'The Last Guardian' creator on the decade-long odyssey to make 2016's most anticipated game
The last time Fumito Ueda released a video game, the year was 2005, the console was the Playstation 2, and the game was a masterpiece. Shadow of the Colossus didn’t top any sales charts, but it became an object of High Nerd obsession, a beautiful and mysterious adventure which suggested a new artistic maturity in the video game medium. Ueda started working on a follow-up game, The Last Guardian. Years passed. The game was announced, delayed, delayed, delayed. Ueda left Sony but remained on the project in a freelance capacity – a curious situation not much explained by Ueda’s occasional public announcements about his work on the game.
But now, The Last Guardian is almost here, with an October 25 release date. The story of a young boy and a great big bird-dog-creature-thing named Trico, it promises to return players to the evocative ruined-majesty fantasy world of Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. EW spoke to Ueda through a translator at E3.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said in the past that your last couple of games had a buried theme, and that Shadow of the Colossus, one of those themes was “cruelty.” Is there a similar theme to The Last Guardian?
FUMITO UEDA: I don’t know if this would be a very direct answer, in terms of “this is the theme, here you go.” I want to emphasize that I’m not always super conscious about the theme, when I’m working on a game. One thing I can say is, when you are hopefully through playing this, you will have this impression, and presence, of Trico. You will feel something about the existence of Trico. That’s what I think is going to be the theme.
Last year, when you were showing off the game, I was lucky enough to play it for a couple minutes. I was trying to feed Trico a barrel, but I accidentally threw the barrel at Trico’s head. I’ve actually felt bad about that ever since. What went into creating this character, and how did you go about making Trico feel like an organic being?
There is no exact calculated formula. The main character that you control is the boy. You don’t control, with your controller, Trico, but he is the big existence and the core of the game.
In your typical third-person action game, or first-person shooter game, it’s all about: You control the character. In the third-person, you have the x-and-z axis. In the first-person, you have a reticle. You aim, shoot, fire. I wouldn’t say that I became tired of those games, but it just felt a little stale, and ordinary, and maybe a little mundane for me.
For me – even though your controlling character is this boy – I’m trying to express this large central character, without having direct control over it. By doing that, we’re bringing that attraction and appeal, making that character shine.
The release date here in America for The Last Guardian is October 25, which is exactly eleven years and one week after the release date of Shadow of the Colossus. I recall a few years ago you released a statement about the game, and one thing you said was that, besides working on The Last Guardian, you were pursuing other creative passions. What are your other creative outlets?
Games is, I think, what I’m here for, what I live for. I’ve heard and been asked if I would have any interest in pursuing film-related projects. But I do feel that my heart and soul is really in games. It is that medium that I pursue to be able to express my ideas and creations. That’s why I’m still here.
Even though I can’t comment or give you details about specific ideas, one thing I would hope for is: Whatever form of game I produce in the future, I would hope that my creations would appeal to the people who don’t call themselves gamers. So we could bring in a new audience, a new group of people, who aren’t necessarily experienced or core gamers, who would see something in my work that would inspire them to play my game.
Shadow of the Colossus is a game that rewards someone like me, who grew up playing video games. But so much is subtracted from the experience, and felt like a much purer gameplay experience. Are you trying to reach both kinds of gamers, both people who played games their whole life and people who haven’t?
What you just said is exactly what I want to continue to aim for. I’m not so confident about how video games are perceived in the west. But at least in Japan, historically and even now, video games are seen as [the translator debates a few different translations, and lands on something like “lowbrow”]. That’s how they’re culturally perceived.
When I put out a game, I would want to try to knock down some of these barriers, these preconceived notions that video games have always had. To bring in people who aren’t gamers themselves, but they appreciate films, they appreciate music. I wouldn’t want to have my games to be retrofitted into, “Oh, it uses this game design formula, within these limitations or restrictions.” I would want it to be a bit more opening and welcome to others. I want to try and break down some of the barriers that video games are supposed to be this way. It doesn’t have to be that way.
There’s been such a movement over the last few years toward video games that are connected and online. I tend to not like those games, so I’ve been looking forward to The Last Guardian. Would you ever be interested in making a game like that?
I think there could be a scenario for me to consider these areas. Personally, I am more myself a gamer of these quiet, consolidated, solo experiences. Jumping into a story and feeling it out and playing it for however much time I want, and then coming back into reality. That’s kind of what I play for. But reality sometimes doesn’t allow for us to pursue that kind of project. Maybe from a business perspective, it makes more sense to implement or consider these connected things.
It may not always work, that I only pursue these types of games. Maybe this is more of a luxurious project to pursue. If business calls for making some of those decisions, I may consider those things.
Not many games take so many years to produce. I remember after Shadow of the Colossus came out, you were worried about making a game that felt commercial. The Last Guardian doesn’t immediately seem “commercial.” Was there a moment in the process of making this game when you were most concerned that Last Guardian wouldn’t get released?
Obviously, this game is not made by just me, one person. There are many elements beyond my control that could have, or would have, taken us not down this path, maybe a project getting canceled. Who knows? So, yes, there was a moment where I was deeply concerned about the project. I would — and have — done everything possible to not let that happen.
One thing that I do remember saying is, by having an animal be a central core character, it feels like with films, when you have animals, they bring a smile to a lot of people’s faces. That equates. Hopefully the appeal factor will be wider in range. I’ve had that on my mind for a long time.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, a cat. I researched my cat a lot.