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GDC 2004: Game Design Methods of ICO

Kenji Kaido and Fumito Ueda gave a lecture on the development of ICO, one of my favorite games ever. The slides were often quite complex and went by really quickly. Luckily, my friend and esteemed coworker Gunter Piringer took really good pictures, which he gracefully allowed me to post online (link to 20MB ZIP file.) If I'd known this, I wouldn't have been scribbling frantically in my notebook.

The audience was asked not to record the movies that were shown, but they didn't contain much information anyway. ICO looked astoundingly good on PS1, and in general I was reminded of how beautiful the game is.

The lecture was interesting, but basically Mr. Kaido and Mr. Ueda confirmed what I believe is obvious when one sees the game: they ruthlessly removed everything from the game which did not support the emotional experience, and in this they went further than pretty much any other game I can think of. The result is a very intense and focussed experience. It's not something that can be done for every game, but it's a powerful lesson.

Mr. Kaido and Mr. Ueda explained the various details of their approach, but there were few surprises: they did a great job, using techniques which make sense, even if they are not easy to reproduce. The only thing which was really new to me, and perhaps my biggest concrete takeaway from this year's GDC, was Mr. Ueda's insistence on the importance of fingertips in animation. He said that he was unhappy about the quality of the animations and had the fingertips re-animated. Considering the on-screen size of the characters, and given that the game was under development for 4 years and there presumably was ample time to tune and tweak the animations, I was impressed by this detail. On the other hand (no pun intended), it makes sense. Hand movements are hard to capture, but an important aspect of human communication.

Finally, we were shown a few tantalising images of what was presumably ICO 2, but alas, no concrete details.

If you want to know what was said at the lecture, the following should help:

  • An interview with Mr. Ueda over at Gaming Intelligence Agency.
  • Another interview at Team PS2.
  • An article describing the development of ICO over at
  • Finally, a report of the lecture at Gamespy.

Update: Another set of slides can be found here. Although I did not compare them in detail, it looks like my collection is more complete.