothes“. And she goes “Ok, I got it“.

Jonathan: It would be great to say we have some secret recipe or closely guarded secret for how we make games, but that would be a lie. The reason our games are good is because we work really hard, and only hire like-minded people. No matter how harsh our critics are on the Internet, they’re never going to be more harsh than our co-workers. If you do something that isn’t 5-star awesome, you don’t even have to worry about what online critics will say. We’ll call you out on it. But even that doesn’t guarantee that we won’t make mistakes, because we do. If you played The Last Of Us a year before it launched, you wouldn’t recognize it. So it’s worth noting that we fail a lot at certain things, but our talented team makes us not afraid to break things, because we can fix them. So it’s better to go ahead and try stuff and then keep iterating until it finally works.

I’ve been here for 10 years, and I don’t think that we’ve ever missed a ship date for a game. But we actually slipped for the first time with The Last Of Us. From a corporate point of view, we don’t want to slip our dates, but we don’t want to ship a game unless it’s awesome. So when we realized that the game wouldn’t be polished in time, we had to push it. We had to choose between shipping a game that had some flaws and upholding the Naughty Dog tradition of making awesome games and get Sony to push the date.

Post Reply