There have been many attempts to turn video games into successful movies and TV shows, like Tomb Raider, and Super Mario Bros. Sony is still trying to make Uncharted happen. For the most part they’ve all fallen short. Craig Mazin, who’s working on HBO’s The Last of Us, shared his thoughts on the challenges of turning a video game into a viewing experience, and what’s needed to make it successful.
“It’s not to keep you in love with The Last of Us, it’s to make you fall in love again with The Last of Us in a different way,” Mazin said in a recent BBC Sounds’ Must Watch interview. “It’s a passive way, in the sense that you’re taking it in, you’re not playing it. But you’re experiencing more with more characters in more ways. And I think we’ve got something good going.”
The Chernobyl showrunner recently appeared on the podcast to chat about progress on HBO’s The Last of Us show, which he’s working on with game creator Neil Druckmann. He said the two of them have mapped out what he called the “first cycle” of the series, and the team is getting ready to move onto the writing process. This is where things start to get challenging. The Last of Us is a powerful cinematic experience, but one that’s served by the fact that you’re playing as the central characters: Joel and Ellie, primarily. That provides a connection to the story that a TV show or movie, on its face, cannot provide.
Mazin shared how he and Druckmann are working to help The Last of Us fans re-experience the biggest events from the game “but also decouple that from the game experience, because you can’t repeat the game experience precisely.” Rather, it’s about figuring out how to turn an active viewing experience into a passive one, without losing the best parts of the connection between the audience and the story.
“When you’re watching a television show, you are not a person. You’re all of them — hopefully you are connected with or experiencing something with all of them. So it’s a very different way of approaching narrative, and requires us to make certain choices as well. But everything that we’re doing is being done with extreme care and thoughtfulness for what we know we love about it,” he said.
There are a few ways they’re trying to do that. One is by focusing more on the larger world instead of solely viewing it through the lens of the playable protagonist, meaning more time with characters that you normally didn’t get to see if Joel or Ellie weren’t doing things with them. Another is avoiding episodic storytelling, where characters go on different quests each episodes, in favour of one streamlined narrative. And finally, by adding new story elements that weren’t in the game — although they could have been. According to Mazin, he’s bringing in some plot points that Druckmann had dropped from the game before release. In fact, he kind of insisted on it.
“Neil at one point, he’s like, ‘You know, there was one thing we were talking about for a while.’ And then he told me what it was, and i was like, ‘Gonk!’ OK, jaw drop, that’s going in. For sure. We have to do that, you couldn’t stop me from doing that. You will have to shoot me to stop me from doing that,” he said.
HBO’s The Last of Us is currently in development, though no expected release date has been announced yet. Both The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II are currently available on most video game platforms.
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