Ico, and Design by Subtraction | Game Designer Philosophy

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Among designers, few modern games are held in such high regard as the PS2 cult classic, Ico. Let’s figure out what has made this quiet and reserved game so hugely influential.

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The influential Ico

Papo & Yo – http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/qa-papo-yo-creator-vander-caballero-on-how-his-tro/1100-3385/
Brothers / Rime – http://www.wired.com/2013/09/ico/
Journey – https://mobile.twitter.com/jenovachen/status/181260356813987842
The Last of Us – http://ps3.mmgn.com/News/the-last-of-us-inspired-by-ico-re4
Prince of Persia – http://blog.us.playstation.com/2008/12/02/your-questions-answered-prince-of-persia/
Halo 4 – http://techland.time.com/2012/11/05/ico-influenced-chief-cortana-bond-in-halo-4-says-director/#ixzz2eWlcYnbu
Hidetaka Miyazaki – http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/31/bloodborne-dark-souls-creator-hidetaka-miyazaki-interview
Fez – http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/127312/How_Polytrons_Fez_Was_Inspired_By_Uedas_Ico.php

Find out more

1UP: “Shadow Talk”

1UP: “The Method of Developing Ico”

Tale of Tales: “Fumito Ueda GDC Talk Transcript of Slides”

Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance)

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (Capybara Games, 2011)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1991)
Braid (Number None, 2008)
Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985)
Ico (Team Ico, 2001)
Papo & Yo (Minority, 2012)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Starbreeze Studios, 2013)
Journey (thatgamecompany, 2012)
Rime (Tequila Works, 2017)
The Last of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013)
Prince of Persia (Ubisoft Montreal, 2008)
Halo 4 (343 Industries, 2012)
Dark Souls (From Software, 2011)
Limbo (Playdead, 2010)
Proteus (Ed Key and David Kanaga, 2013)
Another World (Delphine Software, 1991)
Flashback (Delphine Software, 1992)
Prince of Persia (Broderbund, 1989)
Chrono Trigger (Square, 1995)
Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico, 2005)
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (Ubisoft Montreal, 2010)
Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar North, 2013)
Dying Light (Techland, 2015)
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions, 2015)
Batman: Arkham Knight (Rocksteady Studios, 2015)
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Ubisoft Montreal, 2011)
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (Neversoft, 2002)
Fez (Polytron Corporation, 2012)

Music used in this episode

Under a Tree (Sword & Sworcery LP)
The Ballad of the Space Babies (Sword & Sworcery LP)
Little Furnace (Sword & Sworcery LP)
Dark Flute (Sword & Sworcery LP)
Com64 (Sword & Sworcery LP)

Sword & Sworcery LP – The Ballad of the Space Babies (C) Jim Guthrie

Clip credits

“Warrior in the City of Light Part 13” – Curlsbel90

“Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition 60 fps test” – Birm

“Unreleased ICO PS1 Beta gameplay” – lockyixbt

“Assassins Creed Revelations: Den Defence” – CircularGaming

Contribute translated subtitles – https://amara.org/en-gb/videos/RzpUvbByVapH/


8-bit Nicolai says:

The trio of games Ico, Shadow of the Collosus, and The Last Guardian are probably the only games I really feel like I'm missing out on by not having a Playstation console. I don't want to buy one just for these three games alone, I just keep hoping that it'll one day come to Steam or something.

Otis Laundon says:

i did not realize how high my volume was until i heard that "HI"

Fabiel Casas says:

Thanks for your content I connect with the reason why I want to develop videogames

Steven Victor Neiman says:

I think part of the problem is treating games like other media in terms of structure. Sure books and movies can cover a lot of subject matter, but they don't really have any variation in how the ideas are presented, and it sounds absurd not to include all the elements of that presentation, like trying to sell a book and saying that giving your book a spine or page numbers didn't fit with your creative vision, but games vary as much in the elements used to present them and the fundamental way that users interact as they do in the subject matter and the use of those elements.

Travis Martin says:

I'm late to this party! but big kudos to the non-reference to Sword & Sworcery, that game was a minimalist gem.

One key word I'm not seeing in discussion or in the video is: Pillars. It's helpful to define 3-5 key aspects of your game (the core) as pillars that serve as touchstones for any decision you have to make. So, when choosing mechanics and features, you can test each one against your pillars to see what ought to go in.

Check out this great talk by Dead Cells devs about their pillars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfSpBoA6TWw

Corey Newkirk says:

Cheeky to start and end the video with a shot of Sword and Sworcery and use its soundtrack without mentioning it. Another great minimal game.

dengamleidiot says:

You talk way different in this video

Dead OnABed says:

What’s the name of the first game shown?

peterson shelly says:

I absolutely loved this video Mark, it's so incredibly beautiful. I'm glad to've seen GMTK grow over the years, but sometimes I just want to sit back and listen to you serenade me. I feel as though your improvements in writing scripts and video production have streamlined the process to the point where you can maximally carry as much information as possible across a video, but I feel as though the new GMTK lacks that sort of personal feel, as though you're speaking to me and me only on some matter. The new GMTK almost feels as though it has a broadcaster! 🙂 haha, I'm rambling. Thanks for all your lovely videos Mark, I truly appreciate the effort you put into them.

Clan Wren Storyteller says:

“Find the core of the game, then ruthlessly prune everything that didn’t support it.”

That is a a brilliant philosophy for design.

FozIrenics says:

star citizen is perhaps the exact opposite of this

Stolas The Great Prince says:

The atmosphere in this game is amazing. Huge buildings and open spaces, the sound of birds and no people around. I need more games like this one, it soothes me and gives me a sense of relaxation, after being in contact with so much people every day.

Nikita Elizarov says:

This is so good. These principles are well known in the wider history of art and semiotics.

Jodie Garner says:

Listen, I love Ico and I can confidently say a lot of my favorite games wouldn't exist without this minimalist design by subtraction concept, but the gameplay is pretty BULLSHIT a lot of the time. It's an entire game that's one long escort mission with little reason for the girl to be unable to do simple tasks (like climb a ladder barely as high as my head). I didn't hate Yorda, but I did question why I could do so many things when there was no clear reason for Yorda to not be able to, and I repeatedly failed and died because she did something stupid. Plus it was pretty buggy. Beautiful game, beautiful music, but it's not an amazing game. There is a good reason it never got a rerelease on later consoles, much less remake like Shadow of the Colossus.

Zenahr - Unreal Engine Guides says:

Ah thank you so much! I was looking for the amiga game "Flashback" literally for years!

2CPhoenix says:

Your intro makes it sound like you’ve just been crying. Do you need a hug?

Kostynha says:

is the main character the same of shadow of the colossus? like their stories are sequels? because shadow of the colossus starts with the main character appearing with a girl to save and that's it. would be nice to play the backstory

BeansGalaxy says:

Does anyone know the game in the first 15 seconds?

Draws Gaming says:

Kind of reminds me of Monument Valley. Similar theme, but weird phyics.

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