Earlier this year, Ken Wong — an artist and game designer best known for his work on the mobile hit Monument Valley — left his post at studio Ustwo games. After years abroad, working in places like London, Shanghai, and Hong Kong he wanted to head back home to Australia. This week he finally revealed just what he’s up to: Mountains, a tiny boutique studio based in Melbourne, which Wong describes as a "craft games studio." Its first release is expected some time next year.
"I'm very grateful for my experiences at Ustwo," Wong says, "but this year felt like the right time to come back to Australia, and build something of my own."
Counting Wong, Mountains is currently home to just three developers. The former Ustwo designer is joined by producer Kamina Vincent and programmer Sam Crisp, a recent university graduate. They’re housed in a Melbourne-based workspace known as the arcade, home to dozens of other game studios, most notably Crossy Road creator Hipster Whale.
The team may grow slightly at some point, but the plan is to keep things small, and focus on creating more personal experiences — that’s where the "craft games studio" tagline comes from. "When I think about the kind of creative work I want to do, whether in games or not, I think of refinement of skill, of a personal touch, of finding satisfaction in doing my best work each day," says Wong. "I’m always in awe of handcrafted goods, from woodwork to ceramics to jewelry."
The studio isn’t announcing its first game yet, but it will be a "premium-priced" title on mobile, much like Monument Valley was. It’s a space that seems to be shrinking as free-to-play games continue to dominate the market, but the recent success of titles like Prune, Her Story, and Alto’s Adventure shows that there’s still some room. "Premium mobile was a tough space even before Monument Valley," Wong admits. "We made Monument Valley only because Sword & Sworcery and The Room proved that mobile gamers want quality, finely crafted experiences. I still feel there's great potential, important work to be done."
While we won’t see what that will look like for some time — Mountains’ first game is planned for a 2017 release — for Wong, creating an amazing experience is just one part of his new venture. "The real goal is to build a great team," he says. "Over the years I've learnt the importance of putting people first, keeping them healthy and inspired. Ustwo is full of incredible talent and I know they're working on some stellar projects. With Mountains I get to build something from the ground up in my home country, and help contribute to the incredible game development scene here."