Good Game Design – Ori and the Blind Forest: Controlled Freedom

Metroidvanias. Some people love them, some people hate them. I used to not like them very much but I’ve
been getting into some modern ones lately. Over the years since Super Metroid blazed
a trail for the genre, game developers have taken the formula and almost perfected it
by now. But what happens when a game takes the core
philosophies of a Metroidvania, and throws it out the window? Today on Good Game Design we’re going to
look at the “controlled freedom” principle. When you think of Super Metroid, what are
the major gameplay themes? You start powerless and slowly explore to
gain power-ups to progress to new parts of the map, all the while getting stronger until
you can finally reach the final boss. Now, while one game does follow this pretty
similarly, it just feels vastly different in its gameplay. And that game is Ori and the Blind Forest. If you haven’t seen this game before, wow
there’s a lot that’s breathtaking about it. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The world is just brimming with life and color. The story is simultaneously heart breaking
and heartwarming. You play as Ori, this cute little guy, who
is trying to restore the forest to its former glory by gathering the 3 elements, water,
wind, and fire to help bring the great tree to its original power. You do this by traveling to the different
areas of the map, some of which are accessible at the beginning, and some will require new
powerups to reach them. Huh, sounds a lot like the old tired formula
so far, right? But like I said, it’s the game feel that
is drastically different. After the introductory area to get used to
the controls, the first major power-up you receive is the wall jump. You see, in most Metroidvanias, the obstacles
and platforming are centered around the fact that you can’t jump high enough, or can’t
cross a big enough gap, or a giant wall that can’t be opened. Most of the time, Metroidvanias make you feel
helpless, until you slowly but surely gain ability in your character, and in yourself
as a player. Normally this is a great tool for progression,
but instead Ori and the Blind Forest makes you feel super powerful right from the get
go. There are huge walls blocking your path all
over the place, but from the very start, Ori says “nope, you can go wherever you want!” They still are able to limit the player’s
wall jumping by giving curves to certain walls, but the key is in how it feels to the player. You already feel empowered and your journey
is just beginning. This is the key feeling that Ori gives you:
freedom. Instead of limiting a players power so that
they can’t cross certain sections, they instead change the entire layout of the levels
to accommodate your power, and still feel like your progressing. Even just by Ori’s design you can tell you’re
meant to be nimble and quick. Ori is very small, and it took me awhile to
realize exactly how small, but if you look at the mushrooms and other things in the world
relative to Ori, we’re talking like a couple centimeters high at best. I thought this Owl was just GIGANTIC, but
really it’s more that Ori is absolutely tiny. However, Ori is very fast and floaty. He controls easily and never lets the player
feel restricted, even before your first powerup. Another way the player feels free is the way
this game incorporates save points. Instead of the game saving automatically every
once in awhile, you have the ability to set your own save points whenever you’d like. This uses limited energy, but you need to
make sure you’re saving often, otherwise you might be sent back a long ways if you
forgot. You see, the game doesn’t hold your hand
and say, oh you died, I’m sorry, here try again, it’s saying, hey you’re a big boy,
you can go wherever you want, you need to be in charge of your own saves buddy. It’s kind of like when you reached high
school, and the teacher was like “I’m not going to remind you about your missing
assignments anymore, you need to be responsible and do it on your own”. It all adds to the theming of freedom, you’re
powerful, but “with great power comes great responsibilit”-okay, you get the idea. Certain areas of the game aren’t even blocked
off to you, it’s just a much harder area with difficult enemies. I had to realize on my own that I wasn’t
supposed to go here yet, but the game gave me that choice in the first place – that
freedom to choose. It’s like the enemies are saying “Feel
free to come up here, dude, just know that I’m going to break your face!” Again, you’re given freedom, but controlled
freedom, instead of just control. Here’s the beautiful thing about Ori, though. Even though I got that wall jump and felt
unstoppable and like I could go anywhere, the game CONTINUED to make me feel even stronger! You get a double jump very early on to cross
gaps easily, you get a feather to glide in the wind and float to new platforms, all Aladdin
on the Super Nintendo style! But the power that stood out to me most was
the bash ability. I don’t think I’ve seen something like
this in another game before. If you press Y when near an enemy or their
projectiles, you will freeze and “bash” that object, you can either use it to boost
up to new areas, or bounce it in the opposite direction of yourself to solve puzzles, or
harm enemies. When you gain this ability, the game opens
up all sorts of new possibilities for travel. The platforming starts getting way more complex,
and you have to travel full sections with no ground just bashing on projectiles and
enemies. Immediately after learning this ability, you
face off against a mini-boss, where you need to both bash off of shots in one direction
to reach platforms, and then bash them in another direction to damage the boss. This gets you really comfortable with how
to use the bash in two different ways. Then there’s a really challenging section
to put your abilities to the test. It’s a pretty cool little move that made me feel slick in my movement. Throughout the whole game I felt strong, there
was never a point where I felt incapable, and yet when I reached the end of the game,
I was blazing through crazy hard sections without any trouble, and I realized that I
WAS limited in the beginning, it just never felt that way. When I would revisit old locations to get
hidden collectables, I was breezing through sections that gave me trouble earlier and
I realized that the game was only giving me a piece of the true power I would have eventually,
and yet I never felt limited. It’s like Ori just took everything to a new level. Think of it this way, instead of having extremely
limited powers and then slowly unlocking new abilities to reach new areas, Ori gave you
lots of power to unlock new abilities to give you even MORE power as you reached new areas. It’s like the ceiling can’t hold us, said
Moon Studios. Let’s give the player a new experience they’ve
never had before. And truthfully that’s what Ori and the Blind
Forest is: a new fresh look at the Metroidvania formula. The story and Lion King aesthetic drew me
in, but the gameplay is what kept me playing. They took the shackles off early, and only
gave you more and more to work with, until you reach the end and the climax shows you
what you’re really made of. And that’s why Ori and the Blind Forest
has Good Game Design, thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Good Game Design – Ori and the Blind Forest: Controlled Freedom

  • Ori and the Blind Forest is one of my favorite games of all time! It's really amazing how all of the game's elements are in such harmony. The gameplay, story, graphics, music, they all complement each other so well.

  • To me this game was mediocre at best… it`s pretty at first glance, but the art became bland once you notice that there is barely any variation in the environment and overall design (which is unispired to say the least, with its inspirations clearly showing)

    The gameplay is fluid and responsive, but brings nothing new to the table (this is not really a negative thing because what it does it does it good, but i need to point it out)

    The game is not challenging in any level (combat, puzzles, platforming, or exploration) and way too short (around 4 hours). If you played Super metroid and/or Castlevania Symphony of the night, you shouldn´t have any problem with this title.

    The story is nothing special and can be even insulting to the intellect of the player, the initial gloominess and heaviness of the situation at the beginning of the game loss any meaning in the ending. The ending makes the whole ordeal pointless, it feels like the developers didn´t want to take any risk, so they play it safe and choose to have a cheesy non-sensical ending … because all of us wanted Naru back right? because death needs to lose impact right?

    Overall the game is fun, but highly overrated. Its pretty (the art is good, but not breathtaking like some overhype reviewers like to say) with good gameplay (it feels good, fluid and easy to grasp), its repetitive and short, and the story is a pointless fetch quest with no real progression or impact.

    I can recomend this game as an apperitive for other more challenging and complete "metroidvania" games, a really good apperitive that is nice to have but that is not going to blow you away.

  • ability to create your own saves is interesting but it can backfire, i stuck somewhere in that game cause i saved in bad place.

    also when i was a kid i completed tomb rider game to like 75% and decided to save game in mid air, and when i load in i just die. had to play game from beginnig and never finished it cause of it. and there were more such areas that if you save they that is 100% save lost if you rewrite your save file

  • I don't think Ori is that small, or the trees in the prologue are extremely small too. I think Naru have a human size. But nice observation.

  • Yes the bash-ability is absolutely amazing. And yes, the Ginso-tree escape drove me mad either. First time I've played it it took me about 15 to 20 times until I have figured out every obstacle

  • One thing I loved about the Megaman X games was the dashing and wall-jumping mechanics. Made them SO fun to play and explore levels. And when you found that secret power capsule? Fuck yeah.

  • This reminds me of another game that does a similar thing (or used to I haven't played it i a while)
    Champions Online. It was a super hero MMO and one of the things I remember reading about the game was "The flash didn't start off running at 20mph and gain more speed as he leveled up so neither should you!"
    The game gives you access to any travel power you want at level 5 (you have to pick one)
    This includes superspeed, flight, teleportation, web swinging and many others. Each having their own advantages and disadvantages but it made you feel really powerful and gave you a freedom of movement rarely seen in other games.

  • I was always upset I couldn't play this game. I bought it on steam, but it always crashed for some unknown reason 🙁 Every fix I tried never did anything. I feel I missed an amazing title

  • There is so much that I feel this game just absolutely nails. The new twists on classic platformer powerups and tropes (difficult escape sequences testing all of your abilities and personal skill as opposed to difficult bosses testing the same things), teaching without teaching, growing stronger in the game as you grow better as a player, and it goes without saying that the atmosphere is one of the best ever. The music and visuals feel incredibly lively and unique. Even the difficulty curve is nearly flawless as you pointed out here. It really is one of the most carefully put-together games I've ever played and the sheer polish that it all has is something most games could only dream of. Easily my favorite game of 2015 and maybe even of the last 5 years.

  • Ori makes you feel overpowered without being easy. I enjoyed comboing all my skills up in the ending, it feels sick as hell 😀

  • I'm really glad that Ori came free with my XBone, because it was completely off my radar, but ended up being an instant favorite (Metroidvania is pretty much my favorite genre, so it makes sense). Granted other than that the XBone has been a hell of a let down, and I barely touch the damn thing, but at least Ori made it feel somewhat worth it. I wish they'd announced the Scorpio a few months earlier, I'd have waited.

  • I loved this game until I realized I couldn't go back to certain areas to collect everything. I had to start from scratch! That's not what I would call good design…

  • I'm not sure how true the size thing is. A couple of contradicting examples include the owls you fight in the forest (they're your size), and the size of the rocks etc. in the volcano. I'm not sure how it is you're drying out the entire ground floor of a volcano if those rocks you're moving around aren't much bigger than you are.

    I think it's just more of a "fantasy" size thing. Sure, Ori is small, but not THAT small. A lot of things in this game are just big.

  • literally every time I see footage of guacamelee it makes me so happy, that is literally one of the best games I've ever played. gameplay, art, story,music, pacing, variety, challenge if you were up for some of the side quests. so fucking good

  • I haven't actually played this game, even though I'm a huge fan of metroidvanias, but another great one I would highly recommend is Hollow Knight. It has a great story and art, and while it has some more conventional power-ups, like a double jump and a wall jump, it also has more creative and interesting ones like a weapon that can read the minds of enemies, and a resource you get for hitting enemies that you can use to heal yourself or to cast spells that allow you to damage enemies and reach new areas.
    Tl;dr- Hollow Knight is a good game that everyone should play.

  • About the dash ability, I know that it came out long after you made this video but Specter Knight from the Shovel Knight DLC controls about the same way, and is just as fun to breeze through levels with. He also has wall-running and wall-jump in a game where you'd been trained to not expect that.

  • I have heard of ori and the blind forest, but have never seen any of the gameplay.

    But when I saw this video, even as a game designer myself, It looked even better than expected (You seemed to make it look better). I've made other game design videos (Called "Keychain Access"), and I'm glad I've watched this one. Keep up the good work. 😉

  • I'm not sure if it's only me, but I think that what you said in the Video also takes away from Oris replayability.

    Because the first time I played Ori I really felt like I was powerful. And the Game did something interesting, that everytime you felt like you mastered all your moves, it gave you a new one that completely changed how you approached anything. Later on in the Game I remembered that I used to think that I was powerful and found out that back then that wasn't the case, because now I was really.

    So when I finally tried to replay Ori I felt really weak and the Game felt boring at the beginning, because the Game didn't let me use the stuff that I learned in the first playthrough and there was nothing for me to master anymore.

    In other Metroidvanias the Power Ups are handled completely different. New Abilitys may change how you approach riddles and open up new worlds, while also making you bit by bit stronger. The core Gameplay never changes really. And basics are "deep" enough to still get better at them in your second playthrough.

    So when I jumped back into Super Metroid the other day it felt exactly how I remembered it and I could play it the same way I could at the end of my last playthrough. I could even pull of some tricks I needed to learn in my first playthrough​, like I used the Walljump right at the beginning of the Game and the Shinespark hours before I got the "tutorial" how to do it. Another comment I read under this Video was someone talking about TokiTori 2 that does the same thing with every "Ability" in the Game.

    Not saying what Ori does is bad, because it felt so good damn good when playing it the first time. But even while I still like watching my brother play Ori for the first time, I can't really enjoy it that way playing it on my own anymore…

    (edit. Ability isn't the right word for the things you learn in Toki Tori 2 but it kind of works the same)

  • Ummmm…."Lion King-like"? How in the world are these similar???
    otherwise, great video. I LOOOOVE this game!!!

  • Love this game and your video! Im a teacher in Sweden who try to implement game design into the courses I teach (high school). this was inspiring!

  • This game gave me hope for games again. For the longest time every game I found was so dull. This game means alot to me and I'm glad you took the time to analyze it. 🙂

  • You can't forget the new upcoming ori game "Ori and the will of the wisps".

    And also besides being a good game with stunning gameplay and design… I sorta show no interest with the game, I'm more interested on Ori's look-a-like game "Rain world".

    Not to say i hate it or anything, I was just not Into it the game as much as rain world, But i do give it some praise though.

    Like making me cry again like how rain world did

  • I hate the player-defined save points, and the freedom didn't convey "power" so much as "confusion". Am I stuck here because it's supposed to be hard, or because I took a wrong turn? It feels like the designers simply gave up all responsibility on the gameplay experience.
    Still, you've convinced me to give the game another shot. Maybe this time I'll get far enough to tell how far I'm getting.

  • I know this is an old video, but I did the exact same thing with the area leading up to Mount Horu! I went there much earlier than I was supposed to, and found one of the final areas of the game where I couldn't do anything! Also, "You Have to Play the Game" is awesome, I noticed you added footage of it.

  • i had always heard great things about this game but never decided to actually play it until ori was announced for rivals but this game is really amazing. the movement feels good and the progression is just like you explained it, you feel strong at the beginning and continue to feel stronger as you move on

  • Ori and the blind forest is the first PC-game in my entire life, in wich I collected EVERYTHING.
    I'm not a gamer, that wants to collect everything, but this game saied my right in the face: "Common dude! Only complete the story is boring! Let's go and explore the world!"
    I've enjoyed every little second of tha game and it's artstile is just beautifull.

  • what i loved about ori was that alot of the progression that made me feel powerful was not because of my new abilities but because i actually improved as a player from when i first began, it taught me in such a fluid way that i didnt even realise how good at the game i had become.

  • When i played the ending it showed me how terrible i was at the game. Seroiously it took me like 2 hours to beat the "final boss". It was really satisfying when i won though. What wasnt fun os when i spent like 4 hours 100%ing the game and got nothing as a reward

  • I love this game and i love ori! I raged so many times, I lost count. I still haven't completed it yet, but I'm almost there. I am in the volcano after all. But seeing that little bit of the volcano escape, I know I'm gonna be in for something big, all for it to be completely worth it in the end.

  • Ori and the Blind Forest kind of took me by surprise. I bought it in 2016 during the Steam Black Friday sale after hearing good things about it and… man, I did not expect it to hook me the way it did. I haven't really played a game since Super Metroid that's compelled me to learn as much as I can about it. The movement physics and Ori's arsenal of abilities just complement each other so well. And I'm usually not one to get hung up on graphics, but holy crap does this game have some gorgeous visuals.

    Ori and the Will of the Wisps is probably my most anticipated game right now. I REALLY hope it's good.

  • I really liked the savegame approach in Ori but I can understand why some people got frustrated with it, I had 2 situations where after a reload I ALMOST died instantly but I can imagine that some people saved themselves into permadeath. That's why I prever the backup save approach where you have the last save and the one before that.

  • When I first used bash/stomp combos, I felt really skilled and proud of myself. A moment later, I died to a simple walljump section.

  • I don't agree with you that right off the beginning the game makes you feel empowered. Quite the contrary, in the beginning I felt week and my movements were awkward and clumsy (probably the weak part was because I chose to play on the hard mode from the start). What I enjoyed a lot was how this slowly changed as I progressed and gathered Ori new skills! At the end I was extremely agile, doing crazy stuff, feeling like an acrobat.

    For me, this game is very good, just that (the design and sound are superb). I felt that the combat system was very uninteresting and not well made. The ability tree was not interesting too, it never gave me the desire to accumulate XP to unlock new perks from there. In my opinion, this game shouldn't have a combat system at all and be all based on platforming puzzles. I'm not saying to take away the enimies, but make them as obstacles that should be passed with your platforming abilities and not a button smash power.

    Nevertheless, great game, really enjoyed playing it.

  • i feel like telling a player you should not go in a direction by having hit be too hard for the player’s current skill level is lazy. It makes you feel restricted that something is available to you but just unplayable. I had this one time in octopath traveller where I went from moderately easy enemies to enemies that could sweep my team without me having a turn.

  • I don't think Ori is actually tiny. In the prologue when Naru went collecting fruit with Ori, the trees were a normal size for us if we were the characters. I doubt anything as rigid as a tree would grow on such a small scale, and they were fully grown because they were producing fruit. Still it doesn't really change anything; Ori is still adorable and Kuro is a badass owl of darkness.

  • You don't just grow by obtaining new powers, but you develop your skill as a player too. The distance between new abilities is perfect to allow you to master the previous ones before you move on.

  • Ori’s that small and Kuro’s normal? But wat about the giant tree and stuff with lights? That kuro took from the tree? thinking intensifies

  • I am still attempting to wrap my brain around the controller smashing good time that is known as Hardcore mode. Thats. Just. EVIL.

  • am I the only one who knows that Or is a girl?
    One of the many quotes form the game that give evidence of her gender is:
    "as a child of HER own…" -ori and the blind forest

  • I played on easy mode and this game still felt like a challenge for me and not just something boring. This game is truly a masterpiece and should be given more notice

  • Played the game, blew my mind. If they would to charge 60$ for it, id still say – Take my money and thank you for taking my money. – Game is 10/10

  • I was under the impression that this game was a 2D platformer and NOT a metroidvania.
    Anyway, the "save whenever you want" thing is perfect. And not like the cancer
    in Shovel Knight where its WAY too punishing and frustrating.

  • Bro, Ori isn't that small.. just look at the Trees with the apples while playing the intro. and how small would the tree of life be, if Kuro was a normal sized owl. rethink pls.

  • The idea of ori being tiny makes absolutely no sense to me. Fantasy forests almost always have giant plants and animals. Compare Ori to the size of the tree trunks on the ground, the size of the grass, etc etc. Naru's supposed to be based on some kind of bear I think, would be weird to have a bear that's only a few centimeters tall.

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