Meet the geniuses behind Monument Valley

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See the original story in Japanese

Monument Valley is pure enchantment and easily qualifies as one of the most beautiful gaming apps available for mobile devices. The isometric 3D puzzler brings players into a Escher-like architecture world with a bittersweet storyline that revolves around things lost. The app has been attracting many users around the world, and it was even rewarded with the Apple Design Award last year.

The company behind the game, ustwo, recently revealed the figures of the hit iOS game on their company blog. It shows some surprising numbers — such as $6 million in revenue and 10 million in unique device installations.

We recently got a chance to interview the team behind the magic over at the ustwo London studio. Manesh Mistry and Neil McFarland shared their story with MEMOPATCH.

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Please tell us about your team.

Manesh: We are a team of eight. We have Neil as a director and a producer, programmers, three artists and one QA. We are quite self-contained and have all the required ingredients to make a game.

We are all basically a bunch of guys who love games. We have all played games our entire lives. We love them and pull that passion into our own creations. Everyone has multiple skills like designers who can program and so on.

We have strong ownership over our game. It really feels like this is our game in many ways — from ideas to execution. We never have somebody unseen pulling strings.

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How did Forgotton Shore go?

Neil: In terms of traction, it went really good on the release. We have been getting consistent featuring, so we maintained really nice sales.

Manesh: Forgotten Shore was the biggest thing. It is the final chapter we will deliver for Monument Vally, and it was a sort of good-bye. We first expected only something like 5 percent of original users would sign up for Forgotten shore. But it became much than that. I guess we have a lot of faith in customers. People do value content and they support this kind of content. That makes us really proud of mobile game community.

Making something meaningful

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What makes you the most proud about Monument Valley?

Manesh: We got great recognition from Monument Valley, and it was such an amazing thing that we got the Apple Design Award. But I think what we are more proud of is some organic things. Seeing different kinds of users who play the game, like children playing games with grandparents, is something we didn’t plan for. In fact I don’t even know how to plan for that. But we saw that kind of response and it was absolutely amazing.

I recently heard someone saying that Monument Valley works as a nine-player game. Nine people crowded around one iPad. Seeing that kind of thing really makes us proud.

Neil: Yes, all these unexpected things affected us the most. Because you cannot expect that and you don’t know this kind of thing would really happen. And when you release, realising that you made something really meaningful for someone’s life makes you proud.

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What is your prototyping workflow like?

Manesh: In terms of tools we use, it’s a combination of Unity, Blender, and Photoshop. As early as possible, we go from sketching into Unity. And we are all comfortable writing things in Unity. Like I mentioned, our programmers have an artistic side and our artists can also program things too. So any one of us can jump in Unity anytime and make something playable.

We also do a lot of sketching in the early stage. We always sketches things and check things with each other.

Neil: Making complicated structure is hard at the beginning, but once you get an idea about what you are looking for, it is sometimes easy to just get it into Unity and build it and see if it’s what you really imagined.

We wanted architecure itself to be a main character

Artboard 15

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What is the philosophy behind the game?

Manesh: In terms of overall philosophy, we wanted to make something without restriction. We asked ourselves what kind of game we wanted to make if there was no limits. So at the start, we made lot of sketches, game prototypes and ideas. And in particular the one that stood out for us is was asymmetric architecture created by our lead designer. For some reason that resonated with all of us. That came from love for Escher and love for architecture. A lot of games are using architectures as background or a building which a character is on. But we wanted architecture itself to be a main character. Not only that, we thought it could feel like you are actually going in and touching the architecture to move it by yourself. We thought we need to make something like that.

And one particular thing we want to say is that we never wanted to exclude anyone from playing this game. We could have made a very difficult puzzle game. But we thought, how can we deliver that to a whole range of people? We wanted the game to be for everyone.

So many Japanese tweets

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Are you satisfied with how the game reached to Japan?

Manesh: We made sure that Japanese localisation of the app was done as accurately as possible. And we had a few Japanese speaking members in ustwo. In terms of downloads, Japan is in the top ten.

I’ve seen more response on social media like Twitter. There was a large number of Japanese tweets. It was really great to see, and this is, again, a thing we never planed for. And we’ve seen a lot of fan art coming from Japanese users. Actually one of my favourite fan arts came from Japanese user community.

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Do you have any advice for game creators?

Manesh: I believe that my identity lies in being as a game maker. It is not something I do on the side. I do this for a job and for my spare time. My advice is just to keep making games, just keep doing it, as part of your identity.

Neil: Another big learning I think is user testing. We did watch users play the game. We did it so much and now I am really sensitive when I see other games. By knowing about the game I can think what should be changed. This is definitely something that you should do.

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What’s next for you?

Manesh: We are currently working on a virtual reality project, which was initially inspired by artwork of Monument Valley. But now it is becoming its own thing. We are going to work on that for a couple of months, and after that we are going to pick up something brand-new. I think we are going to do the same process again, which is just creating something without restriction. We will brainstorm and see what comes around. We all enjoyed the process already.

Thank you again to Manesh and Neil for taking the time to talk to us!


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