Against all odds, the time has nearly come. After endless delays and fears it might have fallen into the void, The Last Guardian has gone gold and is all prepared for release early in December. It's pretty good, too - at least that's the impression we got after spending just over an hour with it last week. After our hands-on we got the chance to sit down briefly with the game's director Fumito Ueda - a figure almost as mystical as The Last Guardian itself during its tortured development, but in person a plain-speaking, down-to-earth designer who seems impervious to the pressures that almost ten years on one game must have wrought.
Quite a few of us lost hope that it'd ever come out. Did you ever lose hope yourself?
Fumito Ueda: Yeah, it's been in development for such a long time. But it's been so many years - development was ongoing. It wasn't always smooth as you'd hope. You're right, there were times when me and some of the team members thought that the game was going to be canceled. There was a lot of time without any news or update on the project, however on PS3 Ico and Shadow of the Colossus HD, the remasters, they came out. That got a lot of positive feedback, and that was like a refresh in terms of boosting our motivation.
Why did you leave Sony?
Fumito Ueda: There are various reasons. The biggest reason is that having moved to GenDesign I could spend more time just on the creative side of work. That's the biggest reason why.
Did that help speed up development on The Last Guardian?
Fumito Ueda: Just a change in the environment I was in. It's a small studio with just the key creative members around me. It did help development, and it helped bring the product to the vision that I had. Having the optimal environment really helped the game.
The partner AI has been cited as causing lots of the problems. Other teams have found that problematic too, such as Irrational with Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite. Was that the biggest challenge you faced - and at any point did you grow to resent Trico?
Fumito Ueda: AI, working with AI, it's not easy. But it's more doable than most people might think. It's the process that happens after, when the AI decides to do something. That's incredibly difficult. Trying to get that motion right after the AI's decided to do this or that, trying to get it look as natural as possible, that was something that was painstakingly hard.
Trico can be quite disobedient. Do you worry players might find that frustrating?
Fumito Ueda: It's something that's deliberate in the game. There is a worry that it might stress out some people out there. But this game isn't continual action, it's not fast-paced. Whether pepole stress out about that is down to personal preference. If you take music, some people like hard rock music that's a bit more fast-paced. Some people might like slower music. Their personal preference might stress them out.
So many games were inspired by Ico and SotC. Do you worry that Last Guardian's impact will be diminished by the presence of all those games?
Fumito Ueda: It's something that I never really think about. I set out to make the games that I want to make, the ones that I like to play. If my games have an impact, it's not anything that crosses my mind. Whenever I finish a game, there's no real feeling that I've finished it - it takes time for that feeling to sink in. I'm at that point now with The Last Guardian. My mind is more looking back, asking myself what could have been done better. Those are the kinds of questions I ask myself once I've finished the game. I can't say anything about how influential or what impact they have in the big wide world.
Do you remember where you were when The Last Guardian finally went gold?
Fumito Ueda: I was at home. It was a normal day, and I got an email saying the master build has been approved. It was an everyday thing - the same as any other day, I was just looking at my emails. There was a couple of emotions. There was relief, I was happy it is now finished. It's something I've had with me for almost 10 years, though, so to let it go is almost a little bit sad. Those two emotions kind of canceled each other out, so I felt quite neutral when the game went gold. It hasn't really sunk in. There's no feeling of huge joy. It takes time.
The way people play and react to games has changed in recent years. You see something like No Man's Sky, and that anticipation worked against it. Are you worried something similar might happen to The Last Guardian, where 10 years of expectation work against it?
Fumito Ueda: To say that there's no worries at all would be a lie. There's always a slight worry. But it's nothing major. People could look back and say Ico, it was quite an empty game. There are no items, there's nothing much content-wise. You're just holding hands.
If you take Shadow of the Colossus, it's just an empty field where the giants are. People could look at it that way. It's something I've done twice before, every time I've released a game. What I believe makes the kind of game I'd like to play myself, I've achieved that with those games, and this time is no different. It's just a question of how many people are out there that are like me, that would like the game.
What's next, and will it take you quite so long?
Fumito Ueda: Never in my wildest imagination did I think The Last Guardian would take this long. Actually, it was a post-mortem point of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus - they took a long time to make as well, so we thought let's make the next one quicker than we made Ico and Shadow. That was our aim... Whatever I make next, I don't aim for it to take as long as The Last Guardian. Exactly what I'm going to do next - I have several ideas. Some of them are in the same taste of the three games that I've made so far. Some of them are completely different. I've got several ideas. But creating a video game is such a difficult thing to do. I'm still waiting for that idea that's going to be worth overcoming that huge challenge for.