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The Last Guardian's Long Journey: An Interview With Fumito Ueda

by Matthew Kato on Jun 23, 2015 at 06:36 AM

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Gamers have been anxiously awaiting The Last Guardian since it debuted at E3 in 2009, and for creator Fumito Ueda and the developers at Team Ico, it's been strenuous and not without its doubts. We talked with Ueda about the whole saga, how the game has remained intact in the transition, and the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks to translation support for Ueda from Sony's Tsubasa Inaba.

Regarding the original delays on the PS3, were they mainly technical? Can you talk about some of the reasons behind that initial delay?
There were multiple reasons. There are always delays in production, as you know. Technical being one of them, but there were many others that were out of my control as well. The good news is that we turned things around – we are in full production now for PS4. The game's running on the system now, as you saw live, and I think we're finally in a good spot now. Sorry I didn't necessarily answer the question.

It seems that a lot of the vision is definitely intact for the game. Can you talk about the process of going from one system to the next and the challenge of keeping that vision intact? Was it difficult moving to the new system?
Again, admittedly the actual schedule has been slightly prolonged. However, from a concept point of view, level design, story, and all of those other elements have been maintained. We have been able to stick to concept regardless of the decision between PS3 and PS4. We've had a very solid kind of backbone in terms of concept and where we want the final end product to land. That has never really changed, nor do we think it will. We're pretty confident on that.

Have there been any outside influences (video games, movies) along the way that have caused you to add some new elements or tweak things?
There weren't necessarily specific elements that led to particular inspirations of a game design feature or whatnot; again, I think the concept backbone was pretty solid. But any releases of great films or great game experiences have certainly fueled my motivation to continue developing, to keep concepts, and to eventually deliver this experience of The Last Guardian to our users.

What are your opinions of working with the PS4 as a system? Were there any surprises while developing for the PS4? Were there any things it enabled you to do that you didn't think about before?
This probably applies to a lot of developers, but the rendering and frame rate issues – a lot of people had struggles with that. Furthermore, the period of time that we spend on optimization has shortened significantly since the switch to PS4. And things like rendering, frame rate, that doesn't necessarily just apply to The Last Guardian, it applies to everybody.

If you had been able to put out the game for PS3 as originally planned, would you have been happy with the product? Would the game have been what you wanted it to be?
Obviously, this is all imagination at this point. I probably would have been comfortable with the end result – originally, this game was designed for PS3. Assuming that all of the game architecture and all of the game design was suited to deliver the experience I envisioned, given those assumptions I think it would have been a good product.

And just in case that comment was misleading in any way, technical limitations probably only existed up to the PS2 generation. From PS3 and PS4, especially considering the delivery of expression, motion, etc. – from those elements, it's a matter of how the game is designed, but it's not technical limitations at that point. The PS3 was not restricting me from doing something.

Can you talk about how you've formed a separate development team with team members from Ico and Shadow of the Colossus – GenDesign – and how that works with Japan studios?
As we tried to explain earlier in the presentation, it's a collaborative effort. Obviously, Japan Studios is kind of the mothership. [I'm] the creative director and GenDesign kind of works more specifically on aesthetics. If we had to call out a specific area or element, that is their main focus.

When the PS4 was debuted, Sony brought Mark Cerny front and center with the system. Did Japan Studio work with him to transition the game to the PS4?
I have met Mark maybe three or four times. Our main focus of discussion was graphic shaders and, obviously, him being a hardware designer. Other examples would be, like I would ask Mark "What are other teams doing?" So he would reach out to Naughty Dog, Guerrilla Games, and see what they were doing with their animation and stuff like that. He would play that role as well.

What is your sense about how fans are taking in the game? As we've mentioned, the original concept is very much intact, something gamers have been very excited about, something that strikes a chord with them.
I was honestly concerned people might have forgotten or given up or whatnot, but the reaction so far has been very positive. I'm very overwhelmed, very thankful, very grateful. I also feel like those fans and their passion has helped me and the team to continue moving on, heads down, to keep pushing and working hard. That's fueling our motivation at this point.

After getting this game out, what are your plans for the future?
In between the ups and downs of game development, I've spun up a few concepts. They're kind of on the backburner right now, obviously, because The Last Guardian is the main focus. Once we get this out, maybe I will be able to explore those ideas a little bit further.

From the way you've been talking, the vision hasn't changed and technical aspects weren't a huge hurdle. Was  the decision to prolong development yours or Sony's?
It was pretty much a corporate decision by Sony. And that's where we'll leave it. [laughs] Sorry.

Through all of this, was the game ever in danger of simply not coming out, or was that never an option?
It's been a rollercoaster ride, plenty of ups and downs, and to be brutally honest there were moments where I thought, "Maybe this won't get out there." However, to my point earlier, it was the fans, it was the people who remembered, it was the people who kept reminding me they were still looking forward to playing The Last Guardian. And that's, again, been a continuous motivation factor. At this point, maybe the hardware's changed, but I'm very excited to deliver this experience, The Last Guardian, to fans.

For more, check out what wasn't shown in the game's E3 presentation.