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‘The Last Of Us’ Co-Creator Neil Druckmann On Halloween Horror Nights And His Favorite Easter Eggs In The Maze

The Last of Us has never been more popular, but the future of the franchise is on hold at the moment. A third video game hasn’t been officially announced, while production on the acclaimed HBO series has been paused due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. There is a way to get your Last of Us fix, however.

Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event timed to spooky season at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood. There’s “scareactors” roaming the parks looking for jump scare victims, food and drink specials, and mazes — including one this year themed around The Last of Us.

I toured the Orlando maze over the weekend, and without spoiling the fun, it’s an essential visit for The Last of Us fans. But even if you don’t know what a “clicker” is, you’ll be impressed by the theming and the performances (this also applies for mazes themed around Stranger Things, Chucky, and The Exorcist, as well as original concepts). Before the scares, I spoke to The Last of Us co-creator Neil Druckmann and Michael Aiello, Universal Orlando’s senior director of Entertainment Creative Development, about the maze and the return of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson as the voices of Joel and Ellie.

Are there particular moments from the games that you thought would translate well to the maze?

Mike: Yeah. I mean, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to adapting the game because it’s so vast and layered. I think through the brainstorming, being able to narrow it down to the Pittsburgh story, that helped kind of siphon and filter in the types of experiences that we wanted to create for the best.

Neil: So much from the sewers and the Tableau, Ish and his crew and what happened there to right now here in the suburbs where it’s that sniper sequence where you have Joel on the roof protecting Ellie and every moment, it’s just directly from the game.

Do you have any favorite Easter eggs within the maze?

Neil: I have two that really stood out. One is there’s a note from Ish that’s straight from the game, but the one that’s really hidden is in the game, there’s a part where you go into the basement and you have to turn on the generator. It’s one of the scariest parts of the game. And to get out of it, there’s a key card that you have to scan by a key card reader, and the card is somewhere really hidden, and then there’s a key card that’s blinking green like in the game. Again, it’s such a detail that only the most hardcore fans are going to pick up, and the fact that this team, again, we didn’t even tell them to do it, on their own, they’re studying the game and putting in this stuff. I was like, “That’s pretty impressive.”

Mike: Our creative show director is Nate Stevenson, and he was able to take Neil through the house yesterday and he is probably the biggest The Last of Us fan on our creative team. So the minute he knew what we were doing, he was the first one in line going, “I have to do this.” You can’t say no.

Neil: It was really, really cool.

Can you talk a little bit about bringing Troy and Ashley back as the voices of Joel and Ellie, getting them to do some more original dialogue?

Neil: As soon as, again, we had that outline and it was obvious in the beginning that Joel and Ellie have to be part of it. And as soon as we said that, and it’s like, “Well, who’s going to play Joel and Ellie?” It’s not going to be a sound alike. It has to be Troy and Ashley. So I called them up and I’m like, “Hey, we’re working on this thing. Would you be interested in coming in?” They’re like, “Of course. We’re big fans of Halloween Horror Night.” So that was the easiest pitch to give to them, and they came on board. And again, first these guys took a pass of the script and are like, “Okay, here’s some new lines that we need.” And then I took that script and then just rewrote it in their voice. So my third time now writing these sequences and then they came in and recorded brand new lines, and that’s what you’re hearing when you’re going through the experience.

Mike: Again, as a massive fan, hearing new dialogue from these characters for the very first time, I remember we were sitting around a table just like, “Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing. It’s better than we thought.” That inflection is something we didn’t consider.

Neil: Yeah, again, it’s a simple moment, but before you come around the corner and you see that shadow play of Joel and Ellie and you hear Joel say, “Spores, masks on,” and you just see him put the gas mask on and you hear Troy’s kind of like booming bassy voice, it just puts you in the game immediately.

How do you feel that this is going to be a lot of kids’ introductions to The Last of Us universe?

Mike: I’ve been with Horror Nights almost two decades now. To be able to curate an event that’s able to run the gamut of horror that is now, horror that is yet to come, and also horror from the past, this event runs the gamut of being able to provide the guests with gateways. If there’s anyone… I don’t know who they are that doesn’t know The Last of Us, but they’re going to come experience this as a haunted house attraction first. This is going to be their first engagement in that, and the hope is they get to the other side and go, “I have to explore more.” That’s always the intention.

We’ve done brands. I stood on the table and got Killer Klowns from Outer Space in our event and everyone’s like, “What the hell is Killer Klowns from Outer Space?” I’m like, “We have to do it.” And now it’s everywhere. I mean, there’s Killer Klown stuff everywhere. So that’s an awesome thing that we love to do, whether it’s something that’s very niche or something that is so culture changing, like The Last of Us. The wonderful thing about this event is that we can bring both sides of the spectrum, both ends of that spectrum.

Neil: As you told me before, half the houses here are original IPs that these guys have developed, and I think they approached this just like that. This has to stand on its own. You shouldn’t have to rely on having played the game to enjoy this. But if you enjoy it and you haven’t played the game, maybe you’ll check it out.

Halloween Horror Nights runs until November 4th at Universal Studios Florida.