Interview with Fumito Ueda, “The Last Guardian” Game Director and Designer


(This article was originally posted in Japanese on 23:00 Jan. 15, 2017)

Fumito Ueda is a video game designer who worked on ICO and Shadow of the Colossus which are highly rated and leave their mark on game history both within and outside Japan. Mr. Ueda's latest work The Last Guardian for PlayStation 4 was released on December 6, 2016, about 7 years after the first announcement.

We had an opportunity to interview with him, so we heard a lot about unknown episodes during the time of development of the game, and also his roots of becoming a video game designer.

The Last Guardian Game | PS4 - PlayStation
https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/the-last-guardian-ps4/

Fumito Ueda, a video game designer.


GIGAZINE (G):
When I play The Last Guardian, at first I was surprised that Trico's expressions and gestures seem like a real animal. How do you create these realities?

Fumito Ueda (Ueda):
I think that it is an outcome of removing unnatural parts over and over again. There are no shortcuts to make them look real. We just kept modifying parts which looked unnatural in Trico's actions.

G:
What do you mean by "removing unnatural parts"?

Ueda:
For example, saying about the motions, we need to put much information about Trico to make it look big and solid. If there were no motions of muscles, or reactions when it jumps and lands on the ground, you can't feel its weightiness. In concrete terms, Trico is too giant to shift its weight rapidly. We call it "popping". All physical actions have motion curves, and they have to be connected smoothly. For example, at first Trico faces forward, and next it turns different direction on the next frame, then its motion curve is twisted, so we have to modify the curve. As a result of these small and plain works, Trico looks like a real animal.

G:
I see. Trico's actions are so natural, so I wonder if you have kept an animal as a pet.

Ueda:
Now I have a cat at my parent's house. I have spent time with animals since I was a child, so I think I made use of my experience when I created Trico.

G:
Have you had various kinds of animals since you were a child?

Ueda:
Well, we always kept dogs and cats at home, and also we had uncommon pets like a squirrel monkey and a duck, so I had many experiences. One day when I woke up, I found that my armpit was wet, because a cat had just gave birth to babies on my bed. I was surprised that kittens were meowing. Apart from that, we had a female shepherd but it passed away immediately after childbirth. So my mother and I took care of the baby and raised him with milk using a bottle. Therefore, I think that comparing to other people, I had some special experiences about animals.

The Last Guardian | Launch Trailer | PS4 - YouTube


G:
It is sure that people generally don't have a experience like you. In the game, not only Trico but also the boy hero moves delicately in some parts. Is it the result that you want to make them lovely?

Ueda:
It is because we want to make him as a convincing character, rather than showing him lovely. Although the boy doesn't have a combat efficiency, he takes advantage of his small body and can walk through the narrow space where Trico can't go inside. In order to give reason to this action, the boy have to behave that he can't combat but he can get around in narrow space. As a result, people who play the game feel that his actions are delicate. Of course, I want to make them lovely, too.

G:
Although The Last Guardian is a different from ICO or Shadow of the Colossus, I can realize that all of them are your works, through the views of the world of each games. When you created those beautiful ruins, sceneries, and view of the world, did you get an inspiration from an actual experience, or did you imagined all of them?

Ueda:
They are all from my imagination. It is often said that The Last Guardian is similar to ICO or Shadow of the Colossus, but we aren't conscious about it. I think that our taste is included in those games, but we didn't intend to imitate our old games when we were creating The Last Guardian. So it is an unexpected reaction to us that you recall ICO or Shadow of the Colossus during playing The Last Guardian.

G:
Next, please tell me about a map design. In the map of The Last Guardian, there are many mechanisms which I can't break through easily, and they are very interesting. When you built the map, did you make the whole level at once, or design them individually?

Ueda:
I designed each maps individually. First, I start to think what I want to show. For example, if I want to create the scene in which the boy jumps and Trico catches him, then next I formulate the plan and decide the level to make the situation looks naturally. And at last, I just design the map to make it work well wherever the players move.

G:
The boy and Trico are different in size. To my untrained eye, it looks difficult to make maps for two characters in different sizes.

Ueda:
If we make the levels by fitting Trico's large body size, it become easy to move Trico, but it looks quite loose when the boy goes around the map, and you can't feel the scale of the world. Therefore, we tried to make the levels fitted for the boy as much as we could. It was a difficult part of creating this game.

G:
So, was it the most difficult part to develop, or are there other parts that you've had a trouble while developing the game?

Ueda:
It is sure that we had a trouble on the technical parts, like Trico's action or AI, but unexpected troubles happened during creating the more basic parts, like developing game engines, or making environment for construcing game systems. Making the motions of characters and designing the levels were hard as well, but they were the difficulties within expectations.

G:
I see. At the very beginning of game developing, from which part did you start? Like creating the view of the world, or the scenario, or so on.

Ueda:
I think that I've started from the character design of Trico.

G:
Why did you started from that work?

Ueda:
I didn't want to create a huge creature like a dragon which often appears in fantasies, but I wanted to create a huge creature having an unexpectedness, so I decided to start from the design of Trico. Besides, when we first started producing the game, we expected to release it for PlayStation 3. As we wanted to try how much we could describe the details on PlayStation 3, first of all we had to decide the character design to try it. So it was another reason why we started from the design of Trico.


G:
I see.

Ueda:
We decided the view of the world and the story of the game in the last part of development.

G:
Really?

Ueda:
Well, after we create a huge creature and start moving it, we begin to plan level designs which are both natural and persuasive, then we make an easy level and test it. Through series of tests, when we feel certain that we can develop the game, and we realize the limitation of expressing them, we can move on to thinking the story and the world of the game at last.

G:
So at the beginning of production, you didn't decide how to end the story, right?

Ueda:
You're right. I never thought about the ending of the story at the beginning. I just had an outline of it.

G:
Well, I was impressed by the endings of your game works. From the beginning of creating the games, do you aim to impress people who play them?

Ueda:
It is sure that I want to move people who play my games. I would like to come up to their expectation, who are looking forward to playing it. And as a game player, I want to be satisfied after reaching the end of the story. I want to create such games.

G:
In the world of The Last Guardian, people use a language which does not exist in the real world. We can feel the unknown world of the game through that language.

Ueda:
I think that the voice actors struggled more than us, haha. The reason why we use a constructed language is that we want to make the world as an unknown one, not as in a certain place or age in the real world. Besides, if we use natural languages like Japanese or English in the game, players can understand what the characters are saying, so we have to decide the lines completely before the voice recording, including hint voices. Instead if we use a constructed language, we can change the lines even at the last part of development, corresponding immediately to the tuning. After all we are creating a game, we want to adjust it until the very last.

During we were creating the constructed language, it was hard to establish the rules to convert the word which we want to tell into a constructed language in the game world. After we made one rule, we can translate the words mechanically. Compare to that, I think that the voice actors had a harder time pronouncing those words in the constructed language fluently, as if the language exists in the real world.

G:
I see. It seems so difficult to speak that mysterious language with feelings. Meanwhile, from the first announcement of The Last Guardian, it took 7 years to release the game. As a game fan, the more we wait for the release, the more we expect to play an interesting game. Did you feel any pressure from your fans?

Ueda:
It was a cause of worry, but we think that we must not release the game if it's still incomplete. We knew that our fans were expecting to play the game, but we didn't want to put unfinished one on the market. As a game director, it was hard to direct those parts.

G:
I wonder how you keep your motivation up for such a long term.

Ueda:
It was hard to keep our motivation up. There was a time when I couldn't make progress in creative part. I had no subject of creating things in those days, so it was the most difficult time for me during the game development.

G:
How did you overcome those difficulties?

Ueda:
Although drinking alcohol or traveling can change my mood, to keep my motivation up towards creative work I expose myself to excellent works, or look at the fans of those works. Personally, I think that creating things makes me feel a little shy, so when I feel the necessity of creating things, or when I realize that the fans expecting me to create things, I get more motivation from them. I think that the entertainment is not a daily necessity in real world. And I sometimes happen to wonder if we really need the entertainment in our life. Therefore when I take notice that people need such a entertainment, I start thinking of doing my best on my work. I won't create any kinds of things and provide them all the time, but I just start creating things when people want them.

G:
Do the cheers from the fans also motivate you?

Ueda:
Of course they do. As the HD versions of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus were released during development of The Last Guardian, we've heard what the fans were saying about the HD versions. So not just me, but also production staff were encouraged by them.

G:
The release of The Last Guardian was postponed from October 25, 2016, until December 6. I think it was a hard decision for you to postpone the launch date.

Ueda:
As I look back over the past, we could release it on October, but if we did so, more problems would remain. We have to apply a patch to those problems through the Internet, but some players don't have an access to the Internet. Therefore we want to release the game after we removed such problems as much as we could. Of course it was not at my own discretion, but the top management of Sony Interactive Entertainment also decided to postpone the launch date.

G:
I see. Next, I want to ask you about yourself. Have you often played the game since you were a child? Have you been a gamer?

Ueda:
I didn't always have the latest games at my house, but I often played the game at my friends' house. I didn't have any major game machines. My first game machine was Sega Master System (Sega Mark III). I also had Sega Genesis (Mega Drive).

G:
Are there any games that you played when you were a child and you kept in mind till now?

Ueda:
The game which kept in my mind is Super Mario Bros., and I have played Black Belt (Hokuto no Ken) and Alex Kidd in Miracle World with Sega Master System.

G:
You might have talked about the game with your friends when you were a child. Had your friends played with Sega Master System like you?

Ueda:
I had few friends who had Sega Master System. It has a nerd character in technical side, for example, it can display 64 colors, compare to 52 colors of Nintendo Entertainment System. Although I was a child, I thought that I could see more beautiful pictures with Sega Master System.

G:
It is surprising that you were thinking of the number of colors while you were a child. I've heard that you took a painting course at Osaka University of Arts. Have you been interested in paintings?

Ueda:
I like paintings and drawing pictures from my early childhood. I'm free from care in drawing, and I always feel that I'm good at drawing.

G:
I've heard that you learned CG through self-study in your undergraduate days. Is there any trigger that you become interested in CG?

Ueda:
To be exact, I started learning CG after I graduated from university. While I was at school, computers were not popular yet. There were a few Macintosh with a black-and-white display as a common property of school, and I could use it if I made a reservation. When I was a university student, it wasn't the time that people make something with a computer. Honestly I wasn't so much interested in 3DCG, I just wondered if I could introduce a computer in artistic expression. I came to realize the limitations of representation by painting, and I looked for another ways. As a result I started to think that with a computer I could create something interesting, so I bought a computer called Amiga.

At the same time, a TV variety show for children named Ugo Ugo Ruga was started. I've heard that they use Amiga to create CG of Ugo Ugo Ruga, so I asked my friend in Tokyo to record the program on videotape and send it to me in Osaka. I gradually became interested in CG by watching the shows. Then next Virtua Fighter was released. I was terribly shocked when I first saw Virtua Fighter at a game arcade. I thought "Video games are really great!"

G:
Didn't you think of working in a game industry in your undergraduate days?

Ueda:
I never thought of that. I played the game in my university days less than in my junior high and high school days. After graduation I learned how to use Amiga through self-study, and gradually I wanted to use Amiga for work. So I started looking for a job of CG productions that I can use Amiga and joined a company. I used CG for work for the first time at the company. But there were few works using CG, because the president treated CG works as a hobby. Therefore, I created my own works using CG, and brought them to a video game developer WARP. And I seized an opportunity to join WARP.

G:
Why did you get interested in WARP?

Ueda:
I was away from game in my undergraduate days, and I was not so much interested in making ordinary games. However, WARP was developing a game which was likely to influence on media in addition to games, so it impressed me. At that time I just found a help-wanted ad on a Famitsu magazine, and it said "WARP will go to San Francisco". That ad was another reason why I wanted to join WARP.

G:
After that you joined Sony Computer Entertainment (later changed into Sony Interactive Entertainment) in 1997, and you directed ICO or Shadow of the Colossus. Did you have the ideas of those works before you joined SCE?

Ueda:
Well, I worked at WARP for a year and a half. I had a great time so I feel like I worked for 10 years. While I was working at WARP, I became motivated to create my own work, so I quit my job to take time for creation. I tell you that I left WARP not because I wanted to join SCE. After I left WARP I stayed at home and concentrated on creating works. Late on it became ICO. But after a while I have almost run through all my money, so I had to find a new job, haha. At that time a member of SCE who saw my web site called me out to join working on CG job, so I started to take part in CG production in addition to creating my own work.

G:
A few years after you've joined SCE, you worked as a director of ICO. It seems exceptional that you worked as a director just after a few years you joined the company.

Ueda:
It seems unusual nowadays, but it was not so special in those days. I was a young employee but there were a lot of people younger than me in the office. Many of us had a role like producer or director. And there were a lot of opportunities to create games in those days, so there was a relaxing atmosphere that we should leave creating games to the person with interesting ideas. In the times of PlayStation, there were many games created in this way. As I reflect on the past, I feel I was lucky that I could work in those days.

G:
You had released much more works when PlayStation became popular. You organized your own studio named gen DESIGN in 2014, and what was the reason that you decided to organize the new studio?

Ueda:
I'm sorry that I can't tell details, but I can just tell the answer: to make products smoothly.

G:
Please tell us advantages and disadvantages of organizing your own studio.

Ueda:
There are no disadvantages so far. I think that one of the advantages is that I can devote myself to creating things. Staff members support me a lot, so I can do easy with my works than before. Being carefree accounts for the largest part in my work. Our staffs understand what I want to do, so I can easily challenge whatever I want to. We can do some test or try ideas immediately, and it's really a big advantage.

G:
And at last, please tell us something about the project you're working on now, if you don't mind.

Ueda:
Umm... I can't tell about it now, I'm sorry.

G:
Thank you so much for your time today.

The Last Guardian Game | PS4 - PlayStation
https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/the-last-guardian-ps4/

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in Game,   Video,   Interview, Posted by darkhorse_log