Graphic Designers Discuss Creating Shadow Of The Colossus’ Majestic World

By Aria . May 2, 2012 . 5:30pm


What do the graphic designers have to say about creating the Colossi and ancient lands that drew players into the world of the game? The staff discussed this in an extended interview found in the Shadow of the Colossus official guidebook, which has been translated below.


Creating, Testing, and Tuning the Models: A Cycle of Repetition



Design Sketches from Shadow of the Colossus

Were the characters that appear at the beginning of Shadow of the Colossus the first to be created?


Ueda: The human characters were the first to take shape, but the Colossi were the first to be completed. I was always the one responsible for the human characters, but I asked the staff to handle turning the Colossi into 3D models.

Niwa: We’d get ideas from Ueda and expand on them ourselves. Questions would arise about what kind of arena would be necessary based on what form a Colossus would take, so the character design team and the field design team began working together.

Suzuki: We didn’t have any particular design in mind at first, the game sort of came to be the way it is today through our fumbling efforts…

Ueda: The design of the Colossi is closely related to how you go about defeating them. That meant that even we were successful in designing them, we wouldn’t know whether they’d work in-game or not before actually modeling and testing them out.

Niwa: When things didn’t go well during testing, the Colossus’ design would be changed and we’d end up having to alter the arena as well. That meant there were frequent exchanges with the field design team. A really small error on our part would sometimes create huge problems elsewhere.



In what order did you design things?


Suzuki: We’d start by drawing up a simple document that detailed the shape of the Colossus and where fur would be growing on its body that the player could use to climb up. We also wrote down how the battle would flow and information about the Colossus’ arena. There was never any rule that said we could only use a particular design. All Ueda told us was the size of the Colossus and the pixel resolution of the screen, so as long as we kept those limits in mind, we were free to do as we pleased.

Niwa: Looking at designs from early in development, there’s one Colossus that’s just a giant bird. The balance between living creatures and inorganic ones is something that we were gradually able to achieve over the course of the game’s development.

Suzuki: When we first started making the game, we didn’t know how far we could take things. We had specifications for Colossi that threw things and Colossi you’d climb after lassoing them with a rope. We’d make bits and pieces, then problems would arise and we’d give up on trying to implement them. We were still trying to fit things in right up until just before the game’s completion.

Ueda: We steadily applied different ideas in order to increase the players’ sense of scale and the pixel resolution of the screen. If the players don’t get an idea of these things, it’s impossible to achieve consistency. The simpler the grip points are, the less problems occur, but the resolution and sense of scale disappear when you look at the game as though it were a painting. It’s difficult to find a balance.

Suzuki: Consequently, we wouldn’t know if something worked until we tried it. This lead to a repeating cycle of creating something, testing it, tuning it, and testing it out once more. Also, players had to be able to defeat a Colossus by using the method we’d decided on. There were times when someone would find another way to defeat it. On other occasions, there would be places you shouldn’t have been able to get to but were able to reach through the movements of a Colossus. We went to a lot of trouble trying to make sure that players wouldn’t be able to reach anywhere they weren’t supposed to be.




What sort of smaller objects did you create?


Niwa: I modeled things like bows, bow guns, and small animals like birds and fruit, in addition to all the times you get in Time Attack mode. I did the smaller animals according to Ueda’s specifications. I wanted to make a cow, though…

Ueda: Even if you had, there’s no way I would’ve put it in. [laugh]

All: [laugh]

Niwa: The forest once had a lot of birds in it, but they were all cut due to memory limitations, unfortunately.


Expressing the Enormity of the Ancient Lands




Players get a sense of the atmosphere of the game world, but what was it actually like to create?


Hasegawa: I don’t think the modeling process itself differed much from other games, but, in my opinion, we were able to project the atmosphere of Shadow of the Colossus by adding fog and coupling it with a natural landscape that wasn’t particularly wild or untamed. Because the game draws even far-off scenery, we were able to project a comprehensively unique atmosphere.

How were the Ancient Lands created?


Hasegawa: We started out by creating the Colossi’s arenas, then figuring out where in the expansive field they would be placed. There were times when the width of the field was decided by how the arenas would connect. Since we started out with 24 Colossi, it was pretty huge. The number of Colossi was ultimately reduced to 16, however, and the field was reduced a bit to its present form.


It’s still quite large, regardless. It’s incredible how seamless the transition from place to place is, no matter where you go.


Hasegawa: It took a lot of time before it became the way it is today. At first there were no distant-perspective models, and even after we made them you weren’t able to see them unless you got within a few hundred meters. It wasn’t until comparatively late in development that we put in the furthest distant-perspective models. It wasn’t until all the little adjustments started adding up that we began getting feedback about how our system was able to display even vast expanses.


How did you organize the scenery?


Hasegawa: Elaborate polygon models are used within the immediate vicinity of the player. The further away from the player a model is, the less polygons it has. The furthest away models with the fewest polygons mostly include cliffs and the surface of the earth. Even those models’ polygons aren’t drawn completely, they disappear at a certain distance. However, we tried to make it so that areas that command an excellent view are expressed in more detail, while areas that are hard on memory aren’t expressed so elaborately. In addition, usually games have clear barriers to indicate where players aren’t able to go, but we tried not to do that. We wanted to make it so that players can reach anywhere it looks like they’ll be able to get to.



The way light is expressed is also impressive.


Ueda: The world in the game actually does have night as well as day. I’d wanted to have time and weather variations ever since making Ico, but it’s another thing that was cut due to memory issues.

Hasegawa: However, because the direction of the sunlight depends on factors such as the time of day and the weather, we tried to have a sense of overall unity. Strictly speaking, however, it sometimes differs by area, to a certain extent. Most of the time, when I’d submit things for Ueda to check over, he’d tell me “Make it whiter! Increase the brightness and the saturation of the textures!” [laugh} I’d wonder if it wouldn’t be too much, but I went along with what he said. Now, when you reach a place where the sun is shining, you get a sense of dazzling radiance, so in the end it worked out well.




What did you struggle with, Kajita?


Kajita: Only that the amount of work was overwhelming! [laugh] In the latter half of development, it was common for the game’s appearance to change every other day.

Kaido: We had a map that divided up the areas people were in charge with using a colour code, so it felt like you were looking at a simulation game. [laugh] The Kajita Empire occupied the southern territories, for example. It was afterwards that I appreciated just how much he had done. [laugh]

Hasegawa: The data was all compiled in one place, meaning that anybody could mess around with anything. Everyone had basic responsibilities, but Kajita would go all out, fixing up all the textures. [laugh]

Kajita: Ueda’s creations stimulated me. I’d think to myself, “Alright, I have to make something better than this!” and my motivation would increase.




When you were creating the field, were you influenced by any particular region or country?


Hasegawa: Not me, personally. In order to get a realistic sense of scale, though, I used the buildings I saw biking to work each day as a reference.

Kajita: Ueda would suggest something to us and we’d rack our brains for the rest… At first, we didn’t know what Ueda had in mind, but once the middle of development rolled around, we had him pretty well figured out and were bolder as a result.


Was there anything you struggled with concerning the Colossi’s arenas?


Hasegawa: Much like with the creation of the Colossi themselves, we had a repeating cycle of creating, testing, and tuning.

Kajita: Leo’s (#11) area was profoundly memorable for me. The pools of water that remain around the completed arena were previously an entire lake. It wasn’t just that we changed how to defeat it and thus the arena came to be the way it is today, Ueda told us to make it seem as though, long ago, there was once a bigger lake in the area. It was fun to create.

Ueda: Actually, the Colossus was once swimming in the middle of the lake. But when we tried to make his swimming speed match Wander’s, he looked weak, so we gave up on the idea.

  • Wow, nice article :) They had more difficulties than I thought, makes you wonder how difficult The Last Guardian development is right now compared to Shadow of the Colossus.

  • The world itself wasn’t all that spectacular, but the colossi and character designs were magnificent. It doesn’t surprise me they had difficulties, the game felt a bit unfinished with some of the control issues and severe framerate drops.

    • Limited by the PS2 does not quite equate to unfinished, as you said the drops prove that.

      • SpecDotSign

        Plus the HD PS3 version resolved many of the technical issues the original had.

      • You can optimize a game to have it work on a PS2 well. There’s plenty of games to that do that and on a big scale. Look at Grand Theft Auto. It’s called lack of time. You can always work around limitations.

    • muhith94

      The world was beautiful and looked fantastic. Everything about Shadow Of The Colossus was fantastic!The game didn’t feel unfinished at all and it wasn’t an unfinished game. The controls were fine and I think it was designed like that. The frame rate drops were there because of the the limitations of the PS2’s memory. The frame rate drops only happend once in a while and didn’t take anything away from the experience. The game was finished properly and it is an excellent game! This is my favourite game of all time!

      • It’s okay if you’re biased towards this game and it’s your favorite game. My issue is that you can optimize it to run smoothly and not have the controls be obnoxious because they want you to have a cinematic view of the action. And honestly, the world looked very drab and colorless for the most part. There’s plenty of other games with better worlds. Zelda for one.

  • That game is still incredibly beautiful, and I haven’t picked up the HD version yet.  

  • Ah, Aria again. Hello, and thank you for the translations!

  • icecoffemix

    Anything like this for Xenoblade?

  • badmoogle

     Very interesting,thanks for sharing!
    I would be very curious to read something like this about the development of The Last Guardian once the game is released (in 10 years from now:p)

  • SirRichard

    A swimming colossus would terrify me to no end, I was expecting to get jumped around the first time I found a lake. 

    It’s interesting to hear they all handled different bits and pieces of the game, and how many revisions had to be made. I wonder how they felt when they got the 13th Colossus in the game and working, the sheer size of it still blows my mind.

    • badmoogle

      But there was a swimming colossus.:p

      • SirRichard

        I daresay it’s time for me to play the game again, because I barely remember that one! Was he the fifth one, or am I forgetting others/the order?

      • SirRichard

        I daresay it’s time for me to play the game again, because I barely remember that one! Was he the fifth one, or am I forgetting others/the order?

        • badmoogle

          I don’t remember their number or their names either.But i remember that it was more like a giant water snake that had some kind of energy pillars on his back.

          There was also another one which was (sleeping?) underwater until Wonder arrived at his area.You had to fight him out of the water though.

  • Nicolas Vasquez

     nice to see an article about one of the few japanese developers team that is still doing original games.

  • MiniTaurus

    This game always have a special place in my heart ^^
    Got the whole potrait and the sensation, even without the deleted small details due to memory issue. Great concept with good realization ^^

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