Ico and Shadow of the Colossus — two games that almost always get up whenever people discuss whether video games can be both fun to play and truly "art" — are available right now, for free, in HD glory, for PlayStation Plus users. Why do these two games remain so well-loved today, even though Ico is over a decade old and Shadow originally came out in 2005?
"I think it's because I took what I thought I wanted to play, what I thought would be fun, and made it to seriously match that feeling," said Fumito Ueda, head of Team Ico at SCE's Japan Studio, in an interview with Famitsu magazine. "That may sound easy, but it's difficult because there are certain things that you as a creator can't control. I've also been blessed with an environment where I could build games like these. Myself and everyone on the team believe that, instead of making something that gets consumed in a few weeks, we want to have a game really lives on in people's minds. That's why it's still in the limelight now, and that's an honor to me."
Both titles get mentioned frequently as an inspiration by game designers everywhere games are made — including folks from Naughty Dog, whose The Last of Us features a pair of heroes (Joel and Ellie) working together in a structure at least a little reminiscent of Ico's.
"People use the term 'companion characters' to refer to characters like [Ico's] Yorda or Ellie," Ueda commented, "and perhaps Ico was sort of the forerunner in getting people like that into games. Of course, compared to Ico, I feel like people are much more used to creating game stories that handle these companion characters well than we were. With Ico, we had puzzles and such; we couldn't fully do away with the really game-like aspects of it. Ellie plays a game-oriented role in The Last of Us, of course, but in terms of stories and games focused on storytelling, I think they did a really thorough job. It's very modern in that way, or you could say the game design matches well with modern times. We don't want to lose out to them, and we're working on The Last Guardian so it works in similar ways."
And what about The Last Guardian, an ambitious game that's been subject to rumors of cancellation and/or a "hiatus" as recently as this June? "It's under earnest development," Ueda said. "However, SCE Japan Studio, who's working on The Last Guardian, also has titles like Puppeteer and Knack, and those are only the ones currently announced. Those are taking priority right now."
Ueda didn't go into any more detail than that on Guardian's status, which probably means we should all be prepared to wait a while longer. At least Ico and Shadow HD are available for cheap online now. "Compared to other games out now, I think people might see these titles as a little difficult," noted Ueda. "My gut feeling is that once new players try the games out, they won't want to give up on them midway, but still I hope people keep trying and play them both through to the end. Getting to the end on both titles is something that I think will change your impression of the whole package. These aren't games that feel old when you play them, so seeing them get re-evaluated like this is something that makes both myself and the people involved in the projects very happy."