The last of it

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Naughty Dog’s Neil Druck­mann on bring­ing Joel and El­lie to PS4

The Last Of Us for PS4 isn’t the first 1080p re­make for the new gen­er­a­tion of con­soles, but it might be the most dif­fi­cult. Other de­vel­op­ers have had some­thing of a head start, thanks to the com­bi­na­tion of hav­ing al­ready cre­ated high-qual­ity PC ver­sions and the PC-like ar­chi­tec­ture of PS4 and Xbox One. The Last Of Us, how­ever, was made ex­clu­sively for one of the most tricky pieces of hard­ware de­vel­op­ers have ever had to sup­port. Worse, it’s the pin­na­cle of tech­ni­cal achieve­ments on the con­sole, us­ing an en­gine cus­tom built for PS3 and code op­ti­mised to take ad­van­tage of ev­ery quirk of the hard­ware Naughty Dog dis­cov­ered mak­ing PS3 games for seven years. Port­ing a game from PS3 to PS4, it seems, is harder than it looks.

“I wish we had a but­ton that was like ‘Turn On PS4 Mode’, but no,” cre­ative di­rec­tor Neil Druck­mann says. “We ex­pected it to be Hell, and it was Hell. Just get­ting an im­age on­screen, even an in­fe­rior one with the shad­ows bro­ken, light­ing bro­ken and with it crash­ing ev­ery 30 sec­onds… that took a long time. These en­gi­neers are some of the best in the in­dus­try and they op­ti­mised the game so much for the PS3’s SPUs specif­i­cally. It was op­ti­mised on a bi­nary level, but af­ter shift­ing those things over [to PS4] you have to go back to the high level, make sure the [game] sys­tems are in­tact, and op­ti­mise it again.

Naughty Dog sends The Last Of Us out with a de­fin­i­tive edi­tion for PlayS­ta­tion 4

“I can’t de­scribe how dif­fi­cult a task that is. And once it’s run­ning well, you’re run­ning the [ver­sions] side by side to make sure you didn’t screw some­thing up in the process, like physics be­ing slightly off, which throws the game off, or light­ing be­ing shifted and all of a sud­den it’s a dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent look. That’s not ‘im­proved’ any more; that’s dif­fer­ent. We want to stay faith­ful while be­ing bet­ter.”

Naughty Dog had only a hand­ful of ad­van­tages when de­vel­op­ment be­gan, shortly af­ter com­ple­tion of the game’s Left Be­hind DLC. An au­dio com­men­tary for the cutscenes had al­ready been recorded, but was never used, and many mod­els and tex­tures al­ready ex­isted at a higher qual­ity than could be put on­screen by a PS3. Char­ac­ter mod­els built for cutscenes use more tri­an­gles than those in-game, and mul­ti­ple ver­sions of ob­jects were built with higher-qual­ity mod­els swapped in and out depend­ing on its promi­nence in the frame. On PS4, those mod­els could be used every­where.

Ru­mour says Gran Turismo 6’ s new car mod­els were built to a level of de­tail far be­yond PS3’s GPU, fu­ture­proof­ing them for the in­evitable GT7. The Last Of Us was never built to be ported or even with re­cy­cling in mind, but its as­sets were built in a sim­i­lar fash­ion. “We al­ways build the best pos­si­ble as­sets and then we can make the call when things aren’t fit­ting

“I wish we had a but­ton that was like ‘Turn On PS4 Mode’, but no. We ex­pected it to be Hell, and it was”

on­screen or in the frame buf­fer or in mem­ory,” Druck­mann says. “That way we can pick and choose what we need to em­pha­sise in a mo­ment, and where there’s a com­pro­mise on what can [be more de­tailed] or re­duced to a lower qual­ity. We don’t build it with high as­sets in mind to then port it, but it did give us a leg up. If we hadn’t done that, we might not have made the call to bring it over to PS4. “It still means re­build­ing the as­sets, throw­ing them in, see­ing how the new stream­ing works, work­ing with the new hard drive and the new OS that you have to write whole new sys­tems for. We knew the ar­eas that were prob­lem­atic on the PS3, where we were hit­ting a tech­ni­cal bot­tle­neck, so they were the eas­i­est ar­eas to im­prove. We brought in all the hi-res mod­els, and then it’s on par with what you saw in the cutscenes. There’s an im­proved light­ing model. Af­ter that, we started look­ing across the board; en­e­mies look a lit­tle blurry up close, so that was pretty easy. We ramped those up and saw a pretty sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence. Our cine­mat­ics are now run­ning at 1080p and 60fps, and that in­volved ren­der­ing them all from scratch. It’s in­ter­est­ing that now [in­stead of a tech­ni­cal bot­tle­neck], the bot­tle­neck is ‘Can we fit all this on the disc?’“

The Last Of Us Re­mas­tered is an im­por­tant piece of fan ser­vice – ev­ery time the de­vel­op­ers con­versed with Red­dit, the re­quest came up, even be­fore the PS3 game’s re­lease – but it was also an im­por­tant test of the

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