The Mak­ing Of…


How pre­ci­sion engi­neer­ing and a pas­sion for Metroid birthed Ori And The Blind For­est

when­ever you fell, it just lifted you back up. So you went through the whole game and you couldn’t die. There was no pun­ish­ment, noth­ing. That re­ally took some­thing out of it.” So Mahler stud­ied games at the other end of the spec­trum.

Su­per Meat Boy – specif­i­cally its first world – again be­came a ref­er­ence point, the kind of game that would pro­voke its play­ers, but not too much, and give them a sense of ac­com­plish­ment from hav­ing beaten a tough sec­tion.

When it came to bal­anc­ing the dif­fi­culty, one of the perks of work­ing with Mi­crosoft soon be­came ap­par­ent. The pub­lisher’s test­ing fa­cil­i­ties al­low de­vel­op­ers to watch testers’ faces, their hands and the screen si­mul­ta­ne­ously as they play. Even be­fore the game’s art was ready, Mahler made use of the suite to study re­ac­tions and make ad­just­ments in re­sponse to where play­ers were strug­gling. “We still wanted it to pack a punch, but to be fair and beat­able, like Dark Souls, or like Zelda on the NES, where it’s a dif­fi­cult game, but not un­fair.”

One new me­chanic to al­le­vi­ate frus­tra­tion grew from an in­ter­nal dis­cus­sion of how to mean­ing­fully evolve the de­sign stan­dards of the genre. Castl­e­va­nia’s save sys­tem was con­sid­ered to be too un­friendly, as play­ers would lose too much progress with each death. Au­to­matic check­points, on the other hand, only served to wa­ter down the chal­lenge. “Again, it just felt like

Prince Of Per­sia 2008,” Mahler sighs. A happy medium was found with a me­chanic that en­abled play­ers to cre­ate their own check­points to which they could re­turn af­ter dy­ing. It’s a smart sys­tem that es­sen­tially al­lows risk-tak­ers to gam­ble against their own abil­i­ties, while giv­ing the cau­tious a reg­u­lar safety net. “It uses en­ergy, which means there’s a bit of a cost to it, and a [ten­sion] where if you don’t have en­ergy, you have to get it first in or­der to save. But then you don’t have that feel­ing of ‘shit, I just lost half an hour of work’.” No­tot that Mahler’s en­tirely sat­is­fied with it. “It’s not per­fect,” er­fect,” he con­cedes, “be­cause peo­ple still have that hat is­sue where if they for­get to save, if they just don’t n’t ever think about it, then you still have that frus­tra­tion.ation. And that is a prob­lem. But when it’s hap­pened ened to you once or twice, you soon learn to save.” .”

Some would ar­gue that the fin­ished gameme oc­ca­sion­ally pushes its play­ers too far. An ex­act­ing es­cape from ris­ing wa­ters in the Ginso Tree sec­tion proved in­sur­mount­able for some, me, which the de­vel­oper ac­knowl­edged in a post- ost-

mortem anal­y­sis. And yet for ev­ery­one claim­ing to have died up­wards of 50 times, Moon Stu­dios had emails and fo­rum mes­sages of thanks for its un­stint­ing chal­lenge; for some, the sup­posed worst part of the game was ac­tu­ally the best. “One thing I’ll say about it is that the thrill that you get from beat­ing some­thing re­ally dif­fi­cult is great,” Mahler says. “Be­cause you have this con­nec­tion with your hu­man­ity where you’re like, ‘I ac­com­plished this purely through my own skill. It took me a long time but I did it! I’m amaz­ing’. That rush is re­ally cool, and some­thing we don’t want to take away from play­ers.”

The ex­hil­a­ra­tion of Ori’s chases is am­pli­fied by its sump­tu­ous pre­sen­ta­tion. But Mahler was mind­ful not to let all the en­vi­ron­men­tal de­tail, light­ing and par­ti­cle ef­fects get in the way of read­abil­ity. It had to look nice, yes, but more im­por­tantly it had to re­main func­tional. He quickly drew up a set of rules for the artists and would play through the game, grab­bing shots and us­ing Pho­to­shop to take a vir­tual red pen to high­light prob­lem ar­eas. The top­most pix­els of the ground tiles were bright­ened, while a light touch of fog was added be­hind the cen­tral layer, all in ser­vice of clar­ity. The same ap­proach was taken for Ori’s de­sign. “You re­ally need read­abil­ity to make it work,” he says. “Ori’s de­sign is in­spired a lit­tle bit by Mickey Mouse, where rather than three cir­cles you have this di­a­mond shape and two di­a­monds on top. His en­tire body is built in a very sim­ple way so that just with body lan­guage we could show you ex­actly how he feels. We didn’t need to have a voice ac­tor or for him to blab­ber to the cam­era to [con­vey] his state of mind.”

Though Mahler was in no doubt that peo­ple would like Ori, he was less con­vinced that it could be a com­mer­cial suc­cess. Wary of an­nounc­ing a game from an un­proven de­vel­oper in case it might later be can­celled, Mi­crosoft had asked Moon Stu­dios to de­velop the game in se­cret. By E3 2014, the pub­lisher was con­fi­dent enough to un­veil it. The team pulled to­gether all the story el­e­ments that had been com­pleted and spliced it with game­play footage to make a trailer. It was, Mahler ad­mits, a nerve-wrack­ing mo­ment. “We didn’t know if it would work for the au­di­ence. Peo­ple might have said, ‘Well, this is just fuck­ing FernGully – I don’t care’.” He laughs. “It could have hap­pened! But the re­sponse was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. Peo­ple were stand­ing up and just go­ing nuts about it.”

Few de­vel­op­ers are ever com­pletely sat­is­fied with the games they make. Mahler talks of adding more ar­eas, abil­i­ties and se­crets, even be­yond those added in this year’s De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion, which fea­tured a fast-travel sys­tem and dif­fi­culty tweaks. But given the money and re­sources at Moon Stu­dios’ dis­posal, Mahler is ex­tremely happy with how Ori turned out. And he’s hun­gry to re­peat its suc­cess. “We want to be­come a stu­dio that peo­ple trust,” he says. “Where they know we put our hearts and souls and ev­ery­thing we have into a game. We wouldn’t ever re­lease some­thing we know sucks. I would rather fuck­ing burn down the stu­dio and close it all.”

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