Those who have been keeping tabs on The Last of Us – the newest game from Uncharted developer Naughty Dog – are already familiar with the basic pitch: a harsh, grueling struggle to survive after society as we know it has crumbled, and people have turned on one another; whether by choice, or through a strange infection.

The main problem with such a dark and tense story is that when nature begins to reclaim man-made structures, the result isn’t devastating — it can be strangely beautiful. The latest developer diary from the team behind The Last of Us explain how that contradiction is one they hope will resonate with players, and help make their story even more unique. Of course, not without making their jobs harder in the process.

What has been most evident in the visual style and stunning concept artwork for The Last of Us is that despite the overarching zombie-apocalypse plot, darkness is almost never a factor. Instead, sunlight washes over everything in the world, making the conflict between people all the more troubling, and the violence even more out of place.

VGA 2012 The Last of Us

Of course, just because something is grotesque or violent, that doesn’t mean it can’t be visually stunning. Much has been made of the combat in store for both Joel and Ellie, but the traversal throughout the broken remains of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania looks to be a visual showcase. Crumbling brick and out-of-control plant life may not be seen too often in the realm of video games, and as the developer diary shows, there may be good reason.

From a technical standpoint, the decision to so strongly emphasize the daylight travel and environments means the lighting team and concept artists have an even larger task on their hands than usual.

Besides the fact that having an intensely-lit game world means that everything – everything – needs to look as good as possible, the shadows and coloring of every in-game character pose an even larger hurdle than usual. How does light affect each scene? Each room? Each character?

The Last of Us Joel Ellie Walking

That being said, the Uncharted series is no stranger to rich tropical locales and sun-bleached environments, so perhaps the challenge is one this team can accomplish. Even if it isn’t going to be Naughty Dog’s first release using the improved horsepower of the PlayStation 4.

We’ll have to wait and see if the wastelands of The Last of Us truly are ‘beautiful.’ But at this point, we’re willing to give the studio the benefit of the doubt.

The Last of Us is releases June 14, 2013 exclusively for the PS3.

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