2016 was a great year for long-awaited video games, and of the big three that finally made it to market last year, The Last Guardian was probably the most mysterious. We knew that Doom was developed in fits and starts, and Final Fantasy 15 was the longest-gestating of the three projects — hell, there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to its development.
What’s even more surprising than the fact that all three of those games actually came out is that they’re all great. Years from now, people will still be talking about them. Yet something about Trico’s tale sets it apart.
The team behind The Last Guardian began working on the game in 2007, and Sony announced it in 2009. But between confusing statements from Sony executives, debunked reports of cancellation and a lack of progress updates, nobody outside the company knew what was going on with The Last Guardian for the majority of its development cycle.
“For The Last Guardian, we felt we needed to take a different approach — it was an opportunity to try something that we’ve wanted to make for a long time,” said the team at Future Press in an email interview with Polygon earlier this year. The Hamburg, Germany-based publisher worked on a companion book for the game, The Last Guardian: An Extraordinary Story, which was released last month.
Future Press had only published game guides to this point, but decided that this long-anticipated experience from a beloved game designer required something special.
A lengthy project of its own
An Extraordinary Story was technically in the works for almost as long as The Last Guardian itself. Future Press told Polygon that the publisher reached out to Sony as soon as the company announced the game at E3 2009 to express interest in working on some kind of Last Guardian-related book.
When Sony announced The Last Guardian, the game was scheduled to be released in 2011 on the PlayStation 3. But late in that year, Ueda left the company, and ended up finishing his work on the project as a freelance contractor. The Last Guardian didn’t resurface after its 2009 unveiling until E3 2015 — six years later — when Sony reintroduced the game as a PlayStation 4 title set to arrive in 2016.
All through that long period, Future Press and Sony kept the lines of communication open. Once Sony revived The Last Guardian in 2015, Future Press sent over a proper pitch for the book that would become An Extraordinary Story, and got the green light from Sony and Ueda himself. The book, which was originally scheduled to be released in February 2017 and then April, finally debuted on June 16.
Tales of the game, not its development
Future Press’ concept was for a volume that would be part game guide, part art book, part development chronicle. However, the writers spent less time on the development angle than the other two elements, telling Polygon that they “weren’t particularly interested in why the development process took that long” — even if they understood that people want to know those details.
“While the book does cover many facets of the game’s development, it’s not our aim to go into reasons behind the delays,” Future Press said. “Our goal is to fill the book with as many sketches, anecdotes and insights about the game as we have room for.”
The company also made a fair point: The book is a Sony-sanctioned product, so it was never going to be the kind of journalistic enterprise that you might expect from something like Masters of Doom. Future Press did note that An Extraordinary Story contains some game development insights, like the “fairly unique process” of collaboration between Sony’s Japan Studio and Ueda’s team at GenDesign. But the book focuses primarily on The Last Guardian itself, rather than how it came together and why it took nearly a decade for it to reach the finish line. As disappointing as it is, we’ll have to look elsewhere for that.
As Future Press said, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the game. The Last Guardian tells a heartwarming tale of a boy and his bird-cat-dog, a digital creation that truly feels like a wild animal come to life on your television screen. And the world in which the game takes place is a confounding place whose unfathomable scale and intricate puzzles continually inspire a sense of wonder.
Like the publisher’s previous books, An Extraordinary Story serves as a full guide to The Last Guardian, with information such as where to find those glowing barrels Trico loves so much and how to obtain all the game’s PlayStation Network trophies. But the FAQ element comprises “a small part of the book, and isn’t presented anything like what you’re used to in a game guide,” Future Press said.
Future Press wanted to go beyond the walkthrough format and provide an analysis of The Last Guardian, with the help of its developers. So its writers flew to Tokyo for a few days last November and visited GenDesign’s offices, where they played through the entire game with the company and some members of the Japan Studio team.
The bulk of the book — pages 38-211 — comprises an annotated playthrough of The Last Guardian. But it’s nothing like a GameFAQs guide. The text contains explorations of the deeper meaning behind the game, driven by comments from the development team. Supplemental images such as sketches and concept art offer additional insights into the game and how it was made. Perhaps the most impressive imagery is a set of maps of the game world, showing how all the areas fit together from multiple perspectives, that GenDesign created for the book.
“We think that’s one of the things that makes the book really special,” said Future Press.
- An overhead view of The Last Guardian’s game world. The different colors correspond to the way the game is split into levels in the book’s annotated playthrough. Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- A concept sketch of Trico. Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- A drawing of the Boy and Trico. Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- The section after the annotated playthrough contains the developers’ storyboards for all the cutscenes in the game. Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- One chapter of An Extraordinary Story summarizes Ueda’s previous games — Ico (2001) and Shadow of the Colossus (2005) — and explores their connections to each other and to The Last Guardian. Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- The cover of The Last Guardian: An Extraordinary Story, with the Boy and Trico looking at each other across a gap. Something about their silhouettes seems familiar... Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios
- Aha, there it is! You’ve probably seen this screenshot of The Last Guardian before. GenDesign/SIE Japan Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment
The play sessions at GenDesign spurred the developers to provide commentary and analysis, which Future Press recorded to serve as source material for An Extraordinary Story. The book’s writers also sat down with Ueda for a career-spanning conversation, and the full interview is printed at the end of the book. Future Press’ writing team featured longtime game journalist and indie game advocate Nick Suttner, who wrote a well-regarded analysis of Ueda’s Shadow of the Colossus that Boss Fight Books published in 2015.
In all, said Future Press, the team recorded more than 20 hours’ worth of interviews, and condensed those stories for the 296 pages of The Last Guardian: An Extraordinary Story along with “tons” of images and documentation from the development process. You can see some glimpses of the pages in the gallery above.
“Our goal is to make sure that once you’ve read the book, you’ll want to start the game again and spend more time with Trico in this mysterious, wondrous world.”
The Last Guardian: An Extraordinary Story retails for $39.99, although it is currently unavailable on both Amazon and the PlayStation Gear Store. All content from The Last Guardian: An Extraordinary Story is courtesy of Future Press. Images printed in the book are property of GenDesign/SIE Japan Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment.