Interview: Martin Sahlin On Yarny, The Design & The Music Of Unravel

Unravel is a game which captured a lot of people’s attention right from the moment it was revealed, with it’s adorable woollen character and his journey through someone’s memories at its heart.

We’ve played the first couple of levels ahead of tomorrow’s EA Access and Origin Access trial, with a written preview and a hands on video already live, but we also took the opportunity to talk to Martin Sahlin, Creative Director at Coldwood Interactive and the man who took to the stage at E3 last year, and talked to him about the game.


TSA: So, you’re finally done!

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Martin Sahlin: Yeah! It feels good, really good. It’s slightly surreal, but it’s also surprisingly nice. I always worried that there would be a sort of separation anxiety, but it actually feels like I’m happy!

TSA: You must be looking forward to having a break after this then?

Martin: Yeah, I mean, I’ve actually had a bit of a holiday already because the way it works is that we can only add stuff to the game up until a certain point. After that point we can only bug fix, so I basically did my last work on it December and I’ve had some time to just land…

It was very good. We were really doing the Indiana Jones thing, where you roll under the door just as it closes! We tried to sneak so much stuff in there before feature lock. We had this one guy who said, “Do you want to be Maverick? Or do you want to be Goose?” So we thought let’s be Maverick and try to do more, even though we’re not supposed to.

TSA: I think it’s a nice touch that when you launch the game, there’s a little note just to say thank you for the public support, but you’ve also reached out to the community by sharing the instructions for making your own Yarny. What’s the reaction been to that? Have there been lots of little Yarny photos?

Martin: Yeah, it’s super cool!

I’ve been waiting for it for so long, because I made the little guide a long time ago, but when we talked about it we decided to actually wait a while to show it, to make it closer to launch. But it’s like, “Come on, it’s fun! I wanna do it!” So we’ve finally been able to do it, and people seem to love it and they’ve made lots of cool Yarnys.

TSA: He is a very endearing character, but in terms of the actual game and his adventure, you don’t really seem to do a lot of handholding and leave players to figure things out.

Martin: I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult game, but it’s not really all about rubbing you the right way, it’s more about presenting a challenge. What we want is for people to feel clever when they figure it out, but maybe not be so hard that they feel stupid when they don’t.

But I also think it ties into the symbolism of it all. Since it’s about reaching other people, there has to be a level of effort there. You don’t always know what the answer is, but you know that you have to put the time and the effort in to fix it.

TSA: But even if you’re not turning to a hints system, it feels like there are a few things that you do for people to pick up on?

Martin: Yeah. Often it’s the camera that does it. So, basically just trying to pan the camera in the right direction and making sure you have the right stuff in view all the time. It’s not about outright telling people, but just little hints.

I don’t know if you got that far, but there’s a tree that you’re supposed to bend in order to get across it. When we watched people playing it, we saw that a lot of them didn’t really know how to do it, they just kind of lucked out. They figured it out, but they figured it out through luck.

So we thought, well what if there’s a bird perched on the branch that makes the tree bend? And then the bird flies away so you can see the branch rise up again? So there’s little hints like that, that show what the actual path might be.

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TSA: Starting the game for the first time, you see Yarny come to life in this house that’s filled with photos, which link to the levels as a kind of hub world. From some of the inspirations you’ve talked about in the past, are these real photos of your own, or were they created specially for the game?

Martin: It started out with just my pictures, but some of them have been slightly tweaked, or some of them are montages and collages…

TSA: Yeah, you can sometimes see that there are different layers within a photo as the game zooms into them.

Martin: Yeah. I based it on my own pictures – it’s basically because I take a lot of pictures, so we had a lot to choose from! – but then we added some more as well, some stuff that we custom made.

But I also think that it’s quite nice to start with something that’s actually real. Even though it is a fantasy that we’re creating, it’s nice to have everything grounded in reality.

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TSA: The game’s accompanied by a soundtrack, which I’ve really enjoyed. What have you been trying to do there? It feels like there’s a lot of folk music inspirations.

Martin: Oh, it does. [Throughout development] I’ve had lots of moments that felt like serendipity, where you just find the thing that you need, and it was always my goal to make it something that felt like home, something that felt personal and was grounded in our background.

I was at this circus show… [laughs]

TSA: [laughs] Does the circus appear in the game?

Martin: No they don’t, but this is one of these stories that’s really strange. It’s not really connected to anything.

They had this guy who was doing all the music himself and he was playing all kinds of folk music instruments. They did a trick that involved yarn and so, you know, the wheels started turning. I realised that I liked how this sounds and I wanted to create something that was similar to this.

So we talked to some local composers and just got some really good musicians to come and play. It’s not outright folk music, but we took some traditional melodies and some traditional instruments, and we just went with it and made it our own thing.

TSA: Did you have a direct hand in helping to compose some of the music?

Martin: Oh yeah, absolutely.

The way it worked was actually a super fun process. I recorded lots of gameplay video and then I went over there and talked to them about the mood of the level, the theme of the level, and what we’re doing in the story.

They could basically just create music according to the video and then we took that and made it into parts that we could, you know, weave together dynamically.

It was super fun and it’s… it’s the coolest game music I’ve made, anyway!

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TSA: [laughs] Well music’s always very important for setting the tone. You could put something very lively behind a contemplative scene, and it would completely change how you perceive it.

Martin: Absolutely, and that’s something that we noticed early on, just how well the music fits with the themes of the levels. When we messed it up and played the wrong music in the wrong place, you could just hear that it doesn’t sound like that environment.

That’s one of the things we wanted to do. We wanted the music to really bring the mood of the place across and establish the atmosphere. Especially because we don’t do dialogue or a lot of exposition, the music is basically just there to get you in the right mindset.

TSA: Lastly, you’ve got the game coming to EA Access and Origin Access, with the first two levels to play. Do you think it’s important for you to have this kind of demo? We don’t see demos for games very often anymore.

Martin: I like demos myself! I think it’s quite nice to be able to try something. […]

It’s nice to just get people talking about it. I think people really value the opinions of other gamers and they have this circle of people that they trust, you know? […] So I think it’s definitely good to get it out there a few days early so some people can try it.


Thanks to Martin for speaking to us about Unravel. The Access trial goes live tomorrow with the full game out on February 9th. We’ll have a review for release, but for more on the game we have a preview and hands on video live right now!

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2 Comments

  1. Nice interview, Unravel deserves to do really well from the look of it.

  2. Lovely stuff. The guys have come across so well and the game is looking fantastic. All the best to them for the launch. :-)

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