Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann has lifted the lid on one of the early story ideas for Ellie and Joel, and how an alternative plot would have seen them fleeing for their lives across the country from the wrath of a rather familiar character.
Speaking in the latest issue of Game Informer, Druckmann said that initially the story would have seen Joel betraying his partner Tess early on in the game.
"That storyline never worked out," he said. "We had a tough time understanding why Joel would take this journey - we weren't buying it. We also had a hard time buying that Tess would go on a vendetta. We could understand her pursuing Joel a little bit, but why would she go for a year around the country?
"Those things were solved by saying that Tess is going to die when she gets bitten, but her dying wish to Joel is to do this one good thing - help me do this one good thing so my soul can rest because I've done all these horrible things."
A storyboard published earlier this week showed Joel being tortured by Tess, and Druckmann stated this would have been the moment where Ellie finally takes a life.
"Ellie's arc originally was that she didn't kill any non-infected people until the end, when she was going to kill Tess when Tess was torturing Joel," he said. "What we realised is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat because when she was disengaged from the action for that long you didn't care so much.
"So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn't going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming of age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game. That culminates with her conflict with David. That happened pretty quickly, just based on some things we realised about the story and how we had to integrate it into the gameplay."
Druckmann also revealed that original ending was due to be a little lighter, but that it was changed because the team felt that the characters, Joel in particular, were getting off a bit cheaply.
"The original ending when we pitched the game was a much more hopeful ending, where Joel and Ellie make it to San Francisco and that is a town run by people who are trying to restore society," he said.
"Joel has killed all these doctors and lied to Ellie, and Ellie just fully buys into the lie. So, you're left with the idea that they are going to live the rest of their lives in this town. The camera pulls back and maybe everything is going to be alright for these two. I was working on writing, and it didn't feel honest any more. After everything they've done and everything they've been through, that was letting them off a little too easy - especially for Joel."
HHowever, the darker ending started out testing unfavourably with focus groups, though people eventually came around to the idea.
"When we did focus testing, at least initially until some of the hospital stuff started coming together, it tested very poorly. People said it's unclear, anticlimactic, unsatisfying.
"A lot of people at the company felt the same way. A few designers didn't like the ending I had in mind. But then, as time passed and they thought about it, they came around and really appreciated. I think that happened with other people, too." [via CVG]