On August 18th of 2010, one of my best friends -- a little, aging Maltese named Bix -- passed away. As I sat in the IGN office unaware on the other side of the country, my mother stroked his face while his lungs filled with fluid. He was put to sleep minutes after. He had been with my family for more than 10 years.
I was reminded of Bix recently when I visited Japan to view the first live gameplay demonstration of the Last Guardian. Little is known of the Last Guardian, though it features a small boy and a massive, but gentle, feathered beast. During the demonstration, the boy called for the creature and it looked over at him with deep, dark eyes. Those eyes had a flicker of understanding, mixed with curiosity. I saw that look on Bix's face countless times before.
The developers at Team Ico have been commended for doing many things. One of those things is to encourage gamers to react, emotionally, to what's happening on screen. Although I can't say what the themes of the Last Guardian will be, I know that I already had an emotional reaction to the mighty creature, known as "Trico." It is, in part, due to the creature's incredible eyes and expressions. And Trico's stunning animation makes it come alive.
Previously, I only saw the Last Guardian in trailer form. It was hard to tell what represented actual gameplay. But finally seeing the game in motion was a treat. At the beginning of the adventure, Trico and the boy have a shallow connection. This might seem irrelevant when it comes to gameplay, but it's not. The Last Guardian puts you in control of the boy and Trico is an AI-controlled partner. This is more than just a massive "escort mission," however. The brilliant thing about the dynamic between the two is how their relationship develops through the subtle animations which emerge out of gameplay.
When my demonstration began, the boy and Trico were sleeping side by side in a dungeon environment. The boy woke first and was tasked with waking his colossal companion. He could call out to it, grab its feathers, even climb onto its head and jump up and down. Once Trico woke up it stretched out, much like a cat, and lazily looked around the room.
The first moment that illuminated the subtle character development in Last Guardian occurred after the pair woke up. The boy began running across the room and tripped over Trico's paw. He stumbled a bit and then continued on his way, as Trico ignored the incident altogether. This all played out during gameplay, and showcased the wonderful animations that make these characters feel more like living things than digital concepts.
The same can be said for when the boy was running away from one of the dungeon sentries (a nameless, armored guard). When the boy was spotted, the music picked up and the sentry came running after him. If the boy stood in an "idle position," he comically ran in place to keep the blood flowing -- an action that would be familiar to those of us that watch Japanese anime.
The boy can only escape the dungeon area with Trico's aide. To do so the boy used a pot containing an alluring scent that attracted the creature, controlling it indirectly. As Trico is stubborn in the beginning of Last Guardian, players must use these baser methods of communication to reach an end goal. Once the two grow closer, I assume these scenarios can be solved directly.
The Last Guardian, it seems, will be made up of many of these organic puzzles. By controlling the boy, players are also controlling Trico and exploring the game world. But the real joy of Last Guardian isn't pushing around pots, dodging guards, or climbing up ledges. It's watching the two characters interact. The fact that I saw the face of my pet in the virtual eyes of an AI-controlled beast should inform you that this will be an emotional tale. I fully expect players to love Trico in the same way we love the critters that join our families in real life.Read more details regarding how this preview was written.
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