This is what it must feel like to be inside the mind of M. C. Escher.
Monument Valley is a game with 2-dimensional graphics that can never be 3-dimensional. One has to abandon 3D spatial rotation skills and give into the false reality that your vision creates. Inspired by the artwork of M. C. Escher, the adventure game follows the story of a little girl named Ida on her journey through intriguing structures that comprise primarily of ladders, stairs, and stone ledges that swing back and forth like the staircases at Hogwarts. Unlike the staircases at Hogwarts, however, many of the paths that are created are not three-dimensionally feasible, and can only exist in the game world through optical illusion. The game mechanics are very intuitive- you tap on a space where you want the character to go, and can move building parts by swiping the touch screen.The graphics are very beautiful and whimsical, like illustrations in a fairy tale. The pastel tones create a dream-like atmosphere while the ambient music is gentle yet mysterious.
The game is an Escher fan’s dream come true. Much of Escher’s work reflected this theme of “infinity” or “never-ending.” As one can see in the image below, the building in the game (left) has a similar architectural structure to Escher’s “Ascending and descending” (right). Escher’s staircase is essentially an optical illusion; it can only exist as a two-dimensional image because the three-dimensional construction of an infinity staircase is impossible. The game, however, defies the constraints of physical matter and relies on the brain to re-imagine physics, to re-conceptualize space.
The game also incorporates the optical illusion of Escher’s endless waterfall. As can be seen below, the idea of an aqueduct system that feeds into a waterfall goes against the law of gravity. While it cannot be replicated in the physical world, the virtual world is perfect host for these whimsical structures. In order to successfully play this game, one has to surrender one’s conception of physical matter, because the solutions to problems relies on the ability of the brain to trick itself into believing the illusions. The logic is to be illogical and completely succumb to the visual deception- seeing is believing! Simple as the game may seem, it is a mind-blowing example of a different type of thinking. Escher would be so proud.
- Philip Kollar’s “Monument Valley: A Quest Everyone Can Finish” in Polygon
- Interview with designer Ken Wong in Kill Screen by Stephanie Carmichael