After almost a decade, it’s almost time for GenDesign founder Fumito Ueda to do something other than make The Last Guardian.
Ueda, the beloved designer known for his pair of highly influential games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, will deliver his long-awaited project, The Last Guardian, to PlayStation 4 players. After spending nine years making the game, Ueda, the game’s lead designer, the fact that people can actually play doesn’t quite feel real yet.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet with the fact that we’re done,” Ueda said this week in an interview with Digital Trends. “It’s still with me. I have that lingering feeling. Because we worked on it for so long, I will say that it’s a bit sort of sad that it’s over, and that, you know, we’re not going to be actively working on it anymore. But at the same time, I am definitely relieved that we have been able to finish it, and now it’s going to be in everyone’s hands soon.”
“I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel any sort of pressure … but I try not to think about it.”
Players are relieved, too, it’s probably fair to say. Through a decade of development, there were times when many speculated The Last Guardian would never see the light of day. Team Ico’s previous two titles, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, gathered a devoted fan base with their minimalist, spare storytelling, fantastic worlds and strange characters. In Ico, players control a boy who has horns as he escapes a strange castle, leading a wispy, disoriented girl by the hand and fighting off monsters that try to kidnap her along the way. In Shadow of the Colossus, a lone warrior travels a vast land on horseback, hunting down giant stony monsters and slaying them. Both titles have been highly influential to the generations of games of that followed, and have caused players to develop interesting relationships with their artificial intelligence-controlled companions. (Yes, that’s “generations,” plural. Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were originally released on the PlayStation 2.)
The Last Guardian captured players’ imaginations with a similar premise. In the game, an unnamed boy tries to escape a ruined, largely empty city, with the help of a huge mythical creature called Trico, part dog and part bird. The concept has clearly spoken to players, but after such a long and bumpy development, it’s hard not to wonder: Can The Last Guardian ever live up to expectations?
The answer to that question is, in Ueda’s mind, out of his hands. As a creator, he said he tries to keep worries about how his games will be received at bay.
“I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel any sort of pressure, or I had no sense of expectations toward the games that I make, but I try not to think about it,” he explained. “I try not to be influenced and affected by it, because it’s never-ending, once you start to let that into you, and your every day is sort of worries, you know? Both with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, I think it’s fair to say they were not your standard games that were widely accepted at that time, in that era. But I really pursued what I thought was going to be a very unique game, and I carried my vision and my idea with those two games. So it’s the same with The Last Guardian as well, and of course I’ll be happy if people can understand it and maybe relate to it, and it’s widely accepted. But yeah, of course, it’s not that I don’t feel the pressure or the expectations from the outside.”
“We’ve been able to complete a game that remains very, very true to the original vision.”
Though outside factors have forced The Last Guardian to change a lot along the way, Ueda said it’s still the game he and Team Ico set out to make. Bumps in the development road, like the fact that the team shifted development from the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4, changed things about how the game looks, for instance, but not what it became.
“What’s clear to me is that the original vision and the core idea from the very beginning, even though this long amount of time has transpired, has not changed,” Ueda said. “We’ve been able to complete a game that remains very, very true to the original vision.”
The Last Guardian has had a lengthy and tumultuous development cycle. Ueda left Sony and Team ICO in 2011, and said at the time that the publisher’s move to delay the game caused him to do so. He formed a new studio, genDESIGN, in 2014 with some former Team ICO members, and in that year the company took over development of The Last Guardian, working with Sony on a contract basis.
But despite obvious difficulty Ueda, Sony and Team ICO had during The Last Guardian‘s development, he and the team never wanted to leave the project for something else — although they might have worried from time to time about whether they’d ever actually finish it. Inevitably, other game concepts came up, Ueda said, but he and Team Ico were completely committed to Trico and The Last Guardian. That commitment carried them through nine years of development.
As for the future, Ueda’s probably not ducking out of video games for other pursuits once The Last Guardian is on store shelves. He said The Last Guardian and his vision for the game didn’t come from a desire to try to encourage players to form a relationship with an AI character, but rather as an evolution of what was possible in an interactive medium, as opposed to traditional media like film. His next idea, he thinks, might be to explore more of gaming’s evolution.
“I’m pretty sure that the next thing I work on will be in a game form. That I’ll say,” Ueda said. “I’m hoping that I can create something that has a lower barrier of entry. But when I say that, I don’t want it to be misunderstood as, ‘oh it’s an easy game,’ or like it’s a ‘casual’ game, or anything like that.
“I’m pretty sure that the next thing I work on will be in a game form.”
“What I mean by that is, you know, a lot of modern games can be very skill-based. Whether it’s controller input or responsiveness, they can get very technical. And it’s a little intimidating to some people. And so having a lower barrier of entry and sort of ‘loose’ form, that’s not as strict on you, is something that I feel like maybe that’s a place I’ll go next.
“Just because it’s that, though, I want it to have the same amount of impact, and leave a long-lasting impression on the player themselves, and take them on an emotional sort of experience and journey. I don’t know if that is the definition of what I want to work on next, but the image or feeling that I have, is that I want it to be something like that.”