Monument Valley tells the story of Ida, a silent princess on a quest for forgiveness, who is guided through a land of mysterious monuments. Named Apple’s Best iPad Game of the Year and winner of the Apple Design Award in 2014, Monument Valley has impressed both gamers and art enthusiasts alike. It was first released in April of 2014, and quickly gained attention for its elegant balance of interaction, beauty, and storytelling.
Eight team members from ustwo, the digital production studio behind the game, spent about 55 weeks making Monument Valley. Each chapter is unique, with distinct and separate puzzles, mechanics, story beats, and architectural styles. This creates a visually rich and compelling game, but is a quite involved process from early concept sketches to chapter development, testing, and completion. This video goes behind the scenes with ustwo:
The original game was such a hit that the team quickly refocused their energy, and another 29 weeks, on completing the expansion set: Forgotten Shores. As the original Monument Valley was intended to be Ida’s entire story, the extra chapters take place within the same chronology — much like the deleted scenes of a movie.
With more time and resources, the new scenes are better polished, featuring more architectural exploration and improved illusions. Here’s a little insight into the team’s process, from early concept sketches to the completion of Forgotten Shores:
We recently talked to Ken Wong, Monument Valley’s Lead Designer and Artist, about the making of the game and his own maker story:
In one sentence, what do you think makes Monument Valley most unique?
I think Monument Valley takes a unique approach to interactive entertainment, sidestepping many video game traditions and tropes to create a compelling experience that can be enjoyed by a far broader audience.
What did you set out to achieve by making Monument Valley?
We were given a tremendous opportunity by our studio, in that there were no financial expectations on the game. They only asked that we make something amazing. We felt that we should try and make a game that couldn’t be made anywhere else – something for mobile, something high quality, something with care and inventiveness and heart put into it. Setting such a high goal meant we couldn’t be lazy with the design. We questioned everything we once believed about what makes a video game great.
Who is your ideal customer?
One who pays! Monument Valley is made for people who don’t play video games. It’s full of gorgeous art, music, and tells the story of a silent princess on a journey of architecture, impossible geometry and forgiveness. To be honest we didn’t think too much about who was going to buy or play our game. We worked hard to simply make something that we were proud of, and we figured there would be others who would enjoy the same things.
Have you always considered yourself a maker?
Yes! Making things is my whole life. I’ve drawn my whole life, and started learning digital art around the age of 18 or 19. I’ve worked on many games of different types, from console to PC to mobile. I do personal and commissioned illustrations now and then, and I sell prints online.
Who are a few of your favorite makers?
I’m a huge fan of James Cameron’s filmmaking. He combines technology and art to make film experiences that have never been seen before. I love Jim Henson for the same reason. I learnt a lot by studying the art of Jamie Hewlett, Mike Mignola and Gustav Klimt. These days I look at a really wide range of visual material and I don’t really pick out favourites.
What are some of your favorite games?
I guess everybody is shaped by the games they grew up with, for me that’s Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island and Street Fighter. Lately, Sword & Sworcery really pushed what game aesthetics can be, and Gone Home was an absolute triumph of writing and design and should be played by everyone.
How did you feel when Monument Valley was named Apple Design Award Winner?
We went into the ceremony not knowing if we were going to win. As each app was announced that wasn’t Monument Valley our hearts sank. They left us until last, which made winning that much more incredible. Apple set extremely high standards for design, user experience and innovation, so to be recognised by them was really validating.
What’s next for the ustwo games team?
We’re working hard on Land’s End, a sort of side project for the Samsung GearVR. It’s a really exciting experiment into the possibilities of VR, built upon some of the lessons we learnt on Monument Valley.
Ustwo is a digital product studio with almost 200 employees. However the games team, based in London, consists of only eight people. The team thrives in the larger creative environment, but enjoys the freedom to create games relatively independently. Meet all of the makers behind Monument Valley:
In addition to this full time team, sound designer Stafford Bawler also helped by creating the game’s audio experience.
The Monument Valley team believes in the premium game model: charging $3.99 for the original game, and $1.99 for the Forgotten Shores expansion. Just a few dollars paid by every player can go a long way toward supporting this type of creativity and innovation in video gaming.