This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.
Inscryption is a compelling card game played with mysterious strangers in a house filled with puzzles and further oddities. To claim victory in these games might require an unpleasant sacrifice from your in-game character, though...
Game Developer spoke with Daniel Mullins, creator of the multi award-nominated title at IGF, about how the concept of "sacrifice" would infuse much of the project, what interested them in adding the puzzle room elements to the card game, and how Daniel Mullins Games overcame the legibility challenges that came from designing the visuals of the cards.
Game Developer: Who are you, and what was your role in developing Inscryption?
Daniel Mullins I’m Daniel Mullins and I’m the primary creator of Inscryption as well as other indie games such as The Hex and Pony Island. It would be easier to define my role by saying what I didn’t do! I didn’t compose the music or create the sound effects. I didn’t create any 3D art from scratch. I did pretty much everything else though.
What's your background in making games?
Mullins: I’ve made games in some form since I was a kid. First, it was on paper, and then later with programs such as Flash and RPG Maker. When I learned programming as a computer science undergraduate, I moved on to more advanced tools like XNA, Cocos2D, and eventually Unity. After graduating, I entered the games industry as a programmer for a few Vancouver-based game studios. After a couple years of learning from industry veterans and tinkering in my spare time, I released my first commercial indie game: Pony Island. Since then, I have been a full-time indie developer.
How did you come up with the concept for Inscryption?
Mullins: Inscryption began as a game jam entry for Ludum Dare 43. The theme of the game jam was “Sacrifices Must Be Made” and my entry had the same name. I wanted to make a card game that involved sacrificing as a mechanic, but I wanted to push the theme further by having your avatar sacrifice body parts as a game mechanic. I did well in the jam and got a lot of positive affirmation of the idea. Further developing the card game was a joy, and after a while it became clear that this could be my next multi-year project.
What development tools were used to build your games?
Mullins: Primarily Unity. I use Photoshop for art and a suite of other more minor tools for odd tasks.
What interested you in creating a mixture of card games and escape room in this title? Why bring these together in a shared space?
Mullins: Persistent progression is a common feature of modern roguelikes; despite each run being a fresh start, there is an overarching system that makes each run feel like another step toward a larger goal. I think the cabin puzzles were a way of facilitating this persistent progression. It also felt appropriate considering the card game is from a first-person perspective.
What thoughts went into the creation of the card game itself? In making something easy to pick up, yet interesting and deep to keep drawing the player in?
Mullins: To be honest, not much planning went into the core rules of the game. The tug-of-war victory condition, the sacrifice mechanic, and the lane-based combat were all rapidly created during the 48-hour game jam. I benefited from being exposed to many different collectible card games and have gained an intuition for what makes them fun. I think much of what continues to draw the player into Inscryption exists outside of the rules of the game: the mysterious antagonist, the strange fixtures around the cabin, the talking cards, etc.
What ideas went into the visual design of the cards (the almost handmade look of them)?
Mullins: Much of the time spent on the visual design of the cards was accompanied by constantly fretting over their legibility. Due to the low resolution of the game, small details on the cards were hard to see. Creative solutions were required to maintain legibility, such as forgoing text on the card (other than the name) and obscuring the card’s portrait with icons when necessary.
It took a while to get the style of the animal portraits right. I experimented with a few different iterations, but eventually I hit on something I liked when I drew the Beaver card. The Beaver was the first official card in the sense that it didn’t change until release.
This game, an IGF 2022 finalist, is featured as part of the IGF Awards ceremony, taking place at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, March 23 (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch).