Okay, yes, it’s technically a PlayStation game. But with the arrival of its 20th anniversary, Ico is now clearly a part of wider gaming history. It’s one of the defining experiences of the early 2000s and a game that has influenced countless others with its minimalist approach to narrative, key frame animation (this was the first game where a character’s feet actually landed on each individual step), and melancholy atmosphere.
genDesign, the development studio founded by Ico creator Fumito Ueda in 2004, has now posted the original concept video for the game, from three years before we could play the finished thing. “This is the initial development video of the PlayStation 2 software Ico released on December 6, 2001,” reads the description. “It was created around 1998 to share the image of the work with the development team. All the staff, including Ueda, couldn’t see what kind of game Ico would be, and when I was searching in the dark, I could see the light when this video was completed, and it was a breakthrough for the team.”
Ico began as a project for the original PlayStation before development shifted to its successor console, though here you can already see that very particular approach to animating the boy. Yorda at this point is a placeholder, with a slightly unfortunate t-shirt. The video’s a combination of CG and original PlayStation footage.
It’s remarkable how close the final product would come to what the team is grasping for here. We see early prototypes of what would become key moments for the game, such as the moment when the boy hangs from a windmill’s blades. The focus on not just setting, but what can be done within that setting. Ico is one-of-a-kind, so it’s probably no surprise that the pitch video is a cut above.
There’s also a particular note about the music used for the video, which gives things that eerily beautiful atmosphere here. The video explains:
“At that time (late 1990), it was a rare time to try to use existing music instead of dedicated music for games. I happened to select songs from the CD that was on the desk of Fumito Ueda, who is the direction and game designer of Ico.
“There are two songs that became turning points, and this video uses Momus’s ‘Summer Holiday 1999.’ The other song is Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair’, which was used for the first presentation video after the development transition from the original PlayStation to PlayStation 2. Both of them are very memorable songs that match the video under development and make us feel the response to what we are making. Fortunately, Michiru Oshima was in charge of the music for the product version, and she produced many famous songs. Among them, ‘Ico—You Were There’ is an irreplaceable song that shaped ‘Ico’.”
genDesign’s last project was The Last Guardian. The studio’s next game has yet to be shown off, but it’s being published by Epic, so we’d expect it on PC.