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Unravel: An Indie Development Dream Come True

2015-06-16
Electronic Arts

Every game made has a story of passion and vision behind it. Unravel is no exception.

Coldwood’s Creative Director Martin Sahlin tells the story of how Unravel came to be.

 

What inspired the beginning of Coldwood studio?

Coldwood was founded in 2003 by a group of veterans from another studio who wanted to break off and do their own thing. We’re based in Umeå, a small town in northern Sweden, pretty far away from everything. That kind of remoteness fosters a certain spirit, and we wanted to build our company around those ideals—friendliness, creativity and a kind of D.I.Y. attitude.

Tell us about the origins of Coldwood and Unravel.

The early days of Coldwood were hectic but inspired. Lots of creativity, lots of ideas, and lots of passion for making games. We were new in the business, so every day was kind of “make it or break it”, but that sense of urgency was great for creativity.

 

We were totally focused on getting a deal with a publisher back then, so a lot of energy was spent on trying to seem big, acting like we weren’t just a handful of developers working out of someone’s garage.

 

When I wrote the Unravel concept, we were in a sort of similar position as in those early days (with our backs against the wall, basically). The difference this time was that I wasn’t trying to get us a deal and save our necks or anything. I guess that’s the kind of creative calm that comes with experience. I was just trying to write exactly what I wanted and make the game exactly how I wanted. The result really struck a chord with everyone at the studio. 

We’ve put out lots of games, but a lot of those projects have felt like work-for-hire, they weren’t really “ours” in the same way Unravel is. This time, the whole team was super fired up and super excited right from the start.

 

What does Unravel represent for your studio?

I guess Unravel is kind of a reboot, really. It’s the first time we’ve had the chance to make something more genuine, more meaningful, more personal. And it’s the first time we’ve really been able to do our own thing, straight from our own hearts, without filters or interference. It’s a game unlike any we’ve made before, so in many ways it really does feel like our first game even though we’ve been around for over a decade. 

We’ve always liked working together. We’re a great group of friends who really enjoy what we do, but Unravel lit some kind of new spark in all of us. It has been a huge inspiration for us.

 

How many artists have worked on Unravel?

The way I see it, we’re all artists here. We’re fourteen people at Coldwood and we’re creating this really beautiful thing together, as a collective. Our “art department” consists of six people, three level builders, one character artist, an animator, and a tech artist. But I don’t think it matters that much what your job description says. This really is a team effort, and we're all contributing to the art.

 

How is a small studio able to make such a vibrant game environment?

I think part of the reason is because we based our game environment on our own surroundings – our own backyard so to speak. We picked environments that mean something to us, places from around here, from northern Sweden, places we’re connected with. Since we know these places so well, that makes it easy for us to capture the way they look and feel. We live in the reference material.

 

Also, we’re basically showing off our home here, so of course we’re going to put in every effort to make everything look nice.

What were some of the biggest challenges?

Unravel’s gameplay is all physics based and dynamic, which is fun, but getting it right is definitely a challenge. It’s fun because it gives players more freedom to do things their own way, but we’ve had to work really hard on making sure that both the tech and the level design are able to handle all the different ways players might behave.

 

Getting the difficulty level just right has also been a challenge. It’s tempting to make things super complex, and it’s certainly possible—the yarn really does let you do some pretty fancy things, but we’ve tried to keep ourselves in check a bit. We definitely want to give players a challenge, but not to the point where things just get frustrating.

 

What kind of emotional reaction do you hope fans will have when playing Unravel?

I would like it if players feel like Yarny as they play—like they’re stepping into a new and beautiful world that is full of mysteries, dangers and wonders, and packed with things to discover. I hope that, like Yarny, players will feel that they’re on an important quest even though they might not know all the details about it yet, and that they’ll feel the same determination as Yarny to see it all through to the end.

I hope that they’ll feel brave and daring as they dash through the platforming parts, clever and ingenious as they solve puzzles, and I hope that they’ll feel like they can use those yarn abilities just as naturally as Yarny would.

Most of all though, I hope that players will feel welcome in this world we’ve made, that they’ll want to explore it, lose themselves in it, have fun in it. Unravel is definitely a game made to make you feel good. It has its dark and sad moments, but the whole thing is meant to be a positive, uplifting experience. And perhaps one that makes you think a little too.

 

Watch the trailer and learn more about Unravel here.

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