Recently, legendary game designer Fumito Ueda — known for games like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian — gave a talk at the Nordic Game Conference, talking about his intentional mysterious approach to narrative, his next project, as well as about his former games.
More specifically, Ueda-san participated in a fireside chat with David Polfeldt, the managing director of Tom Clancy’s The Division studio Massive Entertainment,
Speaking about his past, Ueda-san talked about that while he was working on Ico — which he quit his job to do — he started to run out of savings and needed to find employment. Fortunately, Sony was hiring for a CG artist, and so Ueda-san applied. The designer continues, speaking about the process:
“I applied for that, but I had one condition: that I couldn’t work full time, because I needed time for myself. Sony asked what I was doing in my own time, so I started to talk about Ico. They understood the idea and then suggested I work on that Sony.”
According to Ueda-san, many of his projects start off with a mere mental image. For example, with Ico, he said the idea first surfaced in the form of an image of a boy leading a tall girl by the hand. Meanwhile, for The Last Guardian the vision was of Trico sitting on a high, narrow ledge with a young boy hanging below him. This discussion prompted Polfeldt to ask Ueda-san if he knows what the story will be when these images take form in his mind. The designer responded:
“I had just a rough idea. For Ico, I knew the boy and girl knew each other but at some point she had lost her memories. So at the end of the game, does she remember the boy? But that was not the actual ending. That was the ending image I had at the beginning of the production. The ending would change during the creation and development phase, due to the technical limitations and resource management. I needed to priorities other things.”
On the topic of story, Polfeldt then brought up that he views Ueda-san’s vague method of storytelling as something akin to poetry, but wondered if the mysteriousness was intended by the developer, to which the Ueda-san had the following to say:
“For me, it’s not important to tell the details of the story. In Japan, there is a poet expression called a haiku [where] you don’t explain some things in detail and let the receivers understand or use their imagination with what is presented.
“That lets the receivers make their own story from their imagination, and I think this is also a good style of expression for video games – at this moment. In the future, someone may discover there’s another way to do narrative and tell stories through gaming, but at this moment I think this is a great way to tell stories.”
Polfeldt then continues by saying in Ueda-san’s games there are a lot of question marks, and thus his games have always stuck with the Ubisoft developer longer and have made him think about said games in a different way. Ueda-san then replied:
“That’s good to hear because I intentionally do that. In some movies the story is so complete, there isn’t any ending you can guess because it’s already done. That type of movie doesn’t leave a long-lasting impression.”
As you may know, Ico was a very linear experience, while Shadow of the Colossus featured a more open-world experience. Then for The Last Guardian, a more restricted environment returned. Ueda-san explained why he has bounced between the two.
“I created the more open world of Shadow because Ico was an adventure game set in such a small space – and I spent four years in that closed space,” he said. “So I wanted to go out into something more open.
The designer then transitioned into talking about his next project:
“I cannot talk about the details [of my next project] but… Shadow came out of the experience with Ico, [going] from a closed world to open world. When I completed Shadow, there was a moment where I wondered if I wanted to go around an open world again, and maybe I should go back to a more closed space, spending a more intimate time with something in that space. That became the starting point for The Last Guardian.
“Now I’ve completed The Last Guardian and spent so many years in that game, maybe I may go back to the Shadow-type environment.”
Ueda-san also briefly talked about the inspiration he draws from music and how important it is to his creation process. The designer specifically said the following:
“I listen [to music] a lot while I’m working. What I’m creating is a fantasy world, but personally I’m not very interested or fond of fantasy. But I need to dive into the world I want to create, feel that world, and be inside it. Music helps me, so I listen to a lot of soundtracks [for fantasy films].
“As a person, I’m very practical. But I really need to believe the world I’m creating exists, so I need to make myself believe by getting inspiration from music or books that [centre around] fantasy worlds. A lot of people believe that I’m such a fantasy person and living in that fantasy world all the time, but there’s a huge gap between people’s perception of myself and me as a person.”
As you would have read above, it sounds like Fumito Ueda is looking to return to the open-world formula for his next project. What that next project is and when it will come is anyone’s best guess…likely no time soon.