Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!
This interview was originally published in October 2020.
The previously unannounced appearance of the remarkable Ori and the Will of the Wisps on Switch eShop last month was a huge and very pleasant surprise. Of course, the really big surprise came last year when Microsoft permitted developer Moon Studios to bring its predecessor Ori and the Blind Forest to Switch after securing the game as an Xbox console exclusive during development, so perhaps it was only logical to assume the sequel would show up sooner or later.
Technologically speaking, however, this second enchanting Metroidvania-style gem is another beast entirely. Will of the Wisps was pushing Microsoft’s more powerful hardware when it launched back in March, and most technically-minded onlookers considered the chances of Will of the Wisps coming to Nintendo’s handheld hybrid very remote indeed. And yet it did, with its 60fps gameplay intact, too.
Indie developer Moon Studios is a ‘virtual’ studio with employees all around the world contributing to the Ori games and an upcoming action-RPG project. We recently had the chance to ask Co-Founder of Moon Studios and Lead Engineer Gennadiy Korol (Israel), Lead Artist Daniel van Leeuwen (Netherlands), and Art Director Jeremy Gritton (Florida, USA) about the Ori series and its unexpected journey to Nintendo’s console.
Nintendo Life: We’ve read that the idea to bring Ori and the Blind Forest to Switch came from Moon Studios itself rather than Microsoft. What was the motivation behind that? Was it something about Nintendo, the Switch hardware or simply sharing Ori with as wide an audience as possible?
Daniel van Leeuwen, Lead Artist: A lot of people at Moon are big Nintendo fans and a game like Ori is just a perfect fit for the platform. Many of us were excited to play the game on our Switch so that definitely was a big motivational drive.
Gennadiy Korol, Co-Founder of Moon Studios and Lead Engineer: Being able to play a painting come to life platformer at 60fps in your lap? That’s a dream come true! We were not sure if something crazy like this would’ve ever happened but early on we have proven that we could do this port and Microsoft were really awesome to allow their IP on another platform in this way.
Ori has been inspired by a lot of the old Nintendo classics that all of us were growing up with, so this is almost like closing a circle. We also love a good technical challenge and proving people that said that this could never run at 60fps on that platform wrong!
The original game released on Xbox One five years ago – did the concept and gameplay evolve much over time, or was it all in the design doc? Were there any specific games that influenced the team’s direction?
Daniel: We had a pretty strong base with Blind Forest when it came to platforming but we were always aware that the combat was not up to that level. The main focus of the Wisps was to incorporate a much more advanced combat system, which also resulted in a lot of new enemies and big boss fights. We don’t really work from a pre-set design doc. Moon Studios is much more iterative and we’ll experiment a lot in the game itself to get a sense for what works and what doesn’t.
From a visual standpoint, Ori often looks like a lovely piece of concept art come to life. Was that art style there from the beginning?
Jeremy Gritton, Art Director: We had a great foundation in place with the work done by Ori and the Blind Forest’s Art team. Because we were a new Art team coming in, we studied Blind Forest’s art style in depth. We wanted to immerse ourselves and understand all of the artistic choices that were made, while also finding what we could do differently to push the visuals in new ways. Our goal was to create something that not only would stay true to its predecessor, but provide enough visual distinction to have its own identity.
Daniel: Even though the art direction was there from the beginning with Blind Forest, a lot of the art really came together fairly late in the project. Much of the base art dressing was in place earlier during the production but it’s really in those iterative passes when all the little details get added that everything starts to click.
with Will of the Wisps we didn’t just want to repeat the same thing, we wanted to really push the envelope and take it to the next logical step
Gennadiy: The art direction of this game basically evolved from late 2010 when we started working on Ori and the Blind Forest through numerous tests and iterations on our core tech and the artistic technique and we loved where Blind Forest ended up. But with Will of the Wisps we didn’t just want to repeat the same thing, we wanted to really push the envelope and take it to the next logical step. Through huge improvements to the dynamic painterly lighting engine, the amount of parallaxing art, reactive physical animations of the environment and massive 3D creatures we wanted to elevate the fidelity and the feel of the game while still keeping it familiar and true to the original game.
Was the decision to partner with Microsoft an easy one for the team? How did the benefits of Microsoft’s backing manifest during production and in the game itself?
Gennadiy: Microsoft were the first to see the potential in us and they believed and supported us all the way through, allowing us to make the game we wanted to make. Without Microsoft there would be no Ori and we are going to be forever grateful for having gotten that chance to be able to create something we were truly passionate about and to make Moon into what it is today.