Sixty years after creating landmark works like Relativity, M.C. Escher’s impossible architecture continues to bend our minds. But what if Escher were around today? Would he still work in lithographs and woodcuts, or would he go digital and push his games of perspective to be interactive?
Thanks to developers at ustwo, we’ll get a taste of what that alternate universe might have looked like. Their upcoming iPad game, Monument Valley, channels a bit of Escher through its beautiful, geometrically surreal towers, full of mind-bending puzzles of perception.
"It turns out that the way Escher thought was very similar to the way computer graphics are designed," explains Monument Valley’s artist and designer Ken Wong. "Both involve illusion and deceiving the eye as well as deal with the nature of geometry and math in a visual form."
The player’s task is deceivingly simple: Guide a tiny person up a tower. It’s not until you take a few steps—as I did testing the game myself—that you realize the this might be impossible. Huge gaps stand in your way. But by spinning and pulling certain pieces, bridges can form connecting platforms several stories apart. And when you discover these fixes, you get to feel every bit as smart as Escher himself.
"We hope it's both a visual and interactive journey, and when players are done, they feel like they've witnessed something quite special in the medium of games," Wong writes.
That gameplay feels like a cross between Fez and Echochrome (Fez challenges you to climb illusive towers, while Echochrome forces you to create makeshift Necker Cubes and Penrose Triangles), but that’s not to say it won’t be every bit as special as Wong hopes. Much like Escher’s own work, the early levels I played combined artistic sensibility and mind-bending geometric phenomenon as few works do. Each puzzle is like a math problem you don’t even need to understand to appreciate (or solve).
In an App Store increasingly populated by thin excuses to drive the next microtransaction, you have to wonder if the nine months of work (and counting) going into Monument Valley could be considered a "safe" business plan.
"Perhaps not," Wong agrees. "But we're here to make great games, not financial sense."
Monument Valley will be released for iPad in early 2014.