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Q&A: Parsing Fumito Ueda's Creativity

Q&A: Parsing Fumito Ueda's Creativity Exclusive

October 8, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

October 8, 2009 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

What makes the director of Shadow of the Colossus tick? Drawing Fumito Ueda out on the subject isn't precisely easy -- on inspiration, he says, "I've gotten this question many times, but I actually don't intentionally think about inspiration."

The Sony-based creator is known for his careful approach to gaming, as seen in his trilogy of titles - ICO and Shadow Of The Colossus for the PlayStation 3 and the upcoming, much-awaited The Last Guardian for PlayStation 3.

As referenced, there's obviously a very deliberate method to Ueda's style of game design. And with that in mind, Gamasutra spoke in depth to him at Tokyo Game Show to try and get a handle on that process, in a rare interview:

All the games you've worked on are centered on a really important relationship, like with Ico and Yorda, or with the boy and the creature in The Last Guardian. What do strong relationships mean to you in your games?

Fumito Ueda: Well, there's a significant relationship between the main character controlled by the player, and then the AI character -- Yorda for Ico, the Colossi, and also the horse in Shadow of the Colossus, and in Last Guardian it's the beast -- but I don't have an intentional plan or some big concept, or anything like this.

But I think, maybe, I'm thinking that there's something that can be said about relationships, between the AI and the player, that can only function in the computer entertainment world.

A lot of games try to tell a story in a way that's very typical to other media, like film, whereas the interactive nature of the game allows you to build an emotional relationship with the character without telling it in a linear narrative...

FU: You're exactly right -- I exactly agree with you. I think that I tried to sort out within myself what exactly can be done only through video games. I think one way to use the computer is to use it like dice in The Game of Life, or something like that.

But I don't think that's the most effective way to use the computer; I think it's having AI, or having characters that have some sort of personality to them. I think that's the way to use computers.

Many of your games have a really young protagonist, too. Children are vulnerable, not quite so strong, whereas most game characters are strong people. What interests you about creating these vulnerable characters to play?

FU: It's not that I particularly like younger characters, or something like this, but I think it's really trying to figure out a cohesion with the game design, and what would be the most persuasive form of expression. And having a younger age was the answer that I reached.

What are you trying to get across, then? What kind of emotions are you trying to evoke in your games?

FU: Of course it's different for each title, but something that they have in common would be that to really illustrate or communicate that the world that you see is real. That it's a really existing world, and to actually have this reality to the world that's in the screen.

A lot of works that have really well-developed worlds have a lot of background data, and the background data never makes it directly into the product, but the creators know about it. Is that part of your process?

FU: It's not that we don't do it at all -- create this background setting -- but I think that perhaps compared to other teams, we don't do it as much. So I think maybe you're referring to background setting situations.

But really, compared to the amount of data information of the setting, we actually have more information about the actual details contained in the particular scene, or particular screen shot; in order to create this actuality, reality, tangibility to the screen. So, less background setting, more detail in the actual image.

So it's more about creating a world that has architectural believability, and the details that make sense, rather than saying that you know the history of the country, or something like that.

FU: That's exactly correct. I think somebody said that "God is in the details," and that's really what I'm looking at.

Where do you draw the visual inspiration that's the foundation of that -- the details that make the game believable?

FU: I've gotten this question many times, but I actually don't intentionally think about inspiration. Meaning that I don't really value or cherish it, inspiration, and specific sources of inspiration; rather, the reason why it looks the way it does is because of game design, and the necessity of game design -- the constraints of level design.

So, what comes first, then? Is it something like building a level, testing it, seeing how it plays, and then saying, "Okay, now I see how this is, and I see what it is, formally..."

FU: It's what you said. Actually building it, and seeing how it looks -- and then also looking at if it's a place that players would easily get lost in, and place some kind of landmark, or some kind of guide post, or something. If it's a dark setting, then open some windows. And also, then, to make it visually, aesthetically enjoyable, and pleasing.

It's easy for me to speak about Ico, and the castle; some of the areas in it were like set pieces. Do you think "Oh! I can do a gameplay design that will work in this environment!" and this is how you do it, or do you think, "Oh! This is a logical room, and what can I build out of that?"

FU: Actually, that is true, that sometimes we do have a visual image first, and then go into the level design -- I mean, what you described. But actually, for Ico, all the stages were made as individual, separate spaces, and then they were compressed together, and somehow made so that they had some compatibility, cohesiveness.

The PS3 will soon have motion control -- and it made me think about the closeness of interaction in your games, particularly between the characters, and I was wondering, does motion control appeal to you? In the way of bridging the gap of distance between the characters?

FU: I do have an interest in motion control -- just the technology itself -- but I don't think that perhaps it is most compatible for the themes that I'm looking for now. So, the motion control is a new, involved form of input to the game, but I actually have a stronger interest in what enhancements can be made to the output, so...

Does the power of the Cell processor allow you to have more complex AI, and more complex behavior from the beast character?

FU: Actually I don't really feel the enhancement of the PS3 through the AI, because we don't really use such complex AI. Actually I feel more the enhancement in the information density; how much information can be put onto the screen, in terms of the details, and how much more we can have.

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