Naughty Dog is now admittedly developing a multiplayer project. It could be the expansion of the Factions mode seen in the first The Last of Us game as a standalone title.
Here’s a job listing for a multiplayer level/environment designer. Let’s quote some of it: „[…] Embark on Naughty Dog’s newest adventure – the studio’s first standalone multiplayer game! We’re seeking to bring the same level of ambition and quality of our signature, story-driven games to this unique multiplayer project. […] Our level design process is based around giving the designer the maximum amount of control and flexibility over the design of the space: rather than assembling prefabs, our level designers model directly in 3D.” So far, so good.
Let’s see the responsibilities: „Plan and model simplified geometry environmental layouts, place game objects, and script level progression; develop plans for map updates and evolutions; coordinate extensive play-testing, reviews, and iteration; collaborate with artists, programmers, animators and other game designers to craft the vision of your spaces; act as producer for spaces you design as well as other parts of the game, facilitating communication across disciplines, clearing dependencies, and ensuring deadlines are met; design and champion gameplay systems, conventions, and scenarios; additional responsibilities may be assigned as needed.”
How is this related to The Last of Us? Well, here’s a tweet from September 2019. Again, we’ll quote Naughty Dog’s relevant parts of the statement: „[…] as development began on the evolution of our Factions mode from The Last of Us Part I, the vision of the team grew beyond an additional mode that could be included with our enormous single-player campaign. Wanting to support both visions, we made the difficult choice that The Last of Us Part II would not include an online mode. However, you will eventually experience the fruits of our team’s online ambition, but not as part of The Last of Us Part II.” It’s easy to tie the dots, right?