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Road to the IGF: Michael Brough's Corrypt

Designer/artist Michael Brough explains the design process of his Sokoban-esque Corrypt and the value he found in building a game about "making a right mess of the world so that a number can go up."

Alex Wawro

March 14, 2014

6 Min Read

Michael Brough is becoming a regular fixture of the independent game development scene and thus, by association, the pages of Gamasutra. Last month we grilled him at length about his development background and his work creating 868-HACK, which is nominated for 2014 IGF Excellence In Design award. This month we continue our conversation by interviewing Brough about his other IGF award-nominated game, Corrypt, which is a contender for the Nuovo Award at the 2014 IGF Main Competition. Corrypt is a sort of Sokoban-esque puzzle game with a twist, available for both PC and mobile operating systems, that sports the sort of vibrant, utilitarian visual design that's become a hallmark of Brough's work. As part of our Road to the IGF series of interviews with nominees by speaking to Brough about the design process of his Corrypt, his background as a creator and the value he found in building a game about "making a right mess of the world so that a number can go up."

You've said in the past that you don't have a professional development background, that you just started making things from a young age. What, if anything, encouraged you to start, and what did you make?

I don't remember that far back. I guess my parents were supportive, they say I spent a lot of time building mysterious objects out of toilet rolls and cellophane and the only explanation I'd give them for it was "making". Videogames specifically, as soon as I found out they existed I started trying to figure out how they were made. It was very confusing at first, because text documents were associated with a word processor, pictures with a drawing program, midi files with a sequencer, but games didn't seem to have any editor attached! Eventually I found BASIC and made some text adventures.

What tools did you use to create Corrypt?

I made a touchscreen editor for levels/sprites/music and then spent a lot of time working on the game on my iPad at parties, outdoors, on transport.

Do you still use that editor at all, and do you have any plans to use it on future projects?

I haven't been much interested in making anything with fixed levels since then, so I've poked at it a couple of times to try out idle ideas but not much -- except the pixel-graphics part, I use that for most things. I guess if I cycle around to wanting to make one of those puzzle dungeon games again I might try to adapt it, but it might be easier to just start fresh -- it's a bit of a mess. (I did consider leaving it in the game so people could make levels but it was too reliant on knowing how to use all the invisible buttons and I really couldn't be bothered cleaning it up.)

How long did you spend working on the game?

About a month in terms of actually building it, but the ideas were brewing for some time before that.

Where did the idea to create Corrypt come from?

It started with a game called Game Title which had a couple of interesting things: a teleporter which inverted your x and y coordinates, and a bug which didn't clear objects properly when switching levels so for one frame you could collide with them if your new coordinates happened to line up with their old ones. When I found this bug I made a sequel, Lost Levels, which turned it into a feature and built puzzles around it. The teleporter and the bug were the same kind of effect: they both require you to perceive tiles as being connected to some distant tiles as well as those immediately adjacent. I made some more prototypes that tried to push this idea further, but they didn't come to anything. Separately, I was trying to build a puzzle that contrasted Go-style placement (a large space of possible moves each of which is a major long-term commitment) with roguelike movement (a small number of options each turn which change as you move about). Corrypt was born when these ideas collided and I realized connecting tiles between different rooms could be one effect of the stones you place. For a while I was going to have other effects too, but they didn't stick.

Tell me a bit more about how you came up with the magic system, and what you hoped to accomplish by implementing it into what is otherwise a charming Sokoban-esque game.

Well the basic idea of the magic came first, then it needed other puzzle elements to interact with so I started putting in simple things like blocks you can push and buttons to open doors, to see how they'd work together. As I experimented it became clear that magic was extremely powerful and destructive, which made it basically impossible to set up conventional puzzles, but that made me excited about its narrative potential. I figured if its destructiveness was to mean anything, I had to first set up a stable world for it to act on, so from that came the overall structure of the game. I want to leave it open to interpretation, but the idea of "making a right mess of the world so that a number can go up" is something many of us can identify with.

I believe a few developers offered suggestions on how you could change Corrypt's aesthetic and price to improve its profile and earning potential in the App Store. If that's true, how do you feel about that?

These suggestions were well-meant but weren't very relevant to where I was at the time. It's been good for me to make a lot of different games fairly quickly, avoiding the burnout that comes from long projects -- and being so prolific for a while has turned out okay in terms of "profile" too. When I released Corrypt I was pretty sick of working on it and just wanted it to be over so I could make something else; it was difficult and sometimes painful to make, so I wasn't prepared to spend several times as long just polishing it. This comes back to what I said about randomness when we talked about 868-HACK -- even though Corrypt is fairly chaotic and unpredictable for a puzzle game, I'd exhausted its potential to surprise me and so I was no longer making it for myself.

Is there anything about Corrypt you wish you could go back and change, prior to releasing it?

I shouldn't have animated the water. I did it because it's a default thing to indicate water, but it would have been better to leave it static to make a clearer distinction between the magical and the mundane.

The game subverts traditional Sokoban-esque box-puzzle design in a very surprising way. What sort of potential do you think remains, if any, in looking to Sokoban for game design inspiration?

Often when you're trying something new it helps to have a simple and familiar structure to build on top of. This is part of why there are so many indie platformers, but now that everyone's sick of those we can maybe try building on top of other things. There's probably as much space for possible sokobanlikes as there was for mariolikes. Of course it's boring if everything is built on top of something old, we can try to invent new basic game structures as well, but mostly those scare players off because they don't know in advance whether they'll like them. (Embarrassingly, Corrypt would probably have worked better as a platformer because it would have given reasons to transport both positive and negative space - but I really didn't want to make a platformer.)

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