GamesRadar: Moon Studios’ Thomas Mahler on the art, science, and magic behind Ori and the Will of the Wisps

By Alex Avard 

Timelessness is one of those treasured descriptives that every game aims for, but few manage to reach. Moon Studios’ Thomas Mahler – the game director behind Ori and the Blind Forest and its upcoming sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps – has a theory as to why that is.

“All of these games are pursuing the most advanced graphics with higher resolutions, textures, and everything else. But the problem is that technology is always evolving, and it only takes a few years before a game that once looked amazing suddenly… doesn’t. I was just playing The Witcher 3 the other day; that game launched in 2015, but it already looks kind of dated next to something like Red Dead Redemption 2, which came out just three years after it.”

Ori and the Blind Forest, meanwhile, launched two months before CD Projekt Red’s fantasy RPG, but players discovering Moon Studio’s critically-acclaimed platformer for the first time on Nintendo Switch (a platform it launched on last year) are still marvelling at its preternatural beauty to this day. There’s no denying it; even the fastest frame rates and most voluptuous volumetrics can’t hold a candle to the universal charm of hand-drawn animation.

“I think motion capture is dumb,” continues Mahler, game director on both Ori and the Blind Forest and it’s upcoming sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps. “All the animations look kinda stilted and wooden [through mo-cap], whereas with Ori we’re able to put so much expression into each character, conveying their mood, personality, and intention completely wordlessly.”

To the moon and back

A self-confessed aficionado of the animated form, my conversation with Mahler touches on everything, from Studio Ghibli to The Triplets of Belleville, to exemplify his love for the immutable qualities of the craft. This isn’t to say that Moon Studios hasn’t felt the obligation to raise its own bar for Ori and the Will of the Wisps, though, especially given the unforgettably awe-inspiring visuals that first enraptured player’s eyes, hearts, and minds half a decade ago with Ori and the Blind Forest.

On the contrary, Mahler details the exhaustive work that has gone into making the world and characters of its miasmic setting look more breathtaking than ever for its platformer follow-up, which is approximately three times the size of Ori and the Blind Forest.

“We’re able to put so much expression into each character, conveying their mood, personality, and intention completely wordlessly.”

Thomas Mahler

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