Decadent

Ico and Amy

Just The Two Of Us: Ico and Amy

A legendary and somewhat less legendary execution of the damsel-in-distress story.

By Steve Heisler • August 27, 2012

In Decadent, we explore two games united by a common theme and separated by time—specifically, by a decade or so.

What makes someone the hero of a video game? Yes, that’s a pretty vague and potentially obvious question, but think about it for a second. In nearly every single game, I bet the answer boils down to something like, “Well, I started playing as this person, so they’re the hero…I guess?”

The earliest character-driven games tested heroes’ mettle with the pursuit of a big rescue. Mario was rescuing Princess Peach. Link was rescuing Princess Zelda. Samus was rescuing Princess Metroid. Thus we put these pixels on a pedestal, because the most selfless thing a person can do, digitally or otherwise, is put the needs of another before their own.

Ico (released in 2001) and Amy (2011) start at the end, after the actual rescue. In Ico, a boy with horns—that would be Ico—is born into a village that routinely brings such children to an ancient temple, locks them away in a tomb, and leaves them for dead. He escapes and finds a pale girl trapped in a cage who speaks a different language, and he decides in that moment that he’s going to guide her to safety.

Ico is the rescuer in his game, but Amy is named after the one in need of rescue—a troubled, silent little girl with seemingly magical abilities. Lana, her caretaker, is escorting Amy on a train when it breaks down due to ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. At this point, Lana doesn’t make a decision so much as she takes it as a given that she’ll escort Amy past zombie hordes and evil military personnel.

And in both cases, the proof of the hero’s mettle, the victims themselves, come along for the ride—a human trophy you have to consistently and repeatedly earn.

In Ico, affinity is a residue of time. You know nothing about the girl, Yorda, yet you have sworn to protect her. The game tests your devotion at every turn. Your wispy companion is attacked by shadow enemies that manifest as giant birds and tiny, pesky spiders. They appear out of holes in the ground, making their way towards Yorda as she runs away in fear, often not fast enough. Their goal is to pick her up and drag her into the abyss; your goal, then, is to beat them back with a wooden plank until they vanish, occasionally grasping at Yorda’s hand as she’s half-submerged.

Ico

Because the game includes extremely little talking and a quiet, atmospheric sound design, there’s a real sense of urgency when the enemies arrive. The background noise changes, now occupied by a high-pitched whine that sounds like a menacing, sentient dryer. There’s the change of pace, too. Ico is a game that mostly revolves around solving puzzles—pushing blocks in just the right configuration for Yorda to climb, for instance, or blowing up part of a bridge so Yorda can cross a chasm. When the enemies appear, all other concerns are abandoned, and Ico has to run as fast as he can toward the danger. Because the puzzles often require Ico to venture away from Yorda and climb where she can’t go, there’s often a terrifying distance to close in these moments. There are plenty of times that Ico will slowly work his way around a room, climbing chains and swinging onto high towers—only to have the darkness come and force him to retrace his steps in a hurry.

Ico’s surprise factor makes me incredibly protective of Yorda. Part of that is inherent in the game’s structure: Yorda won’t move too quickly unless you call for her or actually grab her hand and lead her forward (the preferred option given Yorda’s tendency to wander). It’s not long before enemy battles include one-handed plank swashbuckling as you grip Yorda’s digits, praying nothing sneaks up behind you. Even when the all-clear comes—the silence of an abandoned castle, peppered with the occasional chirp of a faraway bird—I still feel like I’m on my toes.

Much like the daemons in the His Dark Materials book series, being too far from Yorda creates a tremendous amount of anxiety; if you can’t see her, the literal darkness might envelop her. Nine times out of 10, everything is fine, and you’re only gone for a few seconds. But that one time, when you’re gone just a smidge too long, and the monsters return, your protective instincts kick in tenfold. The most effective way to control behavior, it turns out, is to randomly punish you.

About a third of the way through the game, Ico and Yorda spot the castle’s huge swinging doors—one of the only times Yorda rushes ahead without fear. As quickly as you see them, though, they begin to close, and Ico shouts at Yorda to rush ahead. She trips, Ico picks her up, and by then it’s too late. And just when that sinks in, an evil queen appears, warning Ico not to interfere with the affairs of her only daughter. Because much like Ico’s not the first horny boy (heh) to be locked away, neither is Yorda likely the first daughter to be sacrificed to the darkness. Speaking to him in his own language, the queen could not be more clear. When she leaves, however, Yorda speaks to Ico in a language he does not understand, an audible sadness in her words.

Ico

Ico doesn’t know the whole story. Maybe he’s intruding on a ritual that is truly none of his business. Maybe he’s about to forever alter history for the worse. (Cabin In The Woods, anyone?) Maybe the queen’s full of it. But it’s in this moment that you realize it doesn’t matter. You started by rescuing a damsel in distress. You’ve led her by the arm, sometimes against her will, through perils that are surely not going to end any time soon. You’re armed with a piece of wood in an Alcatraz-style prison full of brutish Smoke Monsters. You press on.

There is no such choice, even implied, in last year’s Amy. Lana begins the game possessing a familiarity with Amy that’s never quite explained. She’s a caretaker of sorts who picked Amy up from a hospital where they were running tests, and all we know (thanks to an opening cutscene) is that Lana will stop at nothing to make sure Amy doesn’t have to go back.

Boom! There’s an explosion at the hospital, seen off in the distance. The train Lana and Amy are riding derails. And everyone has been turned into a zombie. Well, they act like zombies, but even that is never fully explained. At this point, the game’s summed up with, “Woman takes little girl to a place while avoiding things, because why not?”

Amy

Lana needs Amy’s help to move forward in the game, and the physical nuts and bolts of their interplay, unlike their personal connection, is explained to death. As Lana makes her way through abandoned warehouses and trainyards, she occasionally asks Amy to shuffle through vents and push buttons—illuminated with big, colorful Icons that depict Amy’s face. When Amy does what she’s told, Lana’s ready with words of encouragement. The phrase “You did it, Amy! I’m so proud of you!” gets repeated until it no longer holds meaning.

There are times you have to ditch Amy all together, stashing her in a locker or leaving her in a room as you plow forward, bashing zombies with your wooden board (again with the makeshift weaponry) and very slowly dragging shopping carts out of the way, clearing a path for the terrified Amy.

It’s here that Amy diverges from Ico in two significant ways, both of which are fundamental flaws in Amy’s hero-creation logic. The first is that Amy, like Yorda, has a sort of magic about her, but in Amy’s case, it can be conscientiously harnessed by the player. Occasionally there are weird symbols on the wall, and after Amy copies them on her iPad-like doohickey, she gains a new ability. One is a bolt of power that pushes unsuspecting enemies away, usually into electricity mines; another is a cone of silence that allows Lana to break glass without attracting unwanted attention. This means that if Amy were to be left alone for too long and wander off (her favorite activity!), she’s not entirely defenseless.

Amy

Then again, that wouldn’t matter anyway, because the second major difference is that Amy’s not the target; Lana is. If a room full of zombies attacks the pair and separates them, Amy might be completely left alone. Amy never seems to be in much danger, except indirectly: The ghouls might harm Lana and keep her from helping Amy. But nobody seems to care about Amy, anyway, so why is this a problem? Still the game maintains the pretense. There could be a jawless monster clawing at Lana’s face, and she’d still cry, “Watch out, Amy!”

That’s the cosmic disconnect in Amy. The game sets itself up so that Amy doesn’t need a hero, yet Lana insists on being one. Like if Batman showed up long after the Joker was apprehended. In fact, as the game progresses, Lana becomes more of the victim. She’s stricken with the illness everyone else has, and being in the presence of Amy mysteriously heals her (but nobody else, for whatever reason). Amy’s always right there—a talisman of sorts to remember why you’re playing. In Ico, the hero rushes back to his damsel in distress for valor; in Amy, the “hero” rushes to the damsel’s side out of a misplaced sense of duty. Where Yorda comes off as a full-fledged being, Amy is a talisman—a human MacGuffin that supposedly gives you a reason to keep playing.

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  • RidleyFGJ

    Not to divert too far from the topic, but among other moments of brilliance in Ico, that final run for the Queen’s Sword during the final fight is one of the most exhilarating moments in gaming history. I can only imagine the amount of playtesting that went into that bit. The timing is absolutely flawless.

  • feisto

    I love that last line, especially “a human McGuffin that
    supposedly gives you a reason to keep playing,” and I would even expand that
    include NPCs in general. With a few exceptions, every NPC I’ve encountered in
    story-driven games can be encapsulated by that phrase, and not just those
    involving escort mission-type gameplay.

     

    In RPGs, they’re either sources of
    information that’ll direct me to the next good stuff or cyphers that need to be
    directed in certain ways to help me win. In action games, they at best offer me
    more firepower and at worst get in my way. I really could care less about their
    backstory and goals unless they lead to side quests that give me more to do,
    move the game forward, or take me to completely new locations that expand the
    game world.

     

    The reason I feel like this is that it feel like the reason to care for the
    characters comes from the dialogue and story, but not from the characters
    themselves. So for example, the story and dialogue can be very well written,
    but I look at the characters and they’re these weird, robotic creatures, and
    the contrast is just too jarring. I realize that with current technology,
    there’s only so much “warmth” you can bring to video game characters, but maybe
    the focus is wrong. With Yorba, it was the little things that made me warm to
    her: the way she stumbles a bit at first when you yank her along but tries to
    keep up with you; the way she apologetically shakes her head when she can’t do
    something you want her to do. These things turned her into an actual character
    in my head, one I actually felt obligated to protect, especially after the game’s showed me how vulnerable she is.

     

    Since games are primarily a visual
    medium, I wish developers would focus more on this kind of subtle visual
    characterization rather than depending on writers and voice actors to shape the
    characters (and I don’t mean those generic/exaggerated kind
    of body movements). This is where I think motion capture can really add
    something to games…if it hasn’t already. Any thoughts on this? I haven’t
    played any motion-capture games, as far as I know.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      L.A. Noire used full facial mo-cap. To its credit, this worked wonders in making the characters seem like people with complex emotions. Unfortunately, the script often limited the characters and made them less interesting than the performances would otherwise indicate.

      • feisto

        Oh, right! I haven’t played it yet, since the reviews were kind of mixed. Would you say the emotions came through mostly in the faces, or were things like body movements pretty natural/subtle as well?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          The emotions came through almost entirely in the faces because they didn’t have the money to do full-body mo-cap for everything. Some players and reviewers noted that it made it seem as if the heads and the bodies were animated by different people, but I don’t think it’s that noticeable. The body movements didn’t add much, in my opinion, but they didn’t subtract anything either.

        • HobbesMkii

           Oh, there were definitely emotions conveyed in that game. Lots of very conflicting, schizophrenic emotions.

        • PPPfive

           The faces were remarkable but the limbs were as stiff and limited as in a GTA:SA cutscene, the contrast reminded me of I, Robot all the time. Also they seemed to have just one female actor, so all the women you talk to look the same. Was still good fun though.

        • Effigy_Power

           Yelling insults at victims of very recent rape has never looked so realistic, that’s for sure.

    • caspiancomic

       Excellent musings my man (or lady). I think it’s true that a lot of game companies seem to keep their various departments locked in different rooms with no way to communicate, and having a game’s director, writers, character designers, animators, and performers all get together and really flesh these characters out would probably lead to some more complete and satisfying characters.

      And I have conflicted emotions about motion capture. It seems to me that motion capture tends to give a reliable, but mediocre, performance. Mocapped performances tend to be broad and unnatural, with characters’ limbs and bodies flailing about like sticks in the breeze. I don’t know if this is just bad direction, overacting, or limitations of the technology- none of the problems typical of mocap abuse in games could be seen in something like Tintin, for example. Manually animating a character or scene, when done badly or by an inexperienced animator, will probably give you a result that is worse looking and took longer to create than a mocap performance. But a manually animated character or scene done by an experienced animator will, in my opinion, always look better and more naturalistic than mocap could ever hope to be (short of the technology becoming good enough to replicate a physical performance with perfect fidelity). Pixar, for example, never uses any mocap, and in fact the credits of Ratatouille make a point of mentioning it specifically.

      So yeah, I think studios love mocap because it’s faster, generally cheaper, and more reliable than manual animation, but it doesn’t always produce better results.

      • feisto

        Wow, I didn’t realize the movements were still so broad even with motion capture. That seems like a wasted opportunity, but as you said, the technology might just not be there yet.

        And yeah, that makes perfect sense about it being quicker and cheaper than animators, which is really too bad because I think it affects the appeal the characters could have.

        Need to see Tintin now though, if only to see what it looks like when done right!

        • Effigy_Power

          Tintin is a masterpiece, in my opinion, and really shows what you can do with MoCap if you use it wisely. Not only does the style of the movie take on Herge’s supreme art and thereby avoid the uncanny valley fairly well, the characters also move realistic enough, meaning that there are limitations in their movement that seem human rather than inflicted upon humans by shoddy animation.
          Rango  is another such movie, even though we see very few human characters. The animation is fluent and serves to add life to the whole deal, BUT isn’t done with MoCap at all. They showed some comparisons between the actors and the animation, which I assume was done more as a reference, but despite everything coming from a can, it looks like motion capture.

          So I find it hard to decide whether MoCap is superior to animation. TinTin obviously is sort of a bad example, because it’s brilliant for so many reasons. Herge’s style and story, brilliant performances by the actors, the work of Spielberg, Jackson and Moffat… it might have been great even if it had been animated by hand.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

          @Effigy_Power:disqus I disagree, I thought Tintin’s use of motion capture CG was bland and lifeless. Which kind of reinforced the lack of joy in the movie as a whole. It was entertaining, but didn’t really have any heart, and Tintin’s dead eyes made that all the more obvious. Especially compared to Herge’s simple yet distinctive art style. In the movie, Tintin looked like a real person I might see (Haddock was a bit more stylized), like maybe Herge had drawn a caricature of this real person. Which killed a lot of the charm for me.

        • Effigy_Power

          I guess that’s the problem in general with animated features, they are very divisive in what counts as realistic or unsettling.
          Then again, so does normal acting, so why would it be any different, right?

  • caspiancomic

    Having ideas is hard, at least is is for me, and I’ve never heard anyone say that a good idea comes easily to them. Idea that seem so natural and elegant in your head turn to porridge when you try to tell them to someone else or write them down. Which is why when I hear a truly elegant idea, I always fall instantly in love. Fumito Ueda has said that he wanted to make a videogame where a short boy and a tall girl held hands. That idea turned into Ico. That’s so simple and streamlined and beautiful I honestly don’t know how he did it. (See also: Martin McDonagh’s genesis for In Bruges. He went to Bruges himself and was half amazed and half bored. He turned these two reactions into two different characters, and came up with some reason for them to be in Bruges. Boom. Amazing movie.)

    Man I have so much to say about this article I hardly know where to begin. I think I’ll edit myself down to just the sentiment that Ico is basically perfect. The relationship between the characters is especially deep, which is doubly impressive considering they can’t verbally communicate. It just makes the physical communication that much more meaningful- especially the extremely intimate act of hand holding, heightened in intensity by the fact that the two are total strangers. The ending of the game is one of the most heartbreakingly bittersweet moments I’ve had the privilege of experiencing in a game. And the soundtrack!

    As for Amy? Well, it gave us one of the better Zero Punctuation episodes.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Whenever I get a new PC, I invariably forget to transfer some internet bookmarks over and somehow forget about them for months.

      You have just reminded me to re-bookmark Zero Punctuation, and for that I thank you heartily.  I’ll have six months of vids to catch up on now!

      • The_Misanthrope

        @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus :  That is a problem I truly envy.  ZP is one of my favorite things on the internet ever, probably because I share a fairly similar gamer sensibility to Yahtzee.  I’ve probably watched the RE 5 one a good ten or more times.

        @caspiancomic:disqus :  McDonagh has a new film coming out in fall!
        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1931533/
        I’m a little apprehensive about that wacky premise, but that murderer’s row of a cast is unfuck-with-able.  Plus he gets a lifetime pass for In Bruges, especially for the whole “cunt” speech.

        It’s interesting that you bring up creativity and the odd ways it manifests, because it brings me to one of my pet peeves, if you’ll indulge me.  Specifically, I am talking about when people, usually in jest, mention that an artist/group of artists must have be on some kind of drug when they came up with an idea.  Now, I get that this usually is just a jokey way of saying either “I don’t get it” or “Boy, this sure is weird!”, but there are some subtle but dangerous implications about the nature of articstic creation that such a statement fosters.  For one, it assumes that, without the assistance of recreational drugs, artists are just too hide-bound to come up with anything novel or out-of-the-box.  It also divides art into the mundane, “normal” art that may be enjoyed by the masses without ruffling any feather and the trippy “wierd” stuff that either is so out there that no-one in their right mind would ever come up with it.

        Mind you, I’m not denying that there are specific works/genres that are specifically designed to key into a specific altered state-of-consciousness (i.e. house music + Ectasy).  I’m also not scolding anyone on the casual use of drugs.  I have my issues with ceratin ones, but, generally, if you can remain a productive and conscientious member of society while partaking of these substances, I’m fine with it.

        • caspiancomic

           Eeeeeee, I know!! I’m catching Seven Psychopaths at Midnight Madness at this year’s TIFF, and I’m losing my mind with excitement. Did you see The Guard? It’s also got Brendan Gleeson in it, and it was by Martin’s brother John.  Also excellent.

          Wait, what were we talking about? Ico?

      • Oxperiment

        Like many webcomics, I find I enjoy ZP more thoroughly when I forget about the site for long periods and then get to go back and binge on months worth of content at a time. It can really beat waiting for updates!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

      Ueda saying he wanted to make a game after having that idea reminds me of how James Cameron came up with The Terminator: he said he had this image of a metal endoskeleton walking out of a giant fire. And so he constructed a movie that would facilitate that. Now apparently he has images of elaborate furries doing it with their hair, and so he constructs movies around THAT.

    • Afghamistam

      I’m only here because it reminded me of that Zero Punctuation ep.

  • Kilzor

    Ico Semi-Related Side Bar: am I the only one that was really hoping Wander was going to be revealed to be the progenitor of Ico and his horned brethren?  It did seem like that’s where they were going there for awhile.  

    • caspiancomic

       Hasn’t Team Ico obliquely mentioned that Wander is the progenitor of Ico and his horned brethren? I think I remember reading that somewhere. Or maybe I just believed it so hard I started to think it was real.

      • rvb1023

         A few months after SotC came out Ueda confirmed that they existed in the same universe and Wander was the first of Ico’s line, but even without his say it was still pretty obvious that’s what he was going for.

        • Kilzor

          Awesome.  Obviously it was implied, but I never knew if an official statement of any kind was made at any point.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       It kind of sort of is revealed, though it is not explicitly stated (which I feel suits the game, tonally).

  • chrisbarton303

    I played Ico for the first time 10 years ago on my housemate’s PS2, getting about half way through before I moved out. I finally completed it last year having bought a used PS2 on ebay, which cost me less than a copy of the game. No game before or since has sucked me in quite as much (Morrowind comes in a close second but lacks the emotional connection)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

      The ending of ICO is one of my all time favorite video game endings. Seeing the castle crumble apart while that song plays, I tear up every time.

  • rvb1023

    Fumito Ueda is really quite the rare breed: An auteur with total studio backing.  Despite the fact he has only made 2 games I would still consider him one of the most talented people in the industry.  His games are incredibly simple to play but resonate far deeper than almost anything else I have ever played.  I hate to sound like that guy, but he just gets how video games are supposed to work.  ICO (and to a greater extent, Shadow of the Colossus) are always the first things that come to mind when I think of how powerful videos games can be as a medium. 

    I mean, here’s a game that is essentially one giant escort mission, the least entertaining part of any game ever because it places the outcome outside of the player’s control, and in spite of this I never felt like Yorda was slowing me down or a piece of baggage.  Even if only by circumstance, these two inexplicably trust each other because they have no other options and even more so their relationship felt more mutual than one-sided.  After all, Ico wouldn’t have been able to make it anywhere in the castle without her and and she cannot escape without his help.

    I’ll admit, I was excited for Amy but terrible reviews scared me away from it (from the sounds of it, more than the actual game would have) but they almost seemed to have reversed the usual problem of escort missions where you appear to be the useless one in this case.  What kind of game design is that?  It reminds me of the ending of Oblivion where you essentially just escort that prince guy and he turns into a dragon and fights the final boss.  I’m not saying every game needs to end in some big climactic boss fight or even that the character you play as is the protagonist (even if that just makes sense), but you need to make your game more interesting than “defend the guy you wish you were playing as”.

    • PPPfive

       This post makes me think about Last Guardian and then be sad

    • RidleyFGJ

      What’s even crazier about Ueda’s pedigree is that before he was hired by Sony, he was an animator for WARP, the twisted and dearly departed developer of the D series of games. To go from that kind of job to getting carte blanche over at Sony is pretty remarkable.

      Of course, carte blanche is kinda the problem with The Last Guardian right now…

      • rvb1023

        Ueda always seemed a bit overambitious at points, the colossi were originally meant to be free-roaming and there were more than 16, but the poor little PS2 didn’t have the horsepower. 

        I think something similar happened to the Last Guardian that required even more reworking.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    This is weird, and obviously not reflective of the true relative quality of each game, but reading this write-up gave me the following bizarre impression:
    Ico – Perpetrator of the hoariest, most bone-deep problematic trope in video games, the ‘helpless princess’ in desperate need of a male hero.
    Amy – Brilliant subversion of the concept of heroism, where the hero’s motives are called into question (‘the “hero” rushes to the damsel’s side out of a misplaced sense of duty’), and ultimately the hero becomes more vulnerable and dependent upon the ‘helpless’ damsel in distress.

    Obviously, Ico is one of the greatest games ever, and Amy is a deeply flawed and ultimately forgettable little experiment. And obviously, Heisler’s sympathies lie more with the former than the latter. But, even so, there’s something in this write-up that made me see both games differently than I had before, which is pretty cool. It also may go to show that a sensitive, thoughtful exploration of a cliched or simple idea can be more effective than a slapdash implementation of several novel ideas.

    • Effigy_Power

      I was going to write something in that regard (obviously), but these two games are so many lightyears removed from each other that it’s hard to even argue a valid point based on them.

      Yes, the medieval imagery of “damsel in distress” is sexist, untrue and deeply rooted in society. Yes, it is an issue that female gamers (and plenty of sensible male gamers) are constantly banged against. Yes, it turns female protagonists basically into loot, maybe a quest-location, at best a companion cube.

      What was my point? Oh yes, these two games. Ico retells a classic story in a very strange way and yes, while the gender roles are your typical blabla again, it does it in a sweet way. The princess isn’t some distant thing in a castle protected by dragon X who is under the sway of evil duke Y (which btw is nothing but a metaphor for men apparently having to fight each other for the right to carry off a woman and do her behind the Ye Olde Mutton Shoppe). She isn’t primarily a love interest, she is present for large swathes of the game and it never feels as if she’s afraid because she is a woman… she simply doesn’t have Ico’s fighting abilities or spirit. In the end she even saves Ico, thus dispelling the “damsel in distress” part, because she herself whisks Ico to safety, presumably to do him behind Ye Olde Mutton Shoppe, but not definitely so.
      The game doesn’t end with “They lived happily ever after and Yorda fulfilled her life’s aspirations by popping out a bunch of kids and being a demure and devoted wife to Captain Awesome Hero Dude.

      Now, you could say all of those things about Amy as well, but the game, just as Steve says, just does such a shitty job at it. Amy seems to have been able to sneak out of the city by herself a lot easier, instead of being dragged-pushed along by an overzealous CPS-intern. The game is less about “damsel in distress” as it is about the well-meant, but misguided and at times even dangerous intent of wanting to save someone from presumably something that may or may not want to harm her at some point maybe but perhaps is a bad thing. It’s White-Knight-ism at the worst. Of course every adult’s primary reaction to seeing a child in need is to protect them, or at least that’s what we are instinctively programmed for. But the game is so vague about everyone’s motivations that it fails at… everything. If the game had started with Lana trying to flee the city herself, inadvertently stumbling across Amy and decided to save her and THEN found out piece by piece what is up with her, that would have been much more cerebral. Well… not that any game has ever made us find a helpless child and given us the ability to save them without that kid later being either a demon-pooping genome-bastard or Superjesus. The trope is admittedly worn thin. And yes, the game’s execution is pretty shoddy, so the message was bound to go under in slow-ladder climbs and bonking shadow demons on the head.

      As for me, I am off behind Ye Olde Mutton Shoppe.

    • caspiancomic

       Aw man, now I’m thinking critically about Ico when all I want to do is love it and tenderly caress it and kiss its cheek and tell it its beautiful.

      Anyway yeah, if you want to get right down to it Ico is technically thriving on the old gendered distressed damsel thing. So I guess it’s kind of odd that not only does it not bother me, but I didn’t even really notice until you explicitly brought it up. I suppose it would be easy to say I didn’t notice or care because I’m a dood, but I think I’ve demonstrated in the past that I’m one of those insufferable male feminist types who rattles on about gender inequality in the hopes that it’ll make girls like me, so in theory I ought to have at least picked up on it. I’m actually a little embarrassed.

      I don’t know why Ico doesn’t bother me in that way, but I’ve got a couple of theories. First would be that the game is just so good in every other way that I didn’t even notice. Which we’ll put in the ‘maybe’ pile.

      I think the biggest reason that the Ico/Yorda relationship doesn’t annoy me is that Yorda feels very real. She has a personality that is expressed naturally, we can see and feel her relationship with Ico getting stronger through the game, she clearly has her own emotions and motivations and desires, etc. She never really seems like an object in need of protecting or rescuing, and she certainly is never presented as Ico’s “prize” or “reward”. The relationship is also much more co-dependant than the typical hero/damsel relationship. Although she can’t fight, Yorda isn’t totally helpless, and Ico needs her to progress through the castle just as much as she needs him.

      I certainly hope I’m not just defending the game because I happen to like it, though. I always get self conscious when I defend, for example, Withnail & I against accusations of homophobia, because I’m worried I’m only coming to its defence because I don’t want to like something arguably bigoted. Hell, Ico might even pass the Bechdel Test, depending on what Yorda and the Queen are saying in their weird moon language!

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         ”Aw man, now I’m thinking critically about Ico when all I want to do is
        love it and tenderly caress it and kiss its cheek and tell it its
        beautiful.”

        That was kind of my feeling after reading this piece. It had never occurred to me to look for something like that in the game, but the piece suddenly made me notice that and wonder about it.

        Apparently the situation in Withnail is based on the director’s real encounters with director Franco Zefirelli, who I guess is a kind of aggressively sexual dude, and not representative of all  gay folks. Which doesn’t mean it’s automatically not problematic, but in the same way that you describe Yorda as a character who feels very real and idiosyncratic rather than a stock princess ‘type,’ maybe the uncle character in Withnail is less problematic because he represents a specific, idiosyncratic person, and not a whole group of people.

  • Cornell_University

    pointless yammering:  when exactly did Princess Toadstool become Princess Peach?  Mario 64?  or was it earlier?  whenever it was, I sort of assumed her FIRST name was Peach, so her full name would have been Peach Toadstool (rolls right off the tongue).  But it seems that she’s just Peach now, no toadstool nothing.  and are they still Mario Mario and Luigi Mario?  or has the series done away with surnames completely?  and why am I even asking myself these questions?

    • Cornell_University

      additional musings on one note imaginary persons:  I suppose her title of Princess Toadstool could have been akin to Miss America or something, and be unrelated to her true name.  were the Toads really just the panel of judges that voted for her?  Skincare Consultant Toad!  Local Gadabout Toad!

      in this scenario, not only is Mario incredibly superficial, risking so much for a beauty pageant winner, but Peach is downright demented.  I mean, they generally elect a new Miss America every YEAR, and she’s been going around calling herself Princess for decades.  some people just can’t let go of the past.  sad really.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       To take a light question perhaps too literally, and dump a bunch of info you probably already knew:

      -Peach/Toadstool is like Eggman/Robotnik. She was always Princess Peach in Japan, but was called Princess Toadstool in the U.S. Apparently (this is news to me), the first U.S. game to call her Princess Peach was the kind of obscure Super Scope game Yoshi’s Safari, but afterward was Toadstool again in Mario RPG. Mario 64 is when the name was first encountered by most English language players (and by me), where they used both names in-game. From this, it was rationalized by some that her full name was “Peach Toadstool,” though I don’t think that was ever used that way in a proper game. Now, she’s pretty much just Princess Peach, the same was Sonic’s nemesis is just Eggman.

      -”Mario Mario” and “Luigi Mario” were used in the movie, and by some fans, as a way to make sense of the game title which is pretty much standard NES-era trans-Pacific nonsense gibberish. That surname was never used in a game, and in an adorable old Inside Edition story on the NES (introduced by a young Bill O’Reilly circa 1985!), a NOA employee clarifies that they don’t have last names.

      • Effigy_Power

        Hearing O’Reilly say that Nintendo is almost the most fun a kid can have is a strange experience.
        I can only assume the most fun is yelling obscenities at your staff.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5qU4qudJYk

        I wonder what happened between those two videos. I have a feeling people didn’t touch his butthole enough.

    • Effigy_Power

      a) Maybe they found it weird that Mario consumes mushrooms on his way to save the mushroom princess?
      b) Maybe they didn’t consider that toadstools are pretty poisonous, even to Italian plumbers?
      c) Maybe they realized that every mushroom reference is one step away from a drug reference? I mean… considering some of those smaller ‘shrooms make you go Lewis-Carroll-nutsoid, some oral hanky-panky with Princess Toadstool should make you trip off your balls.
      d) Also, mushrooms look like stylized penises.
      e) Worst of all, if it’s not about mushrooms, but toads instead… her name would technically be Princess Toad Excrement. Nobody wants to save that.

      Whole slew of reasons really.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Weird thing I learned recently, that your comment reminds me of: Goombas are apparently based on chestnuts, not mushrooms (or chestnuts as much as mushrooms). Their Japanese name, kuribo, basically means “chestnut dude.” The goombas in Mario World are the most overtly chestnut-looking, but there’s also stuff like goombas hiding in chestnut pods in Mario Wii.

        On a slightly more relevant note, it feels like there was a notable push around the late 90s, during the first 3D generation, to square away weird localization discrepancies. Peach and Eggman had their names reverted to the Japanese originals, the Final Fantasies were renumbered to line up with the Japanese series. Actually, those are all the examples I can think of. Maybe that wasn’t relevant, after all.

        This post has “Comment Cat” written all over it, I know. SUBSTANTIVE.

        • Effigy_Power

          What’s Japanese for “pandering”, @paraclete_pizza:disqus?
          I bet it’s ‘pandutsu’. It sounds right judging by internet’s standards.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @Effigy_Power:disqus
           I think it’s “pantsu! pantsu!”

          My new, unbeatable, strategy for making meaningful contributions to the discussion is to make an untenable assertion, followed by an explanation which, halfway through, I realize is irrelevant. Then hit the post button anyway. I like to call this strategy “Commenting like a fucking CHAMP.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

    Ico is one of my all time favorite games. You described the all encompassing anxiety and fear of leaving Yorda for even a second extremely well.

    I read another piece about Ico a while back that described it as Fumito Ueda’s take on a fairy tale. When you strip it down to its bare essentials, it really is almost like a Disney movie: exiled boy must save delicate princess from the evil queen. It co-opts those character archetypes to lend its narrative a LOT of depth despite, as you pointed out, very little actual exposition (and even less in a language we can understand). The same piece described Shadow of the Colossus, then as Ueda’s take on a myth or legend, but as it was happening as opposed to filtered through the years. I’ll have to see if I can find it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

      I found the link. My description didn’t do justice to its depth, including research annotations, so definitely give it a read:

      http://www.rose-tainted.net/ico/essays/petereliot_annotation.html 

      • caspiancomic

         Oh baby, and I thought my articles were running long. I am going to read this so hard! Thanks for the link, man!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I love this article so much, I want to take it behind Ye Olde Mutton Shoppe.

        • Effigy_Power

          If @paraclete_pizza:disqus gets any Comment Cat love while quoting Ye Olde Mutton Shoppe, I will sue everyone everywhere ever.

  • stakkalee

    All this talk about emotional attachment in video games and the ever-present escort mission has really got my juices flowing for The Last Of Us (which I won’t be able to play, as it’s PS3-exclusive, grumble…)

    If it’s done well, the coupling of a post-apocalyptic setting with a game-length escort mission could really amp up the player’s empathy muscles – post-apocalyptic survival horror is almost always emotionally gripping (at least for me), and if Ellie is fleshed out as a genuine, 3-dimensional character, then there’s potential for a real emotional roller-coaster.

    @feisto:disqus mentioned that “I really could care less about their backstory and goals,” and I feel that way myself about most NPCs, but I wonder if that’s just a function of the writing?  Video games may be primarily a visual medium, but there’s tons of ways to make a character with depth, and I find that things like the voice-acting and the little visual touches (Yorda’s stumbles, etc.) add more than mo-cap ever will.  As long as the character’s aesthetic isn’t TOO uncanny, and as long as it’s “appropriate” to the rest of the game’s animation, I tend to focus more on the voice acting and on the CHARACTER itself.  For instance, Neverwinter Nights had Aribeth, the elven paladin, as an NPC, and I really found myself identifying with her, her struggles, her conflicts between love and duty, and ultimately the compromises that led to her downfall.  She was a 3-d (or at least 2.5-d) character and her presence in that game really elevated it from an emotional standpoint.

    If developers treat their NPCs as signposts to the next quest then that’s all they’ll ever be, and if that’s all I, as the player, need from them, then I won’t complain too much.  But if you’re asking me, as a player, to care about the plight of this NPC you need to give me more of a reason than “Well, you’re supposed to care for them!”

    • Effigy_Power

      I would agree that it’s most of the writing.
      In Skyrim, there was a character named Mjoll the Lioness, who was a proud, strong warrior with the self-set task to free Riften from the influence of thieves and the mob-like dealings of the ruling family. She was disheartened by the loss of her sword and I wanted nothing more than to retrieve it for her and see her swing into action.
      I fetch-quested the crap out of that and when I gave her the sword she turned into a standard companion… no more story.
      I wanted to assist Mjoll in taking down the Blackbriars, eradicate the Thieves Guild and restore Riften to former glories, because just a small amount of interaction with the NPC convinced me that this was a real personality with real aspirations and a whole chest full of conviction and also some sexy face paintings.

      http://static.skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/images/8331-1-1328813842.jpg
      HOW DO YOU NOT HELP THIS FACE? (and yes, that’s after a mod…)

      The fact that NPCs are sometimes nothing but McGuffin’s and Quest-point-outers is not a fault of the NPC system, but of the writing. Mjoll could have had an elaborate quest-line surrounding her, but didn’t. After you fulfill her quest, she drops all personal aspiration and becomes a thing to be controlled and told what to do.
      If NPCs are flat and boring, it’s because writers allow them to.

    • rvb1023

       If there is any reason I am excited for The Last of Us (Besides the overdone apocalyptic setting, which I’ll admit I am a sucker for) it’s that Ellie did come off as an active element and character of the game rather than the pixels that needed protecting.  God I loved that demonstration.

  • The_Quirk

    God DAMN I hated dealing w/ Yorda, that fucking moron.  Halfway through, I was wishing there was an option to just hand her over to the darkness.

  • djsubversive

    more mod-stuff, as usual:
    I’m going to assume that my previous post got eaten by disqus for being way too long, because it was very long. But there’s a good chunk of news since Saturday’s run-through.

    Short version: Namalsk is out, Chernarus is in. The DAC is working so far (but still using default faction settings, so yes there are guys with RPGs running around). I’ve gone back to the “meet other survivors before grouping together” intro rather than a helicopter insertion (but there’s still a helicopter ride into Chernarus, complete with “that depressing blues shit”, this time “Hellhound on My Trail”).

    My biggest short-term accomplishment, though: I’ve figured out how to get chatter to not appear in all caps. So now the conversations between characters will look cleaner. “Eff: What the hell was that?” in grey, instead of “[1-1-A 1]: EFF: WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” in blue or yellow (side/group chat). The lines are technically being broadcast over a global channel by an invincible dog stuck in the far corner of the map (since Game Logics only exist server-side, but units appear for everyone), but it works.

    • Effigy_Power

      I promise, you’ll get that vacation some day, Sub… maybe to Portland or Delaware.
      (That’s all that’s in the budget.)

      • djsubversive

        Not a bad budget if it can get me from Wisconsin to one of the coasts. :)

        Don’t worry, I’m not burned out yet, or anywhere near it. Frustrated sometimes, sure (damn that ace_w_hands error!), but still enthusiastic about turning an idea into something.

        • George_Liquor

           Yes sir! I damn thee, ace_w_hands error!

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      In the upcoming Steam community update they’re adding forums for groups. I can totally make you all a subforum for this mod if you’d like. mite b cool.

      • djsubversive

        It would be nice to have a central repository for notes and information that isn’t my spotty memory. Also, we’d be able to share information a little easier – I’ve figured something out before, then realized that neither Mooy or Effigy are online anymore because it’s 3 AM and I’ve been plugging away at the editor for the last 5 hours, so I can’t share the news. Then I flood Gameological chat with updates on my progress when either of them show up. :D

        Yeah, I’m all for it. I was actually debating something like that – a forum or group or something that we can use to coordinate and share information – but a Steam group forum would be pretty convenient AND require no extra work from me. :)

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Only problem is I have no clue when they’re bringing it out of beta. I’ll go ahead and set it up for you anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “Yorda won’t move too quickly unless you call for her or actually grab her hand and lead her forward (the preferred option given Yorda’s tendency to wander).”
    I was replaying Ico– still my favorite video game ever– when the PS3 upscale came out, and I found myself obsessing over how carefully constructed this one little detail is. Basically, there’s a masterfully subtle trick in the mechanics of the hand-holding that I think colors everything that happens in the game. There’s some kind of thing going on where the speed you want to run at is 1.0, and the speed Yorda wants to move at is 0.75. If you carefully nudge the analog stick to exactly the right speed, you and Yorda silently walk along. But move at the speed that you, with your awkward analog-stick movement (has any game where you had to move slowly with an analog stick actually *worked*?), want to naturally go at, and you start to *run* while Yorda is desperately flailing stumbling to keep up, uncomplaining but clearly worried and alarmed. In the instant you start to run and you’re immediately treated to this sickening *jerk* in the controller vibration– in that instant it feels like you’re practically tearing Yorda’s arms out of her socket. I’ve played video games where the game tried to force me to rip a guy’s head off with my bare hands then guilt me for my own hyperviolence; the moment felt nothing because it was so contrived and the characters so meaninglessly fake. But Ico makes you feel incredibly *guilty* just for pulling an imaginary computer construct’s arm slightly too hard.

    There’s so many layers and careful tweaking in this one tiny mechanical gimmick. You don’t want that subtle negative reinforcement of feeling the controller jerk and knowing you hurt Yorda, so you find yourself trying to move the analog stick at exactly the right angle and speed but… the same way that Yorda is graceful when moving at her own rate and awkwardly flailing when running at yours, if you try to walk at Yorda’s rate everything from the mechanics of balancing the stick to your character’s animation feels awkward, unsteady, like… well, like an ungainly 10-year-old boy totally out of place next to the floating angelic being whose hand he’s holding. They basically took two things about modern controllers I hate (the not-very-analog-ness of analog sticks, controller vibration) and made something amazing out of them– they actually use the *inadequacy* of the control sticks to make an emotional point, like the Dual Shock’s mushy sticks are a metaphor for awkward charging adolescence. It’s all so emotionally manipulative, which isn’t weird for a video game, what’s weird is that it *works* and that you could play the whole game, your behavior subtly warped the whole time by the arm-jerking mechanic, without even totally clearly realizing it’s there.

    • caspiancomic

       So this comment is pretty much excellent, and puts into words a reaction I had to the game I couldn’t quite verbalize myself. I remember in the earliest parts of the game I basically refused to use the hand holding, because it felt very forceful and aggressive, and as I alluded to in an earlier thread, overly intimate. But as the game progresses, the need to take Yorda by the hand and lead her, sometimes forcibly, becomes increasingly necessary. But no matter how necessary it became, it never really felt “okay” to yank her arm out of its socket like that. I had to perform that action probably 50 or more times during the game, and every time I got the feeling that it was kind of painful and uncomfortable, and even though I knew it was for her own good, I always felt a little guilty about doing it.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    I’m here late, but put together, the essay above and especially the comments below are some of the best insights into video games I’ve read in quite a while.  10/10.