Fu­mito Ueda’s long-ab­sent crea­ture fea­ture emerges from hi­ber­na­tion


S ix years is a long time to wait for a game, even one as ap­par­ently im­mune to the rav­ages of age as The Last Guardian. First shown at E3 2009 for PS3, de­vel­op­ment of the fol­low-up to Team Ico’s Shadow Of The

Colos­sus has been so pro­tracted that it’s long been ru­moured the game was can­celled. But if the roar of ex­cite­ment from the au­di­ence at its reap­pear­ance dur­ing Sony’s E3 con­fer­ence this year – which opened with a sin­gle white feather float­ing down the main screen – is any in­di­ca­tion, years of dashed hopes have done lit­tle to quash the en­thu­si­asm of those await­ing Fu­mito Ueda’s next epic.

It’s telling that of all the pos­si­ble choices in Sony’s vaults, the com­pany chose to kick things off with The Last Guardian. Un­til now, the world had seen lit­tle more of the game than a hand­ful of screen­shots and some brief footage, yet its re-an­nounce­ment inspired the same unchecked fer­vour as the Fi­nal Fan­tasy

VII re­make and Shenmue III. And we can ex­pect to play it next year, as­sum­ing the dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion to PS4 is well and truly be­hind it, as we are as­sured it is.

The vis­ual up­grades brought about by PS4’s ex­tra pro­cess­ing head­room aren’t as ap­par­ent as you might imag­ine, but it’s worth bear­ing in mind that the de­but trailer wasn’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what the game looked like on PS3 – the fram­er­ate, Ueda has re­vealed, was far lower. The latest ver­sion looks to be run­ning at a solid 30fps, un­shaken by soar­ing draw dis­tances and or­nate ar­chi­tec­ture. It’s a world that looks at once fa­mil­iar and for­eign, evoca­tive of both Ico and Shadow Of The

Colos­sus and yet achingly enig­matic. In a be­hind-closed-doors pre­sen­ta­tion, Ueda stresses that he wants to com­bine the best of both games – the emo­tional bond and co-op­er­a­tion be­tween two char­ac­ters that Ico cap­tured, and the sense of awe that

Shadow brought about through clam­ber­ing around the body of some­thing that’s con­sid­er­ably big­ger than you. In that sense, at least, The Last Guardian feels like a fit­ting cul­mi­na­tion for an ex­per­i­men­tal tril­ogy.

Our demo be­gins roughly half­way through the game, the young boy that you con­trol find­ing the crea­ture, Trico, ly­ing in­jured in a large room. The boy’s foot­steps echo off the stone walls as the wind whips through the glass­less win­dows, and af­ter clam­ber­ing on top of Trico and in­sen­si­tively jump­ing on its head to wake the hy­brid up, he drags two spears of wood from the stricken beast’s back. Once on its feet, Trico is a re­mark­ably con­vinc­ing an­i­mal, the in­flu­ence of bird, cat and dog ev­i­dent not only in the way it looks, but also its be­hav­iours. Its ears twitch and it oc­ca­sion­ally lets out a sharp

breath; it looks around the room, ev­i­dently in­trigued by but­ter­flies danc­ing in and out of the rays of light; and it dis­plays a haughty lack of in­ter­est in the boy’s ini­tial ef­forts to point its wet nose to­wards a high-up ledge.

Ueda re­veals that Trico’s be­hav­iours are gov­erned by a mix of script­ing and AI, with greater em­pha­sis on the lat­ter. At this mid­way point, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween boy and beast is such that Trico will gen­er­ally do as it is told, but when the pair first meet, it will be much harder to con­vince it to help you out. The fur­ther the game pro­gresses, the fur­ther the bond will grow, al­low­ing for faster, more pur­pose­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and es­tab­lish­ing a re­ac­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the odd cou­ple.

This grad­ual de­vel­op­ment of trust ap­pears to be sup­ported by pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment, and when the boy reaches that high ledge by pulling him­self up Trico’s lus­trous hy­brid of fur and feath­ers, he tosses it some bar­rels. Given that the crea­ture con­sumes them in a cou­ple of bites, these seem to go down a treat.

There’s more ev­i­dence of Trico learn­ing di­rectly from the boy a lit­tle later on when, af­ter es­cap­ing from the room to­gether, an ex­ter­nal stone walk­way they’re trav­el­ling across abruptly ends. A rick­ety scaf­fold ex­tends out be­yond the edge. The boy de­liv­ers some words in a lan­guage that will sound fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s played Ico or SOTC, and then jumps up and down on the spot once or twice, point­ing at the plat­form be­yond. Even­tu­ally, Trico takes the hint and ner­vously moves to the edge, stretch­ing and reach­ing a paw out in prepa­ra­tion, hes­i­tat­ing like a cat cal­cu­lat­ing a dis­mount from a high wall. All of sud­den, Trico is in the air, crash­ing down on the con­struc­tion a sec­ond later, which sags un­der its not-in­con­sid­er­able weight. In turn, the crea­ture waits for the boy to jump, call­ing out with lit­tle squawks un­til its com­pan­ion builds up the courage to leap, us­ing its mouth to snatch him out of the air by the scruff of his smock when the vault comes up short.

De­spite Trico’s dis­con­cert­ing size and power, the in­ter­play be­tween the pair is gen­uinely charm­ing, both char­ac­ters com­ing across as earnest chil­dren caught up in an ad­ven­ture nei­ther was nec­es­sar­ily pre­pared for. By com­bin­ing their strengths, how­ever – Trico’s reach and power, and the boy’s shrewd in­tel­li­gence – they’re able to tri­umph in sit­u­a­tions that ei­ther on their own would have found in­sur­mount­able. And, of course, their dif­fer­ences also pro­vide the game’s de­sign­ers with lots of puz­zle op­por­tu­ni­ties.

As Trico and the boy con­tinue along their rick­ety path, they en­counter a large wooden con­struc­tion on wheels, painted with an eye and fes­tooned with wind chimes, mounted on a par­al­lel plat­form. While we’re not told the sig­nif­i­cance of the de­vice, Trico hisses and backs off, re­fus­ing to con­tinue. The boy tries to call it on­ward, but the stub­born, and clearly fear­ful, crea­ture re­fuses. The boy pushes the cart along its track un­til it starts to roll down an in­cline to­wards the edge. When it top­ples over, the ropes that an­chored it vi­o­lently yank their mount­ings out of the plat­form and trig­ger the start of a grad­ual col­lapse. The en­vi­ron­ment crum­bles as the boy runs back along the plat­form, his route to Trico now cut off. He makes another clumsy jump, but this time Trico misses the catch. As the boy plum­mets down­wards, how­ever, the crea­ture swings its tail un­der the bridge into the child’s tra­jec­tory. Now he can clam­ber up Trico’s back as the crea­ture makes its own bolt for safety from the splin­ter­ing walk­way, and the hu­man’s just in time to help his com­pan­ion gain pur­chase on the castle wall by free­ing up a large log and rolling it to­wards the beast. The player re­mains in con­trol for the en­tirety of the se­quence, which seems to per­fectly en­cap­su­late the blend­ing of ideas from Ueda’s pre­vi­ous games.

It’s a short demo, but a highly con­vinc­ing one nonethe­less. Ueda’s vi­sion is clearly be­gin­ning to co­a­lesce, and the game’s com­plex in­ter­play of free-spir­ited AI, treach­er­ous plat­form­ing and phys­i­cal puzzles ap­pears to be func­tion­ing as in­tended. It might have been a long old while since we pre­vi­ously saw what The Last Guardian team was up to, but it ap­pears that time has been well spent.

Trico’s be­hav­iour is gov­erned by a mix of script­ing and AI, with em­pha­sis on the lat­ter

Fu­mito Ueda was once The Last Guardian’s di­rec­tor but is now a con­sul­tant on the pro­ject. His new out­fit is GenDesign, which is also con­tribut­ing

Although switch­ing to PS4 slowed progress on the pro­ject con­sid­er­ably, Ueda says the up­grade has meant he can re­alise his game as orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned

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