On December 7, 2016 Fumito Ueda will wake up. He’ll take a shower. He’ll eat breakfast. He’ll go about his normal day. Nothing will change.
He might go to a video game store. He might not. He hasn’t decided yet. He won’t decide until the day itself.
No big deal.
But for everyone else — for those of us reading or writing an interview with Fumito Ueda — December 7 is a big deal. December 7 is an end point. Drawn out and spectacular. December 7 is a day many believed might never come.
December 7: the release date of The Last Guardian. For many of us, an important, powerful moment.
Ueda feels differently.
“It’s just a normal day.”
“As time is limited,” explains the note, sent to journalists scheduled to interview Fumito Ueda, “we advise you best focus on the game rather than topics like the game delay which he is unlikely to respond to.”
As interview requests go, it’s a reasonable one.
At this point, what more can be said? What can anyone realistically say? Perhaps someday, in the distant future, the full story of The Last Guardian’s development will be told, but today is not that day.
Yet that untold story will hang heavy in every interview Ueda conducts over the next few days. Questions either spoken or unspoken. Ignored and evaded. Danced around and avoided. Fumito Ueda will be asked these questions in a million different ways; some subtle others less so.
Ueda has learned to answer these questions with minimal impact.
He is talkative, but evasive and pensive. Our interview is his last of the day. It’s dark outside. His translator is friendly, but sips carefully on an energy drink. Between questions, Ueda taps distractedly on a laptop.
He says things like: “my answer will let you down.”
But I’m not interested in the ‘why’. Not interested in why The Last Guardian’s development was notoriously difficult. Not interested in why it took so long. I’m interested in the ‘how’. How did he muster the creative stamina; how did he maintain it. How did he keep his team motivated during the slog?
Fumito Ueda looks tired. His once youthful features are strained. He looks like a two-term president, which is ironic. The Last Guardian has spent at least eight years in full development. How did he get through this?
“One thing that I do with the team, is ask them to look back on the very first day they started on the project.
“When I set out to make a game, I put myself in the position of the player. What kind of game do I want to play? That’s how the vision is formed. As long as I and the team remember that, and honestly work towards that, that’s a method that keeps us on track to making the game.
“I look back on an excited memory of that day. That’s what keeps things from straying off track.”
But Fumito Ueda doesn’t remember much about the day he asks his team to remember. The details — like his plans for December 7 — are hazy, unformed.
The feeling is memorable, he says. The day itself? Not so much.
Vague details: the excitement of working on new hardware (the PlayStation 3 at the time) the trepidation that comes from working with a new engine.
“We were embarking on something new,” says Ueda. “That’s what I remember from that first day.”
At the time, he explains, he couldn’t possibly understand the challenge ahead of him.
I ask Ueda about that first day. I ask him to imagine a time machine. What would he say to that past version of himself? The Fumito Ueda armed with nothing but an idea.
“If I could go back in time,” he says, “if I was watching that person all those years ago I’d really want to call out to that person, and give that person advice for the time ahead.”
“I would say something like like, ‘don’t take on too hard a challenge’. Start simple and build up.
“That’s the advice I would give myself.”
Ueda’s last game, Shadow of the Colossus, was a game about cruelty. In previous interviews he elaborated upon that concept and that word. The idea that each of his games has a central theme. A theme that can be expressed in simple terms.
‘Cruelty’. The word is ‘cruelty’.
I ask Ueda if there is a word for The Last Guardian.
It sparks a conversation between Ueda and his translator, to the point where — in translation — it’s difficult to tell which words belong to Ueda and which to his translator.
“This word is a key word,” says the translator, eventually. “If I reveal this, you’ll be stepping into the realm of spoilers.”
“There is a word,” the translator continued; I’m convinced these words are Ueda’s, “which is related to sin and punishment.”
I press, I insist. Eventually, they tell me the word.
Ueda says, “I’ll leave that word with you.”
So I’ve decided to leave that word with me.