Joel and Ellie's narrative is a continuous moving one. From one place to the next, the pair learns how many parts of the United States have weathered the Cordyceps epidemic while coming into contact with survivors and their encampments, from those who have squatting in the ruins of major cities to those who have established new communities in suburban areas or even out in nature.
The Last of Us Part I: Boston Quarantine Zone and Bill's Town are two distinct but clear examples of how life has changed in this post-pandemic world early in the adventure of Joel and Ellie. Let's take a look at what makes these locations so crucial to Joel and Ellie's journey, and how the HBO adaptation adapted them.
The world is a cliche place.
Despite where you go or the characters you meet, the team endeavored to tell this story very clearly from the outset.
"When we were preparing this, everything is either seen through Joel's or Ellie's perspective," said Naughty Dog Co-President Neil Druckmann.
Joel's time in the Boston Quarantine Zone, a heavily militarized area overseen by FEDRA, plays a role in how players are introduced to and informed about The Last of Us' world and characters.
Naughty Dog Art Director Erick Pangilinan said: "When we show the QZ, we take out all the plants." "You won't see a lot of trees in the QZ, you won't see much grass." Everything is very sterile, everything is man-made, and you can see the misery of what's happening in the QZ."
"It's very oppressive in the Boston QZ," says Lead Cinematic Animator Bryant Wilson. "You see men with guns, fences up everywhere that prevent you from walking anywhere other than where the government wants you to be."
Both for The Last of Us' debut in 2013 and for the remake of The Last of Us Part I, the Naughty Dog team had to think about how first impressions might communicate the Boston QZ's tone and mood, as well as the everyday hardships many survivors were facing.
“It’s a fact of this world,” Wilson said. People who are pulled out of their houses are being forced to take an infected test.
"The QZ is a man trying to control other humans and how to maintain control over the world and nature," said Pangilinan. "We like to create that tension between how this oppressive organization is controlling everyday life."
Every artistic choice, animation, and moment the development team makes to bring the post-pandemic world to life is echoed.
"We wanted to make sure that the lighting in that area was very blue and overcast." "You can also see this in the marketplace where people are selling rats and scrap metal just to get by."
The Boston QZ fulfills an important role as the players' introduction to the world in this new age. When considering how to preserve and enhance the experience for The Last of Us Part I, the development team endeavored to bring the world to life with richer detail, but not for the purpose of simply adding more.
"The first thing we always do is to ask,' says the speaker in this instance, the QZ marketplace. "But, in fact, the purpose of that scene was to demonstrate the poorness of living in the region and how desperate people were."
The team's effort in ensuring that Part I's original narrative retained the tone and emotional honesty of the remake was guided by a refinement and improvement of details rather than an excess of new ones.
Wilson said: "We didn't want to overdo anything to it, mainly because we don't want to ruin the original's feeling." "Every video in the sequence has been retouched, redone, reworked, and improved, even in ways that may not be apparent immediately."
In its first episode, HBO's The Last of Us introduced viewers to the Boston QZ, and provided one of the many opportunities to see the world of TLOU from several angles.
"We had this opportunity to disconnect from our main characters and plug into these other characters," he said. "You get to see Marlene talking with this new character, Kim, and we get to flesh [Marlene] out some more in a way that we didn't get to see in the game."
"It's one of my favorite things about being able to talk out certain aspects of Marlene's life and experiences that were only locked in my head," Merle Dandridge, who plays Marlene both in the game and on the show, said. "In some ways, some of the things that the audience will get to see are new to them, yet they're still deeply committed to her."
Even with familiar locations like Marlene and the QZ, the HBO series finds new terrain to observe The Last of Us through a new lens. And that idea applies to another environment game fans will know.
Beauty in the danger
Bill's Town, as seen in The Last of Us Part I, is a breath of fresh air, although it's still a dangerous landscape. In a vast Massachusetts town, the titular Bill has, basically, constructed a complex maze of traps and alarms to keep himself safe in an area largely devoid of human life but filled with the dangers of the Infected.
Bill's Town is a great opportunity for players to see The Last of Us' world come alive — beautiful natural light engulfs abandoned houses engulfed with natural vegetation.
Wilson said, "This is the world that a single guy has been curating, and it gives the player a little bit of time to breathe and observe this beautiful area." "This is what freedom is like today. It's tough, but it's beautiful, because the natural world has returned."
"Bill's Town has its own isolationist feeling, it's a person's castle and it's his domain." "It creates this different feeling to contrast where you just came from, the tunnels and the sewer, which is very dark and dangerous."
The world around the player reflectes back on the narrative and characters at the core of it, as with any artistic choice.
"In Bill's Town, nature takes his course, but he has also built this into his sort of tiny QZ," Pangilinan said. "But Bill's Town is also representative of Joel. It's representative of his psyche and his isolationist and paranoid side of his personality. That's why we represent it with, with walls, with traps, and fights back so that they can be on their own.
Bill's Town is still depicted, in essence, as Bill's personal fortress, but the way viewers perceive it is quite different from the game. The show flashes back to let us see Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) fall in love and live their lives in a manner that suits their new medium.
"Bill's Town is an interesting one because that section was fantastic in the game, but it's also a fantastic encounter." Executive Producer Craig Mazin talked about the show's direction.
Druckmann said the two philosophical arguments that were touched on in the game and are really expanded on in the program are: yes, you may survive, but only to the end, and then Frank is like, 'No, there's more to life than this.' In the game, they have a falling out, and Frank leaves. And in [Craig and my] conversations, we thought it might be interesting to include the opposite of that in the show.
Joel and Ellie are two individuals who love in different ways, according to Mazin. "There's a solid argument to be made that you need both kinds of people, people who love outwardly and people who love protective, both of whom can get you in trouble," says the author, adding that there was an interesting opportunity to enhance the Bill and Frank narrative.
The representations of this portion of The Last of Us are different, as fans of the game may learn something entirely new by playing the game, while those introduced to Bill and Frank can learn something entirely different through playing the game. It's an alternative perspective that Druckmann appreciated when Mazin presented it, especially since it allowed the show to showcase more perspectives of the world beyond Joel and Ellie.
"I was a bit apprehensive when I wrote this letter to Neil, because... talk about wandering off the path, and he loved it," Mazin said. "I mean he was like, 'This is my favorite so far,'" Mazin added.
"The tragedy of that episode is that Bill leaves Joel, who says, 'This is what you have to do with Tess,' and that's when that shift occurs," Druckmann said. He's like, 'Well, it's not too late for this kid.' And that's the mental shift he makes at the end of that episode.
Druckmann's task was primarily to translate the story the Naughty Dog team had worked on in a way that was most appropriate for its new medium. He hopes that it will be an enriching experience for those who have seen The Last of Us.
“There are no other [gameplay] loops] in a television program that aren't watching or enjoying it,” Druckmann said. “The game feels richer now having watched the whole episode,” said a couple of people who have returned to the game to check it out on Steam and the Epic Games Store.