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Devel­oper Team Ico

Pub­lisher SCE

For­mat PSOne

Re­lease 2001

“Af­ter we com­pleted our work on En­emy

Zero – but be­fore the game came out – I quit my job at Warp. My plan was to cre­ate some­thing for my­self, on my own. My boss tried to con­vince me to stay. But I didn’t want to work with an or­gan­i­sa­tion any more. I wanted to work on my own stuff, where I could set my own pace and work to my own vi­sion. Now, if my plan had been to quit and join a ri­val stu­dio they would have found a way to stop me. But be­cause I just wanted to work for my­self, the man­ager of the com­pany gave me his bless­ing. They weren’t com­pletely happy, of course, but they un­der­stood why I was quitting, at least. I had some sav­ings, so I bought an­other com­puter.

The project I started work­ing on was what would later turn into Ico. It had a dif­fer­ent name at the time – I can’t re­call what. It started with an im­age, which is how I like to work. The pic­ture was of a tall girl with a lit­tle boy stand­ing be­side her. That was it. I didn’t have any pro­gram­ming skills so my plan was to build a pro­to­type in Light­wave. I was go­ing to make short film se­quences, much like I had with the two games at Warp. To be

hon­est, at the time I started to work on the project I wasn’t sure if it was go­ing to be­come a movie or a videogame. It could have gone in ei­ther di­rec­tion. The PlayS­ta­tion and Sega Saturn had just come out. So the idea of mak­ing a game as just one per­son was un­think­able. We didn’t have Un­real or Unity or any­thing that might al­low some­one to make a game by them­selves. Still, I thought that if I could make my cutscenes well enough, just maybe I could con­vince some­one to help me turn it into a game.

At that time I heard through some­one I met on­line that Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment was look­ing for some­one who had ex­per­tise in Light­wave. No­body at Sony could use the soft­ware but I had learned it while at WARP. Through this per­son Sony in­vited me to work for them, but I re­fused, ex­plain­ing I was tak­ing time off to work on my own idea. I told them to check back in with me in about three months’ time.

They asked me to come into the of­fice any­way, to talk to them about what I was do­ing. So I took the work I’d done at WARP to show them, as well as my for­ma­tive idea for Ico. Akira Sato, who is now vice chair­man of Sony, of­fered me a com­puter and a desk at their HQ. They es­sen­tially gave me a three-month con­tract to cre­ate a trailer for the game – no strings at­tached. In this way I was able to present the idea with a trailer and, through that, give them a true vi­sion of what the game could be.

What they re­ally thought of what I pro­duced I don’t know. But I was told that I could con­tinue work­ing on it, so on some level it must have been well re­ceived. Now, Sony at that time had a ded­i­cated CG team that was us­ing sil­i­con graph­ics ma­chines, each of which cost sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars. My hunch is that they looked at the trailer I’d pro­duced on a PC, and the work that was be­ing pro­duced on the SG ma­chines and they didn’t per­ceive much dif­fer­ence in qual­ity. So per­haps I was al­lowed to stay be­cause of cost-cut­ting rea­sons.

Any­way, it was de­cided the project was go­ing to be a game and, as a re­sult, some­one needed to take on the role of game de­signer. I said: ‘I’ll do it!’ But even though I’d worked at a game com­pany be­fore, I didn’t have any idea about how to de­sign games. I had some con­cepts and knew what I wanted to do in the game, but I had no real sense of how to re­alise them. I lacked ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge, and I was wor­ried that I couldn’t com­pete against ex­pe­ri­enced cre­ators. On the other hand, I had an art and de­sign back­ground. This was my ad­van­tage: I be­lieved that I could make some­thing quite dif­fer­ent to the usual games of the time. Even at that stage I had a strong sense that I needed to be very in­di­vid­ual in what I made, in fact.

Nev­er­the­less, it took a long time. So the time came when it looked as though we might need to change the de­vel­op­ment plat­form from the PSOne to the PS2. The whole team was against chang­ing the plat­form mid­way through de­vel­op­ment like this. None of us wanted Ico to be a PS2 launch ti­tle be­cause we knew the game wouldn’t use the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the new ma­chine. It would be doomed to ob­scu­rity by those games that were de­signed specif­i­cally for the PlayS­ta­tion 2. We protested but we were forced to make the change any­way. In the end, we weren’t a launch game, which was a re­lief. So we were able to see what other de­vel­op­ers were do­ing on the PlayS­ta­tion 2, and learn from that.

The day of Ico’s re­lease was sur­pris­ingly un­event­ful. There were no spe­cial cel­e­bra­tions. There wasn’t an amaz­ing feel­ing among the team. It wasn’t like that at all. We’d lost all per­spec­tive and with it the abil­ity to judge our own work. Ico’s de­vel­op­ment had taken so long that the team wasn’t sure if it was go­ing to be ap­peal­ing to play­ers. And within Sony at that time there were sev­eral other ma­jor ti­tles com­ing out, and it felt like they were get­ting all of the at­ten­tion. No­body was cheer­ing on our game. As a re­sult we felt un­wor­thy, un­sure of whether what we’d made would be good

“WE’D LOST ALL PER­SPEC­TIVE AND WITH IT THE ABIL­ITY TO JUDGE OUR OWN WORK”

enough. Qui­etly I went out to a game shop, just to check for sure that our game was re­ally there on the shelf.

To­day I think peo­ple as­sume that Ico had very good re­views when it first came out, but this was not the case. Ico launched in De­cem­ber, and there were only 30,000 units pro­duced – a tiny num­ber. It was very quiet af­ter the game’s re­lease. Then, the fol­low­ing year the game was nom­i­nated at DICE. That was the first time we heard a truly pos­i­tive re­ac­tion.

Through­out Ico’s de­vel­op­ment Ueda and his team would pro­duce short films, rather than in­ter­ac­tive demos, to show off their progress to ri­val teams within Sony

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