Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fumito Ueda - gimmicks of Ico & Colossus

I think it was just a question of time before I’d have my first post about Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
Next Generation (Edge, etc.) had a nice quick talk with the man behind almost everything about these two games, plus some reports of a conference (bweep).

Two points:

  1. It appears that most of the artistry of these games was not really intended. Call that an unwitting trait of genius or mere luck, it is rather fantastic that their ruminations and critical thinking brought them to such refreshing and enjoyable designs. Truth being, I think the guy did know where he was headed for. As always, art often takes control of your mind. You may have an idea, maybe a nebulous one, but it’s not surprising that what you had planned, or wanted to do, is not exactly what you get in the end. Yet, it can be just as good, if not better.

    It is interesting to note how the transition from a multiplayer game, which by the description relied on co-operative mechanics and not some kind of free for all system, ended being a single adventure, where the loneliness of the player reinforces the atmosphere of the game. I am not saying that the multiplayer experience would have been bad, as after all, Ico lacked a second player’s input, since you basically had two characters to get out of a castle, sort of helping each other (well, Yorda wasn’t that helpful but, still…).

    Nevertheless, the sequel was apparently geared around a small group (as evidenced by scans archived at Tokyopia), but I’m convinced that there are games which have to be played alone (oh yes, this does go against recent claims about eminent industrial figures telling you the exact contrary at Gamasutra and all over the press – well, f*** them).

    Like I said when I started this blog, I do love ruins, and Team Ico's games are riff with them. They convey a silent story, a mystery which has the audience build up a backstory on their own.

    Mystery seems to be so underrated these days, notably in Hollywood.

  2. Both games are summed up by one core idea, and I do think that they’re gimmicks, in the positive way. They’re simple but powerful ideas, and everything about each game appears to have been shaped around them.

    They stick out so much because these two games didn’t actually drown these premises into swamps of complicated overarching stories, meaningless events and whatever. In the end, it only made these gimmicks more powerful, and then fantastic experiences.

    One central idea, and everything articulated around it. That’s the way it is for me. It makes the games richer, and it allows me to play many of them and enjoying a different experience every single time.

    And this is why I’d play a thousand Icos and Shadows rather than a huge sandbox game, like some recent big name you could have not missed unless you were already dead.

Now, here’s more info about the development of Ico. It’s taken from an interview published in the Official Playstation 2 Magazine, which transcript was found at Cats Under a Tree. I don’t know if they’ve been the first ones to put the transcript on the internet, but I’d hate to see the transcript disappear, so here it is below.
+1 respect for citing Galaxy Express 999. ^_^

This interview with Fumito Ueda (abb. FU) published on Official PlayStation 2 Magazine UK (abb. OPS2) shortly after the release of ICO in Europe (February 2002), gives the reader a few interesting insights to the inspiration and motivation behind the game; the building blocks, research, its artistic approach and emotional connection between the player and the characters.

Set in a bewitching yet austere castle, ICO brings a rare beauty to PlayStation 2 gameplay. Official PlayStation 2 Magazine met the man behind the critically acclaimed masterpiece to unlock the secrets behind the castle walls.

Talking about what is amazingly the first game he has directed, Fumito Ueda remarks that in ICO he sought to create “a real fantasy experience”. The result is so much more - ICO is original, beautiful and utterly unforgettable. During his forthcoming trip to Las Vegas for the AIAS Achievement Awards (ICO has been nominated in several categories) Ueda-san is planning to visit the Grand Canyon to research his next PlayStation 2 game. Given ICO’s reception, it will definitely be one to look out for.

Official PlayStation 2 Magazine: What inspired ICO’s original concept?

Fumito Ueda: When I was in high school I saw a TV commercial with a lady holding the hand of a child, walking through the woods and the image just stuck with me. When I came up with the pairing concept I had a woman and a young boy in mind. There’s also a famous manga called Galaxy Express 999. It’s about a woman named Maetel who’s a guardian for the young hero Tetsuro as they adventure through the galaxy. I thought that even though it was an old story, it could be adapted into a new idea for videogames.

OPS2: Did you have any other ideas?

FU: Originally, ICO was meant for PlayStation and it was the girl who had horns. She was trapped in a small room and the boy was one of the slave workers in the castle, who found the room and helped the girl escape.

OPS2: When did the game development start?

FU: It began in February 1998. We originally used pre-rendered backgrounds and then switched to real-time 3D. All the animation was done by hand and I used Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair for the music - this later became the inspiration for ICO’s theme. We were halfway through development when PlayStation 2 came along. As a planner, I wanted to release the game on PlayStation because, at its launch, the PlayStation 2 didn’t have many good games - they were all rushed to be released on time. But as a designer, I was attracted to the PlayStation 2 high specs because you can achieve so much more, graphically.

OPS2: Both Ico and Yorda are endearing and original characters. How did you go about designing them?

FU: I wanted to achieve a look somewhere between a Japanese and foreign style. It was a long process of trial and error - actually I wasn’t sure what to do with them myself! For Yorda, I eventually asked one of the female team members to refine the character. It kept on changing things from the start, right up to the day before the master was due. I gave Yorda a haircut just at the last moment.

OPS2: Players comment that they really care about Yorda. How do you create a character that provides players with such a strong sense of attachment?

FU: The core team members and myself concentrated on characterizing her. For instance, outside of the gameplay Yorda often makes strange movements: she strolls around, follows birds and points to things. Some of the team members wondered why they were working on this stuff [laughs]. We are attracted by the quirks of girlfriends, right? We didn’t just want to use Yorda as an element to proceed through the game, we wanted to encourage the idea that the two are sharing an adventure, co-operating together. By putting in those particular movements, a player can feel that connection. Actually, I wanted to include more variations as these things were actually planned for the PlayStation version, but time was an issue.

OPS2: The design of the castle and the various puzzles are amazing. How were they planned and created?

FU: It started off as just a bunch of puzzles without textures, in a vaguely castle-like form. When the puzzles were okay’ed they were handed to the designers who would then add more details. It took a lot of work to have it all make sense because the stages were created individually. Occasionally, when we put the different stages together they didn’t fit too well, so we’d have to cut or shuffle areas around. It was a constant process of building and fixing that went on for about two years. The reason why I concentrated on this so much was that the castle had to be realistic in terms of architecture.

OPS2: What kind of research was involved in creating the architecture?

FU: I’ve never been to a real castle before and was inspired by the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, an artist from 18th Century Italy. Japanese rural scenery was also inspirational, things like deserted cars near rice fields and semi-built-up areas near the countryside.

OPS2: Are there any technologies or graphic techniques in the game that you’re particularly proud of?

FU: It’s kind of hard for our team to compete with, say, Square or Namco in terms of realism, so we used different techniques to make big contrasts within the environment. When you look at the castle, for instance, there are shadowy places and bright, sunlit areas for a more dramatic expression. Of course, you could present a colourful, vibrant world, but ICO has a subtle and reserved style. Take movies as an example: even with modern technology available, some movies opt for a grainy effect for the visuals as a means of expression. ICO is lo-fi (running at 30 frames) and the modeling is in low-resolution. The team intentionally avoided using the maximum graphic specs in order to give the game something different and make it stand out.

OPS2: Will there be a sequel?

FU: At this point we’re not planning one, but I’d like to create a game that shares the same kind of atmosphere and concept. I’m actually in the midst of preparing another game at the moment, but I can’t really talk about it yet.

OPS2: What’s your view on the state of the videogame market?

FU: I’d compare movies to cars and motorcycles to games. The motorcycle market is smaller than the car market, which is similar to games versus movies. But when you think about it, riding a motorcycle is more practical in a city than a car. It’s cheaper and more maneuverable, but people still prefer cars because of the image: they’re more luxurious. Games still have an image of being for ‘gamers’, or the younger generation; I want to change that image. I also want to avoid the situation where producers make games that only target the core players.

On a final note, here’s an interesting and somehow logical observation about the inspiration behind Ico’s (good) box art.

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