Scavenging for vital crafting items is a huge part of The Last of Us Part 2, but Ellie also spends her time in the post-apocalyptic ruins searching for character trading cards from an in-universe comic-book series. One such card is an obvious nod to game director Neil Druckmann, and it also includes what may be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the serious allegations of crunch at Naughty Dog from earlier this year.
In the fictional comic-book universe that serves as window dressing in The Last of Us Part 2, Doctor Uckmann (wink wink) is the villainous leader of The New Dogs (nudge nudge), a criminal organization that performs elaborate heists to fund its technological research. Doctor Uckmann, with his wild mane of hair and beard, is very obviously a stand-in for Neil Druckmann, but what would have just been a cute Easter egg takes a turn in the character’s bio.
“Once a well-respected researcher, Doctor Uckmann’s questionable experiments in the realm of pushing human limits saw him ostracized from the scientific community,” the card reads.
I don’t know about you, but “questionable experiments in the realm of pushing human limits” sounds an awful lot like crunch culture to me, especially coming from a studio that’s been accused of cultivating such an environment during the development of The Last of Us Part 2. And I wasn’t alone in this assessment going by various posts on social media. While some at Naughty Dog may thrive on crunch, it’s an untenable situation for many others, especially as they begin to build families, and shouldn’t be treated lightly.
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Naughty Dog did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment on this story.
Although The Last of Us Part 2 has received praise for everything from its story to rope physics and shirt-removal animations, that level of quality doesn’t come without a price. In Kotaku’s previous reporting on the subject, former and current Naughty Dog employees described an atmosphere in which constant crunch was both unavoidable and expected.
“You feel obligated to be there later, because everyone else is there later,” one developer explained to former Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier. “If an animation needed to be put in and you weren’t there to help the animator, you’re now blocking the animator, and they may give you grief. It may not even be spoken—it may just be a look. ‘Man, you totally screwed me last night by not being here at 11 p.m.’”
Druckmann, who recently changed his Twitter avatar to an image of his supervillain counterpart, has remained largely silent on the crunch allegations. Two days after Kotaku’s report, he thanked The Last of Us Part 2’s production team via tweet, saying that they “brought order to our chaos, wrangled a complex schedule, and facilitated valuable communication.” Since the game’s release last week, Druckmann has spent his Twitter time sharing praise and lambasting critics.