Architecture rarely makes the headlines in the gaming world, but the recently released iPad game Monument Valley – designed by digital product studio Ustwo – has buckled this trend, and it is high time architects return the favour. After all, this is no ordinary point-and-click adventure, but a journey of discovery and reflection through a fantastic, and fantastically designed, three-dimensional puzzle.
The appeal of the game goes much deeper than its impeccable graphic design. ‘Architecture in games is often just a backdrop,’ says Ken Wong, the lead architect of the game, ‘but in Monument Valley, it becomes interactive as the player moves, experiences and manipulates the space.’ Indeed, the developers have combined impossible geometries and optical illusions reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s famous lithographs with the colourful traditional architecture of Middle East, North Africa and India as well as some indirect inspiration from Piranesi’s sublime etchings.
The objective of the game is to guide a lost princess through haunting, illusory landscapes that the player needs to manipulate and align, clearing the path forward and avoiding the omnipresent and ominous crow people. The gameplay is intuitive and with each level, a new aspect of the impossible physical laws governing the ‘sacred geometry’ of the game is revealed, ultimately allowing the player to complete the game.
‘If you think of a good piece of architecture, it fulfils functional needs, but above that it can inspire people,’ Wong, an architecture enthusiast himself, explains. ‘There’s a functional aspect to games too – we want to fill people’s time, help them not be bored or maybe escape their daily lives – but beyond that there are things we can say and communicate as well. We see both architecture and games as an intersection between functionality and art.’
The game’s success has meant that the studio is working on adding new levels, as well as creating an Android version of the game. ‘We wanted to make something very accessible to everyone,’ Wong says. ‘Children – even as young as three – can play the game and complete levels on their own, because it’s not overly complicated. But also their parents – who are more familiar with architecture and Escher – get into it, because it’s not a mindless, violent game.’
Monument Valley is available on iTunes
Images and photos courtesy of Ustwo