On November 30th, Eurogamer reported it had received indication from several Japanese developer sources that Fumito Ueda was working on The Last Guardian purely as a freelancer. Eurogamer took this as a very good indication that Ueda has left the Team Ico development studio, which is one of Sony’s first-party development teams. Their sources indicated to them that this was the reason behind The Last Guardian’s delay, changing it from a late 2011 release to a 2012 release. Despite all of this, Sony refused to comment on the matter, labeling it as “rumor and speculation.”
Neither Sony nor Ueda himself had shed any light on the matter until Monday, when Gamasutra received feedback from Sony citing that Ueda is no longer an employee but a contractor, and that he is fully committed to completing The Last Guardian. There have been indications the project had run into some difficulties thanks to an interview with VG247 during Gamescom, where Sony Worldwide Studios Executive Shuhei Yoshida stated the following:
The Last Guardian team has been making progress. It’s been very difficult in terms of seeing the progress: not as fast as we’d been hoping for, and the team has been under big pressure. But we’re still making progress, so I’d like to continue to support and keep waiting for great news sometime in the future.
Whether or not Ueda’s leaving Sony had anything to do with this has not been addressed, but it is clear that Ueda is a key figure in the project. Fumito Ueda has been the leader of Team Ico for quite some time and was the primary creative influence behind both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both games have been very well received, and as a result, Sony’s loss of Ueda is a very notable one. The Last Guardian is likely to hold a heavy investment in the involvement of its creator, so this move will undeniably affect the game.
Analysis: This is almost sad as it means The Last Guardian may be the last of its kind. Ueda is planning on pursuing personal projects, which means the chance does still exist for similar games. However, this will undoubtedly affect the rest of Team Ico, which may or may not continue to exist after project completion. Team Ico has provided Sony with fantastic games that truly define the consoles they are made for. To top that off, the games still held up exceptionally well after being given an HD makeover. This is truly indicative of the quality coming out of this studio, which is exactly why the loss of its leader is such a big deal.
In the end, I truly hope that Ueda’s personal projects will blossom into great things and that Sony will somehow keep Team Ico alive.