Now that all the E3 2015 press conferences are finally over, I’ve been able to take a much-needed step back and reflect on the games that have really stood out. And The Last Guardian stands out in way that few others did.
While we had explosive blockbuster displays and epic reveals from the like of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Fallout 4, Halo 5, Doom and many more, nothing really formed an emotional bond as much as the reappearance (demo video below) of The Last Guardian. But why?
Here’s a game that was first revealed at E3 in 2009 (development actually started in 2007) and has rarely been seen since. Coming from Gen Design, a studio made up of staff from the now apparently defunct Team Ico and the minds behind PlayStation 2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, fan attachment was immediate and has loyally stuck throughout the extensive hiatus. Over the years, the game entered development hell and continued to miss E3 presentations, despite fans crossing their fingers and toes for so many years.
We’ve heard admissions that the developers flat out struggled to get the game working at times on PS3, creating increasing speculation from the fans and the press. Were they asking too much for the PS3 at the time? Did they never get to grips with the console’s complicated architecture? What do you mean you can’t get it to work? Just how complicated is this game?
And it’s that last question that makes me think that there are some ambitious sides to The Last Guardian that we haven’t seen yet. Perhaps something genuinely innovative. It’s an exciting prospect that is of course a double-edged sword, especially wielded by the swine of the gaming industry – hype.
This week’s fresh E3 demo showed us plenty to enjoy though. Graphically, the detail of the world was enchanting as minute detail of stonework could be made out, even on blurry live feeds. The creature itself, let’s stick with his original name, Trico, looks fantastic, especially with those rustling feathers. If you’re thinking it looks nice, but not that much better than the earlier PS3 version, bear in mind whatever we saw back then was recently confirmed as running in a ‘specced up’ state [Kotaku], rather than a vertical slice of a whole product.
There’s clearly a desire for players to form a bond with the AI-controlled (I’m only presuming it’s AI-controlled) Trico and Gen Design have done an exceptional job of nailing some familiar traits to make that connection so effortless. I’m of course talking about the similarities any cat or dog owner will notice.
Trico purrs and affectionately rubs his (hers?) face against the boy just like a cat does to either scratch an itch, encourage stroking or mark him with his scent (AKA s’mining or gumming) to take ownership of him. We’ll assume he’ll also be painfully indifferent at some point in the game, but we’re really hoping TLG won’t show him rocking back and lick-cleaning his stinker.
Dog-like traits are plain to see too. If you’ve ever briefly tied your dog up outside a shop, you’ll recognise the low moaning whimper as you walk away like you’re never coming back. Compare that to the distraught Trico after he leaps across that enormous gap and becomes agitated when he realises the boy is still on the other side.
The similar pet traits occur again when Trico spots the creepy eye windmill as he hisses at it and staggers backwards in a strange mix of fear and anger. I’m guessing there’s something deeper going on here as Trico tries to get past it, but is halted in his tracks and forced to back away again. There may be some sort of magical properties to it, possibly put there by someone that really doesn’t want Trico to get past.
It’s so easy to start diving into thoughts about Trico here too. Sure he looks adorable, but maybe there’s a reason people are trying to stop him. He’s clearly a pup, maybe he’s playful now, but will grow into a more dangerous force. It’s those red eyes when he spots the eye totem that planted a seed of suspicion and fear in my mind. Red eyes are never a good sign in fantasy lore and Trico seemed to be reverting back towards some form of primal hostility towards this totem. Speculation that he could be one of the unseen Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a huge stretch either as there’s a loose understanding that SOTC and Ico are set in the same world.
I’m intrigued about the possible concept that Trico will grow throughout the game, especially if it actually takes place over a number of years. Could we even be there from his hatching (we’re going with eggs) and witness numerous transformations? Those wings clearly have a ways to go before becoming anything useful. This lifelong journey is already somewhat troubling as a lot of talk around the office here at Dealspwn seems to think the devs will kill off Trico by the finale to pull at our heartstrings, so much so I think Jon’s trying to kill it (stop, saying it’s going to die, Jon!).
Connecting with AI characters is especially effective when there’s a mutual sense of relying on each other. Throughout the demo, we see Trico catch the boy, with the second catch being particularly effective as it looked like whoever was playing the demo (we later learned it wasn’t live) maybe fluffed the jump and was falling to their doom, before Trico’s tail swooped down to catch the player. And even though Trico’s platform is crumbling away underneath him, he’s frantically trying to see if the boy is safely clinging onto his tail before leaping to safety for himself. There’s clearly that bond of not wanting to leave him behind.
This sort of reliance on an AI character reminds me of one of my favourite last-gen titles, 2008’s Prince of Persia, as I find myself drawing parallels with Trico and Elika, who magically plucked the Prince out of the abyss whenever he messed up a jump and is one of the only examples of an AI character that never gets in the way (even when doubling back-across a beam) and was designed as a core pillar of the game rather than a token inclusion for the story. Could Trico be the evolution of that idea on a significantly larger scale?
The game cleverly taps into that childhood fantasy of having your own pet dinosaur/dragon/griffin/Falcore/Transformer too and it’s certainly prime gaming material. Sure we’ve had large creatures to boss about in games before. But nothing on Trico’s scale, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and Papo & Yo spring to mind with smaller giants.
As far as the game’s structure goes, we’re still largely in the dark, but this year’s stage demo gives us some hints at least. Trico’s massive, and more than a little clumsy at this stage of the game and as such leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, meaning it’s unlikely you’ll be doing much backtracking, especially over areas like the demo ones with lots of death-drops beneath the surrounding mists.
It looks like Trico needs help too, as we see the player push away the aforementioned eye totem and even help Trico find something to grab onto as he struggles for purchase after leaping from the crumbling platforms. Also, I’m hoping scenes are a little bit more believable in the final game, as that round pillar of wood wasn’t attached to anything and should have just rolled off the edge rather than provide a sturdy climbing point for something as large as Trico. I’ll concede I could be nitpicking there.
When you’ve waited this long for a game, it’s easy to be dismissive of the newly announced 2016 window, but when we’ve waited this long, wouldn’t you prefer it realise its potential? Sony has proved The Last Guardian is alive and well, which for me is more than I was expecting given the extended absence. Naturally, I hope they won’t take so long to at least show us more of the game in action. Now, if someone could just do something about Beyond Good & Evil 2.