The Last Guardian
|The Last Guardian|
The Last Guardian title
with an image of a boy and a griffin-like creature
(SCE Japan Studio)
|Publisher(s)||Sony Computer Entertainment|
The Last Guardian, known in Japan as Hitokui no Ōwashi Trico (人喰いの大鷲トリコ Hitokui no Ōwashi Toriko?, literally "Trico, the man-eating eagle") and previously referred to by the working title Project Trico, is an upcoming video game developed by Team Ico and distributed by Sony Computer Entertainment. The title is being designed and directed by Fumito Ueda, and is expected to share stylistic, thematic, and gameplay elements with his previous titles, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, though it is unknown whether it will be directly related to either. The game has been shown to involve a young boy who befriends a giant bird/cat-like creature, Trico, and the two work together to evade guards that are after them both. The game requires the player, controlling the boy, to manipulate Trico like a real animal, such as luring it with food, as to use the creature as a means to climb and reach high platforms or other remote places.
The game has been in development since 2007, and was formally announced at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo with a planned release in 2011 exclusively for the PlayStation 3 video game console. The game has since suffered from numerous delays and further complications, including Ueda's departure as a full-time employee of Sony, though he remains as a consultant on the project. Sony has since left the release date and platform in question but, as of August 2014, stated the game remains in development.
The Last Guardian's story follows that of a boy who is trying to escape from a setting resembling the ruins of a large expansive castle. The game will revolve around the developing friendship between the boy and a giant, feathered creature resembling a griffin named Trico (トリコ Toriko?). The name of the creature can be taken to mean "prisoner" (虜 toriko?), "baby bird" (鳥の子 tori no ko?), or a portmanteau of "bird" (鳥 tori?) and "cat" (猫 neko?). Trico has spears and arrows stuck in its back, and is initially bound by a chain. Later, it is freed and is shown attacking an armored soldier. Screenshots, along with the E3 trailer, show the boy attempting to sneak past and attack other soldiers. Trico will at first be hostile toward the boy, but during the course of the game, the two will develop an emotional attachment to each other. Ueda suggested there may be similar creatures like Trico in the game, but could not confirm this.
Some speculated, based on the tone of the 2009 E3 trailer and of Team Ico's past games, that The Last Guardian will end sadly; both Penny Arcade and Zero Punctuation postulated the ending of the game would involve the death of either the boy or Trico. In response to these theories, creator Fumito Ueda addressed them by stating the story is "open-ended, and for you guys to figure out."
The Last Guardian is a third-person perspective game that combines action-adventure and puzzle elements. The player controls the unarmed boy who can run, jump, climb and perform other actions similar to the gameplay in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The player may also need to use the environment to silently move around or defeat shadow-being guards, though initially the boy is weaponless. The guards, although slow-moving, can capture the boy, and if the player is unable to free the character in time, the game will be over.
The player's movements are augmented by interaction with Trico who the boy can climb upon and ride. As stated by Ueda, Trico is "driven by animal instincts", and it is up to the player to guide the creature, "taking advantage of his natural behavior", in order to complete puzzles. For example, the player may have the boy throw a barrel that gains Trico's interest, causing it to move to a specific location. The player may also need to find the way for Trico to sit still in order to allow the player to complete a section, while the natural tendency of the creature is to run ahead of the player. Unlike typical sidekicks in video games, which immediately react to a player's command, Trico will be difficult for the player to control, and may take several attempts to coerce the creature into performing a specific action.
The player will also have to care for the creature, either by feeding it or removing spears and arrows that are stuck in its body. Through the course of the game, the player will gain better command of the creature, an aspect Ueda considered equivalent to training a pet; initially in the game, the creature may wander off to explore something that interests it more than the boy, refuse to eat food it thinks smells badly, or choose to go to sleep when it wants to. By performing certain tasks, the player will be able to come to control Trico better, and Ueda believes "each player will have a different Trico to work with depending on how he or she chooses to interact with him". However, the player may still want to take advantage of the creature's natural habits; the game includes sections where by letting Trico roam free, new areas for exploration may open up.
The creation of The Last Guardian was partially based on the interaction between the player and the horse Agro in Shadow of the Colossus. Ueda desired to make this interaction and relation more of the central concept for the next game. Ueda stressed a central theme of The Last Guardian is the developing "emotional attachment" between the boy character and Trico and needed a means to express that through the creature. Trico also functions similarly as the giant Colossus creatures which the player-character had to climb in Shadow of the Colossus. As such, The Last Guardian has been considered by journalists as the combination of Ico and Shadow; Ueda admits "there's a bit of each of those [games] in there" within the gameplay of The Last Guardian. The relationship between the boy, Trico, and the human guards in the game was described by Ueda as a game of rock-paper-scissors that changes throughout the game; at times, the boy may need Trico to protect him from the guards, while the situation may be reversed at other times.
Ueda wanted to create a virtual creature that behaved as realistically as possible, avoiding "the unnatural idiosyncrasies of the virtual animal" that normally appear when virtual animals are attempted. The final version of Trico is an amalgam of several different creatures and the approximation of their behavior within the limitation of the game's engine; the design was "deliberately unbalanced because looking strange was important here", according to Ueda. The team wanted to avoid making the animal "cute" and instead focus on achieving realistic-looking behavior with "animal-like expressions". Such interactions include replicating the same "twitch" that cats exhibit when they are petted; Trico's ears will react if they come into contact with ceilings or other tall features using the game's mesh-based collision detection system, with Trico responding in a similar manner as a cat. Trico is also considered "adolescent" by Ueda, allowing the developers to inject humor through its actions at times. To achieve these motions, the development team used programmed key frame animations instead of the more popular motion capture techniques, allowing them to capture subtleties that would be difficult using live animal subjects. Trico was designed and programmed to give as much flexibility as possible to allow for creativity in level design and letting the creature's function adapt to it; this was in contrast to previous games where they had to design the level to meet the capabilities of the creatures they had already designed.
The boy, although less detailed than his creature counterpart, is also animated with similar fluidity through key frame animation. The boy will naturally place a hand on a nearby wall if close, and will reach out to pet the creature without any player interaction. These animations, mimicking what real-life people would do, were necessary to help the player believe the game world to also be real. Ueda stated initially they had considered using a small girl instead of a boy to interact with the creature, but realized they would have issues with an accurate representation of the girl's stamina while climbing on the creature, and further issues with questionable camera angles during climbing scenes with the girl, wearing a short skirt.
The game uses a full physics engine, an aspect not included in Team Ico's previous games. Ueda said one scene in the trailer, which shows the boy throwing a barrel at the creature who then bites down and eats it, is fully based on that physics engine, including the contact of the barrel with the creature's beak. The game's engine builds on the team's previous development of AI processing from Ico and transformative collisions from Shadow of the Colossus. Ueda claims within the physics engine, the effect of wind is modeled separately for each of the creature's feathers.
The development of The Last Guardian has had a long protracted history since as early as 2007. Public existence of the game was first hinted in a January 2008 job listing on Sony Japan's corporate website, which depicted a single screenshot of the upcoming third Team Ico title for the PlayStation 3 and advertised open positions for the development team. In March 2009, Fumito Ueda, the lead designer of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, said the new game, "might be something similar to what’s been done.... The essence of the game is quite close to Ico." Yasuhide Kobayashi, vice president of Japan Studio, stated they gave The Last Guardian an English name to appeal to the larger demographic markets in the United States and Europe for the PlayStation 3, hoping to avoid similar cultural problems in title and artwork that were attributed to Ico's low sales in Western countries.
A video released via the PlayStation Lifestyle blog in May 2009 shows early footage of the game with its working title, Project Trico, reportedly from a proof of concept trailer that had been circulating internally at Sony for over a year. The video, featuring the music from the opening titles to the film Miller's Crossing, shows a young boy befriending a griffin-like creature. An extended version of this video, featured a different-looking boy highlighted from the surrounding world by a non-photorealistic rendering style, more photorealistic rendering on the remaining world including the large creature, and numerous added details were shown at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009, during Sony's press conference, though otherwise shares most of the same scenes. Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide, stated he was "disappointed" with the leaked video, feeling that Team Ico was waiting to show the footage and "wanted to feel comfortable that the vision they created could be delivered", but noted everything shown in the trailer was rendered using the in-game engine. A second trailer was released at the Tokyo Game Show 2009.
Since its 2009 reveal through 2014, very little information about the game has been revealed. It was expected more details on The Last Guardian would be presented at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 in June 2010, but no additional information was presented about the game. Scott Rohde and Ron Eagle, two product marketing employees for Sony, stated the absence was due to the game not yet being at a state to present it along with all the other major announcements made at the time, but alluded to its expected presence at future industry trade shows. Instead, the game was further shown a few months later at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, along with an expected release date in late 2011, and a formal announcement on high-definition remakes of Team Ico's previous titles, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
Ueda noted the delay in showing more of The Last Guardian was due to a change in their development process; in their previous titles they simultaneously worked on both research/development and production, while with The Last Guardian, they performed these steps sequentially, locking the core elements of the game in place before starting production. As of this announcement, Ueda has stated they are now in "full production crunch mode" towards completion of the game. A short "vertical slice" of the game, not necessarily any particular sequence but demonstrating specific elements of the game, was made available to members of the press prior to Sony's PlayStation Vita in late January 2011, with an embargo until the first date of the 2011 Game Developers Conference in early March 2011. Ueda stated in March 2011 that he had considered the possibility of including the demo with the The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. Ultimately this was not included in the final release which occurred in September 2011.
In interviews during February 2011, Ueda stated that while they were still planning to ship the game worldwide by the end of 2011, some design decisions remained in question. These included if any kind of on-screen heads-up display would be present, such as a strength or stamina meter for Trico, a decision that Ueda is "still anguishing over." Ueda announced that he would be leaving Sony as of December 2011, but would remain committed towards the completion of The Last Guardian through a contract with the company. Ueda clarified in a 2013 interview that his departure from Sony was due to feeling "a sense of crisis within myself about a lot of things". The game's executive producer, Yoshifusa Hayama, also announced his departure from Sony at the same time, though whether he will continue further involvement with the game is unknown. As of February 2012, Shuhei Yoshida, president of SCE Worldwide Studios, stated that development of the game was continuing albeit with "slow progress", and Ueda continues to work daily on the project. Yoshida also stated that Sony has brought in technical support help from their Santa Monica studios and other worldwide studios to assist in completing the game; as such, the state of the game was "not to the point that we can talk about the timing of launch". Tim Moss of Sony's Santa Monica studio later explained that they have only aided in technical knowledge but have not contributed content or other assets to the game. Explaining the game's absence at the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo in June 2012, Yoshida explained the game's development was still experiencing "technical difficulties", but were still working to resolve these.
Just prior to the 2012 Gamescom convention in August 2012, journalists noted that The Last Guardian trademark in the United States had passed a critical 3-year milestone after its filing without a product, leading to default expiration of the trademark; some considered that this implied the game was no longer in production. Sony shortly affirmed the game was still under development, and later, at Gamescom, explained that while they at one point had the game in a playable state, some technical issues arose, and they have had difficulty in resolving those before releasing the title. Sony's Shuhei Yoshida has stated that committing to a 2013 release is unsure, as they are afraid of "disappointing many people" as they had done before with earlier release date estimates. In mid-February 2013, just prior to the announcement for the PlayStation 4, Ueda reiterated that he remains in his freelance role as creative director, and the development team is still working on the title, but noted that Sony would be responsible for determining the game's release date. Industry rumors have stated that the game has now been set to be released for the PlayStation 4; however, in the wake of the PlayStation 4 announcement in February 2013 and without an appearance at the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo, no further news of The Last Guardian had come about. Sony's Shuhei Yoshida stated that "We are waiting for the right time to re-introduce" the game, and did not comment on whether the game was slated for the new console. SCEA President Jack Tretton at the 2013 E3 convention stated that The Last Guardian was on "hiatus", circulating among other Sony studios, but has not "gone away"; however, Yoshida issued a statement shortly thereafter, countering this and asserting the game "is in active development". In an interview in the August 2013 Famitsu, Ueda stated that work on The Last Guardian continues at SCE Japan Studio, but other projects such as Puppeteer and Knack currently taking higher priority; in the following month, Yoshida said they are waiting for the right time to "re-introduce" the title, and currently being worked on by a smaller team focused on "re-engineering" the game.
In speaking with IGN in March 2014, Sony's Scott Rohde, who oversees many of Sony's development stories, stated The Last Guardian is still in development, though did not comment on any platform changes or expected release date. Rohde stated that the high interest in the game has led to making sure the game does not disappoint this audience, noting that "We would not want to ship that game if we don’t think it’s great." In the days prior to the 2014 E3 convention, IGN mistakenly claimed that The Last Guardian was cancelled based on "internal reports" from Sony, but Rohde quickly refuted this information; IGN later retracted the story and apologized for the misinformation. Following the Sony press event for the 2014 E3, Rohde reaffirmed that the game remains in development, stating on its absence that "it's really important to us to make sure that the creative process works. And in this case, [Ueda] has created something that's great, it's just going to need some time. We'll show it when it's ready."
The long delay in The Last Guardian's development caused some of the Team Ico members to leave the project; in 2014 two of the artists joined an indie startup studio Friends & Foes to develop their first title, Vane, which has been compared visually to The Last Guardian. Evan Narcisse for the website Kotaku opined that the lengthy delay of The Last Guardian's release since the 2009 reveal may be harming the title's relevance on the market today. Narcisse considered that the landscape of games has vastly changed since 2009, during which "by-the-numbers racers, shooters and action-adventure games dominated" the market and the expected emotional impact of the The Last Guardian would have been a stand-out title. Since then, the rise of indie games and games aimed to be art forms, such as Papo & Yo, Bastion, The Walking Dead, and Journey, have created experiences that take the place of what The Last Guardian would have filled, reducing the essentialness of the title, according to Narcisse.
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