Development of The Last Guardian began in 2007. When it is released in 2016, it will have been in some form of production for nearly a decade.
A lot has changed since Fumito Ueda, then creative director of Japan Studio, began work on the title. The project is now a collaborative effort between Japan Studio, which created Ico and Shadow of Colossus, and gen DESIGN, a new stand-alone studio led by Ueda and other key developers who left Japan Studio during the latest game's production.
A lot has changed since the game's announcement
The Last Guardian's plot is still as we remember it: a young boy who has been kidnapped under mysterious circumstances encounters a beast named Trico in ancient ruins. Their objective is to escape the environment they've found themselves in.
The demo shown behind closed doors at E3 2015 was a slightly longer version of the 7-minute demo presented at Sony's press event. I've included it in this post, but for those who prefer text, here's the gist.
At the beginning of the demonstration, the boy finds Trico resting in a garden, soaking in sunlight and surrounded by butterflies. In Trico's back are wooden spikes, which the boy removes, causing Trico to yelp. The boy feeds Trico barrels, and a black dust appears around Trico's feet. It's probably dirt, but the substance resembles the black dust that surrounded enemies in Ico and burst from monsters in Shadow of the Colossus.
Like Shadow of the Colossus, the boy can climb the large beast's back, though here that ability is used to solve puzzles. The game lacks traditional dialogue, but the variety of animations add character. The boy stumbles as he runs across uneven ruins, and lifts his knees high as he hustles down stairways. He has an almost mime-like nature, performing his actions broadly. He sneaks with the subtlety of Elmer Fudd.
Animation is the soul of The Last Guardian
The Last Guardian looks just as I remember it, as if we're seeing a tweaked, extended version of the same basic demonstration. In an interview with Kotaku, Sony Worldwide Studio head Shuhei Yoshida said the 2009 presentation was "specced up" and "the game was running at a much lower frame rate." And that's what the game resembles now: a specced up PS3 game, along the lines of the remastered version of The Last of Us.
The Last Guardian just feels like a game from a different time, and maybe that's for the better. The majority of games at E3 this year are loud and bombastic, full of explosions and action. The Last Guardian feels slower and more deliberate. The characters muscle their way through the world like they've been through hell, and you wonder how much they reflect their creators' experience of finishing what they started.