When Lead developer Fumito Ueda (seated right, with Kenji Eido, Producer of Shadow of the Colossus to his left) had an idea for a stripped down concept for Ico, a “boy meets girl” game in which the characters would hold hands during their adventure to establish a bond but would not communicate, it cut against prevalent notions of what a good game was.
According to 1UP magazine, “Ico's design aesthetics were guided by three … notions: to make a game that would be different from others in the genre, feature an aesthetic style that would be consistently artistic, and play out in an imaginary yet realistic setting.” This was achieved “through the use of “subtracting design”; they removed elements from the game which interfered with the game's reality.”
Released in 2001, the final product, minimalist and visually inspired by Greek-Italian metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico’s The Nostalgia of the Infinite, has become a cult classic. Some classics owe some of their mystique to being products of unique circumstances or the brainchild of an ephemeral group of people; Ico was followed by two other games, both based on the same world, and both with Ueda as Lead developer.
Shadow of the Colossus, and the forthcoming third installment The Last Guardian are set in different periods of history of the same fantasy world at different times; however, thematic and technical threads run through all three of them.
Each game has centered around the actions of individual characters and a single supporting companion. In Ico, a young boy who has been born with horns is locked away in an abandoned fortress because his horns are considered a bad omen. It is during the explorations of the fortress that he meets Yorda, a girl who speaks in an unknown language, and the two attempt to escape the fortress together. In Colossus, an unnamed wanderer seeks out 16 gigantic demons and has to figure out how to defeat them. Throughout the game, the player's only companion is a steed. In the The Last Guardian, a young unnamed boy frees and befriends a griffin-like creature called an Erne and collaborates with it throughout the game. Guardian is slated to be on shelves in 2010.
Determined to make the Erne more than a cute addition to the game, Team Ico used a physics engine for the first time in order to ensure that the creature's movements and actions looked believable. The result was an animal that has a mixed physical appearance and moves in a way that is a mixture of how cats, dogs, and birds behave. The way the Erne has been programmed make it a puzzle in itself: it doesn't automatically take to its rescuer, follow instructions, or understand what it has to do. According to Ueda, the player will have to figure out how to influence the Erne by giving it rewards or using other available means.