An intimate surprise appeared among Electronic Arts’ usual sports and shooter lineup this year.
Unravel is an atmospheric puzzle-platformer from ColdWood Interactive, a Swedish studio that has previously only worked on smaller sports games for consoles and PC. At a pre-E3 media preview event, creative director Martin Sahlin said that the studio wanted to make something meaningful and enrich players, and it decided to create something that was personal to do that. “If it means something to me, it’ll mean something to you,” Sahlin said.
Yarn is a key theme of Unraved, with its main character, Yarny, made completely of red yarn. Sahlin says that the idea was sparked by a lyric line from “Unravel” from artist Bjork: “While you’re away, my heart comes undone and slowly unravels.”
The yarn represents the red thread of fate and the invisible bonds that connect people and memories. For Unravel’s story, one particular bond has broken, and Yarny’s journey reflects on that bond and other related memories, with a trailing thread on its body tying into the physics-based platforming.
Yarny can tether the yarn to many points, enabling the character to swing to reach otherwise inaccessible platforms. It’s also used in puzzles, allowing players to pull, climb, and manipulate objects to progress. For example, yarn can be tied to points to create bridges, or can bend tree branches to create new platforms. The tethered yarn continues to draw from Yarny’s body, literally tying him to his past obstacles. Sahlin says this is a metaphor for our ties to the obstacles we overcome in life, and the trails we leave behind.
Sahlin used the scenery of a camping trip he was on, where he suddenly found himself having to create a presentation for the game. He said he found a kid playing with some yarn and asked to borrow it, and then he combined it with some wire to create a character. This was posed among sticks and stones, set against the scenery of the camping area. Sahlin said that it all came together organically, and that he liked that he could use what he had around him to do so.
This resulted in a photorealistic, highly detailed world where Yarny runs through nature. I played a demo that started out in a home, continued through a yard, and ended up in the woods, with the tone changing to match the scenery. In each area, foggy visions of memories would appear in the background, alluding to some kind of backstory, but then would fade away like a dissipating fog.
It starts out light, but some of the puzzle become fairly complex, and require the player to be mindful of physics, weight, and jump range to proceed. One obstacle had Yarny up against a puddle that was too wide to jump across. It took me awhile to figure out that I had to string some yarn to a tether point, back track, find some apples to push over the yarn, pull it taught, and then push the apples into the pond to proceed.
We’ll have to wait until we play the full game to uncover the truly personal story that Unravel tells. But from the time I spent with the game it’s clear that plenty of personal elements were placed in the path. Sahlin says that even the setting of Unravel, Northern Sweden, is very personal to him, and this inspired the game’s setting and story.
“You rarely see the stuff that is right there in front of you,” he seemed to hint.