Four quick questions with the developer of Inscyption

5 mins read

Interview by Matt S.

We haven’t had the time or bandwidth to review roguelike deckbuilding experience, Inscryption, but this game has all the hallmarks of becoming a cult classic. Harvard absolutely loved his time with it in preview stage and, once we start to clear out the backlog, we do have this sitting there, waiting for us.

We were fortunate to be able to fire off a couple of quick questions to the game’s developer, Daniel Mullins, who told us a little about where the game’s inspiration came from, and what he was looking to achieve with this melding of roguelike difficulty, horror, and card games. You’re not going to believe this, but the Game Boy Color classic, Pokemon TCG, was where it all started.

Matt S: What was it about horror and deck-building that you thought worked well together?
Daniel M: The game was born during a Ludum Dare game jam in December 2018, where I created the seed of Inscryption, “Sacrifices Must Be Made” in 48 hours. During this short time, some of the core elements of Inscryption came together: the basic card mechanics, the creepy eyes, the deep reverby voice sound, the scales, the dismemberment. I can’t say exactly why those elements came together because it happened so fast.

When it came to building this tiny game jam entry into a multi-year project, deckbuilding was a natural path to take. It’s a card game so of course you can build a deck!

Matt S: Were there any particular games that you drew inspiration from in the development of this one?
I drew a lot from Magic: The Gathering. Not just card mechanics or themes, but also from the culture surrounding it. I borrowed certain phrases from that culture and modelled some of the characters after stereotypical Magic personas (“Timmy”, “Spike”, etc. Magic players will understand.) My main inspiration for making Part 2 of Inscryption in the first place was the Pokemon Trading Card Game for Gameboy Color. 

I also played Shovel Knight: King of Cards around that time which made me really excited about representing a card game on a small pixel grid. I looked at Slay The Spire and the games it spawned like Monster Train as a template for the roguelike elements of Inscryption. And I don’t think any digital card game that came after can ignore the influence of Hearthstone. There’s a very clear before and after for how digital card games look and feel (look at MTGA vs MTGO).

Matt S: Your body of work is certainly eclectic – is there anything that links Pony Island, The Hex and this game together, in terms of your thoughts towards game development, themes within the games and so on?
Daniel M: One thing that fans of The Hex will notice is the return of certain characters and some subtle indications of a shared universe between Inscryption and The Hex. At a higher level, I seem to have fallen into some reoccurring patterns like untrustworthy characters that speak directly to the player, characters that are aware they are in a video game, intentional bugginess and glitchiness, etc. I hope my thoughts towards game development continue to evolve over time and that my work reflects this growth.

Matt S: You’ve been self-published so far. What has the experience of working with a publisher to deliver Inscryption been like?
Daniel M: Inscryption is my biggest game ever by a wide margin and I’m certain having a publisher with a name like Devolver’s facilitated that. Certain things like having professional QA and having a group of talented individuals to make trailers have been wonderful. I’m looking forward to doing console ports and I doubt I would have attempted that without their help!

– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

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