The Last Guardian
|The Last Guardian|
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 genDESIGN and published 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, dog and cat hybrid 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. This sets the core of the game on puzzle-based action, as in between the various puzzles the player will encounter, enemies will be encountered, potentially impeding progress. It is the player's role to survive in such an occurrence, much like in Ico.
The game has been in development since 2007 by Team Ico, and was formally announced at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009 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 hardware difficulties that forced the game to be transitioned to the PlayStation 4 platform in 2012, and the departure of Ueda and other Team Ico members from Sony. Despite this, Ueda and his studio GenDesign, which is composed of several former Team Ico members, remain as creative consultants for the title. The game was formally re-introduced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2015, and is now aimed for a 2016 release on the PlayStation 4.
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 boy has been kidnapped "under mysterious circumstances" according to Ueda, and comes to discover a giant, feathered creature, resembling a griffin, named Trico (トリコ Toriko?). The game will revolve around the developing friendship between the boy and Trico. 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" 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 have to have the boy jump as to coerce Trico to jump across a large gap. 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.
Story and gameplay development
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's art and architect approach follows the same "design through subtraction" that Ueda had used in Ico and Shadow, removing elements that the team felt were distractions to the core experience of the game so that the player feels more engaged in the narrative of the title. Elements like music are used sparingly to highlight key emotional moments, such as when Trico uses his tail to catch the boy while he is jumping from a collapsing platform. Ueda stated that much of the architecture in the game emphasizes tall, vertical spaces, as to make the player become more connected to the boy who seems small in contrast to these spaces.
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.
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.
The Last Guardian has been in development since 2007, a year after the release of the PlayStation 3. By 2009, the development team had completed enough of the game for it to be showcased during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009, and later more to highlight in a short vertical slice of the game provided 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. In 2015 Yoshida revealed that the previous 2009 trailer was "specced up", running at a much lower frame rate on the PlayStation 3 and sped up for the presentation. Around 2011, Sony brought in many of their core development teams such as Santa Monica Studios to review the code and try to improve the performance. In 2012, with Sony was preparing to announce the PlayStation 4 and still recognizing the sluggish development of the PlayStation 3 version of the game, it was decided to change the target platform to the PlayStation 4 so that Ueda's concept could be fully realized. Ueda stated that this choice was primarily Sony's decision, speculating that the PlayStation 3 version of the game at this point would still have been sufficient to convey his concept. Following the target platform switch, Ueda and other members of Team Ico were not as involved with the process, as other teams worked to take the highly customized PlayStation 3 code to adapt it to the PlayStation 4; this included the help of PlayStation 4 lead architect Mark Cerny. With the re-introduction of the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2015, Yoshida explained that the game engine is now fully running at speed on the PlayStation 4 and that the remainder of the development lies with the game designers to complete.
Development was also hampered by Ueda's departure from Sony in December 2011. Ueda remained 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". Other members of Team Ico also departed Sony after this point, including executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama Two of the Team Ico artists joined an indie startup studio Friends & Foes to develop their first title, Vane, which has been compared visually to The Last Guardian. Ueda has set up a new studio, GenDesign, that includes many former Team Ico developers, with the studio participating with Ueda under contract to complete The Last Guardian with Sony's internal studio. As described by Yoshida, Ueda and GenDesign are developing the creative content for the game which is then being put into place via Japan Studio, with Ueda maintaining oversight on the completed project.
Reaction to development delays
Because of the development delays in The Last Guardian and lack of updates from Sony, The Last Guardian was considered to have been in development hell over its eight-year development period. Ueda and Yoshida would regularly report progress on the game, but the title was notably absent from major video game conventions, including the Electronic Entertainment Expo and the Tokyo Game Show.
Journalists also expressed concern with the potential release of the game when the The Last Guardian trademark had hit some critical milestones. In August 2012, about three years after the trademark had been filed in the United States, Sony had yet to produce a viable product under trademark law, and in February 2015, Sony failed to renew the North American trademark for The Last Guardian. Sony re-registered the trademark, noting that lack of a renewal was an administrative oversight, and the game was still in development.
Prior to the re-introduction in 2015, some journalists expressed concern if The Last Guardian would be as much a landmark title as initially seen. 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 made it 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. Leigh Alexander of Boing Boing agreed, noting that the delay of The Last Guardian has now spanned a console generation, and other emotionally filled games have been offered in lieu of The Last Guardian.
Shawn Layden formally reintroduced the game at the beginning of Sony's E3 2015 conference. Sony affirmed that that game is now slated for release on the PlayStation 4 with a 2016 release date. Sony also assured fans that Ueda still remains a main developer of the game despite his prior departure from Sony. According to Chris Plante of Polygon, the gameplay presented shows the same gameplay from previous demos, where the young boy and the large creature work together to solve various platforming puzzles. The presentation at the 2015 E3 was based on the milestone of the game being fully playable, affirmed by selected members of the press, though Yoshida stated they did not do a live gameplay demo as the artificial intelligence behavior of the animal creature could be sporadic and impact the demonstration. Ueda said that the fundamentals of the gameplay has not changed from the original PlayStation 3 version to the PlayStation 4, only that with the more-powerful PlayStation 4, they are able to put more detail into the characters and the environment.
Though the game demo was not playable at the 2015 Tokyo Game Show, part of Sony's display for the game including a full screen version of Trico that would respond in real time to the actions of the attendees as captured by a PlayStation Move camera. Yoshida stated that they have not shown much additional footage of the game since the E3 2015 announcement as they believe that The Last Guardian is story-heavy and fear showing too much beyond that the game does exist and is playable.
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