Wednesday, April 11

ICO: Pacing and Emotion

Pacing is an important aspect of game design, but probably doesn't recieve as much attention as it should. I recently played ICO for the PlayStation 2. ICO was designed by Fumito Ueda and developed by SCEI back when the PS2 first launched. SCEI has more recently developed PoPoLoCrois and Shadow of the Colossus, which was also designed by Ueda.

ICO is one of the greatest games ever made, and part of this is because of well-designed pacing. Pacing is difficult to define. But it partly refers to the balancing of time-played with gameplay intensity. Pacing also has to do with how often story sequences arrive and how much gameplay is spent between them. Most games probably use both fast and slow pacing, switching between them to strategically affect the player. ICO has incredible pacing. If you haven't played through ICO, you may consider the following a spoiler. Also, go play ICO now. What's wrong with you?

The pacing in ICO is mostly very slow. Players slowly work their way through the puzzle environments while occasionally fighting shadow enemies. Every once in a while, though, a story sequence will show up that feeds players information, and pushes them forward. Additionally, the entire game is kind of like one big story sequence. During any given moment, players are exploring the castle and understanding its structure while contemplating its purpose. More importantly, players are constantly fighting for Yorda, players want to save her. The emotion, effort, and feeling towards Yorda grow more and more as players work their way through the game. This is all very important for the end of the game. The game is reliant on players feeling for Yorda to drive the story and create an emotional gameplay experience.When ICO and Yorda are split when crossing the bridge (I'll be posting more on this in the near future), all of the emotion for Yorda culminates within the player. This creates an intense drive to save Yorda, even if its the last thing you do. Did you notice, that players cannot save after the bridge scene until the game is finished? Their is a very important reason for this. Fumito Ueda intentionally forced the player to continue playing until the end. The reason is simple: Ueda wanted all of the emotion from the bridge scene and from Yorda being taken away to still be present in players through the end. Ueda wanted players to feel a rush of emotional energy, and wanted that energy to fuel their motivation for saving Yorda. If players were allowed to save after the bridge scene, chances are the emotional impact of that event would have disipated when the player came back to the game to save Yorda again.

Pace Yourself
Think back to the games you've played, maybe you've played God of War, or Super Mario Sunshine, or Guitar Hero. How was the gameplay in game paced?
-Did the pacing work well or not so well?
-What would you do differently to make the pacing better?
Also, Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?


  1. Hi Finn,

    I'd never heard of pacing until I read this post. Nice work, nice explanation. Thanks for making it sound so simple.



  2. Thanks, David. I appreciate it.

  3. You're right about pacing being important. I have seen some great games nearly ruined by a chapter or scenario that drags or ends too quickly.