The History of The Last Guardian – Awaking the Sleeping Giant



There is the saying that great art takes a long time to create. You want to make it ‘perfect’ and match the vision that is in your head, but the canvas you are working and the supplies you have aren’t enough to make your creation. So you spend years working hard on finally releasing your work of art despite the challenges ahead.

Studio Japan’s The Last Guardian is a great example of this and many wonder how the final game will end up on PS4 in the near future. We at 3WIREL will be reviewing the game but we need to cover some history first before you guys read our upcoming review. Learning the context to this title is important in understanding the entire package.

So today, lets meet a giant bird-dog creature and explore a lost world.


The Team of ICO – Origins of the Last Guardian

Team ICO isn’t a internal studio within Sony but a small team within Studio Japan, a studio Sony owns. The very first project they worked on under the ‘Team ICO’ name was the title for the PS2 called ICO. This game had you help a lost and mysterious woman through a dangerous land but you were a small child and could not really fight back well. It was a beautiful game and still stands tall today as a PS2 Classic.

The studio followed this success with the massive release of Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2 in 2005. It was one of the most impressive titles on the PlayStation 2, as it pushed the console to it’s limit. You play as a Wonder who is trying to revive his girlfriend and to do this, our ‘hero’ must take out the Thirteen Colossi roaming the lands. It was a game that had some issues, such as a very poor frame rate on the PS2, but it was a groundbreaking game and another masterpiece under Team ICO’s belt.

Work soon started on a project for Sony’s at the time upcoming PS3.

It was going to blow people away and sadly faced some rocky development while trying to run on the PS3 platform; it wasn’t strong enough to run on the console.

With initial ideas for The Last Guardian envisioned by Ueda since around 2005 after completing Shadow of the Colossus, the game was in active development since 2007, a year after the release of the PlayStation 3. The working title was Project Trico. Ueda had long considered the development time for Ico and Shadow of the Colossus , and had anticipated being able “to create something good in a short period of time” with The Last Guardian at the onset.

By 2009, the development team had completed enough of the game for it to be showcased during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009, and later provided a short vertical slice of the game to the press for the Game Developers Conference in early March 2011. Ueda had considered including this demo on the then-upcoming remastered The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, though this was not ultimately included.

Behind the scenes, the development of The Last Guardian was considered slow by Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide. Yoshida explained that the vision for The Last Guardian was based on a video prepared by Ueda to demonstrate the concepts and style of the game, a process Ueda had used for Ico, and Sony wanted to stay true to that vision. Team Ico, which is a small studio compared to other Sony studios in Japan or other Western developers, were struggling with achieving Ueda’s vision for the game on the PlayStation 3 hardware.

The game was moved to the PlayStation 4 during development, as it needed stronger hardware. But the most interesting part of the game wasn’t even it’s history as a ‘Development Hell’ project, but more so the public reaction to the game.

May loved the work Team ICO produced and even purchased PlayStation 3’s to play the title. But when delay after delay was announced, peoples excitement turned into annoyance and that annoyance turned into apathy. The game to the public, became a ‘Dream’ title, one people never expected to ever see the light of day.

But…..something happened that changed people’s perception of the game.


The Resurrection of the Best – Last Guardian Announced for the PS4

The seeping giant, awoke after years and years of gathering strength. To say people were excited about this announcement is an understatement; this rocked people’s worlds. Many thought the project was dead but nope, it not only got the spotlight treatment from Sony at E3 2015 but the game also was the title that kicked the door down as the introduction game of the event.

I was in tears when I saw this trailer, as while I enjoyed Team ICO’s games in the past, I never thought I would see real gameplay of this title. But here it was, right in front of me after years of waiting. I loved what I saw, as your main character more or less appears to function similar to how the little boy controlled in ICO and the AI of your Bird/Dog companion was quite impressive.

The game looked great and word on Mark Cerny assisting production on the game, it ensured people the game is progressing nicely on PS4. 

“The rumor is not true that Mark Cerny came in and is finishing the project,” Yoshida says. “Mark is giving consultation on the project. He’s been doing it for many of our projects. He’s been working with many of our studios, especially technically, he knows the ins and outs of the PS4. He’s giving lots of technical advice to The Last Guardian team. The team is primarily in the Japan Studio, but creative direction is done by Ueda-san and members of GenDesign. It’s a new studio.”

GenDesign is led by Jinji Horagai, who was the AI programmer for Ico’s Yorda. “After Shadow of the Colossus, Ueda-san and Horagai-san became independent,” Yoshida explains. “Also, some of the leads on the Shadow of the Colossus team became independent and set up a small indie studio. All of them are working with the Japan Studio to make The Last Guardian.”

According to Yoshida, the game we play in 2016 is the realization of the Ueda’s original vision for the project. “It’s the same,” Yoshida assures us. “Absolutely.”

Even the game’s creator, Fumito Ueda, was happy to see people so ecstatic in seeing the game get re-announced for PS4.

Obviously it’s been a number of years since we last heard news of the game, and there’s been so much speculation about the title among PlayStation gamers. How does it feel to finally re-introduce the game to your fans?

Fumito Ueda: Yes, it’s been a few years since our last announcement. From my point of view, it was very unpredictable how the audience would react. I wasn’t sure if people would remember the title. Admittedly I was a bit nervous, but after the announce I saw the reaction, and the cheering – and that proved to me that people had really been waiting and were excited to see us reveal The Last Guardian for PS4. Afterwards, I was more relaxed and happy!

Can you talk a little about why the game has taken longer than anticipated?

Fumito Ueda: Obviously there were a number of reasons for the delay. If I had to call out one of them, it was more of a technical hurdle that we had to overcome. But eventually we have overcome it, and we have finally – proudly – announced the game for PS4 during the E3 press conference.

People were happy the game was announced and even internal Sony developers were glad to see the title finally wrap up production. But the game was still a bit far out at this point; releasing sometime in 2016. Did the demos members of the press play impress?

Polygon spent some time with the game a few months back and gave this quote:

Many of my problems with this short demo of The Last Guardian can be summed up neatly in one sentence: It feels like a PlayStation 2 game. I love a lot of PlayStation 2 games, but in the decade-plus since that was my console of choice, I’ve grown used to such novelties as responsive character movement and a camera that isn’t shitty.

It’s entirely possible that The Last Guardian will win me over across its full runtime. Maybe it doesn’t demo well. Perhaps by the end, the design choices nagging at me will make perfect sense, or be overcome by a brilliant, heartfelt journey of a boy and his dog-bird-thing. All I can say for sure at this point is that The Last Guardian will have to work hard to convince me.

Sounds like the game might have a few issues but others had more positive thoughts on the game after spending some time with it. vg247 for example enjoyed their time with a E3 build of the game in 2016 despite having a few issues with it. 

The Last Guardian is likely to be one of the most discussed games of 2016, and hopefully it’ll be for the right reasons. Given this started as a PS3 project almost ten years ago, I suppose I feel foolish for thinking it could be anything other than clunky and weird, but the melancholy at its core is Ueda’s spirit itself, and any fan knows what that means. However it appears, The Last Guardian will be unforgettable and an instant buy for the old school. Whether it can weather some potentially bruising review scores to achieve commercial success with newer gamers – players long used to stellar production values and monumental world-building – could well be another story.


So with mixed reception from previews, how will the game finally end up? Will it meet the expectations of many who waited over 10+ years? It is hard to say. But I will say this; it will be a game that people will talk about for years to come.

Expect 3WIREL’s review of the title to release on December 5th, 2016.

Sources: VG247 Preview, Polygon Preview, Wikipedia Page, Ueda PS Blog Post, Game Informer News Post, Official PlayStation YouTube Channel

 

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