Brave new world

De­vel­op­ers from The Last Guardian and Bat­tle­field strike out on their own with puz­zle-ad­ven­ture Vane


Think it’s frus­trat­ing wait­ing to play The Last Guardian? Just imag­ine how the devel­op­ment team try­ing to get it done must feel. After seven years on the project at Team Ico within Sony’s Ja­pan Stu­dio, and with no re­lease yet an­nounced, the game’s Por­tuguese char­ac­ter and devel­op­ment artist Rui Guer­reiro de­cided enough was enough. In March this year, he quit Sony and joined his Swedish friend Ras­mus Deguchi, him­self an en­vi­ron­ment artist on The Last Guardian, at new Tokyo-based startup Friend & Foe to pur­sue his own game: Vane.

Vane’s con­cept GIFs on Friend & Foe’s web­site re­veal a game that has Team Ico writ­ten all over it, and the early trailer shown ex­clu­sively to us bears this out. A young boy runs through a cel-shaded desert plain, sand kick­ing up at his heels as he avoids dra­matic light­ning strikes, be­fore he en­coun­ters a mys­te­ri­ous derelict stone build­ing sur­rounded by tow­ers topped with golden-tipped weather vanes – to which the ti­tle refers. It looks in­trigu­ing, with the kind of scale that will be fa­mil­iar to fans of Ico and Shadow Of The Colos­sus, ren­dered as an open-world puz­zle-ad­ven­ture game.

“The rea­son Rui ended up work­ing on The Last Guardian is prob­a­bly be­cause that was the one place at that time where you could make this kind of game, and have this kind of cre­ative out­let,” Deguchi says when asked what debt the game owes to his pre­vi­ous project at Sony. “So to do this on an in­die ba­sis is just a nat­u­ral con­tin­u­a­tion of get­ting to ex­press the same thing.”

“With more con­trol over the whole project,” Guer­reiro notes, drily.

“The con­nec­tion with The Last Guardian works for us and against us, in a sense, be­cause after a while we’re go­ing to get sick of be­ing com­pared to what we used to be do­ing,” Deguchi says. “So we hope that this will get to stand on its own two legs.”

Friend & Foe was founded in April, and the five-man team in­cludes Swede Thomas Lilja, whose artist cred­its at Grin and Guer­rilla Games in­clude Bionic Com­mando and Kil­l­zone 2; Spa­niard Vic­tor San­taqui­te­ria, for­merly an artist on Bat­tle­field 3 at DICE; and Swede Ivar Dahlberg, pre­vi­ously a teacher of 3D game de­sign at Play­ground Squad and fresh off the boat in Tokyo. The com­pany folds in Lilja’s for-hire unit Shape­farm, and Deguchi’s excitable pet dog Smokey as head net­work-ca­ble chewer.

De­tails about Vane are still vague, and the team is happy to keep it that way. “What we can say is that it’s not go­ing to be about just wan­der­ing around and look­ing at things,” Dahlberg says. “There’s go­ing to be plenty of in­ter­ac­tion, things to fig­ure out. We are cre­at­ing a world that you are free to ex­plore on your own, but there is also a nar­ra­tive that un­folds.”

“If you want to trans­port some­one to a strange new world, then you have to give them the free­dom to ex­plore,” Deguchi says. The trailer re­veals one un­ex­pected game me­chanic. At one point, the young pro­tag­o­nist trans­forms into a bird, leap­ing on hu­man legs from a wall of the stone build­ing to grace­fully fly away on feath­ered wings. There will also be other char­ac­ters, pre­sum­ably en­e­mies, since one of the tow­ers is manned by a shad­owy fig­ure. The game’s vis­ual di­rec­tion is de­lib­er­ately lim­ited to bold strokes rather than fine de­tail, since the team know all too well from their years on triple-A games that the time-drain­ing cre­ation of de­tailed as­sets can also make it harder to ex­per­i­ment with me­chan­ics. “We don’t want to lock things down too early be­cause we’ve been in so many de­vel­op­ments where ev­ery­thing is set in stone,” Lilja says. “And then you spend years mak­ing as­sets, and find that you were work­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. We’re keep­ing things very open with a very gen­eral di­rec­tion and then it’s go­ing to evolve as we go along.” After com­ing off a game as cloaked in mys­tery as The Last Guardian, the team in­tends to openly share Vane’s pro­gres­sion through de­vlogs, and they hope to have a booth in the in­die sec­tion at Tokyo Game Show – iron­i­cally, on Sony’s dime.

The com­pany is en­tirely self-funded for now, though Lilja says he would con­sider sign­ing its games to the right pub­lisher. “The main thing for us is main­tain­ing cre­ative con­trol,” he says. And, speak­ing of con­trol, we ask whether de­parted Team Ico vi­sion­ary Fu­mito Ueda has given Vane his bless­ing. “No com­ment. He’s as elu­sive as they come,” Lilja says.

“Yeah,” Deguchi adds. “If you think we’re vague…”

From left: Lilja, Dahlberg, Guer­reiro and Deguchi es­tab­lished Friend & Foe’s HQ in Tokyo, where most of the team had al­ready made their homes

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