DICE Feature: 'Climbing The Colossus: Ueda, Kaido On Creating Cult Classics'

The 2006 DICE Summit in Las Vegas concluded Friday evening with "Outside the Shadows: A Conversation with the Creators of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus," a Q&A with game creators Fumito Ueda and Kenji Kaido about the making of their two critically acclaimed games for the PlayStation 2.


The 2006 DICE Summit in Las Vegas concluded Friday evening with "Outside the Shadows: A Conversation with the Creators of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus," a Q&A with game creators Fumito Ueda and Kenji Kaido about the making of their two critically acclaimed games for the PlayStation 2.

Fumita Ueda acted as the lead game designer, game director and art director for both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, while Kenji Kaido acted as producer, managing the team and ensuring that Ueda could realize his artistic vision.

"It's not that I wanted to take all these roles," explained Ueda. "If I could have gotten away with doing less work, I would. It had more to do with creative talent. I couldn't find the right people, which is why I ended up taking on all those roles."

"I worked very hard," he said. "In fact, sometimes I don't even get to go home. When I get really busy, I go home maybe every other day, or once every three days. Actually, both of us are like that."

Shadow of the Colossus

"And I can't go home because he's not going home," said Kaido, "and I don't think it's right for me to just leave the creators when they're so busy." This drew minor applause from the crowd.

Picking The Right Staff

Fumita Ueda

Interesting, both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus had a development time of four years, with about twenty and thirty-five people on staff, respectively, relatively small for such ambitious projects.

"We tried to increase the number of staff for Shadow when we began the project," said Kaido. "We put out ads on the web and also through the various game media to see if we could get any applicants. And at the time we had 500 applicants, but only ten were up to the level that we thought was satisfying. So we hired ten out of 500, and even out of the ten there was really only one or two that Ueda-san was satisfied with, as far as living up to his standards of quality."

For this reason, he explained, a larger development team wouldn't have necessarily shortened the development cycle. "Of course, if we were able to get better people involved, for example if we had three Ueda-sans, I do believe we could have cut the dev cycle in half."

On the subject of keeping his team motivated for the entire development cycle, Kaido said, "I don't think it's possible to keep anyone motivated for four straight years, so we tried to motivate when it really counted. So we set up goals and motivated when it was needed. For example, we would set up internal presentation and focus groups, and it would increase motivation at that time. So that's pretty much how I worked on motivating the team."

"Actually, when motivation tends to come down is when we're faced with a big challenge," he continued. "For example when Ueda-san says we need to make a big change, the motivation goes down. The problem tends to resolve itself, because the person who's told to make the change, inside they know that once they make that change, things are going to be much better. They just need someone to speak up and let them know and push them a little bit. So even if the motivation goes down, by resolving that issue it ends to go back up."

Prototyping Through Video

Kenji Kaido

"When we decide on a project, what we do is create a pilot movie, sort of like an inspirational video, where we say, well this is the type of game we would like to create, and if the game can be developed the way we want it to, then this is what the end result will be like," said Ueda. "And that's what we use to sell this concept internally."

Ueda animated these pilot videos himself, taking upwards of months of straight labor for each one. "And I didn't create because it was most effective, but because my background is as a CG animator. And because it was so effective, we did the same thing for Shadow."

"And actually when Ueda-san created the pilot video for Ico, he sat there in front of a desktop for four months to create this video. He did it all on a desktop PC. This was in 1997, and even back then I could tell that this was very high quality. I thought, oh, this is different, this is really good stuff. This is something I would love to be involved in. I could tell the type of game he wanted to create from that one video."

At this point the team showed the pilot video for Ico, never previously seen in its entirety in public. The video opened with the game's infamous castle glimmering on a pulled back, external view of the island, stretching far beyond the constraints of the final game. Ico wanders around lost, looks around, and sees female protagonist Yorda sitting on a couch below. At this stage of conception the bearer of the horns is reversed: Ico's a normal looking boy, Yorda has horns in her head, and appears older and less pale. Ico claps to get her attention and runs, like a child. She doesn't notice, and continues relaxing on the couch.

Slowly she looks up, sees him, and despite the situation, isn't startled at all. Suddenly the video cuts to something entirely unlike the solitude of the final game; a montage of a crowded village street, with people going about their day to day lives, much like the beginning of Casablanca. Back in the castle, another early surprise: red armored knights with swords shoot lasers out of their hands at Ico, entirely unlike the shadow creatures of the final game. At one point Ico and Yorda run through fields, and away from mysterious explosions. The video ends with Yorda touching Ico's cheek, tenderly, almost sensuously.

This was followed up with the infamous 'Nico' concept video for Shadow of the Colossus, shown at many a trade show, and featuring a group of three hunters taking down a colossus much in the way that the lone hero would in the final game.

"Actually this movie for 'Nico' is real time on PS2 using computer graphics," said Kaido. "So it was created using the Ico engine four years ago."

"And actually…this is especially true of Shadow, but we really wanted something that was high quality. So when we created this movie we wanted to make something that was to the highest quality we could possibly make it, and use that as a benchmark for the final goal. So when we're creating the game this is what we want it to look like. As you can see it's very similar to what the final product ended up being, and I think that's the uniqueness of our team."


From Horns To Headcrabs

Pushed by a question, Ueda finally revealed the significance of Ico's horns. "Actually, there really wasn't any special meaning to that, it was just that the camera was far away, and it was sometimes hard to tell which character was which."

Speaking about the industry in general, Ueda lamented, "If you look right now the industry, it's full of sequels. Which is fine, I play a lot of sequels, because they're fun, but I don't think we can leave it like that. If that's all there is, I'm afraid the market will start to diminish. We need new games that we can challenge ourselves to."

As far as recent examples of game designs Ueda has enjoyed, he had a few kind words for Valve's Half-Life 2. "It's a such a natural setting, and the puzzles are incorporated in that natural setting, and the players don't get lost. And that's something we put a lot of effort into for Ico, so I understand what went into that."

"Each time I created a game, my objective was to challenge myself and the team to one new technical challenge," said Ueda. "We wanted to attempt something that was technically difficult, but at the same time, it had to be up to a certain quality level before we could churn that out and ship it into the marketplace."

The team have yet to begin their next project, though as Ueda says, "we have some ideas that we're kicking around."

"I'm sure that everyone really would like to see something new from us, and I'm sure that they're actually waiting for us," concluded Kaido," but the fact that the studio is letting us take this time to dwell on what our next steps should be, that's something that we should be very grateful for. It's a great environment, and I'm very appreciative of that."


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