Paul Rand is famous for saying, “Don’t try to be original; just try to be good.” This quote came to mind when I saw the trailer for ustwo’s newest game, Monument Valley. You may have heard of ustwo before, they made Whale Trail and Blip Blup, two of the best iOS games I’ve ever played, each very different in their style. Now with Monument Valley they’re making an Escher-esque game that requires you to navigate impossible architecture.
To me the game looks quite fun and certainly mind-bending. The idea of turning the work of M.C. Escher into a game mechanic is inventive, something many people have possibly dreamed of… but no one has made such a concept into a real game.
The easiest way to explain Monument Valley to people is to say it’s a bit like an interactive M.C. Escher artwork. While the game as it now stands draws inspiration from many artists, films and photographs, Escher played a key role in finding what the game was about.
For a few years I’ve thought about how one might design a game where the architecture was the central character. I’m particularly fond of temples, palaces, mosques, monasteries and other buildings which combine exquisite artistry with a potential for exploration and mystery. The main problem was how to make an interactive experience out of this.
Then one day I came across Ascending and Descending, an image I was familiar with but had never looked at from the perspective of game design. What if you had to guide a figure to enter the building, solve some puzzles hidden in the interior rooms, with the goal of getting to the highest tower? Rather than following the character with a first-person or third-person camera, we could keep the emphasis on the environment by retaining the bird’s eye view and this enclosed framing that Escher had used.
This concept (which is, in a way, Zelda meets Myst) was the implementation I had been searching for for my architectural game, and became the basis of Monument Valley.
If you’re interested in learning more about the game I’d suggest reading this interview that Ken Wong, artist and designer at ustwo, recently did with FormFiftyFive. He talks about his approach to level design, inspiration for the style of Monument Valley and lots more.