PS3's 'The Last of Us' Brings Gaming Another Step Closer Toward Cinematic Experience

Developer Naughty Dog's latest outing, The Last of Usis one of this year's most anticipated gaming titles. After playing it for 5 minutes, I can tell you that it combines elements of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Children of Men28 Days Later, Hillcoat's The Road, Spielberg's War of the Worlds, The Walking Dead, and the recent I Am Legend, all while engaging you emotionally more than any of those pieces could and, dare I say, improving upon them. It's crazy, but it's true. Here's how, and here's why.

Occasionally, the interplay of cinema and video games becomes so great we just can't keep our mouths shut about it. We've previously noted Naughty Dog (the developer of my childhood-beloved Crash Bandicoot games) and its appropriation of the cinematic in its Uncharted series of games. But this is interactive action -- and more importantly, drama, on a whole other level. In case you missed it, here's the game's story trailer:

Playing the first 5 minutes, I was in awe: not because I was marveling over the technical magic which created the living, breathing, feeling characters before my eyes, but because of how gripped I was by them. You sort of realize how much you take for granted in the expressiveness of actual flesh-and-blood actors -- the weight of woes which a simple darting of the eyes and a slow sinking of the brow can illustrate. The Last of Us captures that, devastatingly -- and I fell into no uncanny valley.

It isn't the first game to capitalize on performance/motion capture, of course, but not many games possess the brutality of realism and the prowess of dramatic, character-driven storytelling that Naughty Dog has instilled here. The combination really sets the experience apart from anything I've ever encountered. (If you think I'm exaggerating, play the game and feel free to crush my dreams in the comments.) And darkly, dream-crushingly disillusioning the game is. That's not to mention that it's also one hell of an adrenaline rush -- one that's enveloping, exciting, terrifying, and even heart-breaking.

Here's some material on the all-important (and ultimately, hopefully invisible) technological side of the The Last of Us. Note, if you're unconvinced of the -- convincingness of the animation, I say again -- play the game with a good HDTV set up, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

The official PlayStation YouTube channel has also included this interview with some of the game's lead creatives:

It's worth noting that Joel is played by Troy Baker, whose credits also include BioShock: Infinite's lead character Booker DeWitt, solidifying a connection to the other greatest games of all time. Next up, here's an exploration of the environment of The Last of Us, beautifully rendered by both talented conceptual artists as well as the PS3's ~7 CPUs.

Finally, we'll take a look at the other-other half of what delivers Last's artful payload, its music and sound -- the former composed by the wonderfully talented Gustavo Santaolalla in his first video game outing, followed by another great micro-doc from the SoundWorks Collection (note, the pieces share some overlap). It sure doesn't hurt to have a composer who won the Academy Award for Best Original Score two years in a row (Brokeback Mountain, Babel) on your team.

The beginning of the latter brings up another good point, which is The Last of Us's novel new concept for what constitutes 'the infected' -- a fictionalized strain of a real-life fungus that, as it turns out, can mind-control ants (in real life). This of course lends a little bit more plausibility to the creation of the infected, which are traditionally left to various vague 'zombifications.' At every level of its creation, it seems Naughty Dog truly pulled out all the stops for this project. And, if you ask me, it shows.

Who out there has played The Last of Us, and what do you think of the game? Does it mark yet another notch on the 'cinematization' of interactive media? What can filmmakers learn from the creators of this experience?


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Your Comment


Agreed! it felt like watching a movie

June 28, 2013 at 3:05PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I don't own a PS3 but heard the buzz about this game last week and had to look into it. Been following along as YouTube's "The Rad Brad" plays the game. Such a great game and story! Would love to see it as a television series!

June 28, 2013 at 3:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Call me old school, but when I want to see a movie, I don't want to hold a game controller and worry about hand eye coordination. Likewise, I play a game when I don't want to sit down and watch talking heads.

June 28, 2013 at 3:46PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I guess you haven't played many good games in the last 15 years, because when there's good interactive storytelling the lines are blurred. The stroy unfolds while you play, and you're not worried about hand-eye coordination nor are you watching stuff happen, you just experience it. That's why good games with good storytelling (not just cutscenes) are so engaging and relevant.
Videogame storytelling is a whole other language.

June 28, 2013 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


you definitely have a point.

June 28, 2013 at 4:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


When Zemeckis made "Polar Express" in 2004, it cost him ~ $170M (other sources claim $200M). What's the cost of making a MoCap video these days? (early in the year, nVidia premeired "Digital Ira", which was pretty close to photo realism in real time with its (Titan?) video card. I assume, given the computational power of modern CPU's, near total photo realism can be produced in real time by a render farm)

June 28, 2013 at 4:09PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Rendering seems to mostly get delegated to GPUs like the Yitan you mentioned rather than the CPU.
Photorealistic renderings are certainly possible, but the PS3 hardware is fairly anaemic and wouldn't be able to handle such high poly counts (at least that's my uneducated opinion). Cutscenes maybe, but not playable photorealism. Maybe with PS5?

I'm tempted to rent/borrow/steal a PS3 just to play this game. It looks absolutely amazing!

June 28, 2013 at 6:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

You voted '+1'.

I think so too but a theatrical release wouldn't have to render off a gaming device. Last couple of years, games like LA Noir took photo-realism to a next level and, off Wikipedia, its ~ 20 hours of video cost about $30M to produce. With these render farms FLOPS/$ ratios way up even since the Avatar days - the latest one actually use nVidia Titan GPU/cards - I wonder if a decent MoCap feature can be made for roughly the same amount as these latest batch of games rather than the hugely expensive "Polar Express".

June 28, 2013 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Photorealistic rendering would require global illumination (raytracing). This technique is extremely computationally expensive. That's why it is not used in video games or movies. So far artists have used tricks to achieve the same looks. So to do it in real time with complex realistic scenes is probably beyond abilities of current renderfarm setups. On the other hand who knows, if it was someone's goal - to produce real time photorealism - maybe such setup could be made if money was no concern.

Check this article on Pixar using global illumination in their latest short. Although it's worth noting, that the scenes rendered were very simple compared to your average daylight scene in the city or country with people without umbrelas ;-)

June 28, 2013 at 8:49PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thanks for the heads up, PeterK ... the "Blue Umbrella" visuals are fascinating ... Pixar says it took 20-30 hours to render a single frame ... but it also seems like a very difficult shot to put together. what with the light, the rain, the pedestrians, the cars and, naturally, the umbrellas ... unfortunately, I couldn't find the short's budget ... still, if this can be defined as "hyper-realism", the "near-realism", as you see in the The Last of US" video game, has to be far more affordable ... and I assume that even the "hyper-real" feature films are on their way ...

June 28, 2013 at 10:35PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


You might want to look into the under development "brigade 2 engine".
Real time. It's not released yet, so we'll have to see how it all pans out, but apparently it's working great (and there are videos to show it off in it's current state).

June 30, 2013 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The cost of mo cap is nothing compared to cost if everything from a Tom Hanks to crew labor and catering. People have taken the kinect and used it for mo cap and it will be interesting to see what doors the next gen opens up.

July 1, 2013 at 9:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Just beat it yesterday...loved it. Excellent story and acting. Gut-wrenching and depressing...almost too afraid to play it through on Survivor mode...almost....

June 28, 2013 at 7:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Yes, yes yes and more yes. I like the future. I see this as part of the future in filmmaking. Games as the old final fantasy, or the good castlevania symphony of the night look much more attractive to me than any media or big hollywood trillion budged movie. Watching the movie progress as the viewer desire, enjoy and feel the character gives a outstanding feeling. Another good example? Metal gear 4, + MG 5. And let see what the game Beyond is made of. The only thing I need to figure it out is how my skills as filmmaker and 3d artist will allow me to do in this mix industry.

June 28, 2013 at 8:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


If you like it, definitely play through The Walking Dead game as well. Even more emotionally involved.

June 29, 2013 at 7:21AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


For me the biggest difference about interactive art and cinematic narrative is that videogame is doing, you act upon it to make it evolve. You are part of the process. Cinema is not-doing, you contemplate what is happening.

Cinema is more like dreaming. Even Orson Welles compared it to dreams. In dreams you watch yourself, of others doing things. It´s a way of cleaning your mind-body complex of desires, informations that stuck in your system, etc. Bergman told it right when he said Tarkovski developed to the limit the dream language of cinema.

Videogames are the opposite. It´s about bringing you into the process actively, so it´s more like an emulation of real life - and it´s where it is headed.

OK that we live in a civilization in steam culture (alan moore´s terminology) state and acting like a freaking cancer cells reproducing (not only culturally, but ecologically too), so we are being programmed that the BEST is to go imersive, to create a "better" reality than reality itself - transhumanist religion is all about that, even ignoring that organisms work in non-linear dynamics, and that the mind/consciousness is not just in the brain, but at least in the "dialog" between the talamus and the heart, and the heart don´t work according to math models, you can get close to it with fractal models, but it´s an approximation.

Anyway, videogames are fun. Immersion is the ultimate trend of actual technology, but it is doing. Being in it. and that´s very different from what narratives were created for socially since 80thousand year ago at least with the bushmen, koi-san, culture. Narratives were always a way of using our mythological, archetypal symbology to make us to contemplate, meditate, to make sense of our choices, acts, etc, in our doings in life. that is the main function of storytelling, this not-doing of passively watching the flow of a dream that is actually "healing' yourself from the overload of your process. Videogames don´t act like that. Interactive art has other objectives.

Not better, nor worse, just different functions in human psyche and capacity of contemplation and self-reflexion.

Also another thing that is interesting is that the more immersive, the less it gonna empower personal imagination. Those into filmmaking know that what you don´t show has more power than what you show the viewer.

So in the end, after 100thousant years of culture, from bushmen pacific nomadism to our 12thousand years of post agricultural civilization, the best storytelling tool to empower human imagination still is oral and also written stories... also the most freed and independent too, after all we just need a vision, an emotional burst, a voice and/or a piece of paper and a pencil.

June 29, 2013 at 8:06AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

guto novo

Happy to see NFS acknowledge The Last of Us, it definitely pushes legitimate story-telling that little bit further forward in gaming. I still think most developers need a proper cinematographer on staff to help craft their "cinematic experiences", but this game delivers on most every other front.

June 29, 2013 at 8:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


When the character screams "IT IS OVER TESS!" his face looks like its whispering. Its uncanny valley all over again, I'm not convinced this represents any real progress in interactive gaming.

June 29, 2013 at 10:22AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Like I said, you need to play it before you judge.

June 29, 2013 at 10:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Dave Kendricken

There is definitely something cinematic about The Last of Us, even more so than others, because even though I'm not a big gamer, I still love to sit and watch people play this game. I could literally watch it for hours. Very engaging story with great tension and characters.

June 29, 2013 at 7:42PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

V Renée
Content Manager at Coverfly

Yup :-P The best games are fun even to just watch at times.

June 29, 2013 at 8:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I think most visual creativity is done in the video game industry now in days. Due to the fact that there are no limitations where you can put the camera angle and gameplay is just one long takes. Bioshock Infinite's world was to me one of the most creative environments to happen this century.If you watched the 17 minute trailer of Battlefield 4 it basically proves that video games can do what movies do visually and more, without the egos of filmschool students or B movie cinematographers!!!!

June 30, 2013 at 2:40PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I got this game on Friday, and it is truly engaging. There's a clip on IGN of Seth Rogan playing through the first bit of the game, and his comments are spot on. He talks about how cinematic it is, and it parts mentions that there are things in the game that they literally did in their movie "This is the End". He even states at the beginning how amazing the game is, and all he's done is literally answer a cell phone. If you can get past his laugh (love/hate) it's a pretty good little video.

July 1, 2013 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


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August 2, 2013 at 5:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM