When we heard that Improx Games were bringing The Last Cube to Xbox, PlayStation, Switch and PC, we were immediately interested. With a combination of a huge number of levels, some seriously good looking stages and a highly intriguing ‘sticker’ system, it was a puzzler that piqued our interest. So when Improx Games agreed to a little chat, divulging more info on the game, we couldn’t say no.
Oskari Liukku (CEO and Lead Programmer) and Max Samarin (Creative Director) were more than happy to talk us through The Last Cube…
Can you please introduce yourself/yourselves, and your role/s in the development of The Last Cube?
Oskari: Hello! I’m Oskari Liukku, CEO and lead programmer at Improx Games. We’re a group of six childhood friends who decided to start a games company some years ago. The Last Cube is our first large release.
Max: Hey! I’m Max Samarin, the creative director at Improx Games. I’m a generalist and was the main puzzle designer in The Last Cube. Thanks for having us!
How would you describe this game to potential players?
The Last Cube is a 3D cube-puzzler, reminiscent of classic games in the genre like Intelligent Cube on the PlayStation 1 and more recently Bloxorz and Edge. The Last Cube is the next evolution of the genre.
You play as a cube and roll around in a grid. Stepping on colored “stickers” on the ground imprints them onto the cube. You can then use these stickers to press buttons, activate lifts, and redirect laser beams. Each sticker also has its own awesome special power which completely flips the formula on its head. The Blue sticker’s power, for example, rotates the cube in place, and the Yellow sticker’s power makes the cube dash forward quickly. This leads to dozens of interesting mechanics and interactions for the players to discover and master!
So, why cubes?
Oskari: The idea for the game actually came from the Cubli robotic cube project that went viral on the Internet some years ago. A cube that can walk in a grid is a classic formula for puzzle games, but we thought: what if we took it to the next level? Obviously the formula wouldn’t work as well with other shapes, though someone did already suggest a sequel with triangular pyramid shapes instead, which sounds interesting.
The lore entries gradually reveal details about the cube world and its history. Was there a story you always wanted to tell here, or did it evolve naturally?
Max: We always knew that we wanted there to be a story, but that story changed quite a lot along the way! In the original story idea, the cube was in a gigantic spaceship with six biomes, on its way to find a new home for the cube species. You would fix some parts of the ship in order for it to be able to reach its destination, and we even planned a voice-acted character that the cube would interact with. After many iterations the story shifted quite drastically, and in the final version, you’re playing on the original Cube Planet. This was the most natural way for us to show off the six biomes of the cube world, and if a player is interested in reading the nitty-gritty details in the Lore Entries, they can find out what led to the planet almost collapsing.
Visually, the use of colours create strong themes in the game. How did you arrive at the finished look?
Max: Some of the colors were self-explanatory, for example the Red theme had fire, industry and lava, and the Green theme had plants and life. Other themes needed some more brainstorming on what we want their levels to look like – for example we decided that the Orange theme would be the clean scifi theme, and even had snowy mountains. Like in designing the puzzles, in making the visual themes there was also a lot of iteration involved.
I was really impressed with how well designed the puzzles were in the game. Can you tell us a little bit more about the design process here?
Max: In short: lots of iterations over five years! We had lots of playtesters come over and test the puzzles – we observed what was fun, and removed the frustrating bits. If there were elements in the puzzle that made it overly complicated, distracting, or not serving the puzzle’s goals, we removed them. At least the puzzles in the first half of the game were redone completely, and all puzzles had lots of changes and tweaks over the course of development.
In addition to the puzzles themselves, what we put special care into was the sequencing of the puzzles and the difficulty curve to make the game feel fair. We had to keep in mind what the player knows of the mechanics at each stage of the game, and teach and remind the use of mechanics at appropriate moments.
I’m obsessed with the sticker that essentially allows the cube to walk on its tiptoes. How did you come up with that?
Max: That one was one of the hardest one to come up with, and the hardest one to program. Originally, the power just let you rise onto your corner, spin freely and land on any adjacent square (including any diagonal platforms). However, we could not find out puzzle situations for that power that would be unique or interesting enough. We ended up expanding on the sticker power, adding the ability to tip-toe and move over obstacles, while also preserving the main idea of being able to reach off-grid platforms that are diagonal to the main grid.
Which element of The Last Cube are you most excited for players to experience?
Max: In addition to the main puzzle gameplay, honestly, the whole package. There are many kinds of players. Some will appreciate the amazing soundtrack accompanying your cube’s adventures. Others will notice the beautiful environments more, or will want to find all the secrets or complete the hardest optional levels and challenges in the game – we have you all covered!
What has the reaction been like since the game was released?
Oskari: All the feedback we’ve received has been very positive. There haven’t been any major game-breaking issues like crashes, though we’ve heard about the slight performance hitches on the Xbox Series X. Those are being worked on and will be patched some time soon. Even though the audience is still relatively small, people are enjoying the game and talking about it, which is fun to see.
If you could choose one game which has had the biggest impact on you as a player, what would it be?
Oskari: My most played game of all time has to be World of Warcraft. I played that game for years and even raided quite actively for a while. Unfortunately I don’t have the time for that any more. My favorite game of all time is probably shared between Portal 2 and Bioshock: Infinite. Bioshock: Infinite especially left me thinking about it for weeks, and even still it’s a game that I think of when any one mentions game writing. They’re both masterpieces.
Hopefully this isn’t the last cube. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s next for Improx Games?
Oskari: It really depends on how well The Last Cube ends up doing. We’ve done some projections and made plans for different levels of success. Most likely we’ll soon be prototyping new projects, hopefully with at least a few of us full-time. We learned a lot during the five years of The Last Cube and are a lot more prepared now to make a new game. If nothing else, we’ll keep enjoying game development as a hobby.
Massive thanks go out to Improx Games and especially Oskari and Max for giving us their time. Make sure you check them out on Twitter in order to keep in the loop as to what they do next.
The Last Cube has already found a home on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC, with the Xbox Store providing the download of the Xbox One and Series X|S version. Give our full review of The Last Cube on Xbox a read too.