Fumito Ueda Interview
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Submitted by Open Senses on Fri, 10/02/2006 - 12:00

Open Senses talks to Fumito Ueda about ICO and mammals with green hair.

Open Senses talks to Fumito Ueda about ICO and mammals with green hair.

Fumito Ueda
Open Senses: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Fumito Ueda: I was born in Tatsunoshi, Hyogo Prefecture.

OS: What subjects did you enjoy studying?

FU: I particularly enjoyed Art and Japanese.

OS: What kind of things interested you as a child?

FU: I was obsessed with catching living things, such as fish or birds. Other than that, I liked both watching and making animation. Basically, I seemed to be interested in things that moved.

OS: Did you always want to pursue a career in the videogames industry?

FU: Only since 1995.

OS: When did you first begin working at Sony and which projects have you been involved with?

FU: The first work I did for Sony was on ICO. I joined SCE because I wanted to make that game specifically.

Video - Lemmings
OS: What other videogames and game makers do you respect/like and why?

FU: Lemmings impressed me, as I sensed life on the TV screen for the first time in my life.

OS: If you weren't creating videogames for a living, what job do you think you would have?

FU:I don't know. If I made [a successful career] but if I was not in the game industry, I would want to become an artist.

OS: Would you deem games as an art form? If so, why?

FU: Yes: I regard not only games but also anything which expresses something and is appreciated, be it films, novels, or comic books (manga), as forms of art.

OS: If you had the chance to make another type of game, what would it be about?

FU: I would make a 2D game, with a controller especially made for the game.

OS: When did you first begin working on ICO?

FU: In 1997. When we started working on it, it was being developed as a PSone game.

OS: Where did inspiration for the game come from?

FU: It is difficult to specify as there were so many things that gave me inspiration. It could be TV commercials, films, music or places where I used to play as a child.

OS: ICO's castle architecture and the surrounding countryside were beautifully artistic from start to finish. Was it difficult to maintain such a high level of quality throughout the entire game?

FU: It was not an easy process, but it was fun. It was not all that complicated, though; I think it was the strong lighting and the fogs that were most effective.

OS: One thing that real stands out about the game is the glorious sunlight that caresses the environments in a glowing haze. How did you achieve such wonderful visual effects?

FU: In the early stages of development, we manufactured several trial ICO video games and the CG pictures that visualised the ideas. Both had fine weather, but I had some doubt about the way sky was visualised. In many of the trial games and the CG pictures I saw, the sky could look cloudy because the light was too weak. At the same time, I thought that the pictures that were painted by the impressionists would be more suitable for the low pixel screen that the game provides than the super realistic, photo-like vision. So, I decided to achieve the fine sky that could be blinding, although I was aware that this could be uncomfortable for the players if not done correctly, making it difficult to see the screen well.

Video - Ico
OS: Unlike most games these days, there was very little in the way of storyline or plot development. Was it difficult to convince your bosses that the game wouldn’t need them?

FU: When we began to work on ICO, we made sure to gather staff who did not have fixed ideas about video games, so I think we had consensus within the team. As for the company, we worked on ICO in secret so it was fine [smiles].

OS: How do you feel about the way ICO was received by gamers?

FU: To be honest, I was very surprised at the response I got on ICO. In many ways, the game was a challenging project and in the depth of my heart, I was worried as I was not sure whether some aspects of the game could be accepted.

OS: Have you had any feedback? Were there any common elements of the game that people particularly liked or disliked?

FU: The game was highly appreciated in terms of its atmosphere and game design, not to mention its visual expression. It seems that there are mixed opinions about whether the game is substantial enough or not, though.

OS: What influence, if any, has art, literature and/or music helped you to develop ideas and concepts for ICO?

FU: I am sure that I got some inspiration from somewhere whenever I got stuck, but I tried hard throughout the process of making ICO to ensure that the game would not resemble anything else available.

Video - Ico
OS: What do you most want players to take away after the experience of playing ICO?

FU: The presence and substance of the world that the game shows (ICO, Yorda and the space which surrounds them). That is everything.

OS: ICO seems to be focused on the protection of life, rather than its destruction. Was this approach to design perhaps a reaction to the industry's growing obsession with violence?

FU: The game is not about antithesis. I play various types of games myself, and I think that the desire for destruction is also human instinct. At the same time, it is in our instinct to protect something or someone, as ICO does in the game. I don't think one instinct is good and the other is bad.

OS: Have you been surprised by the reaction within the videogame industry to ICO? Many seem to be holding ICO up in recent times as the ideal example of how best to create and fulfil a refreshing game concept.

FU: I was very surprised at the response from the game industry, and it is encouraging both for myself and the members of staff that the game was received so favourably.

OS: Accessibility seems to be a core concept in ICO. Was the game always intentionally designed to be minimal in approach?

FU: Sure. There were people around me who did not play games. I very much wanted them and other people to play the game.

OS: The characterisation in ICO appears to be expressed through the animation, AI and character interaction. In contrast, the game doesn't have many cut-scenes. Did you intentionally set out to tell the story through the gameplay instead of through more traditional forms of narrative?

FU: Of course I intended it that way, but in all honesty if you pursue reality within the current specification of hardware and software, this is as far as it can get.

OS: ICO doesn't explain a lot about its world, characters or back-story. Is this because you want players to think for themselves about these things instead?

FU: Yes. Personally, I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language. ICO is a game which intentionally tries to achieve this effect.

OS: Is the design of the castle's environment in ICO specifically used to exaggerate a sense of scale? For example, the little boy and girl seems so small and helpless in comparison to the tall, lifeless structure they’re trapped in...

FU: Yes, sure. A helpless existence such as ICO’s can change the world a little bit, but not a lot as in saving the world or large numbers of people. That is what I wanted to show.

OS: What are the most important aspects of ICO for you? Were there any specific themes or ideas you wished to convey to the player?

FU: Specifically, I wanted to convey a sense of reality in the fictitious world.

OS: ICO encourages friendship and co-operation in the face of adversity. Is this why the puzzles often require the use of both ICO and Yorda? To emphasis this aspect?

FU: I did not regard the element of co-operation so highly. However, it could not be dismissed in terms of game design. I tend to think that ICO’s innocent feeling is stronger.

OS: In the past you’ve said ICO is based on lo-fi design sensibilities. Do you think this is why the game has attracted such a cult following? The fact it favours an alternative approach compared to the more explosive blockbusters out there?

FU: In order to appeal to wider range of people I included various factors. One of which was the lo-fi aesthetic.

OS: Do you think because ICO is set in a fantastical abstract world, that the game encourages an escape from reality rather than an emulation of it?

FU: All entertainment inherits the aspect of escapism. However, I think that good entertainment is the one which can bring the viewers or the players back to reality in the positive mood.

OS: Although the Queen in ICO wants to use Yorda as a spiritual vessel, she doesn’t seem to want to hurt or harm ICO. He just happens to be in the way of her plans. Is this ambiguous character design intentional? Or would you say ICO is strictly a tale of good VS evil?

FU: It is not about good vs. evil. ICO has his own reasoning and the Queen has her own belief. I wanted to leave the decision as to whether what ICO did was right or wrong to the player.

OS: When Yorda is captured and ICO falls from the castle bridge near the end of the game, he wakes up in a ravaging storm. Was this change in weather condition used to highlight the boy's emotional concern for Yorda?

FU: Yes. There was that, too, but it was also that in the world which changes seamlessly, it was the only moment when the weather could change.

Video - Ico
OS: ICO isn't a very long game, but it is very memorable. Would you say smaller games with stronger content is better for development than creating longer games which are padded out?

FU: Yes. When you confront a game which takes 100 hours to clear, your fighting spirits would falter. If a game has a scenario the best thing for a game is neither long nor short. When we began to work on ICO, we were thinking about 5-6 hours play time.

OS: Why did you decide not to use music for the majority of ICO? Was this so the castle's presence could be made stronger in the mind of the player?

FU: Yes. This, too, resulted from pursuing reality.

OS: Was the separation of ICO and Yorda through their different languages used to help cement and imply how strong their friendship becomes? As their lack of verbal understanding does seem to pale in contrast to their physical understanding of each other's abilities.

FU: If conversation were possible, the player would wish to control Yorda via conversation. I thought that retreating (taking one’s hand) would be meaningful since conversation was impossible.