Developer Team Ico
“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