Unravel marks a big change for Sweden-based developer Coldwood Interactive.
Announced at E3 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC, the game follows a cuddly red creature made of yarn (aptly named Yarny). Players navigate Yarny through a lively world based on the dev's homeland; however, Yarny can only move as long as he has spare string to tug along. The result is a mix of planning and platforming, with players searching for more string as they explore and using what they have to reach new areas.
Yarny's thread serves as both a tool for players and a metaphorical interpretation of the game; Unravel tells the story of a woman losing her family. It's a tale of emotional bonds that falls far from the dev's previous games, which include titles such as Move Fitness, The Fight - Lights Out and onGolf. Creative director Martin Sahlin told Polygon that while past games did well for the studio, he's happier to focus on something different.
"it's about reaching out, trying to mend a broken bond"
"For me, it feels like I'm kind of done with that other type of game," Sahlin said. "It is also an emotional investment to do something like this. It can be quite draining as well as it is rewarding. It's not like I'm against the other type of game, which is why that I think it's important that both kinds exist.
"But working on this has been so very different from all the other stuff we've done before. It's been so much better in so many ways."
Sahlin goes back to the idea that Unravel is about connections. Working on the game is in some ways an emotional drain, he said, but he declines to answer specifically for fear of "getting too personal."
"Since the whole game is about trying to mend broken bonds, it's obviously inspired by watching people who don't quite do what you think they should be doing," he said.
Later, he added, "Internally, I've been joking at the studio that if we make one person call their mom, it's a success."
From hands-on time with the game, it seems at first like a strange goal. Yarny uses his threads to make trampolines and rocket through the air, and he moves like a climber scaling trees and walls. It's a surprisingly difficult game in which I found myself puzzled on what to do next — until I found use for an apple on the ground, or figured out where to tie specific knots. According to Sahlin, it's not meant to be difficult, but in some ways it's essential to Unravel's personality.
"It's a matter of getting people stuck in the right places, rather than the wrong places," he said. "I want things to be easy to do, once you figure them out.
"The thing about difficulty for me is that since the game is very symbolic — it's about reaching out, trying to mend a broken bond, you don't really do that without effort. I think there has to be some level of effort into it. You have to work for it, in order for it to mean something. If it was just like watching a pretty movie, I think it wouldn't connect with you in the same way. But it's a balancing act, because you don't want it to be frustrating."
For Sahlin, Unravel's achievements will depend on a different metric than a typical game. Selling copies is nice, but he'll consider it a successful project if it can make people happy.
"If people don't smile after playing it," he said, "if they aren't moved, if they aren't in some way touched by it, then I guess we didn't do our jobs."
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