The Agnès Varda’s Award ceremony 2017 was held at the Central Academy of Fine Arts on 25th September. Aside from some movies made by students of the school, Monument Valley 2 was the gaming community’s most highly anticipated title. It earned the "Star of the Year" award in this year's Agnès Varda’s Awards.
Three members of ustwo games, which created the Monument Valley series, gave an open class on interactions & storytelling in games. Afterward, indienova invited the three designers for an interview, to discuss the secrets of interaction and art in the game in detail.
We know that the Monument Valley series has taken the puzzle genre to a new level, in both artistry and gameplay. So how important is the story in Monument Valley 2? In the lecture this afternoon, you mentioned how to use interactions to tell a story. What's the proportion of story and interactive experience in the sequel?
The story is very important to us, but in the game, we keep our focus on the interactions. The aim was to use interactions to tell a story but the puzzles and the interactions are always the heart of the game.
In the sequel, we are trying to do two things. First, we have to make a recognizable sequel to the first one. So we decided that visual illusion and spatial transformation should be the core to the Monument Valley brand that we want it to continue with. And then we needed to develop something that makes the second one as attractive to play as the first one and bring something new to the game. I think it ended being the story and this relationship between Ro and her daughter that became the new element to the sequel.
I think the story really helped us to figure out a lot of things that made the sequel different from Monument Valley 1. As the theme of the game is "growth", the artists did a lot of work to make the sequel unique, such as the leaves and trees changing with the time flow.
Do you have any examples to share of how the interactions and art serve the story?
This is the art director of our game and his young son. He used this black & white color and the stark and lonely environment to describe the moment in the story when the mother and the daughter will be separated for the first time, which is a reflection of his feelings when he has to leave his young son and go back to work (laughs).
So when we knew this level would be put in the game at this moment of the story, we had to begin the process of transforming the tone of this into something that actually matches its initial vision. During the process of doing that, we realized that the black & white color looks too stark for the story. So we took inspiration from the work of the Mondrian and Supremacist artists to really capture this kind of conflict.
The second version of this level is in the middle of the picture. It captures the right tone, but it felt like it was lacking translation of the artwork. It wasn't enough for the moment of the story and wasn't really filled with the architecture of the rest of the game. So eventually we ended up with the version that looks like the right of the picture. This one really fits the style of the whole game.
Except for two main characters, there's another good friend to the player, the Totem. The totem appears in both Monument Valley games, so what role is the totem playing in the story this time?
The totem comes into the game at the point when the mother is becoming independent of the child and going to find her own place in the world again. For the totem, we don't want to use the word "friend" when we’re talking about it.
Because there's more meaning we want it to have which is: when you had so much of life tied to this other person, you don't get the chance to reclaim your friends and your identity, and it’s meant to be more of a symbol of reconnecting with yourself.
All members from Ustwo Games have a design background, is this helping your work on Monument Valley 2?
Yeah, definitely all our colleagues are designers. As ustwo games is a part of ustwo studios, our project is always design-driven. We put our focus on the interaction to make the user experience as smooth as possible, so Monument Valley series has inherent advantage in this type of game. Maybe that's why there are so many players who like our game, that's my opinion.
Players loved the art style of the Monument Valley series so much, can you tell us how you choose your art style in the game?
When I joined the team, we still hadn’t figured out what the style of Monument Valley 2 was going to be. The other artists and I have been given the direction to go and we've had to look at a lot of different things to try our art styles. It took us a long time to choose what would be different about this one, and the way that actually ended up coming about was by studying the mechanics of the puzzles very closely.
Combined with the interactions in each level, we finally decided what art style the level will be according to the local conditions, including the style from Mondrian and Supremacist artists.
We think the art from Monument Valley 2 is special because it is so closely tied to the puzzle mechanics and their action design.
The sequel's rich variety of architectural styles really impressed people; how did you artists make this happen?
We did a lot of studies on the architectural styles, like Spanish architecture, German architecture, and the Greek orthodox architecture. A lot of our inspiration didn't come from architecture itself but architectural objects, like the candy stuff we built in the game. These things can be easily understood and they mixed with the other things in the game perfectly.
We are sure that you have felt Chinese players' passion. Will you put more Chinese elements in the future games?
Hmm, we can't tell you too much about future plans. But we are all very interested in Chinese art. So, if it fits our game in the future, why not?
Actually, we did add some Chinese elements into the sequel, like the traditional roofs on the ancient architecture of China.
There are two main characters in the sequel. Did you have any inspiration from other games when this idea came to you?
I think the main one we talked about is a game called Brothers. When the idea of two characters came to our mind, we played Brothers for a while just as a reference. Although we didn't use any of its elements because we want to make something unique instead of duplications of other games.
Many fans like to guess where the story goes since the first Monument Valley came out. Is there any connection between the first one and the sequel?
Oh, it is great to see fans coming up with their own ideas for the storyline connected to the original. We don't have anything specifically connecting the two, but it's great that people are wondering.
Actually, Ada is in Monument Valley 2, if you look for it carefully~
Oh~yeah, that's true!
REALLY? It's AMAZING!!!
Dollrain open the game immediately to find Ada...
Haha~ I don't wanna say more than that, but we did make this happen. So, there is a theory how we connect these two games. In Monument Valley 2 there is a more specific story about the mother and the child. The way we like it is we give people enough so they can find the story, but not so much that they can't avoid it. And anywhere in between that, you can put your own feelings on what you think that might be happening.
And, by the way, Ada is not that little girl.
After the interview, the producer of the Monument Valley 2, Adrienne Law, spoke to us in Chinese which she learned today:
She said this sentence is an affirmation of other people's work. She wanted to thank indienova for the work we did in connecting developers and players.
And we said "Xin Ku" to them back immediately: "Thank you for bringing the amazing Monument Valley to the world!"