[Editor's note: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Last of Us. Read at your own risk.]
Remember that classic scene in The Last of Us where Tess tortures Joel? Or when he and Firefly leader Marlene square off in an operating room? Or when Tess smashes her car into Joel's truck and captures him and Ellie? Oh wait, none of those things happened in The Last of Us. But they did in the game's original storyline, back when it was codenamed Project T1.
The Last of Us director Neil Druckmann teased a few of the original game's plot points before, but today at PAX Prime, he went through this initial plotline in granular detail.
The beginning was more or less the same, but things took a major turn when Joel, Ellie, and Tess get stopped by border patrol agents in the opening hours. Originally there was a doctor in the group who was being smuggled out along with Ellie, and one of the border patrol agents was Tess' brother who was going to waive them through. Unfortunately, they start scanning the gang for infected, it flashes positive for Ellie, and this brings about a traumatic flashback for Joel, whose daughter was gunned down in the exact same manner. Unable to keep his cool, he murders the guard and a firefight breaks out, leading to the death of Tess' brother. She feels betrayed by Joel and Ellie and vows to get revenge on them.
Along the way the doctor gets killed, but not before he explains to Joel that Ellie is immune and she must be brought to a medical facility where a cure can be reverse engineered. Throughout their adventures, Joel and Ellie escape a burning building (an idea the team had before Uncharted 3, Druckmann noted), join up with a group of survivors - which would lead to a large battle where the infected invade them - and adopt a dog, because everyone loves dogs. "We wanted to make a Naughty Dog game with an actual dog," Druckmann laughed.
Well, maybe not everyone, as at one point Naughty Dog was going to make it so the fungal infection would spread to animals too. This idea was scrapped though, because, ya know, giraffes.
At any rate, the duo's adventures largely remained intact - right down to Joel getting wounded and Ellie having to save him - until the end. Originally, Joel deposits Ellie off at the medical facility and a doctor pulls him aside and says "it's complicated." We then cut to Joel driving away with an unconscious Ellie coming to in the back seat. She says they should go back and the two argue about it when- Bam! Their car is crashed into by Tess.
The jilted ex-lover of Joel and her gang capture the pair. She threatens to murder Ellie in front of him, but the crafty teen escapes and start driving back to the clinic (after stealing Tess's vehicle). Meanwhile, Tess is torturing Joel. It would only be during this scene that we flashback to see what really happened at the hospital. This would not be a playable sequence, but just a cutscene to illustrate the lengths Joel went to to save Ellie.
Cut back to Ellie. She can't bring herself to abandon Joel completely, so instead of making it to the clinic and discovering several murdered doctors, she turns the car around, busts into Tess' torture shack, and shoots her dead, thus saving Joel.
The two are now free to start a new life together, with Ellie having no idea what Joel did.
A later revision was closer to the story we all know and love in the final release, but reduced Joel's Firefly massacre at the end to a cutscene in which he and Marlene stand off in the operating room: Joel holding a surgeon in a headlock with a gun to his head, while Marlene takes aim at Joel. Ellie lies unconscious on the operating table in the middle.
Incredibly - and unbeknownst to much of the Naughty Dog staff - Druckmann and company recorded an astounding musical version of this where Marlene and Joel sing their lines. This delightful rendition was played before the crowd to much applause (including a fair amount of standing ovations). Let's hope this gets released to the public sometime soon. If it is, you can bet I'll post it.