In 1999, Straley joined Naughty Dog as an artist on Crash Team Racing and the Jak and Daxter series, before becoming a game director for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, The Last of Us, The Last of Us: Left Behind, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. A glittering portfolio, and although Straley left Naughty Dog a few years ago, GamesIndustry.biz managed to catch the industry veteran at the Fun & Serious Game Festival in Bilbao, Spain. Discussing ludonarrative dissonance, Straley explained how characters have evolved and offer opportunities for new stories to be told.
“That’s our problem as designers: in 2007, that's where the industry was, that's where we were. We didn’t necessarily have the wherewithal, the clarity so to speak, that we do now,” he elaborated, using the contrast of Nathan Drake’s personality with the silent heroes Gordon Freeman, Doomguy, and Master Chief that came before him. With The Last of Us, Naughty Dog attempted to show how violence complicates the neat binaries of good and evil, right and wrong. “It made you realise as the player that there are true stakes, that the other humans you encounter inside of the world… were motivated by their own sense of survival,” said Straley. “They had their own compass of values that they were driven by, or directed by, which meant they were capable of killing you for a bottle of water and a pair of shoes, because that meant another day of survival in that world that we created.”
Violence is not the only means to explore the question of interactivity between player and their avatar. “Can you create a game that's as interesting and character-driven and compelling as an Uncharted story or Last of Us story without shooting?” Straley hypothesised. “I think you can. Again the concept has to be… ‘how can I create a rich enough world to allow for interesting core mechanics?’” He went on to commend indie games for offering this to gamers who want “something fresh” from their experiences.
Specifically, Death Stranding and Inside got mentions for “extremely compelling” stories and mechanics. “I think Hideo Kojima has done something really good for the industry to just try and do something to shake it up a bit,” he said. “Inside, Playdead’s games are fantastic for this—very engaging, that don’t include shooting. So yeah, I think there is a paradigm shift in the industry, and I think it takes a few successes.”
Josh thought Death Stranding was bizarre and beautiful. Sweeping shots of environmental desolation, sprinkled with cameos from Kojima’s best buds, accompanied by a melancholy melody, and a fourth wall break or four for good measure. It’s got to be played to be believed.