How Ico came to cast a colossal shadow over game design

Art: Cellar-FCP

Chris Kohler on Ico, the cult video game that's "inspiring everything."

Almost 12 years after its quiet debut on Sony's then-new PlayStation 2, Ico (ee-koh) seems to be more popular now than it ever was then. What was once an obscure niche game is now increasingly cited as a source of inspiration for current games. And I don't just mean indie efforts like Brothers. It's also cited as an influence on the biggest of the big triple-A blockbusters, like Halo and Uncharted. Everywhere you look, you're standing in Ico's shadow.

One key is what Ico director Fumito Ueda calls subtractive design: just remove everything that doesn't tangibly contribute to the success of the whole. His follow-up, Shadow of the Colossus, was a perfect example: the entire world is depopulated of enemies to fight other than the "bosses". Long stretches of time spent wandering around an empty landscape would be anathema to lesser designers; but in Ueda's games, it becomes the soul of the entire thing.

Also, pervasive desaturated bloom effects. Which I think, maybe, we have had enough of now.

Not talked about enough is the weird, serenely mythological styling of these games' artwork, especially the melding of native American and European influences.

Ueda's third game, The Last Guardian, will be released in w͓̲͙͖̥͉̹͋ͬ̊ͦ̂̀̚ ͎͉͖̌ͯͅͅd̳̘̿̃̔̏ͣ͂̉̕ŏ̖̙͋ͤ̊͗̓͟͜e͈͕̯̮̙̣͓͌ͭ̍̐̃͒s͙͔̺͇̗̱̿̊̇͞