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Bringing NPCs to life with Naughty Dog's Bryan Collinsworth

On GDC Podcast episode 27 we welcome Bryan Collinsworth, game designer at The Last of Us Part II developer Naughty Dog, who joined us to chat about his philosophies on game design, and how he helped bring outstanding performances to NPC allies in TLOUII.

In this episode highlight, with the help of our live GDC 2021 virtual audience, we asked how he would go about designing a velociraptor NPC companion (erm, a non-player...dinosaur?). What we got was an insightful answer.

Music by Mike Meehan.

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Bryan designs an NPC dino-companion on the spot

"I'd definitely go back and watch Jurassic Park and all the Jurassic Park extended universe, and look at some visuals. We do all that kind of stuff a lot to pull tone and experience and everything else we want the player to feel. And then think about little vignettes that might actually might play out in the game, like when the player is moving through the world with this velociraptor--what is going to be their experience of that? What is it going to be like moving through the world with this velociraptor? What is going to be their experience of that?

"I think we've already got unique and memorable nailed down there (laughs). But how do you really sell that? Think through what is distinctive about a velociraptor character. First, what is expected? They're smart, vicious, rendered as larger than they were in real life, all those kinds of aspects. How do you turn some of those expectations on their heads, or use them in a way that's advantageous as an NPC? Can you have the velociraptor open doors for you, or solve puzzles with you? Are there things about its nature or behavior, [like] if it sees a squirrel run by it's going to want to chase it and eat it? Which is something you don't necessarily have to deal with with a human NPC.

"And then there are all the space design considerations too, so that's the point at which we'd put together a small test level in the game, get some initial motion capture of a velociraptor which would probably be humans in some sorts of suits. [Then] bring those motion captures into the little level and start figuring out what kind of geometry what kind of spaces actually work for a creature that has this big ol' tail, has these giant claws, can jump around, is maybe a little bit taller than a human. In what spaces work well for you and a velociraptor to explore together? And build a little playground to test those places out."

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Image credit: Naughty Dog


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