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Neil Druckmann

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Neil Druckmann
Neil Druckmann SDCC 2015.jpg
Druckmann at the 2015 Comic-Con International
Born (1978-12-05) December 5, 1978 (age 38)
Israel
Residence Los Angeles, California, United States
Alma mater Carnegie Mellon University
Occupation Creative director, writer, programmer
Employer Naughty Dog
Spouse(s) Maya Druckmann
Children 1

Neil Druckmann (born December 5, 1978) is an Israeli-American writer, creative director and programmer for the video game developer Naughty Dog, known for his work in the video games The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. He was born and raised until the age of 10 in Israel, where his experiences with entertainment would later influence his storytelling techniques. He studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, before searching for work in the video game industry.

Druckmann's first video game work was as an intern at Naughty Dog. In 2004, he became a programmer on Jak 3 and Jak X: Combat Racing, before becoming game designer for Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. He was later chosen to lead development on The Last of Us as creative director, a role he continued during the development of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. In addition, Druckmann has also written comic books. He worked on the motion comic Uncharted: Eye of Indra, prior to the creation of his own graphic novel A Second Chance at Sarah. He later co-wrote The Last of Us: American Dreams with artist Faith Erin Hicks, and is currently working on a sequel to The Last of Us, subtitled Part II, as well as a film adaptation of the first game.

Druckmann has received high praise for his work on The Last of Us, receiving several awards and nominations for his contributions, including two BAFTA Awards, two DICE Awards, and three Writers Guild of America Awards. His work on Uncharted 4 was also praised and awarded.

Early life[edit]

Druckmann was born in Israel on December 5, 1978,[1][2][3] to Yehudit "Judy" and Jerry Ilan Druckmann.[4][5] At a young age, Druckmann's older brother Emanuel showed him comic books, video games, and movies.[3] These forms of entertainment, particularly video games by Sierra Entertainment and LucasArts,[1] helped Druckmann learn English.[2] Druckmann became particularly interested in story-telling, and wrote his own comic books.[3] He moved to the United States with his family in 1989.[1] He attended middle school and high school in Miami, Florida, then studied criminology at the University of Florida.[3] His brother sneaked him into the Electronic Entertainment Expo in the late 1990s.[6]

Druckmann soon became a research assistant at Florida State University, while living in Tallahassee, Florida.[1] He spent a year at the university working at the Visualization Lab[7] within the School of Computational Science and Information Technology, beginning in July 2002. During this time, he began developing the game Pink-Bullet, for Linux and Microsoft Windows, with some friends.[8] At one point, he wanted to be an animator, which required enlisting in art classes, but his parents forbade him from doing so.[9] After taking a programming class, Druckmann realized that it was his preference,[3] and began a Bachelor of Computer Science in December 2002, which he completed the following year.[8] Druckmann moved to Pittsburgh, where he attended Carnegie Mellon University;[3] in August 2003, he began his Master's degree in Entertainment Technology,[8] which he earned in 2005[3] from the Entertainment Technology Center.[10] In April 2004, Druckmann developed the game Dikki Painguin in: TKO for the Third Reich for the Nintendo Entertainment System as a student at Carnegie Mellon, in collaboration with fellow student Allan Blomquist.[11][12]

Career[edit]

At the Game Developers Conference, Druckmann met Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin. After Druckmann "bugged" Rubin, the latter gave him his business card.[3] In 2004, Druckmann joined Naughty Dog as a programming intern, before being promoted to a full-time position as a gameplay programmer a few months later.[3] During the development of Jak 3 (2004) and Jak X: Combat Racing (2005), Druckmann continued to ask co-president Evan Wells about joining the design team. Wells restrained from moving him to the design team, as he was originally employed as a programmer, but agreed to review Druckmann's design work if he completed them after working hours. Following the development of Jak X, Wells concluded that Druckmann was skilled in the field of design, and gave him the role of game designer for Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007).[13] In this position, he worked closely with Amy Hennig to construct the story of Uncharted, before working on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) as a lead game designer, becoming more involved with the core writing of the game.[3][10] Druckmann also worked on the original design and story of Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (2009), prior to Naughty Dog's abandonment of the game; High Impact Games completed development.[14]

In 2009, Druckmann worked on the motion comic Uncharted: Eye of Indra, as writer and director. A prequel to Drake's Fortune, Eye of Indra tells the story of Nathan Drake prior to the events of the first game.[15] Druckmann's first graphic novel, A Second Chance at Sarah, was published by Ape Entertainment in February 2010.[16] With illustrations by artist Joysuke Wong, the novel relates Druckmann's interest in traveling back in time to meet his wife at a younger age. "There's something cute and poetic about that idea," Druckmann explained.[17] He felt that he shares many similarities with the novel's protagonist Johnny, and that "a lot of Johnny's flaws and fears are based on [his] own shortcomings".[17] The comic was originally released on February 24, 2010;[18] critics particularly praised Wong's illustrations, as well as Druckmann's writing and character development.[19]

Following the development of Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog split into two teams to work on projects concurrently. With one team working on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011), co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra chose Druckmann and Bruce Straley to lead development on a new game; Druckmann was chosen for his determination and talent for design.[13] Though they were originally set to develop a new game in the Jak and Daxter series, the team felt that they "weren't doing service to the fans of [the] franchise", and decided to create a new game, titled The Last of Us.[20]

A man with short brown hair, sitting next to a man with curly black hair hugging a plush giraffe, both smiling at something to the right of the camera.
Druckmann (right) with game director Bruce Straley (left) at PAX Prime 2014. The two worked closely throughout the development of The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

When conceiving ideas for The Last of Us, Druckmann used a concept that he created as a student at Carnegie Mellon University. His idea was to merge the gameplay of Ico (2001) in a story set during a zombie apocalypse, like that of Night of the Living Dead (1968), with a lead character similar to John Hartigan from Sin City (1991–2000). The lead character, a police officer, would be tasked with protecting a young girl; however, due to the lead character's heart condition, players would often assume control of the young girl, reversing the roles. He based The Last of Us on this concept, replacing the police officer with Joel, and naming the young girl Ellie.[21] Druckmann wrote The Last of Us with the intention of having the story "rooted firmly within reality", a stark departure from Naughty Dog's previous "light and loose" feeling. "It needed to go a little darker [than Uncharted] to explore a sadder theme," he explained.[22] Prior to directing the game, Druckmann took acting classes in order to "talk to [the actors] in the same language".[10] The game was released on June 14, 2013 to critical acclaim, with particular praise directed towards Druckmann's work on the story.[23] He earned numerous awards for his work on the game, including a BAFTA,[24] a DICE Award,[25] a Game Developers Choice Award,[26] a Golden Joystick Award,[27] and a Writers Guild of America Award.[28]

Druckmann later worked on the downloadable expansion pack The Last of Us: Left Behind, a prequel focusing on Ellie's relationship with her friend Riley,[29] which received critical acclaim.[30] He earned additional accolades for his work on Left Behind, including a second BAFTA[31] and Writers Guild of America Award.[32] In particular, he was praised for writing a scene involving a kiss between two female characters, which was named a "breakthrough moment" for video games.[33] He also co-wrote the four-issue comic book miniseries The Last of Us: American Dreams, with writer and artist Faith Erin Hicks. It was published by Dark Horse Comics, with the first issue released in April 2013,[34] and was lauded for Druckmann's writing and character development, as well as Hicks' simplistic illustrations.[35][36]

Following Hennig's departure from Naughty Dog in March 2014, it was announced that Druckmann and Straley were working on Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (2016) as creative director and game director, respectively.[37] Initial reports claimed that Hennig was "forced out" of Naughty Dog by Druckmann and Straley, though co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra later denied this.[38] Druckmann co-wrote the story alongside Josh Scherr;[39] Druckmann considered Scherr the "funny one", allowing him to write the humour of Uncharted 4 due to Druckmann's self-professed inability to write jokes. He appreciated the collaboration of writing on Uncharted 4, having written The Last of Us almost entirely independently.[40] The game was released on May 10, 2016 to critical acclaim, with continued praise directed towards the story.[41] It was awarded Best Narrative at The Game Awards 2016,[42] and Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing at the 69th Writers Guild of America Awards.[43] Druckmann acted as head of narrative development for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, released in August 2017.[44]

In March 2014, Sony announced that Druckmann was writing a film adaptation of The Last of Us, produced by Sam Raimi and distributed by Screen Gems.[45] By January 2015, Druckmann had written the script's second draft, and performed a read-through with some actors.[46] Very little work occurred following this, as Druckmann stated in April 2016 that the film had entered development hell.[47] Druckmann is currently co-writing a sequel to the first game, titled The Last of Us Part II, alongside Halley Gross;[48] Straley will not return to co-direct the game.[49] In August 2017, Druckmann was featured as a guest judge on an episode of Face Off.[50]

Writing style[edit]

Druckmann's writing philosophy, which he realized while talking to game designer Cory Barlog, is "simple story, complex characters"; Druckmann dislikes video games with complicated exposition, but enjoys writing complex character relationships.[40] Throughout his writing, Druckmann approaches scenes with focus on every character, attempting to enter the mindset of each individual character. He tries to ignore character tropes in an attempt to write "honestly".[51] Druckmann also writes with a minimalist mindset, often asking himself "What is this scene really about? What's the least we have to say or do to convey that and no more?"[51]

Before writing a game, Druckmann and Straley create an entire outline of the story, before exploring the narrative more intricately, discussing the "moment-to-moment beats" of each level that lead to a bigger event. They generally begin with the middle of the story, as it is the core of the gameplay and narrative, before exploring the game's climax and character development.[40] The Frame host John Horn identified a repeating theme in Druckmann's stories, including A Second Chance at Sarah and The Last of Us, is the concept of characters attempting or hoping to alter their past in some way; Druckmann admitted he had not noticed this trend, though agreed with it and recognized its recurrence in an upcoming story of his.[52][53]

Influences[edit]

Druckmann cites game writer Sam Lake as a large inspiration, naming himself a "longtime fan".[54] Druckmann's favorite video games include Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991), Ico, and Resident Evil 4 (2005),[55] and he is often inspired by character-focused comics such as Preacher (1995–2000), and Y: The Last Man (2002–2008).[53] While writing The Last of Us, Druckmann was inspired by several films, including: Unforgiven (1992), for its ability to make audiences support the protagonist despite his immorality; No Country for Old Men (2007), due to its subtle and sparse execution, forcing audience engagement;[51] and Gravity (2013), in regards to simplicity and intensity.[56]

Views[edit]

"While working on The Last of Us, I had this secret agenda: ... I wanted to create one of the coolest, non-sexualized female protagonists, and I felt like with The Last of Us there was an opportunity here to change the industry."
—Neil Druckmann, International Game Developers Association keynote, September 16, 2013[57]

Druckmann is a regular advocate of gender equality in video games, citing Anita Sarkeesian as an influence;[58] he presented the Ambassador Award to Sarkeesian at the 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards,[59] and regularly advocated her projects.[60] Throughout the development of Uncharted 4, Druckmann was influenced by concept artist Ashley Swidowski to include more female characters in the game. "She is constantly challenging me and pushing for diversity in our cast", he said.[53] Upon a focus tester's criticism regarding the inclusion of a female character in Uncharted 4, Druckmann instructed him to leave, responding "Wow, why does that matter?".[58]

Similarly, Ellie of The Last of Us was initially received negatively in early focus tests. Druckmann is proud that Ellie is a "strong, non-sexualized female lead character", and hoped that other developers would take similar approaches to characters without fear of unpopularity.[3] Druckmann and Straley were surprised by some of the backlash in regards to gender roles in The Last of Us, although Druckmann noted that "the more progress we make, the more those problems stand out".[61] He declared it a "misconception" that female protagonists hinder game sales,[62] evidenced by the success of The Last of Us.[61]

Personal life[edit]

Druckmann currently resides in Los Angeles, California with his wife Maya[63] and daughter.[64] He became a father during the development of The Last of Us;[21] his daughter was a "huge inspiration" to him when writing the game.[65] He found that the birth of his daughter reinforced his ideas about family, realizing he would "do anything" for her.[53] Druckmann is Jewish, although found he regularly writes about "white, straight, Christian male" characters, encouraging him to instead create more diverse characters.[53]

Works[edit]

Video games[edit]

Year Game title Role
2004 Dikki Painguin in: TKO for the Third Reich Gameplay programmer[11]
2004 Jak 3 Gameplay programmer[3]
2005 Jak X: Combat Racing Gameplay programmer[3]
2007 Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Game designer, co-writer[13]
2009 Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Co-lead game designer, co-writer[10]
2009 Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier Original design and story[14]
2013 The Last of Us Creative director, writer[13]
2014 The Last of Us: Left Behind Creative director, writer[29]
2016 Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Creative director, lead co-writer[37]
2017 Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Head of narrative development[44]
TBA The Last of Us Part II Creative director, lead co-writer[48][66][67]

Literature[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2009 Uncharted: Eye of Indra Director, writer[15] Motion comic
2010 A Second Chance at Sarah Writer[17] Graphic novel
2013 The Last of Us: American Dreams Writer[34] Graphic novel
2013 The Art of The Last of Us Writer (introduction)[68] with Bruce Straley
2014 The Art of Naughty Dog Writer (section)[69] with Bruce Straley

Film and television[edit]

Year Title Notes
2013 Grounded: Making The Last of Us Documentary[70]
2013 Between the Lines with Barry Kibrick Season 13, Episode 25[71]
2013 How Videogames Changed the World Television movie[72]
2015 Conversations with Creators Web series; Episode 2[73]
2017 The Game Makers: Inside Story Web series; 5 episodes[74]
2017 Face Off Season 12, Episode 7: "Feral Fungi"[50]
TBA The Last of Us Writer; film adaptation[45]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Date Award Category Recipient(s) and Nominee(s) Result Ref.
October 26, 2013 31st Golden Joystick Awards Best Storytelling The Last of Us Won [27]
December 4, 2013 5th Annual Inside Gaming Awards Best Story The Last of Us Nominated [75]
December 21, 2013 Hardcore Gamer's Game of the Year Awards 2013 Best Writing The Last of Us Won [76]
December 21, 2013 Hardcore Gamer's Game of the Year Awards 2013 Best Story The Last of Us Nominated [77]
December 24, 2013 Destructoid's Best of 2013 Best Story The Last of Us Nominated [78]
December 24, 2013 Giant Bomb's 2013 Game of the Year Awards Best Story The Last of Us Won [79]
December 31, 2013 The Daily Telegraph Video Game Awards 2013 Best Script Neil Druckmann Won [80]
December 31, 2013 The Daily Telegraph Video Game Awards 2013 Best Director Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley Nominated [80]
January 7, 2014 GameTrailers Game of the Year Awards 2014 Best Story The Last of Us Won [81]
January 9, 2014 IGN's Best of 2013 Best PS3 Story The Last of Us Won [82]
January 10, 2014 IGN's Best of 2013 Best Overall Story The Last of Us Nominated [83]
February 1, 2014 66th Writers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing The Last of Us Won [28]
February 7, 2014 17th Annual DICE Awards Outstanding Achievement in Story The Last of Us Won [25]
March 8, 2014 2014 SXSW Gaming Awards Excellence in Narrative The Last of Us Won [84]
March 12, 2014 10th British Academy Video Games Awards Story The Last of Us Won [24]
March 19, 2014 14th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards Best Narrative The Last of Us Won [26]
February 14, 2015 67th Writers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing The Last of Us: Left Behind Won [32]
February 20, 2015 IGN AU Black Beta Select Awards 2014 Best Storytelling The Last of Us: Left Behind Won [85]
March 12, 2015 11th British Academy Video Games Awards Story The Last of Us: Left Behind Won [31]
November 18, 2016 Golden Joystick Awards 2016 Best Storytelling Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Nominated [86]
December 1, 2016 The Game Awards 2016 Best Narrative Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Won [42]
February 19, 2017 69th Writers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Won [43][87]
April 6, 2017 13th British Academy Video Games Awards Narrative Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Nominated [88]

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