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.
The Excellent Effects Behind an Atmosphere So Good it Felt Real
Nakano, were you involved with all of the game’s effects?
Nakano: Yes, and there was another guy as well. I got involved in development halfway through, so almost everything Ueda had done was already put together in one place. I was specifically in charge of the special effects that involved characters’ reactions, which used particles, as well as arena fog and bloom.
Kaido: “Particles” are what we call general technology used to express fluidity, such as you find in clouds. The Wander team had a variety of methods and systems at their disposal and went on to create original design tools and environments and use them to express things like gas, liquid, and smoke. They can also be applied to express light and haze.
Ueda: Bloom is the vague glow of the sky, and how it plays off the Colossus in front of you, for example.
Kaido: Aside from that, we’ve have one method for making model animations function, say, and yet another for expressing fog. By combining these, its possible to express even complex animations. In order to decide which technology to use where, members from each section would gather and discuss matters over a meeting.
Were the tools you mentioned around since the development of Ico?
Ueda: Tools were generally handled in the same manner as Ico, but we completely remade them from scratch.
Nakano: Once we made the effects, we kept on simplifying things until they could be displayed on the actual game screen, so I could go so far as to say that the designers were able to do as they liked. Originally, it was conventional for the programmers to implement what we had made, but back then it was a lot of work to convey the idea of the images and movies we were preparing. In Shadow of the Colossus, we were able to omit that step. Because tools and systems were in place beforehand that allowed designers to easily and intuitively implement the image they wanted to convey, the whole operation went very smoothly.
Was there anything you created that you paid special attention to?
Nakano: As with Ico, the world is really atmospheric. As you might expect, even within Ueda’s image of the game, the atmosphere was emphasized. It isn’t noticeable, but the game had that sense of atmosphere right from the start. Because there was a lot of atmosphere conveyed by things that were made prior to us working on the game, we kept them in mind and used those as a base. Considering the wide variety of games that boast very light fog and a low bloom level, I’d been wondering what would happen with a game that had even less fog and more bloom. That’s when I got involved with Shadow of the Colossus, and I was able to pour all my effort into the project.
Ueda: Most of the effect work consisted of impossible requests made right before the deadline. [laughs]
The wind, rain, and thunder effects seem like the real thing.
Nakano: The last Colossus arena had three different effects, so it was fun to create.
Niwa: The atmosphere really improved once we put the effects in. It was like “Whoa, it’s [totally different!” Originally, that area had really nice weather. [laughing]
Ueda: Some people thought the end result was too dark, however.
A storyboard for the game’s opening
The Animations That Breathed Life into the Models
Agro’s animations looked very lifelike.
Fukuyama: At Ueda’s suggestion, our team went horseback riding for a day to get some actual experience. Poor animations underwent countless retakes.
Tanaka: I think it can be interesting when a horse doesn’t want to listen to you.
Ueda: Originally, Agro was less inclined to listen to your commands. For example, if you were galloping along and suddenly attempted to reign in, Agro would resist you two or three times. Practically speaking, however, it got annoying, so we gave up on that idea.
Is Agro a boy?
Ueda: A girl.
Fukuyama: That’s the first time I’ve heard him say that outright. [laugh] I always felt she was female, but Ueda never came out and said so.
Ueda: Regardless of gender, I felt it was best to give players the sense that her center of gravity wasn’t fixed. She supports her heavy body on such spindly legs, but you can’t help but feel that she’s got a lot of strength.
Fukuyama: We stuck with our initial image right till the end. Her running animation was redone countless times. We were ordered to widen her pace, and no matter how many times we redid it, we were still unsuccessful. You’d often hear “Give it here!” and someone else would take over. [laugh]
Ueda: But not as many times as Wander. [laugh] Ico was an innocent sort of character, but with Wander, we went the “cool” route, so we had to make sure he looked cool when he moved. That ended up being really tough.
Tanaka: Wander is more grown-up than Ico, and he has to look good, no matter what he’s doing. He ends up falling over a lot, though. [laugh] In order to ensure that Wander was capable of the same actions when holding a bow, no matter whether he was on the ground, his horse, or a Colossus, we needed to create special animations for each situation. It was difficult. Not to mention the enormous variation he has in his more detailed animations.
When you were creating animations for the Colossi, did you actually act them out?
Tanaka: In order to express how heavy they were, Fukuyama would often walk around carrying his bicycle. [laugh] We’d also make the larger Colossi move in slow motion, but it wasn’t enough for them to be slow, we had to express their size as well. This was influenced by everything from the special effects to the scenery. Even a change in the camera angle could affect people’s perceptions, so we had to keep tinkering with it.
Fukuyama: Back in early development, we didn’t have the concept of physical strength. Whether or not you’d fall depended on the speed and acceleration directly exerted on the player, however. We create something, test it, and tune it. It was tough.
Tanaka: There are a variety of different Colossi, so animating them was basically done in one take.
Ueda: During development, the Colossi wouldn’t watch what Wander was doing. Even when Wander got close to them, they’d be staring off into the distance. Then, at a certain time, they’d crane their necks to look at Wander. That’s when they started to feel alive.
What was it like, making the cutscenes?
Fukuyama: Ueda would drawn up all the storyboards, and we animators would use them as a base. When we first received the storyboards, I thought we had about the same amount as Ico, but their number steadily increased.
Ueda: I think the number of cuts was the same. I just asked them to put in as many guards as they could.
Tanaka: Villagers and black silhouettes. He told us that right at the end, so it was a lot of trouble. [laugh]
Fukuyama: The ending changed, too…
Ueda: In order to bear the responsibility, I did all the animations for the smaller animals… I was actually thinking of putting geckos into Ico. Fish and bats, too. But we weren’t able.
Not only is Dormin huge, the player can control him. Was that hard to do?
Niwa: We began making Dormin back when there were still 24 Colossi. Its design included features from the 24 Colossi that existed at the time. We used the design to create a base model, but the polygon count was through the rough. [laugh] The number of Colossi was reduced in the middle of development, so we also went to a lot of trouble to remove their features.
Ueda: Dormin appears at the end of the game, so we had to make his design beyond the players’ wildest imaginings. I was trying to figure out how best to do it, so he ended up being pitch black.
Niwa: Ueda and I swapped ideas about that. Ueda ended up using what I had created as a base and processed the rest.
Ueda: It wasn’t implemented, but the player can control basically every Colossi. If you connected two controllers, two people could play. [laugh]
The girl was asleep right till the end. Did you ever think that you wanted her to move around a little more?
Fukuyama: No, not really. I was thinking “Please let her sleep till the end.” [laugh]
Ueda: Naturally, I think players would have been happy if we had. But I didn’t want to just make Ico all over again. No matter the situation, the most difficult thing is always achieving consistency. For example, if you ask yourself why the pedestal the girl is sleeping on has pillars coming down from the top, the answer is that they’re there to prevent the player from standing on it. Most things in the game are there because that’s the only way we could achieve consistency. Even the Colossi designs. It’s the toughest part of making a good game while working with limitations. I find it interesting.