This is a translation of part one of an in-depth, three-part interview with Fumito Ueda, published last month by Entertainment Station Japan. In this part he mainly discusses his earlier years, from childhood to college to working at Warp. Enjoy!
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Game Designer Fumito Ueda (Part 1)
Where did the distinctive worlds of ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, and The Last Guardian come from?
Originally published 2017.12.24
Interview by Fumio Kurokawa
A game has to offer something which can’t be expressed via film or other media
—If it’s alright, I’d like to start by asking about your childhood. You grew up in Hyogo prefecture, right?
Ueda: Yes, that’s right. Tatsuno city, in Hyogo prefecture.
—What kind of town was it?
Ueda: It didn’t really have anything special about it, so you could say it was extremely ordinary. It wasn’t on the scale of what I’d call a city, but it wasn’t the countryside either. That kind of feeling.
—In those days, was there something that you were really into, or anything that influenced you creatively, later in life?
Ueda: Ever since I was little, I’ve always liked drawing pictures, and even I knew that I had a knack for it. Also, my father was the type who’d make neat things for me to play with. He’d go cut down some of the nearby bamboo, and carve that into a propeller toy**, or he’d make it into a bow and arrow or a blowgun, things like that.
**Translator’s note: The original word is 竹とんぼ (taketonbo), a small wooden Japanese toy that flies when spun between the palms of one’s hands
—Oh, I see, interesting. What kind of work did your father do?
Ueda: Making things wasn’t related to his real job, but he was very good with his hands. Of course, sometimes he’d also buy me toys, but the times when he would make various things are more etched into my memory. And then, because I learned by watching him, it’s a bit dangerous, but I started making weapon-like things and tools to catch fish and animals.
—Looking at the games you’ve made, concepts like contact with animals and connections between people can be felt very strongly, so I suppose it makes sense that that’s rooted in those experiences you had as a child.
Ueda: I’ve said this in other talks and interviews, but a long time ago I kept various animals, so I do create things based on my memories of those times. Though, I don’t consciously make that a theme. Back then, I was searching for something that could be all my own, that no one else had, so I kept a lot of animals, and then I became more knowledgeable than most about things like animals’ physiology and their movements, so I just thought if I could express that when creating something, then surely it could have some value as a product.
—So that’s what it was. In your games, words aren’t really exchanged, but connections between people, and connections between humans and animals—I feel like making people experience those kinds of things is inherent in your works, so that’s why I thought that.
Ueda: I’m told that a lot, but personally I think that’s nothing more than the influence of what I’ve liked or disliked, in the games I’ve played up until now. For example, I don’t really like games where you have to read a lot of text. Also, I originally did art, so when I entered the game industry it was just so that I could have a job and keep eating. When I considered what the best way to put the skills I had to use was, at the time video games were the most suitable field of work. Therefore, the things I hadn’t been able to express through art until that point, or through film since I also like movies, if I didn’t express them, then there wouldn’t have been any point to me picking the video game industry, I think. I think that those sentiments are tied to the work I present even now.
Horse riding on the west coast, in 2002.
A work is just an expression of one part of me
—Please let me rewind the conversation a little. You said you liked drawing pictures, and you did enter the Osaka University of Arts, so did you originally want to proceed down that path, in the realm of fine arts?
Ueda: Well, I didn’t, really. I was in the design department during high school, so more than fine arts or “pure” art, I liked design. That’s why I didn’t really have any thoughts about pursuing art, but I was in the art club at one point, and so one of the teachers in charge there gave me a recommendation.
—I’ve heard that after graduating high school, you considered getting a design-related job at some production company or similar agency. However, at your instructor’s recommendation, your path changed a little bit. Or maybe it’s that you headed in a direction where you could express yourself more? What were your university days like? I’ve read that you often spent time outdoors riding your motorcycle and such.
Ueda: Yes, I don’t think I was a very diligent student.
—What kind of bike did you ride?
Ueda: At that time I only had a license for medium-sized vehicles, so I rode a moped and a 400cc motorcycle. I’ve continued to ride motorcycles for a very long time, since I was young.
—I imagined you painting pictures and things more like that, so hearing that you like motorbikes is a little surprising.
Ueda: Yeah, I think that’s commonly thought about me, and even I feel it myself somehow. I tend to be seen like that, through the impression of my creations, but they’re definitely just an expression of one part inside me. I’m always riding my motorcycle, and for games, I also play stuff like first-person shooters.
—In regards to your classes, you said you weren’t a very serious student. Why is that?
Ueda: Until I entered university, I did what’s called figurative painting. However, my course of study at Osaka University of Arts was more focused on abstract painting, or rather, presenting what’s inside of oneself, using expression that’s a little bit closer to the senses than other techniques. But in high school, I was in the design department, so I didn’t really have any experience expressing what’s on the inside of me. So at the start, I was just spinning my wheels, and it wasn’t very fun. After doing that for a while, I think I became less serious about my school classes.
 Refers to painting depicting real, concrete sources. This term is generally used in contrast with what is called abstract painting.
 In contrast with figurative painting, abstract painting depicts a peculiar viewpoint of the subject which may differ from what is actually visible. Picasso’s cubism is a famous example.