In development since 2007, it’s now or never for Team Ico’s troubled game
Last March, Sony’s Scott Rohde said that he was pleased that consumers are still interested in The Last Guardian. However, some of IGN’s pundits thought otherwise, doubting the game’s quality and even drawing comparisons to the troubled Duke Nukem Forever.
The comparison is obvious. Duke Nukem had a lengthy, tumultuous development, constantly challenging its status as vapourware. There is a fine line between delaying a game to make it better and desperately clinging to a project that should be, in all honesty, scrapped. However, when looking at the development history for both Duke Nukem Forever and The Last Guardian, perhaps the latter is not as doomed as some might think.
According to Shigeru Miyamoto, “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad;” however, Duke Nukem Forever is proof of the opposite. Under Scott Miller, Duke suffered 10 years of fruitless development thanks to a change in engine and other technical issues. While the team attempted to spark interest with a teaser trailer in 2007, Duke would suffer more delays until the life support was unplugged. Once 3D Realms finally shut down, Randy Pitchford of Gearbox took over the game’s development out of respect to the Duke. While Pitchford is admirably loyal, the critics were not so kind.
The Last Guardian hasn’t quite reached the decade-long development milestone, but it has still had its fair share of drama. A delay to polish some issues is usually nothing to worry about, but the departure of key players in a game’s development is something a lot more serious. Executive Producer Yoshifusa Hayama, Product Manager Kenji Kaido and Creative Director Fumito Ueda have all quit before The Last Guardian could be completed.
Fortunately, Ueda is still on board as a contractor, which means that the original version will hopefully come through unscathed. Nevertheless, Ueda has apologized and explained that the game is not close to being released, and that they wouldn’t dare release a sub-par product.
“Maintaining motivation is all about producing something great,” Ueda told Edge late last year. “A hobby or alcohol might help to refresh you temporarily, but they won’t motivate creativity. Also, the original staff members on Ico and SOTC are just as fussy over details as I am.”
While it seems to have its issues, Sony’s Yoshida has explained that the game is making progress despite rumours that it had been delayed indefinitely. He cited that Ueda’s creative vision poses a challenge to developers to often engage in “scrapping and rebuilding.” While it sounds a lot like Duke Nukem Forever’s development, it also sounds like a product from a team far more passionate about their work.
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were both very unique, and Ueda has said that The Last Guardian would feature elements from his prior work. It features a protagonist who is dependent on a beast, Trico, for protection. Sometimes he’ll need to distract enemies long enough for the beast to save him in time. In other instances the two may switch roles. Even with the combination of his previous games, Ueda is trying to create something different. It will most likely be compared to current action/adventure and puzzle games, as critics compared Duke Nukem Forever to multiple generations of critically acclaimed FPS games like Halo or Call of Duty. However, as long as Ueda tries to create a unique experience like he has done so in the past, then perhaps it won’t suffer a fatal critical wound as Duke Nukem Forever. Despite waiting so long for The Last Guardian, we can rest easy knowing that the end product won’t be as stagnant as an FPS in a crowded market.
In 2013, Ueda explained that SCE Japan Studio was also working on titles like Puppeteer and Knack, and many others that haven’t been announced, which took priority. Now those games have released it is time to double down on development on The Last Guardian and reward the fans who have stayed loyal until the end.
After fresh affirmation that The Last Guardian exists, we can hope that it will appear at this year’s E3. At this point, perhaps it will be impossible to live up to fans’ expectations, but, assuming that Ueda continues to serve as the game’s creative director and it arrives before the 10-year mark, The Last Guardian could still be a decent, compelling experience similar to Team Ico’s beloved classics. If it goes yet another year without a single snippet of gameplay, however, people will just give up on it.
Images; Sony Computer Entertainment, Gamersyde