Neil Druckmann is one of the most successful executives in the games industry. He's touched some of the best received story-based video games, and his first project as a Director, The Last of Us, was a monumental success.
But who's the man behind the work? Why is his professional history so unclear? We answer all these questions and more in this episode. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.
Young Neil Druckmann grew up in this turbulent environment. His brother introduced him to comic books, video games and movies as an escape from the world around them. Together they bonded over art, and games by Sierra and LucasArts helped young neil learn english.
Never say George Lucas hasn’t done good for the world.
In 1988 the Druckmanns moved from Israel’s sewage dumping ground to America. A different world.
Druckmann was intensely interested in visualisation and coding. He developed his first game, pink-bullet, for Linux and Windows with a handful of his pals. We know this because he put it on his resume, archived forever.
On this resume, Neil’s personal objective reads:
“An internship in the game industry where I will be able to apply my programming and my artistic skills to further my knowledge and understanding of game development.”
By this point in 2004, Neil had almost obtained a Master of Entertainment Technology from Carnegie Mellon University, and had a Bachelor in Comp Sci from Florida State Uni.
His coursework is stashed with high level mathematics, software engineering, computer science and some art. At this stage in his career there is nothing particularly unique about Druckmann. He is just another grad who wants to make games but isn’t really sure what he wants to do--he considered animation, programming, and so on.
Druckmann would later point to a course with Jesse Schell as providing his key game design philosophy. I think this bullshit, but I think Druckmann believes it. We’ll get to that later.
Druckmann was allegedly paid to attend the Games Developer Conference (GDC) at around this time in 2004. Druckmann claims he attended a presentation by Naught Dog co-founder Jason Rubin. Rubin, of course, worked on Crash Bandicoot and Jack and Dexter, produced by Naught Dog. The man is largely unknown outside of the developer community but in their hallowed halls is held up as an icon of the industry, having touched some of the best praised games of modern entertainment.
Anyway, Druckmann claims he ‘bugged’ world-renowned games producer Jason Rubin for a business card, and some months later Rubin offered Druckmann an internship.
I couldn’t find any evidence of this online aside from anecdotes from Druckmann himself so take his introduction to naughty dog with a grain of salt. This will become a pattern for Druckmann’s professional life.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. You can subscribe on Youtube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you catch podcasts. Please take a moment and review the podcast where you find it. It really helps.