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How Cryptmaster turned 'a dictionary's worth' of words into a fun dungeon crawler

'Once we'd settled on using words for everything, the ideas for mechanics just kept coming.'

Danielle Riendeau, Editor-in-Chief

May 13, 2024

2 Min Read
The frightening Cryptmaster, and the word "sniff"
Via Akapura Games

With distinctive word-based dungeon crawling and combat, a wicked sense of humor and black and white visuals pulled out of a pen and paper RPG, the newly released Cryptmaster is turning heads.

Back in March, we interviewed Paul Hart and Lee Williams, the game's co-designers, as part of our Road to IGF series ahead of the awards show (where the game eventually won for excellence in design). The longtime collaborators pontificated on many points of the game's design and implementation, including the core idea that words (either typed or spoken) dictate the way players interact with the game.

"The idea of using words came first and then the dungeon-crawling framework came later," said Williams. "We wanted to have pure keyboard controls, so that kind of grid movement made the most sense.

"Once we'd settled on using words for everything, the ideas for mechanics just kept coming. We have variants on hangman, twenty questions, anagrams, riddles, etc. The health of players and enemies is represented by the letters in their names and the letters from collected ingredients are used to literally spell out potion recipes. There are just so many fun things to do with words and letters. I'd say we ditched far more ideas than we used!"

We asked how the game was designed for the potential chaos of players being able to say (or type) anything. That didn't go unnoticed, Williams noted.

"Tricks" for working with many, many words

"The "trick" is mostly just a silly amount of work and persistence behind the scenes!" Said Williams. I recorded more or less a whole dictionary's worth of words and spent hours second-guessing what players might type and coming up with responses…"

We also have a simple system that's a little like a coin sorter. When the player types a word, the game checks to see if there is a unique response for it. If there isn't, it checks to see if the word is in one of a number of pools and sub-pools (verb, adjective, item, weapon, expletive, etc). If it is, it plays a specific response for that pool. If not, it plays one of a number of nulls.

"The Cryptmaster will also sometimes spell out an unfamiliar word or say a familiar one as part of his response. Players understand that it's a trick, but the effect can still be pretty immersive."

Check out our full interview here, which dives further into the nitty-gritty of the writing and how the game balances horror and comedy for effect.

About the Author(s)

Danielle Riendeau

Editor-in-Chief, GameDeveloper.com

Danielle is the editor-in-chief of Game Developer, with previous editorial posts at Fanbyte, VICE, and Polygon. She’s also a lecturer in game design at the Berklee College of Music, and a hobbyist game developer in her spare time.

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