Where’s The Last Guardian?
Sony’s E3 this year was brilliant, we got our first look at actual gameplay from Naughty Dog’s highly anticipated Last of Us, we were gifted with the knowledge that Kara wasn’t just a tech demo, but a precursor to Quantic Dream’s next psycho-supernatural drama thriller BEYOND: Two Souls, and with additional fighters added to Playstation All Stars Battle Royale Sony had enough to offer, but they kept giving us more but the one question. The ONE question I had in mind after E3 was ‘Where’s The Last Guardian?’
The Last Guardian was first presented at E3 2009 – that’s three years ago. Three years without hardly any more news or extended gameplay videos! Ok, apparently the release date is set for sometime in 2012, but we are already halfway through the year without a concrete date and there has been worrying news following the project lately. Will we see this game in the light of day or will it remain only as one of the most beautiful trailers I have ever seen?
(The Last Guardian Trailer from 2009)
Now, I was a massive fan of Shadow of the Colossus. I loved how Team Ico managed to craft pure isolation into a real atmosphere, playing as Wander completely alone in a vast unforgiving landscape. Your only companion, a black stallion called Agro, travels loyally with you as you track down sixteen monstrous colossi. You face against these titanic odds in an effort to save a young girl who was executed by her people because she had been cursed, and the only way to bring her back is to bravely head right into the jaws of the sixteen most fearsome enemies you will ever face in a game. EVER! I won’t spoil the story beyond this, because I want to inspire you to play it. It’s an understated work of art in an industry that nowadays wants just explosions, action and gore. I’m not trying to sound portentous, but Shadow of the Colossus is by far one of the greatest games in the PS2 library. It’s now also available with it’s predecessor Ico in the ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD boxset for the PS3 or available individually on download from the PSN.
Team Ico obviously learnt a lot from Shadow of the Colossus and ICO in a technical sense, but what they didn’t need teaching was how to create lasting and deep attachment to characters who don’t interact with you in the normal convention. Agro, your loyal horse in SoTC, follows you through thick and thin, eventually you will rely upon on him to overcome the colossi. You will at the end of the game feel as close to that horse as you have to any other NPC in a game. That is what Team Ico are pushing with The Last Guardian, the simple relationship between a boy and this patchwork creature known only as ‘Trico’.
Both of the trailers show us how Team Ico want us to depend on Trico and how Trico will see us as its friend. It is simply delightful to watch even the smallest glimpses of this peculiar relationship. The developers have obviously put a lot of time and effort into making Trico feel real, as if you could almost reach out and stroke his feathers/scales. Some of Trico’s reactions and behaviour will look very familiar to animal owners out there. I simply can’t wait to interact with Trico, an NPC who can’t speak. That in itself is a testament to Team Ico’s past work.
(The Last Guardian Trailer from the Toyko Game Show 2010)
Problems, however, seem to plague this development. At E3 2010, a full year after its announcement, The Last Guardian was absence and two Sony representatives explained the game was not being shown because it wasn’t in a state ready enough to be presented along with the other big announcements that year. Slightly confusing, no doubt, because the first trailer showed enough that most players assumed it was within a ready enough state. There was however a trailer released at the Toyko Game Show that year which settled a lot of speculation that the game was behind on its development cycle, they also announced The Last Guardian would be released in late 2011.
Fumito Ueda, the lead designer of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, noted the delay was due to the pattern of development Team Ico had chosen to work with for The Last Guardian, where they would lock core elements of the gameplay first before starting full production.The trailer before from E3 2009 and this one at Tokyo Game Show 2010 were only showing us pieces of the first stages of development where key ideas and mechanics were being locked down. There was plenty more work to be done.
In February 2011 Ueda stated that Team Ico would ship the game worldwide by the end of 2011, but there were still some design decisions to be made. These even included HUDs for Trico. Then Ueda announced he would be leaving the studio and Sony in December 2011.
Ueda, however, stated that he would remain committed to completion of the project he masterminded through a temporary contract with Sony, but just as the head designer. As he was announcing his departure so did the game’s executive producer, Yoshifusa Hayama, but again he would remain committed to finishing the game.
Questions started to fly. Why were two top level employees leaving? Was it the crushing production time? Did they loose confidence in the idea or the game that was taking shape?
E3 has come and gone. Team Ico remained absent from the proceedings. No new trailer, no announcement of a concrete release date. Our only hope now for seeing The Last Guardian this year will be a late release announcement at the Toyko Game Show. Will The Last Guardian be pushed back again or will it all suddenly be tangible over night? Who knows.
Only time can tell us and time move very slowly sometimes.
Image Link: New Rising Media