Hit List Q&A: Monument Valley designer Ken Wong

In the "Hit List" from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, the video game industry's top talents describe their current gaming addictions, their most anticipated releases and more. This week: Ken Wong, lead designer of Monument Valley.

Ken Wong served as lead designer on ustwo's recent mobile hit Monument Valley. An Australian living in London, his previous work also includes the art direction of Alice: Madness Returns at Spicy Horse and his solo indie project, Hackycat.

Wong will be presenting at the upcoming D.I.C.E. Europe conference in a session titled, "Games without gamers." He will discuss how core gamers have supported the games industry and pushed it into new territory for decades, but fresh opportunities and challenges await if designers try to attract new audiences. In creating Monument Valley ustwo sought to create a meaningful, rich experience for audiences beyond the 'gamer' by replacing tropes and overused patterns with a focus on user experience.


What games are you playing right now?

I rarely play games these days, other than for research. There are just other things I'd rather be doing with my time, like making games. The exception is we usually play Street Fighter twice a day, every day at the office. I've played pretty much almost every Street Fighter game since World Warriors.

What future release are you most looking forward to?

Night In The Woods looks utterly amazing.

What about a niche title that impressed you with its sheer innovation or fun factor?

I finally got around to playing Gone Home recently. I was blown away not by the 'innovation' or 'fun', but just how subtly and wonderfully crafted it is, and how it brings the player into the lives of the characters. I was in tears by the end.

What literature has had the biggest impact on your creative process?

Is a book still literature if it has no words? When I encountered Arzach by Moebius, I think I discovered the type of storytelling that feels most natural to me – visual, poetic, impressionistic.

What two movies or TV shows influenced your creative process the most?

I've learnt so much from behind the scenes features and commentaries on DVDs. Getting an audience to believe in and empathise with fictional characters is a certain kind of magic, and I find it endlessly fascinating learning how writing, acting, production design, sound design and all the other components can come together to create cinema. If I may cheat a little, two box sets that had a big influence on me early in my career are the Alien Quadrilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

When you're daydreaming about the "next big thing", what are you listening to?

I tend to daydream in the shower or the swimming pool, so what I'd be listening to would be the sound of water. Also: see next answer.

What app is making it tough to put down your phone or tablet?

I use Pocketcasts to listen to podcasts when I'm running and cooking. My favourite podcasts are /Filmcast, Stuff You Should Know and This American Life. I've lately also discovered 99% Invisible and Your Dreams My Nightmares.

What does your home gaming setup consist of?

I have a Macbook Pro, an iPad and an iPhone. They don't get used for playing games much, though.

What's your favorite new gadget?

I try to live a fairly spartan life. It makes moving countries every few years easier. Consequently I don't really have new gadgets to speak of. I recently spent £40 on an electric kettle because I liked the design.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.