There seems to be something about puzzle games and cubes that inherently goes together. We talk to the developers at Improx Games about their impressive looking take on the genre, The Last Cube. It’s not out until 2021 but you can already check out the Steam store page with its demo and talk to the development team through Discord. We discussed the ongoing development of the game with Improx’ CEO Oskari Liukku about this exciting new puzzler.
What was the inspiration for The Last Cube?
We’re heavily inspired by other great puzzle games such as the Portal series. The idea for The Last Cube, however, came from Cubli, the self-balancing cube robot that became a small internet sensation in 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_6p-1J551Y). Miika Kanerva, our level-designer and the originator of the game idea, was doing a robotics course in uni and tried to build a similar cube. The task ended up being more difficult than expected, so the real cube never came to be, but hey, at least we got a great idea for a game.
What sets the game apart from similar games in the genre?
Many players might be familiar with old web games such as Bloxorz, and mobile games such as Edge. At its core, The Last Cube is quite similar to those games, but we add so much more on top. In addition to just rolling around as a cube, you can collect colored stickers on your sides, and each sticker has its own useful special power. For example, the Purple sticker’s power lets your teleport to nearby tiles, and the Yellow sticker’s power lets you dash forward a few spaces. These might sound small, but they bring infinitely more combinations to the puzzles. Plus, The Last Cube is set in a vibrant 3D world with loads of different areas to explore. It’s not just an arcade puzzler.
How did the creative process behind the visual/art style develop over time?
The first prototype of The Last Cube was made in the Blender Game Engine. We use Unity now. The graphics of the game haven’t changed too much since then. The largest difference is how the cube looks. The original cube looked a bit too much like the companion cube from Portal, so we changed up the model a bit.
What about the team that’s working on The Last Cube?
We are a group of five childhood friends from Finland. In 2015 we participated in a weekend-long game jam with a game about trimming beards and making money. We called the game Trimmer Tycoon. It was popular, so we continued working on it and put it on Steam for free. It has gotten nearly 200,000 downloads to date.
Four out of the five of us studied programming, and one studied business. None of us really knew how to do art or marketing before Trimmer Tycoon. Apart from programming and business skills, we’re all self-learned. For The Last Cube, we’ve also had help from some friends for UI design, music, texturing, and marketing.
Has the development process been an interesting one?
As I mentioned, none of us knew much about 3D art or level design before we started working on The Last Cube. One of the biggest challenges has definitely been having to learn everything as we go. Sometimes that means having to rework older levels using the new skills you’ve since learned.
One challenge that we’ve faced has been the balancing of the difficulty of the puzzles. It’s difficult to know what makes an easy or a difficult puzzle, especially when you’re working with novel mechanics and a movement style that players might not be used to. After lots of playtesting, we’ve started to learn what goes into a good puzzle. The goal is to make the player feel feelings of discovery and joy after figuring out the solution, and not like they’ve been betrayed by some sneaky mechanic they didn’t realize was there.
Did the Corona pandemic affect your team?
Luckily, we haven’t been affected too badly. We’ve always worked remotely and in our free time, and nothing changed in that department. If anything, we now have a little more time to work on the game, thanks to not having to do our daily commutes.
We’re planning to release The Last Cube in 2021. The current status is that all of the puzzles are there, and are playable, but many of the levels still lack environments. Our development process has been to first tweak the puzzles to our liking and then to build the environments. I’d say we’re around 95 % with tweaking puzzles, and 45 % done with the environments. Everything else is nearly done, apart from the never-ending list of bugs to fix.
When the game releases, what do you hope people will take away from the experience?
We hope that players walk away having had a nice, calming puzzle experience and that they’ve enjoyed the visuals we’ve built to go with it. Puzzle games are quite a niche genre, and I hope that in this world of quick experiences and instant gratification, we can break out into the minds of gamers as a game that makes you think in new ways.