Last of Us has been getting a tremendous amount of positive press, and there really isn’t anything I can say here that hasn’t been said elsewhere in terms of it as a game on the whole. What I do want to talk about is the games intro / tutorial specifically, which amounts to about 10 minutes and is by far, for me, the best part about this game.
The best tutorial in an interactive experience is the kind you don’t even know you are taking. Extra Credits naturally has a very good lecture on this.
In terms of a narrative based game like the kind Naughty Dog is so notorious for making, the tutorial needs to integrate into the story. And that is what LOU does so well, a beautiful mix of tutorial and story.
To strip away all the advanced controls and merely ramp by starting with navigation and camera, the game starts you out as a young girl. So, you can’t actually wield weapons or do any of the deep mechanics you will eventually take on in the full game. The techniques for storytelling cut back and forth from prerendered cut scenes to gameplay, standard fare. The difference, and I credit ND for perfecting this, is that the aesthetic is almost completely seamless between video and realtime. ND achieves this by using the in game model and simply applying more detailed facial animation to give the characters leverage in their acting.
As Alan Wake so clearly demonstrated, this kind of performance in realtime on PS3 and 360 isn’t quite there yet, and can easily go into uncanny valley territory if the developers aren’t careful. This cutting between the 2 spaces affords a good solution for this, and the trick then becomes how to cut the camera angles (both in realtime and prerendered) so that it feels like one consistent film like experience, where the player gets certain moments of agency.
I have to say, I prefer this method and am ok with the game taking over the camera to give me the most cinematically satisfying experience. Deadspace was infamous for not doing this, and so many times I would miss key story points simply because I wasn’t looking in the right place at the right time.
As cinema continues to evolve with new forms of agency for the audience, like with the Oculus Rift and Avengant Glyph, we as storytellers will have to figure out how to best contend with this issue.