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Don’t Go into the Woods

In Part 3 of our interview, Unravel Two Director Martin Sahlin details the Yarnys’ folklore origins, and how scary Swedish myths really are.

The Making of Unravel Two

In Part Three of our interview, Unravel™ Two Creative Director Martin Sahlin (accompanied by his two children) delves into the dark folklore that inspired the Yarnys – and at least one of their beaked enemies. Unravel Two is out now, and a lot went into weaving this whimsical platforming adventure together – a lot of planning, some tough decisions, a few dark warnings for folklore, and at least one embarrassing Yarny-making lesson. Check out Part Three below, then discover how Unravel Two’s co-op came to be in Part One and find out more about the game’s development in Part Two.

Yarnys as Helper Spirits

When I first saw the original Yarny, back when Unravel came out, they kind of reminded me of a brownie. I also looked it up in Swedish folklore and I guess it’s close to a – I’m not going to pronounce this right – a nisse. They’re little helper spirits that wander around your house and take care of you. It sounds like that’s kind of what’s going on with the Yarnys?

That’s pretty much it, yeah.

Okay! How much was pulled from folklore and how much is Coldwood’s imagination?

I was having a discussion about something similar to this the other day, just how much you can tell about a culture from listening to the untranslatable words in their languages. And I remember when you [turns to daughter] when you asked about what the character was called the first time, and I said I wasn’t sure it has a name, it’s probably just a väsen.

Daughter: Uh huh, yeah. Right.

Which is a Swedish word that sort of – it kind of means a being, but it’s also not the same word as being because it’s steeped in folklore. When you say väsen, you know it’s an entity, but it’s an entity from myth, from fantasy, from sort of – that side of things. So, you can tell that this is a culture, this is a language that has a rich folklore and a rich history of telling stories about mystical things. And I think that’s kind of nice.

So, it’s like a being kind of steeped in Swedish folklore, but also kind of a new way of imagining it.

I see it as kind of like a helper spirit. The inspiration for it came from a song lyric, about unraveling when you’re away from the thing that you love. And I figured that, well, okay, we have these bonds, and these bonds are made of yarn, and we need a caretaker for these bonds. We need someone to help you tie these bonds. And that’s where Yarnys came from.

Sweden and Evil Turkeys

Everyone has a Yarny kind of attached to them in some way even if you – you probably will never see them, but they’re around. So, I was curious, are Yarnys around the world different? Do they take on different shape?

They all kind of look different. They come in different shapes, they come in different colors. We can all have our own that fits us.

Unravel is so steeped in Sweden and the beautiful landscapes there. Because Yarnys are everywhere, do you see it going somewhere else, or is this quintessentially, ‘this is here?’ This is where this story happens?

I think what we tried to do with this game was . . . explore different types of environments. It’s still very much based on places we know and places around us, but we tried to do different things with it this time.

We have this principle in our art direction that we call “highlighting the beauty in the ordinary.” That everything is really lovely if you just get to look at it closely enough. Even the most boring, mundane things can be super beautiful if you just give yourself time to look at it and look at it closely enough. And that’s sort of the cool thing about being a little Yarny, that we can allow you to get really close to things.

So, what we tried to do now with Unravel Two is – can we take even more ordinary, can we take even more mundane scenes, and make them look magical and beautiful and Unravel-y? We have things like a cityscape or a strange factory that we tried to [ask], “How can we just make these feel as detailed and as alive and as beautiful to watch as those beautiful forest sceneries that we did in the first game?” That’s been an interesting challenge and I think it turned out pretty good.

I was trying to find out, for something I was writing, what the chicken thing is that chases you?

It’s a grouse! A wood grouse. A western capercaillie.

Oh, yes! One of our writers is in Stockholm, and I sent him a picture and I’m like, “What is this?” He sent me a video of one chasing a reporter.

That’s the video that started this whole thing.

Really?

Yeah, somebody saw that and was like, “That’s hilarious, we gotta have one of those.”

You did it. You nailed it.

Actually, we have this – when we make the levels we did post-its on a big board with all the different ideas that we had and all the different moods you were supposed to feel at different places. And when we meet the grouse the first time, the mood is called Berno, which is the name of the reporter that got chased. When you’re thinking about what it should feel like, it’s just like, “Remember that guy: he’s laughing but he’s afraid!”

Horns or Ears?

I have one more question for you that I’m dying to know.

Okay.

Are those horns or ears on Yarny’s head?

So, the answer to that is yes.

No! You’re breaking my heart.

It could be both. Are they horns or ears? Yes.

Now I’m going to imagine the one that has the one right in the middle that that’s just a weird ear.

It was interesting when we did this at first, because everybody in Europe said, “Oh, it’s a cat,” and everybody in America said, “Oh, it’s a devil!” It’s like, I wonder what you’re reading into this.

Whoever would think that? Not me! I actually wrote that into my questions: “is Yarny a devil?”

I think it’s nice that you can see it both ways, and I think it’s nice that they look a little bit mischievous. Because that’s, again, tying into the whole folklore thing. If you look at Swedish folklore, it’s never just nice. Like, never, ever just nice. Sometimes, most of the times actually, it’s pretty scary.

Because I suppose that the moral of the story in most cases is just, “Don’t go into the woods, damn it! Don’t touch anything.”

What the heck is going on in Swedish folklore?

It’s really brutal. But I guess, again, the moral of the story is, “Oh, is there water? Stay away from the water! It’s going to kill you!”

It’s full of crazy men with donkey heads.

It’s like the weird horse that’s going to eat your babies. Go away from that! So, in that sense, I think Yarnys are pretty friendly.

  • Ashley Reed (Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashsmashreed)

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