The return of The Last Guardian served as a crowd-pleasing kickoff to Sony's E3 2015 press briefing Monday night. It was a memorable moment for all involved, especially the man who followed up the reveal on stage.
"I couldn't believe I was there," said Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, in an interview with Polygon at E3.
Yoshida had been waiting backstage with The Last Guardian creative director Fumito Ueda — "we hid Ueda-san before the show," Yoshida explained, to keep the announcement secret until the big moment — and came out to raucous cheers from the crowd after the trailer.
"I was super excited. And that presentation was one of the easiest, I think, because I only needed to just be myself and express my feelings. So yeah, I was super happy."
The Last Guardian traversed a long, long road to get to that triumphant point, according to Yoshida. Development began under Ueda back in 2007, the year after the PlayStation 3 launched.
Yoshida explained that the team poured years of effort into getting the game working on the console. But development proceeded at a slow enough pace that by early 2012, with the PlayStation 4 looming — and with The Last Guardian looking like it would never reach a satisfactory level of performance — Sony decided to bring the project to its then-upcoming console "so that we can totally realize Ueda-san's vision and we can make the best Last Guardian as it was envisioned," said Yoshida.
"I couldn't believe I was there"
The Last Guardian made little progress over its five years of development on PS3, and the game won't see the light of day on that console. "That would be hellish work," said Yoshida. But he told Polygon that the delay wasn't for a lack of effort on Sony's part.
"We had deployed lots of our central tech teams, and different studios' tech directors [were] looking at the code," he said. "Like, [the] whole [of] Worldwide Studios was helping."
Initial development on PS4 moved slowly, too.
"It took a long time after we decided to move it to PS4 for the game to become really playable," said Yoshida, noting that the team had to "recreate anew the fundamentals of the game engine" because the PS3 version had been closely customized for that console's hardware. Ueda and The Last Guardian's creative team sat on the sidelines during that process, since they couldn't do much until a PS4 build was up and running.
The game engine is now complete on PS4, said Yoshida, and development is proceeding apace. Yoshida also confirmed that Mark Cerny, the lead architect of the PS4, is working on The Last Guardian, although he said reports that Cerny had been brought in to finish the game were "totally wrong." Cerny, whom Yoshida called a "genius tech guy," is currently assisting a number of Sony's first-party studios, including The Last Guardian developer Team Ico.
"Now we have a renewed pressure on ourselves to deliver"
Asked if The Last Guardian is the project that's been hanging over his head the longest, Yoshida affirmed that was the case "by far." But he said that after years of "really, really difficult technical challenges," the game is now "totally built" on PS4 and is on track for release next year.
Resurfacing The Last Guardian to begin Sony's E3 event? That was the easy part. Now the hard work resumes.
"Now we have a renewed pressure on ourselves to deliver, because we have announced the new window, and people [will] make fun of us if we miss it," said Yoshida. "Some people say that the game won't come out in 2016 — point-blank in my face — and I'm like, 'We'll try.' And actually, we have a really good feeling about the progress of the title."