Thursday, September 18, 2014

ICO (Part 1)

Here I will be featuring all that I have discovered in this game, so be prepared to read through a 'long' post! Note: Each chapter heading will include (in brackets) the original name of that level given by the developers. Although the game first appeared in 2001, nobody (it seems) spent any time trying to hack into it to search for secrets, or if they did, they didn't post any evidence of this. The exception is a couple of short videos by Dark0ssX which you can watch here:

It wasn't until January 2010 that I made my first ICO video. I used the same techniques I had become accustomed to with Shadow of the Colossus, but to my surprise the rules were very different in ICO. Although I did find some useful codes (addresses) that changed ICO's speed, size and camera effects, I could not find his position co-ordinates (which are useful for finding other codes) so in the end I was forced to rely on Codebreaker codes to move the camera around to search for hidden areas. Even trying to find the Codebreaker camera codes using my memory editor has eluded me... if I could find these codes I could manipulate them as I please, although I don't think I would find anything new.
See video here:

Development of ICO
Fumito Ueda had decided to try for a career in video gaming when he thought 'how wonderful it might be to be someone who touches others through his creations', he certainly has fulfilled that dream! He did this after spending time living as an artist.

The genesis of ICO began in February 1997. Ueda wanted to create a game with a totally new concept involving the universal theme of 'boy meets girl', a younger boy and a slightly older girl in this case. 'Holding her hand would lead from a physical to a mental bond'. He got the idea from a Japanese commercial that featured a lady holding the hand of a child, walking through the woods. From February to June 1997 Ueda produced a short 3 minute pilot movie with one assistant using Lightwave 3D on a Commodore Amiga 500. 

In it, a young (normal looking) boy in a red shirt gazes down from an inclined step at a horned girl sitting on a couch below, cloaked in shadow. There follows some very 'un-ICO-like' footage of armored robots flying around and firing energy blasts (much like other video games of the time), destroying part of the castle, and then the trailer ends with the girl reaching out and touching the boy's cheek. Simon and Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair' was used as the background music in the original pilot movie which was used to pitch the game to Sony. The song also became the inspiration for ICO's theme song, 'You Were There', sung by a boy, Steven Geraghty. 'ICO' is also a pun on the Japanese expression meaning 'Let's go!'

Note: I have never seen this early pilot movie and as far as I can tell it exists nowhere on the web. However, the PS1 prototype video that you can find on Youtube has some of these elements (apart from the armored robots firing energy weapons), although you do see ICO and Yorda running away from some explosions. So it seems the PS1 trailer was based on Ueda's earlier pilot reel. See PS1 prototype video here:

ICO - a normal child wearing a simple red shirt

End of PS1 trailer as the girl touches ICO's cheek

PS1 closeup of the girl's cursed tattoo

Early concepts featured a castle, surrounded by a town, deep in the forest, on a deserted island. ICO, a servant boy (or slave) finds a girl trapped in a cell and frees her. They leave the castle and make their way into the adjoining town, but being pursued by enemies, they escape to a deserted island and try to survive. At the end they would try to destroy the castle. At this stage the girl wore a horned helmet and the boy bore a cursed tattoo. We can see above that by the time of the PS1 trailer the girl bore the cursed tattoo as well as the horned helmet. Note: Ueda had never been to a castle prior to working on ICO so he based the Queen's castle on the work of artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Deserted vehicles near rice fields and semi-built up areas in the Japanese countryside were some of the things which first inspired ICO's castle.
One of Giovanni Battista Piranesi's numerous etchings

PS1 trailer castle

PS1 castle and adjoining town

Closeup of the castle

 Another view of the castle

View of the ocean - a bird can be seen reminding us of the eagle in SotC

See some vary rare video footage of the bird and ocean here:

These images of the castle and the sea are from Ueda-san's now defunct web page. They're from the very first concept he made for ICO - back in 1994 (thanks to Redmond Busutti).

PS1 ICO looking down at the girl from a ledge

 PS1 early Yorda sitting on a couch

 Closeup of early Yorda - she doesn't look very feminine at this stage 

Note: In the above scenes we see some of what was mentioned in the pilot video. ICO can be seen looking down from a ledge at the girl sitting on a couch.There is also a large rug that seems to have a design embroidered on it, although I can't make out what it's supposed to represent? Notice how the girl is cradling her arm, as if it pains her. It could be that the cursed tattoo is causing her pain and only by some action or restitution in the game will the tattoo's curse be lifted. You'll also notice that the couch is leather and one of its cushions has slipped out, much like the sort of couch you would see in someone's lounge room. Later this was changed to the stone save couches we see in the game today. There also appears to be some kind of box next to the couch, it's hard to make out what it is, maybe a crude side table with various objects placed on it? But with the horned helmet the girl looks more menacing than the frail angelic Yorda we are used to.

PS1 ICO and girl holding hands

ICO and girl running away from explosions in PS1 proto trailer

Explosions with castle in the background

Above we see ICO next to a campfire, Yorda is nearby, apparently lying down or sleeping? This ties in with the early concept story of the pair escaping the castle and making their way to a deserted island where they try to survive. It's clear they are trying to evade capture by the castle guards and have found a place to hold up for a while. But how long they stayed here or what adventures they got up to is unknown. It's also unknown who or what are firing exploding projectiles at the pair as they run for their lives. Was it mortar fire, artillery or those weird armored robots?

PS1 entrance to chandelier room

Above we see Yorda has fallen over or is hurt in some way. ICO is standing above her, stooping as if either reaching down to help Yorda (although he's facing the wrong way) or is injured himself? This appears to show the door you enter to reach the chandelier hall, but why Yorda is lying down is unknown.
PS1 ponytailed Yorda and ICO in the Proto room

ICO falls from the chandelier

Note: I apologize for the poor quality of some of the images which were taken from the PS1 prototype trailer which has a native resolution of 640 x 480p. Other images are from an early website about a conference in which Ueda explained his idea of 'Design by Subtraction' in video games, link here:
In the above image we see ICO has fallen to the floor below (center screen) after falling off the chandelier which has crashed down into the crevice. This differs from the retail version as ICO lands on a bridge above the floor. You will also notice ICO has a crude health bar at this stage in development.

Above we see the PS1 game had some unique booby traps. As ICO passes a certain spot in an unfamiliar room, some arrows can be seen flying just above his head, ending up embedded in the wall. A different design of Yorda can be seen in the background, now she has no horned helmet, but dark hair tied down into ponytails. Perhaps ICO was short enough for the arrows to miss him as the trap was probably set up to kill a full grown man?

PS1 draw bridge

At first I thought this was an early design for the ancient stone bridge you find after leaving the spiral ramp tower (where Yorda is first found in her cage), but it appears to be one of the draw bridges we find later in the the game at the courtyard. ICO appears to be trailing a white sheet (cloak/flag?) of some kind that flutters in the wind as he runs, he jumps but misses the other side of the bridge and falls helplessly into the void below, presumably to his death?
PS1 Strange horned soldiers

Above we see an early version of some castle guards, a fat one and a thin one who has hold of ICO. The fat one wields a weapon of some kind, but overall they are not very menacing and look comical in comparison to the later shadow creatures, which convey a sense of dread and foreboding. This appears to be the waterfall balcony where Ico has to climb outside, swing on a chain to reach a platform, climb down a ladder to find a box that will enable Yorda to reach the ladder. There is an elevator that takes ICO and Yorda up to the higher levels. You can see this elevator in the corner.

PS1 early Yorda with ponytails

Here we see a clearer view of an alternate Yorda (or the unnamed girl at this point), she now has a dress instead of the shorts she was seen wearing above, she's also lost the horned helmet making her look more like an innocent girl than a warrior. You will also notice that the enemy now has taken on a dark form, much like the shadow creatures we see in the retail version. I'm not sure where this place is, but it has one of the unique ringed jars seen in the Proto room (see chapter further down).

ICO leading Ponytailed Yorda

Yorda seems to be crouching or praying here as a flock of birds fly past

Pipes meander down from a railed ledge

PS1 another view of the green field/storm water level

The above shot grabbed my attention. Notice how in the northwest corner there are some stairs leading up to another level? I wonder where these led? From the map I made  they would appear to lead to the Cemetery level but at this early stage who knows? They may have led to some deleted level we have never seen.

PS1 Yorda with short dark hair and skimpy clothes

PS1 - another shot of skimpy Yorda sporting black earings and a cloak or shawl

Note: the above image seems to be a later version of Yorda as it is recorded that the day the master was due for the release of ICO, Ueda decided Yorda 'should have a hair cut'. This would suggest that the ponytailed Yorda was the main design up until the last minute. Perhaps the above image was one of Yorda's incarnations with a short haircut before the final version was approved (that we see in the game today). I must admit, I like this version of Yorda! She seems more seductive and sexy to me ; )

Sexy legs view of Yorda

This appears to be another version of Yorda, now with white clothes instead of dark clothes. She is still showing a lot of skin, her legs are fully exposed but she has a white cloak instead of the dark one (shown above this image) so I think this was also a last minute change. They liked Yorda with short hair but decided to use a white dress instead of a black one.

PS1 ICO in underground storm water chamber

Early design of waterfall balcony

Later design of waterfall balcony

Current design of waterfall balcony

Same orange brick texture found at the beta Dam in SotC

Note: In Shadow of the Colossus, there is only one place (the now infamous beat Dam) where you can see these early orange brick like textures that look very much like the brick textures in PS2 ICO. That is at i2 on the world map, a place that you cannot get to without using hacks. This tells us that the Dam and surrounding models and textures were created at an early stage in development, perhaps using recycled textures from ICO?

ICO leading ponytailed Yorda at waterfall balcony field

PS1 unique stone angel statue

 Closeup of stone angel statue

 Forest area at start of game (with Codebreaker codes)

 Courtyard (or opposite bluff temple) on far side of bridge

Forest path with the temple softened in the distance

In the above 'waterfall balcony' images you get to see some rare glimpses of the very early designs of the level (from the 1UP website). First a very crude rock cut version, followed by a more refined version with lighting effects added. I then added how it looks today which has the same orange colored brick textures. As mentioned above these orange brick textures can be seen at the beta Dam in Shadow of the Colossus. I think when fans first saw the brick archway and columns at the Dam (from Pikol's video) it reminded them of the balcony just outside the waterfall chamber in ICO.

Development History
Below is a time table of how the game developed over time with details of the problems they faced in producing ICO (again taken from the 1UP website).

November 1997: The actual project started with two programmers, four artists, one designer, plus Ueda and Kenji Kaido.

October 1998: Full production started, all the animations were hand-crafted.

October 1999: The content is almost identical to the final product. After the girl is taken away by the guards, you need to bring her back to the cage, where the game starts.

September 1999: Two years have passed, but the goal is still out of sight. Characters are moving, but not with enough reality that we aimed for. There is difficulty in controlling character motions and the AI, is this too ambitious for the PS1? There is a lack of CPU power, too many parameters to control, causing program instability.

At this point there are three choices: 1) Termination of the project. 2) Change the concept, seeking a way to finish the project. 3) Take more time, staying with the original concept (we knew we could get there eventually, but...)

October 1999: A turning point, the PlayStation 2. Changing the platform from PS1 to PS2, we converted the program to the new hardware to solve the problems, while using the original concept, with no compromises. The new hardware solved almost all the CPU related problems. We hired an additional programmer with a better understanding towards the visual importance. We needed a programmer who could understand and contribute to the concept of how to generate the reality of our goal, e.g. a girl climbing onto a box.

December 1999: Two months after conversion to the PS2 we started creating a new graphic engine at 60 frames per second. Lighting effects, particles in the air, cloth movement tests etc. All the stage data is converted from PS1, now using the high-end models.

January 2000: Conversion went very smooth. But there are newly-generated issues due to the more powerful hardware. The higher resolution means no cheating, meaning we need even more details to generate 'reality'. Some negative factors arise from the more realistic graphics, i.e. too much representation of in-game fictional elements (kidnapping, stalking, violence). We finish PS2 test movie #2 right after the launch of PS2 in Japan, and before the exposure we would get at E3.

April 2001: We release a promotional video, six months prior to the launch of the game, distributing it through game magazines that carry DVDs, and in the PlayStation Underground disc in the U.S. (Note: I have tried to find this disc - Official US Playstation Underground Magazine demo disc from around this time but so far have seen no evidence of this early trailer).

ICO was one of that year's highlights, being nominated in multiple categories, namely Game of the Year, Original Game Character of the Year, Excellence in Game Design, Excellence in Level Design, Excellence in Visual Arts, and Game Innovation.

Opening Cut Scene (Sea)
The game opens with a serene view of a forest. All is still, the sound of birds chirping and the wind immediately draws us in to this fascinating virtual world. Suddenly the view changes and we see some soldiers riding large pack horses, churning a path through the dense forest. The camera pans in on a boy who seems to be a prisoner held captive against his will. He struggles with the bonds holding his wrists together to no avail as the soldiers make their way towards a temple in the distance. Note: I'm using the PAL version to play through the game, but I'll show some of the older NTSC version as well.

Note: You can use the Codebreaker camera codes during the cut scenes, in fact a user on the Assembler forums named 'fiber' seems to have been the genius who created these Codebreaker codes, so I owe a special thanks to him : ) But I was amazed to find I could watch the opening cut scene from any angle, and once the horses and soldiers had left the forest area from the very beginning, I could move the camera back there and explore this small enclosed forested area as well.

 Forest view from the start of the intro cut scene

 I did my best recreate the above scene... this was as close as I could get

It's strange that I couldn't exactly recreate the above forest scene... I had the same problem in Shadow of the Colossus. There was an early art book image of the Entrance temple, but try as I might, I couldn't match it to the current (retail version) Entrance temple. The same is true for the ICO cut scene, even though I am exploring the same cut scene from the intro it seems to be different?

View of the forest model from a distance

Another unexpected find was ICO himself standing out above the ocean between the castle and the cliffs! I was moving the camera around exploring the cut scene area and I noticed this tiny orange dot way off in the distance, I moved in and found ICO, just standing there hundreds of feet above the ocean looking around like he does when nothing is happening - I guess he doesn't unload like the soldiers do at the title screen, instead the developers just moved him off to the side out of view.
 In the intro we see ICO is held prisoner by some mysterious hooded soldiers

A special press kit was released in the spring of 2002 by Sony to announce the release of ICO (see part 2), contained within were some text documents that give an overview of the story, and in part it reads 'this generation’s boy born with horns, is consequently kidnapped from his village and taken to an isolated castle where he is placed in a tomb to be sacrificed'. So he was kidnapped, but by whom? The soldiers say 'Do not be angry with us, this is for the good of the village' as if they are apologizing to ICO for putting him through this ordeal, and in this context we can assume the soldiers are from ICO's village, otherwise why would they care? So perhaps they removed him in the dead of night without ICO's friends or family being aware of what happened, hence the emphasis on the word 'kidnapped'? The greater good of the village overshadowed any family ties ICO's family and friends might have held.

The soldiers arrive at a mysterious ruined temple

Next we see ICO being taken to the castle in a rowboat

They arrive at a huge stone arched entrance - broken with time

We see a view of the castle and the ancient bridge here

 Ahead is a huge wooden portcullis

 The soldiers continue on towards the jetty, they seem to know where they are going

A solider takes a short detour to retrieve a very special sword

The faceless solider now shown with the magical sword

This soldier (who seems to be the leader) uses the sword's power to open an ornate, pillared door with what looks like statues of horned children similar to ICO carved into its structure. Are these merely sculptures or are they real children that were turned to stone by the Queen? Remember, when ICO fails to pull Yorda out of the dark portals in time he is turned to stone, or when he fails to grab the sword in time at the ending battle with the Queen, her dark energy also turns ICO to stone. Perhaps these children tried to escape or annoyed the Queen via some other transgression resulting in their eternal fate as stone statues? Whatever the reason, all the doors in the castle are disturbingly adorned with these crouching fearful looking horned statues.

Next they take ICO into an elevator and ride it up

Arriving at a large Cathedral like hall

The floor of the temple moves up and swallows the ornate (idol) doors

The hall features 54 stone caskets (or sarcophagi) lining the walls

 ICO is placed into the casket 'for the good of the village' he is told

Sacrifice Hall (Sacrifice)
In desperation, ICO rocks the casket back and forth until it breaks free from its foundation and crashes to the ground, spilling ICO out and knocking him unconscious. I have also read an alternate version that an Earthquake took place at just the right time for ICO, causing his casket to fall. But I think the best explanation as to how he escaped is in the age of the castle. For many centuries these caskets had been in use by the Queen as she devoured generations of horned boys (and girls?) for her sustenance. But by the time ICO arrived the stones that supported the caskets were old and loose, so when ICO started rocking his casket back and forth it was enough to break a few of the supporting stones underneath resulting in the casket falling. A lucky break for ICO!

ICO's Dream
It seems ICO in his unconscious state has a nightmare or vision of the future. He sees himself walking alone up a long sloped ramp, hugging the wall for comfort. A sinister spiked cage is revealed hanging suspended above the gaping void of a huge cylindrical tower, a dark figure can be seen held captive within. 

ICO explores the strange tower

A sinister spiked cage is revealed

A dark figure rises up

Black blood drips down and splatters on the floor below

Then ICO is seized from behind by an ominous black shadow!

ICO wakes up, it was just a dream... a nightmare! He has escaped from the dreadful casket, perhaps the nightmare was a result of his fear of being trapped for eternity? The lower doors at floor level appear to be locked so he starts to search for another way out. Note: you may also notice two other doors on the first landing which are shuttered, like those you see in front of old style apartment elevators. In fact they even have a couple of buttons recessed into the wall next to them, so they are clearly meant to be elevators. Where did these elevators lead I wonder? I have used the free camera to search beyond the iron barriers, there is a small bricked area but nothing else beyond this but darkness.

Sturdy wooden doors at ground level are locked

 Elevators with control buttons provide no access

Higher landing doors are off limits at this point

There appears to be another set of idol doors higher up, but try as he might it is too high to reach. These doors have four ornate sections instead of two (like the one he passed through with the soldiers), does this mean it has extra security? At the top of a sloping ramp he spies a switch, which out of curiosity he pulls down. The sound of a door opening grabs his attention, it sounded like it came from below! Sure enough, a door has opened. He quickly runs through it, relieved to be away from this oppressive hall of the dead.
Door to the warehouse is the only way out

The Warehouse (Warehouse)
ICO now finds himself in a small room stacked with crates. A chain hangs down from the opposite wall in front of three open windows. There are some stone jars lining the opposite wall as well, but these seem to serve no purpose in the game. Note: I have tried throwing these jars through the windows but they just smash against the window ledge. You can't throw them high enough to make it through the windows. You can take a jar back into the Sacrifice hall but there is nothing you can do with it except throw it, resulting in it smashing into small pieces and disappearing. So the Warehouse seems only to be an interesting diversion before you get to the main circular tower. ICO climbs the chain and proceeds to jump through the center window.

 Crates stacked in warehouse - I wonder what they contain?

ICO on the chain - stones jars can be seen against the wall

Spiral Tower Room (Cage)
ICO lands in a large circular room that towers above him. A bright red ladder leads up to a higher ledge that continues up in a spiral path around the perimeter of the tower. High above he spies some tattered curtains fluttering in the breeze. A second red ladder can be seen on the opposite wall but this doesn't lead anywhere significant (yet).

Spiral tower as viewed from below

Spiral tower model as viewed from above

Seeing no other path, ICO climbs the ladder and starts his way up the spiral path. This seems eerily familiar... like he has been here before? Further up is yet another chain he must climb to reach a higher level, it seems this area has suffered a great calamity in the past. A huge area of the ramp has collapsed and it looks like this chain was installed so the castle's inhabitants could once access the upper level. 

A large block is evidence of a previous collapse of the ramp

Here we can see where the ramp has broken and the guard rail is bent

Without warning ICO realizes that this is exactly like his dream! He is walking up a spiral path and the same sinister spiked cage has appeared out of the gloom. But it's different this time... in his dream it was dark and stormy, with lighting and thunder and there was a deep sense of dread associated with his vision, the dark figure in the cage that dripped black blood is nothing like what he is seeing now, in fact it is the total opposite!

First appearance of Yorda

This figure is glowing white and almost seems to radiate light! She seems totally benevolent in comparison to the dark figure he saw in his nightmare. Immediately ICO has the urge to help her, she is trapped, obviously against her will - just look at how sad she seems. 

End of spiral ramp - another broken area

Now determined to help this strange girl trapped in the cage, ICO continues up the ramp only to find himself stopped by yet another broken area. It looks like the ramp has failed in more than one place, perhaps by some ancient Earthquake? In any case, he can go no further. The only way forward is to climb out onto the castle balcony. Note: If you fall off here or even from the other side of the broken ramp you will land safely below on the lower level of the ramp. This will help players who are trying to achieve the PS3 'Castle Guide' trophy, as once you have climbed through the window to the balcony, you can just fall off from the opposite ledge and continue back down the ramp.

 Castle balcony (panned out view with the free camera mod)

You can see in the image above that another balcony exists on the other side of the wall. I have never been able to test if this is solid, I can only see it with the free camera mod but part of it is missing as you are never meant to go there. I could never find a 'moon jump' code for ICO even though I'm sure one exits, ICO can jump, so if you could find the value for his jump you could alter it (like I did with Wander).

ICO climbs into the adjoining window

Once on the balcony there is only one other open window that permits access, ICO quickly climbs through this and lands safely on the other side of the broken ramp within. The ramp ends and another switch is revealed, much like the one he pulled in the Sacrifice hall, only this time at floor level. There is also a large red door here, but it is locked.

A large door next to the switch gives no access

I was always intrigued by this door as it resembles the door we see at the top of the spiral ramp in Shadow of the Colossus, although at the end of a long corridor... still, both ramps have a door at the top level where the ramp ends which I think is significant. Sadly, the door in ICO leads nowhere, I have used the free camera to explore through it but nothing is beyond it. Was this just a decorative feature put there by the developers or did it once have a purpose? Perhaps in an earlier build of the game it led somewhere?

ICO pulls the switch which causes the cage to lurch into life, lowering it down the the tower floor far below. ICO makes his way back down the long spiral ramp until he reaches the cage below.

ICO arrives at the cage but it is still too high to access

Now the opposite ladder comes into play. It leads, conveniently, around a ledge to a platform just above the where the cage now hangs. ICO takes a leap of faith and lands heavily on top of the cage, the long disused chain breaks under the weight sending the cage crashing to the floor, the cage door swings open on impact. A torch is also shown clattering to the ground, knocked out of its holder by the impact. Finally after who knows how long, the strange girl is released! Yorda seems bewildered by her new found freedom, she looks around as if in a daze, perhaps this is the first time she has seen a different view of the tower in many years? Then she notices ICO lying on the floor staring back at her in amazement. She approaches the boy to get a closer look at this new found stranger who has helped her escape.

Yorda approaches ICO after being released from her long imprisonment

Suddenly, Yorda is grabbed from behind by a dark shadowy figure, human shaped but with bright blue glowing eyes... cold eyes devoid of emotion or empathy. It seems intent on capturing Yorda (perhaps it has no choice as the Queen controls its will?) ICO responds in kind by attacking it with the torch, a make-shift weapon. Note: In the demo you see two shadow figures appear flying down from above (see above image) but in the final release there is only one shadow figure that appears from a dark swirling portal at ground level. The best way to defeat these black shadow figures is to take Yorda's hand and guide her to the idol doors, the energy released when they open destroys the shadow figures in an instant!

So how do the idol doors open? If we are looking at this from a real world perspective we might assume the doors are some kind of large capacitor that holds a lot of energy stored within them. Yorda somehow has an energy of her own that creates a circuit or perhaps shorts out the doors so they release their pent up energy in one huge burst - opening them. You can see how she reacts when she opens the idol doors, like she is being shocked! The Queen's sword also has its own energy and as such can be used in the same way. I also have speculated that the idol statues in Shadow of the Colossus work in a similar way, but they are controlled over large distances. So when a colossus dies this somehow shorts out the statue that was linked to that colossus, the resulting energy build up overloads the statue and destroys it.

Antechamber before bridge

Once ICO and Yorda pass through the now opened idol doors they find themselves in a small room with an open door leading to a long stone bridge. You need to pull Yorda up to the higher platform, so I think the developers put this here so players could learn how to call Yorda, grab hold and pull her up, as this technique is used extensively in the game (much like the first colossus ledges. The first level is a training ground to learn how to climb ledges, pull yourself up, jump and grab, roll etc.)
The Ancient Bridge (Bridge)
It seems to ICO like he is making progress! He and his new found partner have left the large spiral tower and are out in the open air, the ocean breeze is cold and refreshing, the sounds of sea birds and the crashing waves is evident all around but he senses that this is just the beginning of a long journey. Looking around he sees a strange stone couch that seems to glow with a mystical light, a crumbling statue stands as a silent sentry overlooking the ocean, its partner statues seems to have long ago fallen to ruin hundreds of feet below, and an enormous stone bridge spans the way to another huge tower complex.

Ancient stone bridge

Stone couch conveniently placed to take a rest (and save the game ; )

Crumbling statue stands sentry to some long forgotten purpose

A horned warrior - one of ICO's ancestors?

The opposite statue - only a foot remains

Notice how the stone warrior has horns just like ICO and wears a poncho/vest? One of the horns has broken off in times past but otherwise the statue is intact. Seems to be a person very much like ICO, perhaps a native of his village? The interesting thing here is that he is a full grown man, so somehow this warrior managed to avoid being sacrificed by the Queen as a boy and as such had enough time to grow into an adult. Perhaps he was sent away before the Queen's soldiers came to apprehend him, or perhaps the Queen saw something in this boy that stayed her hand, allowing him to grow to manhood? Sadly, his fate it seems was to end up as a stone statue. The Queen's power is evident here and serves as a warning to any who may try to oppose her.

Stone bridge is dangerous to cross!

ICO takes Yorda's hand and leads her across the bridge, but half way across a section of the old bridge collapses and falls into the ocean far below, luckily ICO has crossed onto the stable side, Yorda however falls helplessly into the void, her only lifeline is ICO's firm grip! Note: There is no way you can drop Yorda into the ocean, the only way to kill Yorda is for ICO to jump into the void as well. With that near disaster behind them they reach the opposite idol doors, Yorda does her magic thing and the doors slide apart!

Far below are the stone arches the soldiers took ICO through in the boat

Cluster of sea birds under the ancient bridge (more about this in part 2)

First Room (Proto)
ICO and Yorda enter a large brick lined room with some heavy cast chains hanging suspended from the ceiling. Another dark portal opens spewing out a shadow figure plus some other smaller spider like creatures. If enough of these spider like shadows combine and touch Yorda, a new shadow figure will be formed. ICO uses his make shift weapon to dispatch the evil creatures, making short work of the shadow entities. Now free to explore the room he notices Yorda standing on a strange looking box.

So called 'Proto' room

Yorda seems to know what ICO needs to do next and always runs towards the next clue in the game. Here she stands on the box/crate ICO must move to raise the stairs. Perhaps she remembers the layout and function of the castle before she was imprisoned in her cage?

Strange ring lined barrels can't be moved

Under the stairs is an arch that can't be viewed in game

Large heavy metal chains linked from ceiling to walls - what were their purpose?

Large metal ring above door - seems another chain once joined to this

Proto window view - more evidence of decay or damage

Bird under the Proto room

Stairs before they are raised

ICO moves the crate which triggers a set of stairs to raise up from the floor of the room. A devious and clever mechanism indeed! He wonders what other puzzles he must face as he and Yorda travel further into the depths of the castle.
The stairs lead back outside to a raised path above the South side idol doors

Trolley Arena (Truck)
ICO and Yorda now find themselves on a higher landing overlooking another large hall. There is a door nearby that leads to the lower landing but it is locked, so ICO must find another way down. A broken section of the railing is conveniently placed above some wooden crates below, so ICO can jump down here safely. In fact, you can jump down from anywhere here and ICO will land safely.

Large hall with arched doorways leads to an opposite landing

To open the door and let Yorda through, you must first climb up a chain to reach an opposite higher ledge. Once there you will see another switch which ICO pulls, a short cut scene is shown as the door opens. Another crate is evident nearby, as ICO starts to push it over the edge a dark portal opens on the floor below! This time more shadow creatures appear and you notice a second portal has opened further up in the hall. ICO quickly jumps down to try and reach Yorda before the shadow creatures take her.
Climb the chain, pull the switch, move the crate

NTSC version has no switch

NTSC version switch

Here we see the first major difference between the earlier NTSC (US) version as compared to the later, more refined PAL (European) version. This was also the case in Shadow of the Colossus, the NTSC version has a few significant differences to the PAL version, such as the diagonal jump glitch and rest spot on the climb up to the secret garden, which were fixed in the PAL version. In this case, the switch to open the door is in the corner of the hall which has been replaced with a save couch in the PAL version. They moved the switch up to the higher landing next to the crate Ico has to push over the edge. 

More evidence of decay and collapse

A large hole in the ceiling is the origin of the fallen debris

Hole in dome as seen from the outside

The shadow creatures manage to get hold of Yorda and start to pull her into the portal, but ICO is hot on their heels and has time to pull her back out again. He is very strong for his age (only 12) and has a vice-like grip! He swings the stick like crazy at the demon shadows until they fall defeated, the dark portals melt away in a puff of smoke. So he again climbs the chain and calls Yorda, she has the sense to climb onto the crate which is just high enough for her to reach ICO's outstretched hand. He pulls her up and they continue on their journey out through another open doorway.

Stairs leading up to the roof

Outside they are in the open air again. A set of steep stone stairs leads up to a higher level, ICO grabs Yorda's hand and leads her up the stairs. At the summit they notice the domed room they have just left, identified by the large hole. You will also notice another damaged area where a ladder (now broken) used to lead up to the domed roof and a locked storage area hidden under the stairs.

A broken ladder once led to the domed roof above the previous hall

Wooden boxes are locked behind metal bars under the stairs

Above is a view of the 'Proto' room from the outside, you can see the large hole in the wall, it's just to the west of the ledge ICO and Yorda now stand on but out of sight unless you use the free camera mod. You can see it legitimately later in this level (see below).

 Once on the roof you have access to this upraised platform (via a ladder) for a nice view of the castle. Once up there the camera pans out to give you a spectacular view of the castle turrets and buildings. This is the same camera effect that we see in Shadow of the Colossus when Wander climbs to the top of a save shrine, the camera automatically pans out to give you a overview of the surrounding landscape.

Unfortunately for ICO and Yorda, another portal appears, more dark spirits climb out and fly towards Yorda. They seem to have no interest in ICO, only the girl seems to interest them. Note: Here I use my trick to destroy the shadow creatures with ease. I made a video about this based on the final boss battle with the shadow creatures just before you face the Queen at the end (see link below), but for now just grab Yorda and head for the South West corner of the roof. There is a small cul de sac lined with spiked bars, a dead end (as above). Stand in the corner holding Yorda's hand and wait for the shadow creatures to fly down into the corner, start swiping them with the stick until they are defeated, rinse and repeat until all the shadow entities are dispatched - easy!

Shadow creatures boss battle video

Panned out view of the roof using the free camera mod

With the shadow creatures once again vanquished, ICO and Yorda are free to continue on in their journey. The East side stairs lead to a dead end, the platform is broken and scarred, again either from long years of decay or some natural calamity? So only the West side stairs provide access. There is a ladder leading down, so ICO and Yorda make use of it.The game (or is it the Queen?) is leading them this way and there seems no way to cheat their fate at this point. You are purposefully led to the next obstacle.
Edge of roof looking down at the ancient bridge

At the bottom of the ladder is a set of railway tracks leading West and East. Yorda has a sense as to which direction they should head, and ICO follows. Following the tracks West they come across a trolley that seems to have been abandoned for a long time.
ICO and Yorda find an abandoned trolley

ICO, out of curiosity searches the tracks further West but finds they end abruptly, curved up as if by some great force. He heads back to Yorda and leads her up onto the strange contraption that seems to be made for riding the rails. Indeed a switch is apparent here, he pulls it and the trolley lurches into motion, moving along at a good speed. By pulling back and forth on the switch he can control the speed of the trolley, but it doesn't take long before your journey ends, around a bend in the track then straight ahead to another dead end. From here there is only one way forward, up onto a ledge past another save couch, then West.

Tracks end bent up to the West

Ride the rails!

End of tracks - a save couch points the way to the next area

Another broken area - ICO and Yorda must jump over this gap

Note: If Ico falls into this hole he can climb out again by climbing some ledges nearby at the east (or left) side. From the hole you can walk around then jump and climb up the first ledge (a bricked column jutting out from the wall), then you must jump to the next bricked column, which is just high enough to allow Ico to jump and grab the upper ledge.

Way back from the damaged area (hole)

ICO shimmies along a pipe to a platform revealing another switch

Once leaving the rail trolley behind ICO and Yorda make there way along a narrow ledge heading west. Another broken area appears, ICO jumps the gap with ease and calls for Yorda to follow. After some hesitation she complies and jumps, ICO reaches out and grabs her wrist pulling her up to safety. Again, there is no way to drop Yorda here, the game is designed to keep Yorda safe from harm. They continue along the ledge, looking down you see nothing but a dark floor far below punctuated by some green bushes that seem to have been planted in rows in the dark soil. They arrive at a dead end - where to now?

A rusted pipe can be seen spanning the chasm that leads to a semi-circular platform a few metres away. ICO jumps up and grabs the pipe and begins to shimmy his way west, his grip never wavering. He arrives safely and drops down in front of another floor level switch. It's obvious what to do next - he pulls the switch and watches as a huge metal crate swings around and begins to lower itself downwards.

Panned out view of crane control building

Once the crate is lowered, Yorda has access to it

Once the large metal crate is lowered, ICO climbs up a stone ladder to the roof above where he pulled the switch, from there he can carefully walk along the boom of the crane that holds the crate, and then slide down the chain to reach the top of the crate itself. Again, he calls for Yorda to take a leap of faith and jump across the gap - she must really trust ICO to do this as any slip up would mean her instant death! ICO has obviously proved himself to Yorda at this point and even though he is younger than her (Yorda is 16 years old according to Ueda), she sees something in him that gives her confidence in his abilities - she trusts him and will follow him to the end. As she suspects, her trust is rewarded when ICO again grabs her outstretched arm and pulls her to safety onto the crate - she never doubted it!

Once Yorda is safely positioned on the roof of the crate, ICO then climbs back up the chain, climbs back down the stone ladder and again pulls the switch, this time the crate lurches west (a reverse action of the switch), the sudden movement causing Yorda to fall down with a squeak of alarm! ICO then repeats his earlier feat, climbs back up to the roof and then shimmies down the chain to reach Yorda at the top of the crate. He easily jumps across the gap to a large sunlit, circular platform and again calls for Yorda to follow him. She acquiesces without thought and jumps the gap, ICO's solid grip finds her outstretched hand and pulls her up.

ICO and Yorda at the back entrance to the Proto room

Here we can see the broken opening of the Proto room as mentioned above. From this vantage point it is clearly visible. How this damage occurred is a mystery but we can surmise that is was due to the immense age of the castle, the structure wasted away by the ravages of time.

A switch raises the drawbridge leading back to the Proto room

I always wondered about this switch and its purpose. It's like a clue to lead you back inside the Proto room but there is nothing to do there. 

When you first enter the Proto room you can exit the door which leads to the bridge but it is lowered so there is no way across to the circular platform with the switch. Note: using a glitch it's possible to jump the gap by pressing TRIANGLE then quickly the SQUARE button, but I have yet been able to replicate this action - see video here:
So why would they put a switch here to lower the bridge? It serves no purpose unless you want to back track to where you have been before, which is pointless as there is no reason to go back, only forward. The opposite door is where you must head next which leads to the Chandelier hall.

NTSC version has no drawbridge or switch

Here was can see a major difference to the PAL version, there is no drawbridge here, just the ruins of a solid stone bridge that has long since fallen into the void below it. There is also no switch. 

Chandelier Hall (Chandelier)
ICO and Yorda make their way through a dark corridor and exit into another large hall revealing multiple glowing windows that illuminate the area with diffused light. Directly ahead is a bridge spanning the hall but, as with many other structures in the castle, it has suffered damage and is broken half way across. Above them is a colossal ornately designed, two tiered chandelier lit with candles, below is a huge gaping hole in the floor, separating one side of the hall from the other.

Note: If you jump down through the gap between the circular platform and the narrow stone bridge (see above) that leads to the lower Chandelier hall entrance, ICO will fall to his death right in front of the bombs that are neatly positioned for a later use. It's not a very high fall but I guess Team ICO didn't want players using a shortcut like this to reach the lower Chandelier level, so they programmed in a death scene.

NTSC version of the circular platform is devoid of grass

 ICO and Yorda arrive at yet another broken bridge

A large ornate chandelier dominates the hall

Panned out view of the Chandelier hall

 ICO climbing up the window ledges

You enter the Chandelier hall on the 2nd level, the lower floor can only be accessed via a chain, in fact it appears the hall was designed to have no access to the lower floor except from the outside circular stairwell. So it looks like the chain was installed to grant access after a part of the upper railing had crumbled away. This is much like what we saw in the 'Cage' tower earlier where a section of the spiral ramp had collapsed. You can climb down this chain but there is no reason to do so as you will be trapped on the South side of the lower floor and can't jump the gap. Sadly, Yorda cannot climb chains, so for now you are confined to the upper level of the Chandelier hall.

So ICO leads Yorda to the other side of the hall to five arched windows which ICO can climb. You'll notice in the above image that another chain (or what's left of it) is hanging nearby on a hook, it seems this chain was used as an alternative way to reach the upper level. Once ICO has reached the ledge above the windows he can make his way along some sturdy wooden rafters high above the floor below.

ICO above the chandelier on wooden rafters

 ICO on top of the chandelier

The chandelier is enormous as if it were built by giants, so ICO can easily jump down onto it from the rafters (which also seem to be over sized for their purpose). It's surrounded by large candles which it seems never go out. Surely these are made of wax, and if so who is it who keeps them alight? One of the Queen's helpers perhaps, a caretaker that wanders the dark corridors of the castle of which Yorda and ICO have never run into? Or perhaps the candles are made of some strange substance that will stay lit for many years? Just another mystery. ICO need only whack the chain with his wooden stick to break its bonds even though the links are easily as thick as his arms... I guess the chain (like everything in the castle) is ancient and at the end of its life. Note: In the NTSC (US) version of the game you only need jump down onto the chandelier to make it fall. In the later PAL release they added the extra trick of hitting the chain with the stick.

Extra models of the chandelier are hidden above the hall

Note: Some players speculate that the obvious decay of the castle in the mist predates the events in Shadow of the Colossus, but I disagree. Apart from Ueda admitting that Shadow of the Colossus is the prequel to ICO it's apparent that the line of horned children started with Wander, after ingesting the black energy of Dormin in the form of each colossus kill. It's very clear that ICO is just one in a long line of horned children. There is also significant evidence of the forbidden lands temples and structures already being ancient 'before' Wander first arrived, and evidence of previous visitors to the forbidden lands before Wander arrived - see my blog post about this here:

The chandelier crashes to the floor below

Weakening a support that holds up the bridge

Although ICO drops from the falling chandelier he manages to land safely onto the broken bridge. Note: as mentioned above, in an earlier build of the game ICO falls all the way to the floor, but still survives - a hardy soul is ICO! Once the support has been weakened, ICO and Yorda can now make their way to the lower level of the hall. If the support can be weakened further it will fail causing the broken bridge to collapse and provide a path to the other side of the hall where the idol doors can be seen.

Down the spiral stairs to the lower level

Outside the lower level door - three large bombs are evident here

ICO placing a bomb at the base of the weakened support

This is where most first time players get stuck. But the falling chandelier cut scene provides a clue as what to do next as it pans in on the weakened bridge support. Again, the game will lead you down to the lower level as there is no access to the idol doors from the South side of the hall, your only option is the leave the upper level and make your way down, via the spiral stairs, to the lower level. Outside the entrance you can't fail to notice three large spherical jars with wicks protruding from the top, obviously some kind a huge fire cracker or bomb! Conveniently, the now fallen chandelier is nearby with some of its candles still alight and ICO is carrying a wooden stick that catches fire.

Note: You can carry the bomb and still hold Yorda's hand although ICO walks more slowly as he is bearing a heavy load, you can also jump whilst holding the bombs. 

ICO picks up one of the bombs and places it next to the cracked and weakened bridge support, he then runs over to the fallen chandelier, sets his stick alight by holding it above one of the lit candles and runs back and lights the wick... after a few seconds it explodes and we are shown a short cut scene of the broken bridge collapsing. It crashes down with a shudder, bridging the gap between the two sides of the hall. From now on you can simply run down the fallen bridge to the idol doors.

Yorda opens the idol doors leading to the courtyard

ICO leads Yorda back up the spiral stairs and back through the passage leading to the upper level of the chandelier hall. The bridge now acts as a large ramp leaning down on an angle across the once impassible fissure in the floor, but as soon as ICO and Yorda start to make their way down the bridge (ramp) dark portals appear. Flying shadow creatures emerge and head for Yorda with malevolent intent. All you need to do here is grab Yorda's hand and run down the broken bridge to the idol doors, it's an easy escape from the shadow creatures, and as soon as Yorda reaches the idol doors, her strange power again causes them to open releasing their stored electrical energy which shoot out as lightning bolts destroying all the shadow creatures in its wake. You are again safe from attack and can move through to the next area.

Courtyard (Drawbridge)
ICO and Yorda arrive in a large open courtyard and are immediately attacked by yet another group of shadow creatures. Some appear larger and more menacing this time with long spider like arms that reach out to abduct Yorda and steal her away. As in the previous room, the best method to thwart the shadow creatures is to take Yorda's hand and run as fast as you can to the opposite idol doors, if you are too slow Yorda will surely be grabbed and whisked away by one of the flying shadow creatures.

In fact, this is the longest battle in the game against the shadow creatures. They just keep emerging from their dark portals one after another. You can fight them if you wish, but it just wastes time, better to haul ass to the idol doors which (once opened by Yorda) instantly fries them all to dust!

 ICO and Yorda arrive in the Courtyard

 Shadow creature with large spindly arms

 Courtyard view

 Courtyard graveyard

There are six grave stones in the Courtyard, three on either side of the central stairs surrounded by a small patch of grass. I have always wondered who these graves belonged to as they seem to be significant, perhaps some loyal servants or followers of the Queen that garnered special privilege to be buried here? There is another cemetery in the game with similar grave stones but I will get to that later and show a comparison. In any case they seem out of place in this large tiled and brick lined courtyard.

Idol doors destroy the hordes of shadow creatures

Main Gate (Gate_1st)
As soon as you pass through the idol doors a cut scene starts revealing two enormous open gates behind which ICO spies the opposite temple that he passed through while held captive by the soldiers at the start of his adventure. The Courtyard door you passed through is now locked. Without thinking, he grabs Yorda's hand and makes a run for it! If he can get past the gates he may have a chance to escape, but immediately the gates begin to close.

Main gate revealed

ICO and Yorda run for the open gates

But the gates are closing fast!

Yorda falls and a strange black light appears

ICO is running too fast for Yorda to keep up, she stumbles and falls, ICO turns and sees her distress. Remember Yorda has been cooped up in her metal cage for what may have been years or decades (?) and she is a fragile, waif like being not used to all this physical exercise. But ICO now has an important decision to make, does he leave her and make his escape, or does he go back and help her?

In a split second he decides, he will stay. He couldn't bare the thought of leaving her behind, whatever happens, they will both escape this dreadful castle (or die trying). But before he can even run back to her, something strange happens! A weird black circle of darkness appears out of nowhere, surrounded by a halo of white light. Then in the blink of an eye a figure is standing there, robed in darkness, a face as pale as the moon and emanating immense power, so much so her black hair literally ripples as the waves of energy flow out from her. ICO has never seen this person before but he can feel her strength and influence. She speaks, the very walls seem to vibrate and ICO's soul freezes as she turns her gaze towards him. He feels like a small insect caught in the web of an enormous spider, he is completely helpless and at her mercy!

First appearance of the Queen

The Queen towers over the fallen Yorda
Come back Yorda.

So, you're the one aimlessly leading my Yorda around.

Do you know who this girls is?

That girl you're with is my one and only beloved daughter.

Stop wasting your time with her.

She lives in a different world than some boy with horns!

Now, know your place and leave here.

In a flash of bright light she is gone, ICO stands rooted in place trying to come to terms with what just happened. Then he sees Yorda is still prostrate on the ground and his focus shifts to her. 'Are you okay?' he asks, she responds 'I have angered her...' although ICO still can't understand her language we the player are shown the dialogue. Note: This only happens in the second play through of the PAL version, in the first play through Yorda's language is shown in a cryptic hieroglyphic text. 

I find it amusing that the Queen refers to Yorda as her 'one and only beloved daughter' that she keeps imprisoned in a spiked metal cage for who knows how long! A warm, loving mother she is not. Clearly, she has underestimated ICO at this point. She sees him as only a small child with lofty aspirations of escape and dreams of taking Yorda with him. We can assume that the Queen has not been challenged in a long time, perhaps centuries? And those that did challenge her always ended up as stone statues (or worse)... So her overconfidence is her weakness. She has forgotten that there are some who may pose a threat to her power after all her years of domination. Above all, she has no conception that a young boy could in any way be a threat, thus she merely berates ICO and tells him to leave Yorda alone. A grave mistake on her part!

All the torches are lit - opening the Courtyard door

With the Queen gone, ICO now must consider his next move. Again, Yorda points the way. She stands next to one of the strange double tiered columns lining the central path. They have handles at their base (front and back), a small bowl shaped structure at the top and seem to have been designed to move in a short tongue and groove slot. ICO takes the hint and grabs hold and pulls... the heavy stone column moves then locks into place, once all eight columns have been locked each one then lights up at the top, perhaps an underground circuit sparks a flames? The door back to the Courtyard is again opened.

ICO pulls (or pushes) the torch columns until they light up

This is the first time ICO and Yorda must travel back instead of going forward, and ICO doesn't like this turn of events. He had hoped that the columns would open the large stones gates, but it seems he must travel back into the depths of the castle he is trying to escape.

Back at the top of the stairs - all the Courtyard torches are lit

Some more bombs can be seen nearby

At the corner of the Courtyard a rope can be seen suspended above the floor

Here we see Yorda pointing to the next obstacle
With no other obvious exit Yorda gains ICO's attention by pointing to some crude wooden planks that seem to have been nailed over an entrance. It looks like another makeshift fix by some long forgotten builder to restrict access to this area...clearly there is something behind these planks that the Queen would rather keep secret.

There are bombs nearby, ICO holds a wooden stick that he has already proven will ignite when lit, the Courtyard now has many blazing torches and only some old wooden planks bar the way to the next area. The solution is obvious to ICO, he will blast his way through the barrier and see what lies beyond.

But that will have to wait until Part 2.

I will end it here as we have arrived at the half way point of the game.

But one more thing I would like to add is this video, which I compiled from old IGN video footage of the game in its early stages. It features rare early footage from 2000 and 2001 that feature differences to the retail version.

(0:00 to 0:37) Features the game at an unknown games trade show or convention in which we see another early version of ICO with larger horns that point downwards like a Ram. You will also notice two of the shadow creatures are not rendering properly, one is missing its middle parts and another is just a pair of legs!

(0:38 to 1:06) We see another early version of the game (in terrible quality). ICO still has his large Ram's horns and the shadow creature he attacks seem to still have problems with its rendering. Yorda is shown in ponytails as mentioned above and there follows some familiar scenes of the Chandelier hall, ending with a unique title screen over the PS1 version of the castle! (I would give my little finger to play this demo!)

(01:07 to 2:48) Familiar scenes from the opening cut scene and ICO's first meeting with Yorda, nothing special here.

(02:49 to 04:20) ICO on the balcony > lowers the cage > climbs the ladder and breaks the chain > saves Yorda from the shadow creature (as in the demo).

(04:21 to 04:52) ICO climbs a ladder and calls for Yorda to follow. Once she has done so, ICO pushes her off the ledge and she falls with a squeak of alarm! I had never tried this, but it is an amusing trick you can try! Note: In the retail version they added a iron fence.

(04:53 to 05:25) ICO is fighting the shadow creatures and spiders in the Proto room, but there is a big difference here compared to the retail version. The lower levels are filled with water! That is the trench where the crate ICO must push to raise the stairs seems to have been flooded - very interesting as in the retail version the trench is dry.

(05:26 to 05:58) ICO is fighting off the shadow creatures in the Trolley arena hall. When the shadows grab Yorda she shrieks in three different tones which were removed from the final versions of the game.

(05:59 to 07:07) ICO pulls Yorda up in the Trolley hall and next we see them riding the trolley around the tracks (same as the retail version).

(07:08 to 07:51) What appears to be a rare trailer with various scenes from the game backed by a unique soundtrack I have never heard before!

(07:52 to 09:06) Another early trailer that features the Proto room with water and a title screen that is unique at the very end. Otherwise the scenes look the same as the final version.

Note: the quality of this video is poor, if you visit IGN's Youtube page you can watch each video by itself, but I put them all together as a compilation to save time.

I hope you enjoyed this post - it took many weeks to complete, but stay tuned for part 2.