The Last of Us Part II is nothing other than a success for Sony and Naughty Dog. A game which has garnered critical praise, love from many who’ve played it and even more hate from the gamer babies. They don’t want, in their eyes, games messed with in various “political” ways; their crying about it only emboldening the creators willing to explicitly do so. It’s a well-told story of revenge, turning the tables on the player’s perception of characters and their motivations. Lucy and I are discussing the game at length, with our first hour of discussion on the site for you to listen to. There’s more to come shortly.
Recent news suggests Naughty Dog are already hiring for several roles. No doubt these will be for a new, next-gen project rather than the standalone The Last of Us Part II multiplayer which is coming in the future; maybe. If the factions multiplayer is coming it’s the only project those of us not in the industry know Naughty Dog is working on. Now, we can all speculate wildly about what they could be working on next. More Uncharted? New IP? Smaller TLoU experiences? There are many, many possibilities. Below is a selection of what I’d like to see from them next; games and topics I’d like to see them tackle and franchises to expand further upon.
Naughty Dog have a way of producing well-rounded characters. Characters you can love one minute then start to question everything they do the next. You can be critical of them or detest their actions only to find yourself on their side later on. I think anything Naughty Dog produce going forward will focus on the characters they are so good at crafting. Their older games have a place but I cannot see them returning to the likes of Jak and Daxter; unless it is a gritty reboot. Stranger things have happened and with next-gen approaching, they have an opportunity and the industry weight to do what they want. But what do I want?
Think Cowboy Bebop meets Altered Carbon and you’ll have a picture of a game I’ve always wanted. There aren’t many developers I’d want to make this but Naughty Dog is one of them. A grand space adventure with a focus on the shifting morality of the main cast set to the backdrop of corporate greed and warring political classes. It would fit well with the pulpy tone brought by Uncharted, the depth of character from The Last of Us and the palette of Jak and Daxter. They can pull on many of the games they’ve made for something on a larger scale, at least in terms of setting, and flesh out their own futuristic universe. A lot of ND’s recent work is grounded in reality with a supernatural twist. This would allow them to stretch a little more and introduce otherworldly characters in a very futuristic, human dominant, set of worlds.
A different art direction to complement what’s come before would be a nice change of pace and a good flex for the artists and writers. Following a non-human would let them tackle larger topics too, discussing integration, retaining culture, identity and racism; as long as it isn’t as poorly done as Detroit: Become Human. With Beyond Good and Evil 2 and Starfield releasing in the near future a different spin would be welcome but may not find a space in between.
Not Nathan Drake. I don’t need any more from him. What I want is more of Chloe and Nadine. Lost Legacy was a really fun game, distilling a lot of what made the Uncharted games great into a shorter experience. The characters are well written and acted perfectly. Uncharted has a huge cast of characters to pull from, as seen in Lost Legacy, so there would be plenty of stories for them to tell. Why is Nadine so badass? What was Cutter like as a brawling London youngster? How many pirates does Eddy lead? All pulpy, fun stories I want more of. Uncharted is one of my favourite series so of course, I want more of it. These can be in the vein of Lost Legacy, matching a pair of characters and telling their story in a shorter experience. It isn’t that these character’s stories aren’t as interesting as Nathan Drakes and therefore must be told in a short game rather than across 4; it’s more that I want manageable games these days which I can consume in a shorter space of time. I still want the globe-hopping locations of Uncharted and the fantastic set-pieces. I’d be happy with just seeing a couple of them per game.
Those Naughty Dog Pirates
Speaking of pirates. Do you remember when there was a glancing shot of some pirates on a screen in the ND office in the background of an interview? I do. If I remember correctly the models were used in Uncharted 4 but caused much speculation at the time. What if Naughty Dog set a game during an earlier time, a time of pirates, treasure and treachery. It would probably be too close to an Uncharted game just with a different skin but I’d still like to see it. Rather than a grand adventure to discover treasure though it would be about the stealing, plotting and burying of that treasure. ND must have tomes of information and research about treasures, pirates, Francis Drake and that time in history. Caught somewhere between my first sci-fi suggestion and Uncharted, a tale about a distrusting pirate Captain and his crew would be an interesting story to tell. ND have built themselves around interesting stories and characters and this setting would be full of it.
War and Consequence
This is more of a theme I’d like to see them tackle. The Last of Us Part 1 and Part II have some big moral questions within them, some of which are successfully answered across the two games. The idea that games can take big moral topics and cover them well, with sensitivity and brutality alike, is becoming more apparent. I’d like ND to have a new IP which focuses on the morality of war. A brutal story about covert ops and espionage. Following a four-person team of soldiers, mercenaries or government special operatives ND could refine and lean into the gunplay of their games. They can develop multiple characters to put the player in charge of. As with some scenes in The Last of Us Part II they can provide the player with a sense of choice when the choice isn’t actually there. This challenges the player into thinking and reflecting on the characters actions, constantly questioning motives. Basically take Spec Ops: The Line and give it the Naughty Dog treatment with a larger playable team.
This is just a small selection of what I think Naughty Dog would be a good fit for next. As they – and other developers – mature the medium, I hope that any new project can come at a significantly lower human cost. Crunch is an issue at Naughty Dog. This is being called out and is part of the discussion around the studio moving forward as well as wider conversations around the industry as a whole; whether they like it or not. Mostly from Naughty Dog, I’d like to see positive change. Change in their practices, change in their culture and change in their attitude. A lot of this will have to come from the top down. Talking about the issues should make executives react and make their work environments better for those they employ. Ensuring safe environments without the fear of having to stay late, the tyranny of problematic personnel, who may be leading a team, and realistic development goals should all be addressed before a new project gets into full swing if it hasn’t already. ND as industry leaders and a first-party developer for a console manufacturer are placed well to do this and set standards for the industry, not just in games but in workplaces too. They just need a constant reminder that you can be better and do better by those you work with.
What do you want to see from Naughty Dog going forward? Are my suggestions feasible or is there something you are desperate for them to tackle?