The initial story concept for The Last of Us originally depicted Joel's business partner Tess chasing him across the US in a bid for revenge, the creative director at Naughty Dog has revealed.
Neil Druckmann said in the latest issue of Game Informer that initially the story would portray Joel betraying Tess early on in the game.
"That storyline never worked out," he said.
"We had a tough time understanding why Joel would take this journey - we weren't buying it. We also had a hard time buying that Tess would go on a vendetta. We could understand her pursuing Joel a little bit, but why would she go for a year around the country?
"Those things were solved by saying that Tess is going to die when she gets bitten, but her dying wish to Joel is to do this one good thing - help me do this one good thing so my soul can rest because I've done all these horrible things."
Tess's shift from antagonist to motivator was one of many significant changes to the game's acclaimed narrative. Druckmann revealed that the original plan was to write Ellie as a far softer character.
"Ellie's arc originally was that she didn't kill any non-infected people until the end, when she was going to kill Tess when Tess was torturing Joel," Druckmann said.
That original plan was ditched because it provided too much distance between her and the player.
"What we realised is that we had to get Ellie engaged more in the combat because when she was disengaged from the action for that long you didn't care so much.
"So that changed pretty early on. We decided it wasn't going to be about the first time she killed someone, it was more about this coming of age story of the impact that the horrors of violence has on her over the course of the game.
"That culminates with her conflict with David. That happened pretty quickly, just based on some things we realised about the story and how we had to integrate it into the gameplay."
On Tuesday, Druckmann published early storyboard art which showed Tess torturing Joel in one of the final scenes.
As for The Last of Us ending, it appears Naughty Dog initially had the idea of Joel's famous lie to Ellie, but still wanted to portray it in a more positive context.
"The original ending when we pitched the game was a much more hopeful ending, where Joel and Ellie make it to San Francisco and that is a town run by people who are trying to restore society," he said.
"Joel has killed all these doctors and lied to Ellie, and Ellie just fully buys into the lie. So, you're left with the idea that they are going to live the rest of their lives in this town. The camera pulls back and maybe everything is going to be alright for these two. I was working on writing, and it didn't feel honest any more. After everything they've done and everything they've been through, that was letting them off a little too easy - especially for Joel."
He adds there was much initial resistance to the ending Naughty Dog settled on.
"When we did focus testing, at least initially until some of the hospital stuff started coming together, it tested very poorly. People said it's unclear, anticlimactic, unsatisfying.
"A lot of people at the company felt the same way. A few designers didn't like the ending I had in mind. But then, as time passed and they thought about it, they came around and really appreciated. I think that happened with other people, too."
CVG's Last of Us review scored the game a 10.