You may know Monument Valley as a landscape of fantastical rock formations in the American West. Now the designers at Ustwo, have created a video game of that name based on the art of M.C. Escher, which draws players through its own whimsical fantasyland. In the game, you help Princess Ida navigate impossible staircases, architectural illusions, and secret passageways, as she attempts to outwit the mysterious Crow People.
“The laws of physics are literally turned on their head,” says Neil McFarland, Ustwo’s creative director of games. He points to three Escher paintings–Waterfall, Relativity, and Belvedere–which inspired Monument Valley’s graphics.”They generate a tangible sense of wonder and mischief,” he says.
While many popular video games today are kaleidoscopes of complex color, sound, and design, the cityscapes of Monument Valley are simple, but lovely. The goal isn’t about edging as close as possible to the Uncanny Valley, but to highlight the delightful uncanniness of plain old geometry. McFarland calls this “impossible geometry” and to achieve it, he says, “the levels have to be uncluttered enough to allow the visual tricks and clues to work.”
Moreover, the team hoped to design a game that might double as visual art–i.e. images you’d want to frame and display in your living room. “We are striving for a level of quality that would allow you to take a screenshot and hang it on your wall,” McFarland explains. “Hopefully we’ve put enough in each design to make it beautiful, but never overloaded to the point where it cannot be satisfyingly read by the eye.” Certainly, the visuals of Monument Valley are easy on the eyes, but whether your mind can hack these graphic tricks well enough to win, is another question.