The last of it
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