Monument Valley is a surreal exploration through architecture and impossible geometry.

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.

The Making of Monument Valley

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:

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Ken Wong’s concept art for the game, originally called ‘Tower of Illusion’ (left); M.C. Escher’s artwork played a key role in concept development (right: Ascending and Descending, 1960).

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Sketches – interactions of various architectural components.

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Level design process sketches – sorting out how things will fit together.

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The team consists of programmers who have knowledge of art, and artists who have an interest in programming. Pictured: Artist David Fernández Huerta.

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The game is built in a program called Unity, which shows both the user and edit views simultaneously.

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A wireframe (left) shows the inner workings of this particular scene’s interaction.

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Before the initial launch, the team printed out every screen, allowing them to see the whole game at once and giving a new perspective on the entire experience.

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A very early list of ideas for Forgotten Shores, originally called ‘The Cerulean Shore’ (left), alongside chapter ideas more flushed out (right).

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Final Forgotten Shores chapters are pinned up. Rejected ones are to the left and right, some to be reworked into Ida’s (Red) Dream — a chapter for the Apps for RED to fight AIDS.

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The team celebrating when Monument Valley was featured on the App store.

Meet The Makers

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.

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The ustwo games team. (Ken Wong is pictured in the front.) Photo via Steve Paris,

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.

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“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.

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“Sword & Sworcery really pushed what game aesthetics can be.”

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.

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One of the team’s goals when they designed Monument Valley was to make every screen worthy of being framed and hung on a wall.

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.

The Ustwo Team

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:

Michael Anderson
QA Lead
David Fernández Huerta
Artist and Animator
Daniel Gray
Executive Producer
Van Le
Neil McFarland
Director of Games
Manesh Mistry
Programming and Audio
Peter Pashley
Lead Developer
Ken Wong
Designer and Artist

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.

Download the Game

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Last image via TechCrunch. All other images courtesy of ustwo.