When lead artists Max Degen and Johannes Figlhuber began work on Ori and the Blind Forest, they were tasked with bringing to life a world that simply didn’t yet exist. “In the beginning, we had just very rough block-outs – you had your character and you could run around, but the game itself was just black-and-white silhouettes,” Figlhuber recalled. “We had to find something to bring all of this light to life, and to create something with some story to it.”
From early on, the team was inspired by classic hand-drawn animated movies, including “Princess Mononoke,” the classic Studio Ghibli film. “I just love the world they created, and this depth,” said Figlhuber. “The prince is an outsider in this world, and he’s not really wanted there – we kinda wanted to get this feeling for Ori. We want you to feel like a visitor in our strange and beautiful world.”
Indeed, as the titular Ori, the player can’t help but feel diminutive in the Blind Forest, and this was a very pointed choice by the developers for a number of reasons.
“We wanted to player to feel very small in this world – we wanted Ori to be very small on the screen,” said Degen. “This was a very conscious decision, both for gameplay reasons – you can see further ahead, and have more time to react to what’s coming toward you – and to show the insignificance of the character, who’s very small in this huge and intimidating world.”
Creating this rather intimidating world was no small task, particularly since Degen and Figlhuber were the sole artists for the bulk of the project (another four artists were brought on for the final year of production). To give a sense of scale, Degen pointed out that there were over 90 unique tree graphics created for Ori, along with loads of leaf and branch graphics – which all had to be combined.
“On top of that, we can give each graphic different lighting, color, and movement sets, so the possibilities are really endless,” said Degen. “The overall style of trees, and the graphics in general, change multiple times throughout the game. Generally speaking, we have over 7,000 hand-painted graphics in this game.”
Because the game was initially conceived as an Xbox 360 project, it started with a very specific technical ceiling that the team needed to work within. When it eventually became clear that the game was instead destined for Xbox One, these constraints essentially disappeared.
“We thought we were more limited than we were in the end, so [early on] we sort of limited ourselves,” said Figlhuber. “We went through so many iterations – and we had such great tools from the tech department – that we could just go crazy, and do everything we wanted. That gave us a lot of freedom to create all this depth and light, and make everything so vibrant. There were essentially no limits.”
All of the work put forth by Degen, Figlhuber, and the rest of the team at Moon Studios has resulted in a very unique, beautiful game. Ori and the Blind Forest is available now for Xbox One – and you should check it out, because you’re in for something very special.