Thoughts on Design: Shadow of the Colossus


Shadow of the Colossus... One of the most inspiring games I have ever played. The game itself is extremely simple. Travel to a location, find the enemy, watch the enemy, create a strategy, then execute it. Very little resource management (health), only sixteen enemies in the entire game, and the only other entity that you need to keep track of other than the enemy and yourself is Argo; the nice faithful steed that takes you from place to place. This allows the player to take in the art direction very well with little to no HUD as well as having a good render distance. It ultimately creates an extremely unique experience unlike anything I've played.

Now you're asking yourself... Sixteen enemies? How does the game keep your attention with such a small amount? Most of them are at least 10 feet tall and some get up to a few stories. Each one of them is unique in their own way and requires a specific strategy to kill each. No battle is the same, whether or not you are doing the same action to each one of them (climb, find weak spot, and strike). The player must find a way to get on the creature, watch it's attack pattern, and finally take notice of the environment. Many areas have a destructible element to it or have an impact on the colossus. With all this complexity within fighting a single enemy, it can take over an hour just to take one out if you are completely ignorant about all of these factors. With each of these variables, it creates an extremely different type of game play. No other game developer has been able to mimic this type of game. On top of all of this, Argo (the horse) acts damn well like a real horse. He isn't instantaneously responsive, he roams around on his own when you are not riding him, and when you actually are, he still makes random movements on his own. It's like a battle in itself, but it adds the layer of depth that makes riding to each place not boring at all.


The HUD has become quite the staple for video games to communicate statuses of the avatar and every known tool in the game. It is ubiquitous. Most video games rely on this tool, some quite heavily. Shadow of the Colossus successfully uses a very discrete one that allows the experience to be hindered very little. The previous title Fumito Ueda designed was Ico. It was an extremely ambitious and creative title for the launch of the PS2; what was so unique about the game is that it had no HUD. No HP bar, no stamina indicator, nothing at all. What was visualized on the screen was the only thing to decipher. SotC obviously wanted to be able to do that, but it was too complex of an idea to be able to succeed in that direction. If SotC decided to have a much more cumbersome and elaborate HUD, the game would not have had such a strong impact on the player.

One of the most amazing things about this game is how the story is communicated with such little dialogue. The background of the entire game is given in a few short minutes, the protagonist’s goals are conveyed in an even shorter amount of time, and the stage is set up in a total of seven short minutes for the entire game. The rest of the dialogue until the end of the game deals with the location of each colossi. In the end, there is hardly any dialogue in the entire game; yet the overall package is an extremely powerful one, despite the minimal writing.

There are no persistent rewards throughout the game. Rewards in video games are what makes the player persevere. It could be the score, power-ups, items, abilities and what not. Shadow of the Colossus has no such thing. The reward is killing each enemy which allows the player to advance through the game. However, with my experience with the game, I would consider it rather depressing killing each colossus. Watching the cut scenes for each one fall when they die makes it seem like they were just perfectly harmless and innocent creatures, which creates a guilt within me and makes me want to cry... The creatures are even portrayed within the story in such a way as well. This young man wants to save a young girl from death and if he kills all of them she will be revived... These colossi have not done a thing to harm either of them, but this young man wants to sacrifice 16 gargantuan lives for a single one...

Every single mechanic in the game shows that a ton of work has been put in to the game. There may not be a slew of things your avatar can do, nor is there a ton of things to occupy every second of your time spent in the game. The point is to take in everything you see, take notice of the littlest entities within, see how much time has been spent to make such a vast and interesting world. To absorb each colossus battle to be the most epic ones you have ever encountered in every game, to actually befriend the horse Argo. Shadow of the Colossus is not just a game, but rather an experience that every gamer should enjoy.


Mr. Big Shot


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