Game Designer Dreams VOL.1 – The Last Guardian’s Fumito Ueda

Mr. Qoo

Authorised to repost from SPICE (https://spice.eplus.jp/). Translated by QooApp. Please do not repost without authorisation.


Fumito Ueda/Photo: Jun Arakawa

Games have become an ordinary entertainment since God knows when. It all started with the arcade Space Invaders, then Famicon became everyone’s household item, and now we are able to play various excellent games on mobile. This volume is about game makers, about their initial impulse, passion and ideal. The very first guest is the father of ICO,  Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian – Fumito Ueda. What is the thing called games in Ueda’s heart?

First of all, can you share something about The Last Guardian? This game has been released for a while. You may have talked about it in other interviews, but I am still interested to know more.

The Last Guardian was initially named Trico. The start of all these is Agro, the horse in Shadow of the Colossus. I feel that Agro is popular among players according to their feedback. They are amazed by the relationship between the protagonist and the quiet Agro.

This is the reason why we believe a game that focuses on such a relationship would be heart-stirring. Plus, it might take less time to finish since we had been working on new technologies.

I myself have played Shadow of the Colossus. I was also touched by Agro’s actions. Your game do not usually contain conversations. This goes for both ICO and  Shadow of the Colossus. You really do excel in depicting the friendship between different species and the friendship that features no verbal exchange.

Thank you.

Trico has become my friend before I even realised it. Even the tiniest bit about him makes me very happy. This is such a fresh experience. Do you always pay attention to the idea of cross species communication and friendship when you make a game?

The game is indeed about friendship, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it when I designed it. I tend to share something that cannot be transmitted through films and novels but games. Other existing entertainments have yet to introduce a work that tells a story based on the exchange between a player’s character and an intelligent creature. This is what I focused on for this game.

I was awestruck the first time I played ICO. There is no conversation, no explanation, it is only a pure adventure. The story told just like that can still manage to be amazing. I was truly impressed and moved. What are the games that inspire you this way?

I have mentioned it in other interviews. They are Outer World and Prince of Persia.

I played a few Prince of Persia titles, but Outer World is so difficult that I gave up half way (laugh).

Another one is Flashback. The three games have one similarity – characters’ movements are so real and vivid. Most games tend to use classic motions, but these games perform each motion with such details. As a result, players can better experience the world behind the screen. Flashback gave me a lot of impacts, made me yearn for being a part of those who created that world. Basically, I prefer games with detailed action performances.

I played Prince of Persia on Super Famicon.

I used to have an Amiga, seldom used it for gaming though. I started Prince of Persia on Game Boy.

Oh, I see!

Outer World is indeed too hard. I couldn’t finish it the first try so I watched my friend play instead. At that moment, I thought “why on earth is there a great game like this”.

Photo: Jun Arakawa

The other thing I find impressive about ICO is the manual. It looks like a fairytale storybook, explaining the system through an interesting story. It is the best manual in the world.

But as an informative manual, it doesn’t really do a good job.

The Last Guardian’s special edition is a collaboration with Brutus and has a booklet attached inside. This booklet again resembles a classic fairytale storybook. People on social media keep talking about it! Why did you design it this way?

There are a few reasons, one of it being getting adults immersed in the game. Those who don’t play games may get a sense of classic literature from the booklet, and I hope this prompts them to play the actual game. Besides, wrapping a game up with the facade of literature can lessen the need to make the game realistic.

Lessen the need to make the game realistic?

If I tell you a game is a tale, you will not expect anything realistic from it; however, it actually presents a world with careful details and exquisite designs. This is the moment when players realise the difference between expectation and actuality, and hence the game seems more vivid. It’s not just the package. I want to make the players think “this world may exist” whenever I make a game. Hope the package and the design help.

Do you have any special feelings attached to fairytales?

I would say our designers have special feelings more than I do. I guess most people who bought our game have decided to buy it much earlier.

Yes, they visit a game shop for a game rather than checking out what games the shop offers.

This is the point. I believe package can only attract those who have yet to decide what games they should get. In a shop where there is a bunch of stuff, a game’s appearance plays an important role in attracting those people. With that being said, the package is designed for gamers who have yet to decide what to buy, and this is why our package has to be unique.

I was surprised by the design the day it went out!

We paid attention to the ordinary version’s package as well, but we eventually made a special edition in fear of the ordinary version being unnoticed in a sea of games. This cost a lot, to be honest. The yellow part is not printed but an actual paper.

Perhaps this is something that can only be understood in this era. The package literally screams “this is a game kids can enjoy”. If I am a parent, I will consider it a game for playing with my children.
※ The Last Guardian is CERO:B (target at age 12 or above)

We do have this intention. Moreover, we spent a long time producing this game. Hopefully players treasure our hard work. We also hope that it doesn’t look like a cheap game if they happen to put it on a shelf, and it will not end up like trash if they happen to move house.

This is a game that we certainly want to put it next to some novels. The Last Guardian took a long time to finish, like seven years?

Right. If you take the brainstorming period into account, it may be a lot longer.

I actually got that piece of info from one of the ads that says “after 7 years of waiting”. The game industry nowadays tend to make mobile games. Playing mobile games is easy and convenient, therefore installing and deleting a game has become a causal thing. Still, many are waiting for The Last Guardian on console. There aren’t many games that can make players wait excitedly for these many years. How do you feel about this?

We as the producer were absolutely terrified. No one dared to think “our fans must be waiting patiently so there should be no problem to take all the time we need” as we wanted to release it as soon as possible. The possibility that ICO and Shadow of the Colossus fans became tired of anticipating and waiting made us very anxious.

Photo: Jun Arakawa

During the process of making a game that took so long, was there any points where you felt depressed and wanted to stop?

Definitely. I did ask myself “should I give up”.

As a team, how did you keep motivated?

Personally, I was very attached to The Last Guardian and Trico. Just like what I did before, I put everything on the line for this game. Seeing our efforts all turned to nothing was the last thing I wanted.

The Last Guardian went from releasing on PS3 to PS4. I believe there must have been a lot of changes in the industry. How do you feel about the industry nowadays?

I don’t really feel much. What is more important to me is whether I enjoy a game as a player. Of course I also pay attention to the hits and well received titles, but I think producing a fun game myself is the best way to respect game making.

Have you been playing your own game recently?

I played a thousand times during the production. Now that it’s been released I don’t even want to watch others play. Anyway, playing my own game is not a good thing to my mental health. I try to avoid it as much as possible (laugh).

How about other producers’ games?

I play a lot.

Are there any recent games particularly impressive?

If you are talking about games that I have finished, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild impressed me the most. It had been a long time since I last finished an open world game.

The Legend of Zelda has got very good reviews. What’s your comment?

Excellent games are everywhere. It’s just that I have been travelling a lot and there isn’t much time for me to play games at home. Nintendo Switch fits my lifestyle perfectly.

A game that fits your lifestyle. I totally understand.

I am not good at playing open world games. My lifestyle does not allow me to spend so much time on a single game. Even if it is just a 50-100 hour game, I don’t usually play until the very end. Playing half of the game is long enough for me to learn the design for later application. It is only The Legend of Zelda that I actually finished.

Photo: Jun Arakawa

Let’s get back to our original topic. It’s common to play mobile games. I feel like the relationship between games and us has changed a lot in these 20 years. After PC games we had Super Famicon which basically became everyone’s household item. Then there came Game Boy. People started playing games at any place any time. Now we’ve got even better consoles. I believe the relationship is constantly changing. In what way will you get along with games?

I don’t have any new ways now. I grew up with console games. Console games are just like movies, music, manga and novels – they are the same kind of entertainment. I will continue to enjoy them just as I enjoy them now.

Understood.

Like when you have news about music and movies, you get really excited and you want to take a look. Console games are also temporary experiences exactly like any other existing entertainments – You can’t stay there forever, you have to return to reality eventually.

You are correct.

And social games are always stuck with reality. They are part of living. I don’t have many experiences with this kind of entertainment. Again, entertainment is a temporary experience that allows me to escape from reality for a while. I may see it differently in the future, but console games remain the same in my heart so far, whether as a gamer or a producer.

A solid entertainment. A game made to entertain. Right?

Yes, it doesn’t affect my daily live in any ways. It may actually bring positive changes.

It’s not playing games while doing something else. It’s like “I am going to play games now”.

Exactly. I feel guilty about playing games. This is why I don’t want to remember stuff like checkpoints, characters, spells. I should be memorising more English vocabulary instead of things related to entertainments (laugh).

Feeling more tenacious about stuff?

Feel like it costs more to play games.

But it doesn’t cost much to play The Last Guardian. Player do not have to spare much extra time for it.

I like this kind of games. Games that provide a rich experience but do not require much input.

I understand. The Last Guardian contains many puzzles. It’s a “is this climbable? Oh yes!” kind of feeling. I felt so successful once I got through a puzzle. The Last Guardian has an open world kind of feeling but it’s not really one.

Shadow of the Colossus is an open world game, so we had a different idea in the very beginning of The Last Guardian. Sometimes I thought, what does it mean to move in a game? In order to make an unrealistic world realistic, we created The Last Guardian. When we try to make an open world game realistic, we have to get all the options ready for our players. But if you imagine it as a person who performs, the best performance is to make the audience feel immersed in the atmosphere without showing the answer. Of course, the production time is shorter as well.

Photo: Jun Arakawa

I was shocked when I found out where I just went based on wind and height.

We thought of consistency when it came to the design for balance.

The world is not that huge. I think it is possible to draw a map based on the gameplay.

Right. It is not a big map but every part is presented in exquisite details. I am not sure how our players feel about it, but I did believe the world was real when I made it.

There is no conversations in the game but it still manages to make people sad. I believe it has something to do with Trico’s long journey.

If we talk about cooking, the chef’s job is to turn ingredients into delicious dishes. As for console games, the game designer is only the person who gets the meal ready for serving (setting up the scene). If we compare games with other entertainments in terms of cooking (story, dialogue), the latter is definitely the winner.

Yeah.

This is why console games should not be competing with each other this way.

This is a kind of experience.

Right.

Are you thinking of any new games? Are you having new ideals for making games?

I hoep we will make something completely different next time. We have the quiet peaceful ICO, then we have the action-packed Shadow of the Colossus. The Last Guardian is again a try on something different. There are only impressive sceneries without much fighting. We have always been like this, and I think we will do it the same way.

I am so glad that I could experience your games. I used a lot of time but did’t regret it at all.

This is great if it’s a game that’s worth your time. It should be like this whether it’s movie or other entertainment!

Written by Takeshi Kato 
Photos by Jun Arakawa

Official game site: The Last Guardian

Original article: https://spice.eplus.jp/articles/124416

Writer:SPICE

SPICE is a Japanese news platform that covers news about all things Japanese, and provides thorough analysis, event reports and interviews.

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