An In-Depth Chat with Martin Sahlin, Creator of Unravel

You guys are using Sony’s PhyreEngine. Unravel seems to be visually more impressive than most of the other games made with the engine. Is there any particular reason you’ve been able to take the visuals up a notch?

[M.S] So, it’s not the straight up PhyreEngine. We’ve modified it quite a bit.  Also, I think it’s the whole part about really loving what you do and really caring about it. There is cool tech stuff going on, for sure.  Then there is also just a lot of really good artistry.  It works both ways, the way I see it. The tech people are artists in their own right.  You see things like the water in certain levels.  That is art.  A lot of work has gone into it.  We live in the source material and we care about the source material.  So we want to make it as good as we possibly can.

Not to mention that you guys keep saying that it’s been fun.  The crab for example; it was fun to work on the crab and put a heap of detail into it.

[M.S] Yeah, totally.  And if you look at things like the first photo shoots that we went on. That was part of the most fun that I’ve had working in videogames.  It was just like, so cool that every other week you get to go on a nice field trip and just hang out. That’s awesome!

[D.A]One of the cool things is when you are talking with friends about the game. They really understand what it’s about. You can be walking in the woods or whatever, and people are starting to relate.  “Imagine if that was a puzzle?  What if this was a puzzle?” That’s when you know that you’ve found something that triggers people.  They can relate, they can figure out their own little Yarny puzzles around them.  That made it so much better to work with from the start.  You could just walk around and see things.  You could be inspired by a flower pot, whatever.

The music in trailers and gameplay we’ve seen so far has been impressive. Was music and sound something that you focused on?

Yes. It was a big deal. Since we tell the story almost entirely without words, we figured that music was going to be a big deal.  To us, the most important thing is setting the right mood, getting people in the right mindset.  I think music has been a huge part of that.  Also, this thing about making it feel like a part of us. That was also a big deal.  We wanted to put music in there that felt like this place, like these environments. We worked with two local people that worked on all the music.  Actually, the cool thing is that their studio is right across the street from us. They became part of the team, basically.  Then we had such good support from EA, so we had the budget the budget to do like, whatever we wanted, which was totally a first for us. [laughs]  It was pretty cool. I recorded these gameplay videos and gave them an overview of what the story was. What the tone and the theme of the levels would be.  So they had that, and then they came back to me and then we could all collaborate on it.  It was a really fun process.  I mean, it is cool with people who are just supremely skilled at what they do. There’s something about when someone knows how to do something that you don’t know how to do yourself; it always feels like it’s slightly magical.  So when they brought in all of these musicians to record, we went over to watch them.  It was just super cool to see these people play.


So, you guys are finishing up this week?

[D.A] I hope so!

[M.S] I think we should be finished today, probably.

So it’s the last day.  Looking back at the journey, how would you summarize the experience?

[M.S] It’s been pretty wild.  I mean for me, I think one of the cooler things I’ve done was the reveal. When we showed it off the first time. The reception it got and just how totally surreal those days were.  That’s something you don’t get to do many times in a life. Also, the act of actually creating it, that first day. [Martin pauses as he thinks about it] The first time I showed it to the kids as well.  It was one of these things that you feel very, very lucky and just, it’s really cool to get to do stuff like that.  It’s like I said, that whole liquid luck thing.  When it feels like you are finding stuff that’s already there.  The pieces fit together so well that it feels like they were just made for it.

It’s been hugely emotional as well.  It’s been a big and crazy journey but it’s been absolutely amazing as well.  It’s so cool to see everybody get to so creative and just embrace it so much.  From all the people at the studio and everyone at EA along with all the people out there.  Everybody has really taken it to their hearts; which was sort of the point from the start.  So that’s pretty cool when stuff works out.

So what next?  Are you thinking about a sequel, or?

Right now, I’m thinking about vacation and I don’t think I’m the only one thinking that.

Are you going to take Yarny on your vacation?

[M.S] You know, Yarny has traveled so much.  He has been with me to England, Germany, America lots of times, to Canada, Australia… so it’s one of those things.  When you make it and you’re out in the woods, you think “this could actually be something” but you don’t expect that the thing that you’re holding is going to travel around the world and reach thousands and thousands of people.  So that’s kind of wild as well.

[D.A] It will be nice for a while, to be able to walk in the woods or wherever, and not think about “This could be a puzzle, Yarny could be here”.

[M.S] The thing is that I’ve enjoyed this so very much.  It is draining, it’s quite emotional. It’s like, you’re creating art together.  That’s always a struggle in some ways.  But it’s been so very rewarding, so very satisfying and cool.  So I don’t really see myself going back to doing games about nothing. I don’t know how the rest of the studio feels, but I think I’m not the only one.

[D.A] I’m kind of done with it.

[M.S] It’s not super important what you make, as long as you make something that you care about. That you feel something about it. As long as you make something that you love. The thing for us is that we did a lot of hard work.  We did a lot of stuff that I don’t think any of us really enjoyed making.  When you are working on making video games and you are not enjoying it, then you are clearly doing something wrong.  It should be the best job in the world.  You should enjoy it. You should have fun. I think that is the focus: to make things that we can feel proud of.

[D.A] It feels like this is the first game that everyone at the office has something to say.  Everyone was like “could we do this?  Or that?” That’s a healthy thing.  Everyone was so involved and they want to be a part.

[M.S] That’s what I think going forward as well.  This game was created in slightly odd circumstances. I mean, since we’d all basically been fired right before.  What I’d like to see next time around is that it’s less me.  That everyone is in it right from the start. I think when you are a studio this small; it feels super important that everybody has ownership in what they do. “This is our creation.”

Unravel is set for release on February 9. Stay glued to Hardcore Gamer for our continued comprehensive coverage of Unravel.

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