HBO’s The Last of Us series doesn’t credit original co-creator Bruce Straley. Having left Naughty Dog after his time as director on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End came to a close, he was at the studio for 15 years and rose from artist to director on one of the biggest games ever made. Even if he’s been on bad terms with Neil Druckmann and Sony in recent times, Straley more than deserves to have his name blazoned across the show’s opening credits.
Instead, he discovered this omission after watching the first episode only to see that Naughty Dog and Druckmann were given equal billing, but despite being co-director on the original game alongside Druckmann, he was nowhere to be seen. It sucks, and he was right to speak out in a recent interview with LA Times, advocating for unionisation in the industry, so he not only gets the credit he deserves, but earns royalties for characters, a world, and property that continues to dominate the cultural zeitgeist. It’s a blunt conversation a lot of greedy bigwigs don’t want to have, yet in a world where franchises and universes have more staying power than ever, those who took the first steps in their inception deserve to be rewarded.
I’m not sure Naughty Dog expected The Last of Us to become such a cultural monolith when work first started on it. Back in the early 2010s, it was a fresh direction for a studio which had cut its teeth on platformers, kart racers, and tongue-in-cheek cinematic blockbusters. All of a sudden it wanted to delve into an apocalypse that was unbelievably miserable and unafraid to ask tough questions. Since its initial bombardment of positive reviews we’ve seen comics, a remaster, a sequel, a remake, and now a critically acclaimed television show. The genesis of this success comes from Druckmann and Straley, and that isn’t common knowledge.
The original PS3 release has since faded into memory, replaced by modern releases and a cultural conversation that largely revolves around Druckmann. He is the genius apparently responsible for this universe, and much of its success absolutely sits with him, but to dismiss Straley entirely and act like he didn’t have a significant part to play in all of it is ignorant at best, and malicious at worst. The Last of Us is old hat by this point, arguably tiresome in how it saturates not only conversation in video games, but now television in a fresh yet familiar form. We haven’t seen the last of it, and won’t for several years, so it feels so egregious for Straley having to sit back and watch all this unfolds without him.
He left Naughty Dog after working on several demanding projects back-to-back, knowing when to step away for his own mental wellbeing. When working on games like this and no doubt crunching to make them a reality, I imagine the victories and failures will always stick with you. Even after walking away you still treasure those achievements, and expect to be credited for them no matter what form they end up taking in the future. The Last of Us has become more than we’d ever imagined it would, hundreds working on this franchise across various disciplines over the past decade as they sought to bring it to life.
It all started with Druckmann and Straley though, two individuals with a distinct pitch that would evolve into a game set to resonate with millions. I didn’t work there, I don’t know who exactly was responsible for what and where exactly credit should be dished out, but there is enough writing on the wall here to know one of them has been done wrong. No matter the contribution, credit is fair and deserved in almost all circumstances. So make it right.
Unionisation has long been a dirty word in video games, with developers and publishers keen to crush any form of labour organisation in the fears it will tear away from potential profits or result in continued residuals for talent responsible for bringing games to life. We saw this first with voice acting in games and animation, with video games following in their footsteps in ways I hope uproot toxic industry practices and give more power to the people.
I don’t think Straley will be rightfully credited before the first season is over, or if his outburst will result in a newfound dialogue between himself and Naughty Dog, but this stink needs to be made in order to encourage change, and bring this industry to task for its shortcomings.
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