Less than a week after one The Last of Us 2 player found a way for Abby to catch and kill Tommy in the iconic sniper chase sequence, Naughty Dog designer Asher Einhorn took to Twitter to explain how this bit was made in focused, fascinating detail.
The Tommy chase was originally a sniper prototype that Einhorn started in 2016 – a way for enemy snipers to dynamically reposition based on the player's movements. Eventually, Naughty Dog thought to turn the idea into a boss fight, and director Neil Druckmann felt Tommy would be perfect for the role, Einhorn says.
Here's a tiny insight into how that prototype worked. I manually placed little points around the map in good spots for the sniper to be in, and rated them based on rays and distance to the player. When you got too close the sniper would run to the point with the highest rating. pic.twitter.com/BnobCsG3zWJuly 13, 2021
"Tommy wasn't going to die in this sequence, so we had the extremely difficult challenge of creating a boss fight where you weren't going to win, and one where you couldn't even shoot him," Einhorn explains. "It's a realistic game so if you shot him and he didn't die, you'd realize straight away that he had 'plot armor' and it would ruin the tension."
With help from environment artist Todd Foster, Einhorn mocked up a rough draft of a more linear sniper duel. Level designer Morgan Wilson joined in later, and Einhorn says his input was instrumental in finalizing the idea and nailing the lobby scene.
Einhorn's thread is a great example of how video games might bend the rules to make things feel good. To hide the fact that the boss in this bit is basically invincible, for example, Einhorn says they made sure that you get shot at as soon as you dip out of cover, and they hammered this home with voice lines that advise you to stay hidden. This is further reinforced with a cool environmental detail: "when Tommy misses you," Einhorn explains, "he will intentionally hit a nearby destructible object to try and make him feel as dangerous as possible. And well… it's just cool." Cars hit as a result of this system got their own little script, in turn, to make the impact feel more dramatic.
We had to make sure it always felt fair, so in almost all the beats Tommy gets into position before you can get to a good vantage point. So that you can't ever really discover that Tommy is essentially invincible, he will shoot you pretty much as soon as you try to aim at him. pic.twitter.com/A4hnEuoWkmJuly 13, 2021
In a similar vein, while Tommy is dead-on accurate in some moments, he's "scripted to be very inaccurate when you're out in the open fighting the infected." He'll still lure the infected to you with missed shots, but he won't insta-kill you while you're dealing with a horde of not-zombies. To offset another potential frustration, nearby infected in this bit move slightly slower unless they're right up on you, that way you don't wind up with a wall of bodies that would kill the pacing of the fight.
"Before that, it was just really annoying to be punched into the open by an infected and then murdered by Tommy," Einhorn says. "We actually do this kind of thing a lot in our games - if we can detect that the player is trying to play well, we go a little easier."
This brings us to the lobby finale. "This next section was, to be blunt, a fucking huge pain in the ass to make work, but actually a lot of fun to do," Einhorn says. Packing the whole encounter into such a small space took a ton of work and testing, including plenty of spot-checking to prevent players from getting too close to Tommy. Einhorn says Naughty Dog's testers "are so good at playing the game that they managed to keep finding new ways to get up to him," but after a zillion fixes, it was decided that if you have to try this a zillion times to break it, it's probably fine. Which definitely holds up; I mean, players only just now found a way to kill Tommy.
"I was thinking about this sequence a lot post-launch because it was just so much work but that work isn't especially noticeable," Einhorn concludes. "We're trying to prevent the player from doing something they've done all game so far, and have it not be frustrating and that was so hard. But ultimately, when you play it you don't feel the effort that's been put in like you would with a bigger more dramatic set-piece. The point really is to sell a story moment, and I really hoped that had worked."
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