Game Chang­ers: Shadow Of The Colos­sus

De­vel­oper: Team Ico Pub­lisher: Sony Re­leased: 2005 Sys­tem: PS2

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

Re­cently remade and re­mas­tered, Team Ico’s ex­tra­or­di­nary PS2 re­lease was one of the most im­pact­ful 3D ad­ven­tures of the mod­ern era. We take a look at how it all came about


This mon­u­men­tal game was a mas­sive leap for­ward for game de­sign, nar­ra­tive style and struc­ture. We re­flect on the im­pact this gi­ant of gam­ing his­tory brought about

We Tend To spend a lot of time re­flect­ing on and prais­ing the spec­ta­cle of Shadow Of The Colos­sus as well as its nar­ra­tive, de­sign and the­matic choices, but per­haps we ought to con­sider the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges and ad­vance­ments it made too. When Fu­mito Ueda looked to fol­low up on Ico, he wasn’t in­ter­ested in mak­ing a di­rect se­quel or re­peat­ing what he had done be­fore. He looked to push the PS2 harder and cre­ate some­thing that, for all of its scale and fan­tasy, was rooted in real­ism and main­tained the il­lu­sion as much as pos­si­ble. The me­chan­ics and an­i­ma­tions of the game needed to com­ple­ment the im­mer­sion of the world as much as pos­si­ble, and that wasn’t easy.

The task was made all the more de­mand­ing (and the re­sults all the more re­mark­able) with a team of just 35 artists and pro­gram­mers work­ing on Shadow Of The Colos­sus. This was a lot more peo­ple than worked on Ico, we should men­tion, but still a rather small team by mod­ern stan­dards. Given the scale of the game world, not to men­tion the scale of the colossi, it’s re­ally quite in­cred­i­ble how much it man­aged to achieve with so lim­ited a team, al­beit with plenty of devel­op­ment time be­tween projects to make it all hap­pen.

The tech­ni­cal chal­lenges of Shadow Of The Colos­sus were nu­mer­ous and re­ally quite spe­cific to the unique fea­tures the ex­pe­ri­ence fi­nally of­fered. Take, for ex­am­ple, what the team called or­ganic col­li­sion de­for­ma­tion.

This was es­sen­tially a cover-all term for how Wan­der in­ter­acted with the colossi: how he was able to grab onto them, climb them in a dy­namic way and also walk on them when the body part he’s stand­ing on is in a more or less hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion. When you think about it, that re­ally is quite a re­mark­able el­e­ment to the game, as each boss is sup­posed to be its own level in some ways. They are dy­namic plat­forms that move and re­act, but that also needed to open up pos­si­bil­i­ties for Wan­der to nav­i­gate them even more. We had re­ally never seen any­thing quite like that be­fore, so Team Ico had to come up with its own tech­ni­cal solutions for that to work, and we have to say it ab­so­lutely nailed it. The way you solve the puz­zle of the colossi is a ma­jor part of the Shadow Of The Colos­sus ex­pe­ri­ence, and the re­al­ity of these crea­tures is greatly en­hanced by the physics of how you climb them.

The se­cond chal­lenge was iden­ti­fied as player dy­nam­ics and re­ac­tions, which was how Wan­der, once on a colos­sus, would re­act to be­ing on them and be­have in uni­son with their move­ments or ac­tions. These mov­ing lev­els are ob­vi­ously try­ing to shake him off, they might be fly­ing through the air and mak­ing sharp turns. To what de­gree should he be flung around by these move­ments? When does grav­ity work in his favour and when does it work against him? The in­tro­duc­tion of the stamina bar and how it recharged when Wan­der is able to stand with­out aid added to the ten­sion and risk/re­ward me­chan­ics that these ques­tions ul­ti­mately cre­ated. As he grabs fur he can be swung around, and he needs to nat­u­rally find his balance be­fore pro­gress­ing. It’s the in­tu­itive­ness of what Team Ico cre­ated in these mo­ments that helps to make the colossi more be­liev­able.

one of the more com­monly com­pli­mented smaller el­e­ments of the game was the movement and an­i­ma­tion of Agro, Wan­ders horse and faith­ful com­pan­ion. Agro was un­like any­thing most of us had ever ex­pe­ri­enced

from a com­pan­ion an­i­mal in a videogame be­fore, with a sense of her own agency. You don’t con­trol Agro; you can only en­cour­age and guide her. An ex­ten­sion of this was what Team Ico called mo­tion blend­ing, which cov­ered the way both Agro and the colossi turned in a fluid and nat­u­ral­is­tic way. This, com­bined with pos­ture con­trol, which was the fourth ma­jor pil­lar of Shadow Of The Colos­sus’ big­gest de­sign chal­lenges, meant that both Agro and the colossi stood on slopes, turned, ran and gen­er­ally moved in a way that didn’t break the il­lu­sion of the world.

All of these chal­lenges were over­come to al­low the majesty and spec­ta­cle of Shadow Of The Colos­sus to wow us unim­peded. Thanks to these tech­ni­cal achieve­ments the in­cred­i­ble con­cept of hav­ing a game with only boss bat­tles, where the gi­ant ad­ver­saries were them­selves the lev­els you had to over­come, in a des­o­late world that still man­aged to con­vey so much back­story and cre­ate so much in­trigue, was ac­com­plished. It should go with­out say­ing that open-world game de­sign, emer­gent sto­ry­telling and boss-battle de­sign have been mas­sively in­flu­enced by what Team Ico and Fu­mito Ueda achieved with this stun­ning game. even with all of the power and ad­vance­ments of the last two gen­er­a­tions, lit­tle can match Shadow Of The Colos­sus on its own terms, which was made all the more clear by the re­cent re­make for PS4. For a game that tells you so lit­tle, it man­ages to con­vey so much and draw you into a deeply emo­tional and morally chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. There is re­ally noth­ing else quite like it in gam­ing, but we have no doubt that it will con­tinue to in­spire cre­ators for years to come with how it ex­e­cuted its ideas so well.

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