'The Last Guardian' Creator Ueda on His First Game Job and the Late Kenji Eno

In 1995, Fumito Ueda joined Warp – a studio led by one of the most creative and eccentric minds in gaming

The late Kenji Eno (second from right) practices with J-Pop star U-ya Asaoka and friends Credit: U-ya Asaoka

The Last Guardian creator Fumito Ueda’s 18-year career – and the three classic games that it birthed (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and the recent The Last Guardian) – is well known. Less so is the time he spent at Warp, the maverick studio founded by the late Kenji Eno, which is where Ueda got his start. Eno – who died in 2013 at the age of 42 – was a much-loved member of the Japanese game development community and his auteur-like approach was frequently at odds with both the mainstream game publishing world and audiences.

Eno's studio, Warp, was formed around 1994, and released a handful of games for the ill-fated 3DO game platform before eventually finding mainstream success with the FMV horror game, D. In a move that made headlines, Eno once used a high-profile PlayStation event in Japan to announce that Warp would be creating games exclusively for Sony's rival, Sega – a social and industry faux-pas of epic proportions. Warp would eventually release the survival horror adventure Enemy Zero and the graphics-free, Japan-only oddity Real Sound for the Saturn. Eno remains a totemic figure, particularly to the burgeoning indie scene in Japan, which paid tribute to him at its annual Bitsummit developer event in Tokyo the year he died.

For Ueda's part, his road to working with Eno began when he sold his motorcycle in order to afford a computer (a Commodore Amiga), which he then used to teach himself computer animation. In our recent interview with Ueda, we set aside some time to talk about his early days in game development at Warp and how that experience would come to influence his future games.

An unexpected surprise at the end of The Last Guardian, as the credits roll, you put Kenji Eno’s name in your ‘special thanks’ section. Was this simply because Warp is where you started your game career, or were you in contact with Eno more recently before he passed away in 2013?
He wasn’t involved with the project, and I didn’t get a chance to see him after I left Warp in 1997. I put him in my special thanks list because he initially allowed me to work in this industry, and provided me with a lot of opportunities.

Let’s talk a little about what you did when you were at Warp. I know you worked on the Sega Saturn game Enemy Zero as an animator. What were you responsible for on Enemy Zero, and what did you learn during your experience there?
Actually, if we’re being comprehensive, I also worked on the bonus scene in the 3DO director’s cut version of D. That was the first project I worked on when I joined Warp. The most important thing, I think, was learning to work quickly. We were all working under very intense schedules, which may have been my perspective because I was young. But ultimately it gave me confidence that I could work under immense time and pressure. For example, it’s unheard of today, but for Enemy Zero we had to create entire cutscenes, including the facial expression, adding lighting, etc. and we had to make three of these cutscenes per day in order to meet our deadline. Compared to how hard we were working back in those days at Warp, even now with the increased demands of games today, we didn’t work on schedules nearly as tight for Ico, Shadow or Guardian.

Another more subtle influence from Warp, I think, are working on titles without background music, and working on titles that also appeal to an adult audience. I’m not particularly conscious of these things, but I suspect these are factors that have influenced my own games.

Knowing Eno, I’d guess that younger Kenji Eno was a lot more intense – when you were working with him – compared to the later, more mellow Kenji Eno that left the game industry for eight years. What was your impression of working for him?
All I really recall of working for him was that it was really hard. But, in hindsight, after making Shadow Of The Colossus and The Last Guardian, I grew a real respect towards what Mr. Eno was able to accomplish at such a young age. We were born in the same year – 1970 – so the fact that Mr. Eno could run a company, create the things he did, handle all the marketing and PR, I wonder if I could have done it at the young age he was when I worked for him. I think it would have been impossible for me, and I respect him a lot for that.

Did you work primarily on the CG cinematics of Warp games?
I worked only on the cutscenes. I didn’t touch the gameplay itself.

Your game’s soundtracks are certainly very minimal, but often feature rousing themes. The Last Guardian’s ending theme is like something out of Last Of The Mohicans. What kind of direction do you give the composers of your games?
I think what really helped was that the direction of the music was already in sync when I chose the composer. So, I didn’t give a lot of direction for the music. There was a pilot movie for The Last Guardian that was shown at E3 many years ago which did not have the music for the game yet. The composer hadn’t been decided at the time and I gave the same pilot movie to three different composers and asked them to add music to the movie without giving them any additional information about the game. I chose the composer that wrote music which best fit the pilot movie and the feel of the game, which is to say we chose Takeshi Furukawa. So it helped that we chose the composer that was the best match to the game from the beginning. The only direction I provided him was that I didn’t want the music to sound like typical video game music, and that the music be subtle, not too obvious or direct.