Developer Interviews #1: Improx Games ‘The Last Cube’

Last week I showed you some different demos to try during the Xbox Summer Games Fest Demo Event, and I was lucky enough to talk to Improx Games, developer of indie puzzle-adventure The Last Cube which featured in the event! Let’s jump in and find out more about the upcoming game!

Credit: Improx Games

I saw you started working on The Last Cube in 2017 as an experiment. What experience did you have before then? And what made you evolve the experiment into a game?

“Before 2017, the only commercial game we had out was Trimmer Tycoon (free on Steam). One of our team members was on a university course that tried to make real robotic cubes. After seeing this video, another team member got the idea for The Last Cube.”

“Our experience and skills were minimal. We really learned as we went over the course of the next years, and it is astonishing how much we learned and the quality of the game we can deliver even though we are indie. But, back to spring 2017. One of our guys created a small demo prototype of The Last Cube in a month. It was really simple, was only on a 2D plan (so there were no rising lifts, and no falling down), but it had colorful stickers that define the game today, and had its own version of the story then. After showing the demo to the rest of Improx Games, the group got excited about what they just played and we started to work on it. Ever since then, the game has changed and evolved a lot. It has grown more sophisticated gameplay and graphics-wise, and has gone through major changes and additions through extensive playtesting with friends.”

What games would you name as inspiration for ‘The Last Cube’?

“As inspiration, Portal has the biggest influence, namely ‘scifi puzzle game with some story’. Many people later associated the game with old cube games, such as Bloxorz, but the guy who invented the game had no idea about those old cube games. I think it also shows, as the gameplay is much more deeper than just rolling your cube around.”

What makes your game unique from other puzzle games? These have really boomed over the past few years, what makes ‘The Last Cube’ stand out?

“Rolling is only part of the gameplay loop. What is really unique are the Sticker Powers. You can see them in some of our videos, and in the demo. For example the Purple Sticker lets you teleport around, Yellow Sticker lets you dash forward, Green Sticker lets you create a temporary friend cube, and so on. In total, we have 6 different stickers that the player will be introduced to during the game. When playing and utilizing these sticker powers, sharing stickers between different cubes, and thinking about the puzzles 3-dimensionally, it really stands out from the other puzzle games.”

Credit: Improx Games

Improx games went on to explain the stickers a little more for us. “We have 6 different stickers (stamps) in total and each has its own color, symbol, sound, theme and Power. Levels are organized into themes in the game, so for example you will gain the Red Sticker for the first time in the Red Theme.”

“After playing the game or the demo, one can see that it is its own unique thing. We also have a small story, where the loneliness of the Last Cube is emphasized as it tries to save the cube world and resume the production of other cubes.”

How have you balanced making the game easy to access, whilst also keeping the challenge hard enough for puzzle game veterans?

“Balancing the The Last Cube has been one of the greatest design challenges for us. Here, testing has helped tremendously, and countless puzzles have seen countless iterations and transformations. Over time, though, we’ve started to learn some design trends of what makes a puzzle good and engaging, so that our first iteration of a puzzle is a good guess. It is crucial that by the end of the puzzle, the player’s reaction is of the sort “oooh, of course it had to be solved like that!” instead of needing some totally contrived solution and feeling betrayed by the game. When you can’t figure out a solution to a puzzle, it is the player’s fault and not the game’s, because they have all the tools at their disposal. And when done well, that is a positive emotion.”

Credit: Improx Games

“I wouldn’t call it a casual game, but indeed comparable in difficulty to Portal. There is no question that you will be challenged, and through playtesting we have generally made the puzzles less difficult (and removed frustration and annoyance). It will be a challenge, but all the mechanics will be introduced and taught to you well, and it will be your job to combine those mechanics to solve the puzzles in your way. So, if you’re a newcomer to puzzles – no worries, the game will teach you step by step. And if you’re an experienced player – no worries, the game has very difficult parts and generally grows more difficult over time. But to answer your question, how we balanced the game – lots of playtesting and learning about game design. We have seen both newcomers and veterans enjoy the game, while not “making a game for everyone until it becomes mediocre”, which can be a pitfall. We have seen fans of the puzzle genre on PC & console love this game. If you’re a fan of, for example Portal, this game is for you, and you’ll notice that it has very different and refreshing gameplay, but still catering to your puzzling needs.”

Have you considered developing the game for VR as well? It seems like it’d fit really well to be able to look around the levels to get a better perspective, and it’d be cool to experience mechanics such as the level flipping (shown in the trailer) in VR.

“Our team members do have a couple of VR headsets, but we haven’t tried it with The Last Cube yet. We’ve heard this idea before, and we’ll have to see what happens. Now we want the game to play well with the intended ways (keyboard + mouse / console controller). We would have to make sacrifices to that experience to accommodate VR, and possibly modify our in-game environments and rooms so that they look sensible in VR. That said, we haven’t tried it in VR yet, so we can’t say for sure. You can be sure that it will be a kick-ass experience with the intended input devices. You can even play it with just the mouse, if you want to, after we implemented walking forward with the middle mouse button. So it’s a pretty chill PC / couch console experience ergonomy-wise, while the puzzles are a beast of a brain-teaser.”

There is so much variety shown in the puzzles in the short demo. How do you plan to keep things fresh throughout the rest of the game?

“The demo introduces mechanics at an accelerated pace. The beginning of the real game is a bit slower so that you can get a better hang of it. We keep things fresh by regularly introducing, developing, combining and twisting different mechanics. With lasers, magnets, ice, other types of cubes – there is no shortage of keeping things fresh.”

Credit: Improx Games

What do you see Improx Games doing next? Any plans for the future after ‘The Last Cube’?

“As for the future, we will see! We have loads of game ideas written down and have done some occasional experiments. A sequel to The Last Cube is also an option, as we have a lot of cool stuff in mind that we know our audience would love.”

Are you committed to making high quality puzzle games or is there another genre you would be excited to tackle next as a team?

“We love puzzle games, but it’s not the only genre we love. Our team members love all kinds of games like shooters, strategy, card games, moba, dark souls, you name it. Improx Games is not defined by puzzle games – a puzzle game just happens to be our first big project and it’s amazing how good our guys have become at designing the genre. But, like I said, we are also a fan of other genres, and lots of ideas that we have are from varying genres. We’ll see! But meanwhile, keep rolling!”

When will the game be releasing?

“We plan to release the game in 2021.”

When it does release, The Last Cube will be on PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Nintendo Switch. In the meantime, there are links to Improx Games’ social channels below, and you can also see the trailer for the game!
You can find Improx Games on Discord, Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Twitch and Youtube.

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