How Monument Valley’s “lucky” success saved the company behind it

Monument Valley location with Dexerto Interview graphicUstwo Games

Dexerto speaks to Ustwo games about Monument Valley and its legacy ahead of a PC release in 2022.

Monument Valley, one of the most iconic mobile games available today, will finally come to PC this year. Alongside its sequel, the Monument Valley: Panoramic Collection will introduce the puzzle adventure to an entirely new audience, along with protagonist Ida and her M.C Escher-inspired world.

To celebrate the upcoming release on July 12, 2022, Dexerto spoke to Peter Pashley, Chief Development Officer at Ustwo Games, the team behind the franchise to find out where it came from, and how it’s changed their lives.

Creating Monument Valley

“The original vision [for Monument Valley], was about a game where the architecture was the star, filling up the screen with a small character wandering around,” Pashley recalls.

“Making isometric concept art made it immediately clear that it was quite hard to add MC Escher-style ‘impossibility’ to these buildings.”

That “impossibility” has come to be one of Monument Valley’s defining features, but it wasn’t until testing that it was clear the concept would be fun in execution. That was before an entire level was even built.

“It was only when we did the first prototype, in which players could interact with an impossible structure, that we really started paying attention to the concept.”

Monument Valley Panoramic Collection screenshotUstwo Games
Monument Valley’s pastel aesthetic has become a defining feature.

“The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from testers of this really simple demo gave us the confidence to pursue it – even when the next step (to build our first fully-featured level) was tough, we could fall back on that confidence of ‘we know we’ve got something good here, we just need to do it justice.”

Do it justice Ustwo did, too, catching the eye of tech giant Apple and featuring prominently on both the App Store and iPhone hardware commercials.

“I think for most people Monument Valley came out of nowhere; we’d had a good reaction to the announce trailer but then we were really just lucky that Apple chose to feature it as a Game of the Week at launch, which lit the blue touchpaper and it just took off beyond our wildest expectations,” Pashley explains.

“One of the pillars of development was “every screen good enough to print” and so that’s been a really good fit for people wanting to show off their newest devices.”

“There was definitely more pressure the second time around [with Monument Valley’s 2017 sequel], especially as it was quite a different team who had to live up to it but didn’t all have the confidence gained from being there the first time.”

“When Apple told us that they wanted to use MV2 to launch their refresh of the App Store and keep it secret to reveal at WWDC, it was a completely different level of pressure to the first game.

“We had to keep the game super secret, it had to live up not only to the pressures of a sequel but also being the poster child for a new service!”

House of Cards and Monument Valley’s “luck”

The game even featured prominently in Netflix’s House of Cards, opening up the world of Monument Valley to an entirely new audience.

“When the producers of House of Cards contacted us to ask about featuring Monument Valley we thought it was a prank,” Pashley reveals.

“The game was part of the creation of a particular game aesthetic, like a zen puzzle game, and we could never have predicted that.”

“Someone who joined the company recently told me that it was used as an example in one of his film school classes; this weekend I met an 8-year-old who loves it and wasn’t even born when it was launched.”

Between both Monument Valley titles, the team at Ustwo is humble in its response to being asked how the franchise has changed the studio and the lives of its employees.

Monument Valley Panoramic Collection screenshot showing waterUstwo Games
Ida’s world has gotten a lot bigger.

“It’s safe to say that the company and all our jobs probably wouldn’t exist without the success of Monument Valley,” says Pashley.

“I’d like to claim that we’re all so super-talented that we would have come up with something else amazing, but any success like this has so much luck involved. We were lucky to have a good idea, to be the right team to make it, and to have the right ecosystem to launch it into.”

“You couldn’t expect to have that level of success with a short premium game in today’s mobile ecosystem.”

The future of the franchise

In any case, Ustwo assured us that Monument Valley 3 is “glinting tantalizingly on the horizon”, making a PC port a perfect way to bring the franchise to new audiences before it arrives.

“We’ve thought about doing this for a long time, but we’ve always said that we wouldn’t do it just for the sake of it, we’d need to do a really good job of it, not just to expand the canvas of the game but also to make sure that playing it with a mouse feels as good as the original touchscreen.”

“There’s so much subtlety to the game’s design that we couldn’t ask anyone else to do it, and it’s only been recently that we have had the people and the time to make it happen. It’s been a lot of work, but also a real pleasure to go back to the two games and metamorphosize them into something slightly different for a new audience.”

“The first time I played the game with expanded canvas it just felt right – it adds so much atmosphere and immersion to the experience. Monument Valley has always been a play experience that grabs people, that holds their attention, but having it take up your whole field of view is almost like playing it in VR. It really felt like getting to experience Monument Valley for the first time all over again.”

Monument Valley: Panoramic Collection launches on July 12 on PC.

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