E3 2015: The Last Guardian – worth the wait

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There are few games that are as synonymous with “development hell” as The Last Guardian. The reveal from Sony that the game was not only no longer in development hell, but actually in a playable form was a total surprise, one met with tears of joy by many people watching Sony’s press briefing. I got to see a live gameplay demo with running commentary by game director Fumito Ueda.

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While they aren’t telling much of the story at this point (presumably that will be revealed in more detail at Gamescom or Tokyo Games Show) we do know that a young boy was kidnapped and transported to a strange new world. There he discovers Trico and they begin to form a kind of bond or friendship. It is a linear storyline.

Trico is based on animals that people might have as pets, so birds, cats and dogs primarily. He is meant to be sweet and cute like a pet, but also wild and unpredictable in some ways. Ueda compared it to when you have a dog who does cool tricks, but when you invite friends over to see, he refuses to do the trick. It’s an adorable concept and explains why Trico isn’t the easiest companion to have on this journey, but still an incredible companion with which to forge a connection.

That bond isn’t formed through words, though. The gameplay demo opened with the boy helping Trico by removing some spear-like protrusions from his back and leg, followed by throwing him some snacks. It’s a way for the two to develop a friendship without the use of language.

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The two characters are obviously very different. The boy is small and nimble, able to manoeuvre in tight spaces as well as climb Trico. Trico is much larger and stronger, but obviously he isn’t so easily controlled or even communicated with – in the demo it became clear that just because the boy gestured for Trico to jump across a divide or move forward didn’t necessarily mean that he’d do it, much like it is when gesturing for a cat to come jump into your lap.

While the demo itself was mainly made up of the gameplay shown in the Sony briefing, it was interesting to hear that key moments, like when the boy is caught with Trico’s tail, aren’t cut scenes. Even during their behind closed doors sessions, they missed catching that landing a few times.

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In order for the boy to communicate with Trico, he needs to use gestures and movements to indicate running, jumping or other actions. While Trico might not always respond as intended (or even come when called), he does respond with cocked head, odd noises and coos or other interactions. It adds to his cuteness, much like when a pet simply looks at you in a certain way instead of following your actual commands. When Trico does do what the boy (and player) wants, it ends up feeling that much more interesting because it wasn’t such a sure thing.

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The world of The Last Guardian includes a ton of verticality. Ueda explained that this is a feature of all his games. Part of it is the aesthetic, but it’s more than that – having so much scale makes the character and the player feel much smaller and more vulnerable. I found it intriguing that indoors where the boy fits more easily, Trico feels cumbersome and a bit claustrophobic while outside the boy feels exposed and vulnerable while Trico feels powerful. It’s an interesting nuance to the game and I am really excited to see even more gameplay and the game’s progression. There is still so much that we don’t know about the game, but what we have seen is truly gorgeous.

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During the Q&A, I asked Ueda how the anticipation for the game has impacted on development. His words were humble and reassuring; the hype and excitement especially following the reveal of the game has spurred them on to keep working on the title even harder. They are committed to getting the game done for a 2016 launch date. Even if they don’t quite make that window, just seeing real gameplay on a PS4 dev kit inspired so much hope – the game is really coming.

Last Updated: June 18, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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