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