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The Last of Us: One Night Live Turned Games Into Theatre
What would you say is the strongest element of a game that draws in your business? Do you find that only things like high polygon counts or a native 1080p display at 60 frames per second guarantees are the only way you can even remotely be interested in a title? Perhaps it’s some new control scheme or innovative approach to an original gameplay design that trips your trigger. Maybe it’s the rhythm that moves you, urging you to only seek those hidden gem games that have been lauded for their soundtracks and atmosphere. Of course, what self-respecting game would be complete without the ability to tell us a story worth our attention?
In the case of 2013 Game of the Year powerhouse The Last of Us, the story proved so powerful that Naughty Dog recently conducted an experiment to see if the subject matter could truly transcend mediums.
On July 28, 2014, a conglomeration of video game entities joined forces to produce The Last of Us: One Night Live. Spearheaded by industry everyman Geoff Keighley, this small public gathering served as a tribute of sorts to the captivating example that TLoU provides of what dreams and visions can be conveyed through an interactive medium such as gaming. Under the direction of The Last of Us writer and creative director Neil Druckmann, One Night Live was a live reenactment of select sequences by the principal actors who personified the TLoU cast. Between scenes, viewers were graced by reprisals of the more memorable numbers from the score contributed by Academy Award-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
The performance, acted out on the Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, was indeed a bold undertaking. The play itself was completely free of charge with tickets available to users that registered for them on a first come, first serve basis. Those unable to attend due to availability or physical location were also accounted for as the presentation was simultaneously broadcasted on Twitch, YouTube and the PlayStation Network Live Event Viewer. The timing of One Night Live also coincided with the release of The Last of Us Remastered for the PlayStation 4 console.
Voice-over wunderkind Troy Baker was the star of the occasion, letting us know that his recorded sequences of Joel used for the game were not some one-and-done performances. While his real life image didn’t scream of Joel, the interactions played out with Ellie/Ashley Johnson still bore heavy emotional baggage. Some may have found the lack of context for the scenes displayed a little disconcerting, but presenter Neil Druckmann did his best to keep the basic story understanding on the rails. The musical interludes of Gustavo Santaolalla were on point, emoting the true tones and atmosphere evoked by The Last of Us score.
The event, while theatrically inventive and new, was ultimately a celebration of a property that has continued to take PlayStation users by storm. Game cinematics and character design were principally achieved through the power of motion capture, a technique highlighted during the opening of the show. By featuring this process, Naughty Dog was able to reveal how actions played out in the game weren’t just designed by a developer sitting at a computer but by a live actor physically performing on camera. It only makes sense that the validity of The Last of Us movie seems to grow stronger each passing day.
There have been game properties that have managed to find a way to be reformulated into motion pictures. Granted, the vast majority of those movies have often failed to live up to even the most minimal of expectations. Just one mention of topic is sure to send chills down the spines of the members of our Leviathyn staff who participate in the Game vs Film podcasts. In much the same vain as video games, film offers a near limitless range of flexibility towards achieving nearly any desired effect or situation without a fear of physical limitations. Even with this freedom of functionality, the margin of error and propensity for disappointment are still highly notable.
While some members of both the film and gaming industries will admit that they are looking to pierce the veil of reality in order to draw interest, movies instill some serious visual expectations that can miss their marks. With the advances of digital cinematography and CGI over the years, there’s almost nothing that can’t be achieved. If you can conceivably achieve it all through film, why is the video game genre still as wrought with stigma as it is? Perhaps the solution to the problem may lay in the unbeaten path that The Last of Us: One Night Live dared to venture down.
Sure, The Last of Us: One Night Live didn’t feature any actors in full clicker make-up twitching their way across the stage or fueling our nightmares. More importantly, it managed to peel back the video game veneer and expose the human heart at the core of the Naughty Dog grand design. With some well-practiced suspension of disbelief, Annie Wersching had viewers believing she was the harsh, calculated Tess she portrayed in the game. Utilizing an aesthetic where less is more, live theatre could come to be realized as the greater method in breaking down the screen barrier that painfully disconnects audiences.
Did you happen to miss this unique, one-of-a-kind event when it happened live? It just so happens that Sony stored a recording of the live feed on their YouTube channel for your playback enjoyment. We here at Leviathyn have gone one step further and brought the video to you located at the bottom of this page. The video, clocking in at just over an hour and a half, doesn’t actually get rolling with content until the 30 minute mark when the stream countdown hits zero.
As a fair warning to the uninitiated in all things The Last of Us: the presentation contains several spoilers.