Typocrypha is an experimental typing JRPG visual novel about social and cultural alienation. Armed with the Typocrypha spellcasting device, a young member of the EVE-IRIS Counter-Demon Force confronts the demonic forces of the Evil Eye, an unknown enemy whose gaze is felt everywhere – including in themself.
I would have liked to write about it, but also, Hughe, the game’s lead developer, is also my friend, which would really cloud my judgement. I even made him fanart for his birthday, dangit. But I thought, hey, since I know him, I should hit him up to answer some questions on the game.
And so here we are today with an interview that’s also effectively a postmortem on the game and the experiences making it. Hughe’s responses are joined by James (producer, programmer, writer), Valentino/Tino (designer, programmer, writer), Herman (artist, animator) and Paige (artist). Many of these responses are pretty long, though I found them insightful and hopefully, you will too.
On the questions regarding the future of the game, please note that as the game is still in development, things may not be set in stone.
How did the Typocrypha team come together for the project?
Typocrypha started out as a game pitch by Hughe for the Game Design and Art Collaboration club (GDA) at University of California Santa Cruz, where most of us go/went to school. Each year, a few dozen people pitch a game to the other members, and we all vote on which ideas we actually want to work on throughout the year. Typocrypha was one of the 2 pitches that won.
The rest of the members then chose which of the two game ideas they wanted to work on, so most of the people on the team now were people who saw Typocrypha and (hopefully) thought it sounded interesting enough to work on. There are a couple friends that were pulled in after the fact, but most people came through GDA.
How was it like to work with a development team? Did everyone work well together, was there any dysfunction?
Everyone is so gosh darn talented on this team it makes me want to cry. Like, assets just get made without really having to even ask. And they’re good. We all get along pretty well too (I think (I hope)). Although personally, I’ve definitely argued with others about how Typocrypha “should be” since the concept of Typocrypha seems to change every two weeks. But as a result, Typocrypha has gotten really fleshed out and, honestly, a lot more interesting.
For a lot of us (myself included) this was our first time working on a team/project this big, so there was definitely a learning process. As James said, getting on the same page with other writers and designers can be difficult, but it’s always been worth it to work together. Honestly, the people on this team have become my friends as well as my teammates, and I enjoy all the different perspectives and artistic intentions we bring to Typocrypha.
It’s been one of the most rewarding, fun, but also mentally challenging things I’ve ever done in my life. It goes without saying that I’ve never led a serious game development team before in my life. Being on a development team in our unique extra-curricular circumstances also brings its own challenges. Personally, I don’t think my leadership is a successful one; it’s very apparent that I gravitate towards being a developer, rather than a director or producer. I can proudly claim that all dysfunction of this game’s development came from my inability to make coherent decisions for the game and communicating them. One of the things I had to do starting this summer was to create a change announcements discord channel because of my tendency to add game features without properly informing anyone; this sort of thing led to many people on the development team being utterly lost as to how the state of the game was at any point in time.
“The game constantly being worked on” probably sounds like a very oddball issue for many readers, but it’s true! It’s not a small issue either! Very early on, a GDA officer warned us about the club being a learning experience for newcomers; they specifically directed this at programming. Unusual for a GDA game, our first game prototype was produced in the first week of development by a handful of folks. Essentially, code work was monopolized by a passionate few.
I’m always unsure how to reflect on this. As a veteran of the club, nearly all of our projects that have “died” was from lacking programmers: if the prototype doesn’t come together, every other department is essentially doing work for a vaporware game. That sucks! So it’s really difficult for me, because on one hand, by having the prototype done so early, we were able to inspire strong, STRONG confidence in a significant portion the team. But, because the prototype was done so early, programmers with less experience were intimidated and alienated from the process as a result. JRPGs are one of the most difficult genres to program for, let alone a TYPING JRPG, and I don’t blame anyone who felt overwhelmed with the code. Despite being open about wanting to help others get on board with programming, our core programming team consists of only four people now. Which seems like a lot for some indie devs, until you see the size ratio compared to the people who signed up for programming; about a dozen. Honestly, the biggest disappointment as a lead for me is letting that GDA Officer down on that front. They really cared for novice programmers and I’m really regretful it couldn’t have turned out better.
On a different note, that isn’t really major dysfunction, but worth mentioning: anyone who’s acquainted with the game at some point has probably thought, “man, this gameplay is really good, why the hell do I have to sit through STORY?” Surprise! Having a stupid story like Typocrypha’s emerge from a very unique and innovative gameplay-heavy pitch alienates 3/4ths of your audience. I get the feeling my preference for equal gameplay/story ratio caused a big dropoff in people who wanted to work on the game. Which, hey, fair. I’m not a good writer anyways. We’ll have a pure gameplay mode of some kind, eventually, maybe.
But, this is one decision I don’t regret as much as the others. Everyone who stuck on the team and put up with my bullshit really believed in an incredibly niche, gay typing game that has no idea what it wants to be, and it shows in the overwhelming amount of love put into the work we do. The team is so goddamn powerful on all levels and absolutely made the game what it is today; at this point I’m honestly here to support THEM more than anything else, really.
What sorta motivated y’all to make a game like this?
(Mostly manga here.)
But also because the game is really cool (if you haven’t, you should play the demo…)! With every new feature I think to myself, “holy smokes, that’s a cool feature!” and get the sudden urge to keep working and adding to it. So much great work has been done and it keeps getting better, which has been a great motivator.
For me, I’d be lying if I said pitching Typocrypha wasn’t motivated by ego, because the root concept of the game, “Typing RPG”, totally was just a result of me trying to solve the question of “How can I create a game concept that will allow me to boss other people around?” …maybe worded more or less harshly. I get the hunch that everyone who pitches a game for GDA at the beginning of the year is motivated by similar thoughts, with varying degrees of passion. At the very least, this was the case for me. For better or worse, most of my creativity stems from competitiveness, so in a sense, GDA game pitches were a challenge to create a game concept with a strong appeal that also pandered to my own tastes.
You see, I don’t play typing games or even like typing games that much; my typing speed and hand/eye coordination is pretty abysmal. “Typing”, was just a hook I came up with to make “RPG”/”JRPG” sound more interesting; the game genre I actually want to develop for. Luckily, “Typing RPG” is a barely tapped market. Most of the innovations beyond the initial premise has been a result of, like James mentioned, inspiration to create new features that are fun and support this unusual hybrid. I think the fact that I stumbled onto something new just created a chain-reaction of inspiration in other people that hasn’t stopped, from sheer novelty alone.
You’re probably wondering why this is a visual novel in particular, and there are two reasons:
- I wanted to cut out a huge bottleneck of JRPG development: physical exploration. Making RPG environments, NPCs and all, takes way too much work and too little complement with the typing battle system. The mechanical selling point of the game isn’t exploring the world, it’s combat. So, we cut exploration out entirely.
- Narrative is the essence of JRPGs. Combat is important to keep these games interesting, but story is an equally important half of the genre. As a designer, I value game narrative and portraying human experiences more than designing game mechanics, which again, hit-or-miss (Bogost is shuddering somewhere in the world right now). Mechanics and cool gameplay moments are fun, but they become special and memorable when layered with appropriate narrative context. The typing mechanics informed the direction of story I wanted to portray.
So, if you’re wondering how the mouthful of “Typing RPG Visual Novel About Social and Cultural Alienation” came about, well, blame my tastes in media. And the fact that this person never started the Typing RPG revolution earlier. They would’ve completely invalidated the power of my game pitch and prevented this timeline.
The key visual for Typocrypha is glorious. Can the Evil Eye be defeated through typing dril memes at them?
God I hope so.
We can program that in.
Were there things originally envisioned for Typocrypha that didn’t make it in the demo?
If we had a penny for every cut feature of Typocrypha we could actually fund this game’s development.
The one that I would personally highlight first is character customization. Even though the soul and essence of the main character would be static, it was planned that they would have a “cool/masculine-coded” and “cute/feminine-coded” hairstyle selection, selectable skin colors and pronouns. I know there’s a meme about women being hard to animate from one of those AssCreed games, and I’m really embarrassed to basically say something on that same level, but the way we coded visual novel scenes did not easily support character customization at all, and all our 4 programmers were pulling hairs working on the gameplay. Thus, the demo defaults to the feminine-coded hairstyle, light skin, and uses the pronouns of “they/them”. If we’re gonna deal with identity-related themes in this game, Evil “I” and all, customization is pretty important to implement.
We planned to make an anime opening for the game. It originally started as a joke, two second long, MS Paint frame by frame animation, but then I decided I could 10 to 20 seconds of decently polished animation. Then another member decided she could make a 90 second song with vocals. Ultimately, we ran into crunch time with simultaneous final exams and we re-purposed those assets into the ending credits.
Either that anime opening is going to get done and put into the final game or I’m going to swim to Japan to hire an animation company to do it for us.
Here’s a list of other features that also either didn’t make the initial pitch or demo cut. Some of these features are out of date with our current design plans. But, consider this as a preview of some of the things we are thinking about:
- 3-Act Structure (a full game in 5 months? a fool’s project)
- Text Adventure mode
- Light/Dark-esque elements: Cleanse and Blight
- Vocal version of the credits song
- TIPS database (a common codex trope found in many VNs, Steins;Gate being a popular example)
- Ally mechanics (Illyia/Dahlia participating in battle)
- An anime site framing device
- Buffs/Debuffs (technically in the game, but not really explained/used in normal play)
- Frenzy Casting (the concluding moment of the Doppelganger battle) as a proper mechanic
Seeing as this is the first game you’ve worked on and help publicly release, how do you feel about the reaction to it? Are you overwhelmed, do you wish more people checked it out?
The gameplay premise alone is giving the game traction. I’m relieved it isn’t blowing up incredibly big. There’s easily many issues in the game that I’m embarrassed about and would appreciate not having a million people from some big let’s player’s channel dunk on very obvious things we need to improve. We have enough exposure to have gotten a good 20+ feedback survey responses which is more than enough / what I’m comfortable with for now. Some of those responses are VERY meticulous. There are some stinging comments about the story and art direction… which, the former, yeah; writing can be improved. But the latter… well, I get the feeling the style we were going for was alienating to begin with. It’s one that is very easy to develop assets for, but also not as refined as some people may like. While I can’t dismiss feedback out of principle, I do appreciate all the kinder constructive comments/criticisms about the game’s look. Knowing at least someone appreciates our efforts helps keep me enthusiastic about the project. Even with negative comments, however, the fact that this game left any impression at all and made people write so much about it IS impressive in its own right. Right!?
As a designer and someone who wants to see this game get as good as it can, I’m really thankful for anyone who decided to give feedback on the game (especially cause we don’t have any money to hire QA/playtesters)! Game design is an iterative process, and any feedback (positive and negative) helps us make it better in our next iteration. I’m proud of what we’ve done but I also know we can do better as we continue development, so I’m excited to see what more people think!
…I don’t know if I’ll ever have Internet comment immunity like Tino does. Too strong… not like it’s a bad thing though. Once again, I’m thankful for my team being able to read through these sorts of things for me, as I’m still learning a lot about how to take and process feedback well as a designer.
A typing JRPG game is a really cool concept and I loved seeing how it was executed in the demo. Do you guys plan on adding more to the battle system (like more mechanics/status effects) in the future?
YES. The battle system as-is is not suited for longer play. Three elements and a handful of basic attacks get old really fast.
The possibility space of an RPG with knowledge-based progression and natural-language input is staggering and we are eager to explore it! As the systems of an JRPG can be complex, the mechanics in the demo are what we could feasibly introduce and teach to players (who may or may not have prior experience with the RPG genre) in the time frame of the demo. But… expect an expanded list of spells, a more in-depth weakness/element system, demon/character allies in battle, and more boss fights with unique mechanics and scenarios!
Hopefully. Our plans change on the drop of a hat. This is the ideal scenario, though. Conversation mechanics of some sort is something I would personally like to see come to fruition, for fairly obvious reasons. We want this game to have more emphasis on exploration of the main typing mechanics. Things like secret words that let you have a special dialogue with a boss, or having words point to different effects based on situational context; fleshing out things behind the scenes to make the gameplay more interesting once the initial gimmick of “ATB typing RPG” runs its course. The important thing is making the battles have some sort of influence on the story.
The demo briefly mentions the “States of Armica” and you’re viewed as an invader. Is this an allusion to American imperialism and would that be a topic you’re hoping the game approaches?
Imperialism is absolutely a core theme of the game. It’s no secret that this game is influenced by the Shin Megami Tensei series. (I don’t bring this up in the game’s advertising; to me, a game that uses other titles to advertise itself just alienates people unfamiliar with said titles.) Mythological demons, the Element-centric combat system; it’s all directly SMT-flavored. This also includes narrative themes as well: primarily that of Culture. Because of our own lived experiences, though, players can expect the full game to tackle SMT-esque themes in a MUCH different angle, and Imperialism is a direct result of this line of thought.
So, to address how Imperialism fits into this framework: because the gameplay necessitates that the player has a vague understanding of the English language, and the game draws enemies from world mythology, it felt natural for me to posit a not-so-subtle parallel to US Imperialism. SWORD, LANCE, HAMMER: these core words of attacking are all English. Therefore, English, in the context of the game, very literally dominates over the Other that demons (all of non-US origin) in this game represent, and it would be a moral failure of the game designer if I didn’t incorporate this fact into the narrative.
As to where I’m coming from, recently I’ve been thinking about my own cultural identity a lot. I get the sinking feeling sometimes that I’ve been waving around that fact for brownie points lately, but I know it isn’t something to be ashamed of. As Hmong-American, I’ve thought a lot about not really knowing much about being Hmong, not knowing how to speak Hmong, the expectations elders have of me as a Hmong person, the fact a lot of people don’t really know what Hmong is at all… lots of stuff. My life in the US is a product of the Cold War (look up the Laotian Secret War sometime). Because of it, I get really weird feelings about US Imperialism. Reconciling this fact, combined with my inability to relate to being Hmong because of a lack of language, is what I’ve been using as inspiration for this subject matter.
It’s not given at all in the demo’s writing, but Illyia and Iris are Hmong(-Armican; this is an alternate history setting). In the full version of the game, what I’m saying here in this question will likely be much more obvious (and blatant) in their character stories. Hopefully they won’t read like self-inserts. Hopefully!
…But, aside from that tangent, at minimum: how language reflects histories of Imperialism is something I’m thinking about. For instance, the prominence of English in England has a different context than the prominence of English in the Philippines.
Social alienation is something that I personally think about a lot and something I struggle with. In what ways does the game plan to approach this theme?
This theme was actually something we really wanted to take on a lot more. There was a whole scene planned (which was cut) where the main character, Illyia, and Dahlia are all on a train and we show the main character slowly get farther and farther from Illyia and Dahlia to represent their feelings of alienation. It was very surreal and weird, but eventually snuck in as the scene transitions and the final encounter with the Doppelganger. Hopefully, our fellow writers will let us do weirder stuff like this in future versions.
Most of the writers on the game are not very experienced (myself very much included), so we are still exploring and iterating on exactly how to properly express the core themes of our game. As James said, expect weirder experiments with narrative presentation and a better focus on giving battles context and meaning in the story!
Since this is a language-based game, another one of the themes that we want to convey better is miscommunication and how that affects relationships. Misinterpretation of meanings can potentially break down relationships easily, even if intentions were never malicious.
Beyond that, there’s an implicit theme of Self and Other in the story that kinda resulted from the usage of the Evil Eye as an antagonistic force. The Evil Eye has firmly placed itself in a huge portion of world culture as an alienating force that, essentially, makes everyone you know and love a potential transmitter of curse. The Evil Eye is a force of envy, but it can also be one of mistrust and isolation; after all, isn’t there that one story of the man who blinded himself because he didn’t want to accidentally curse his children with the Evil Eye? The curse of the Evil Eye can come from anyone, and so there’s a fear of being that curse to someone else that I want to draw inspiration from. As for the effects of that curse, in the demo, the Doppelganger word-for-word invokes Jean-Paul Sartre’s (not the Nier Automata NPC) concept of “the gaze”/”bad faith”: being trapped in the eyes of other people and acting as someone you don’t feel natural as. Two flavors of alienation: the alienation of Others with the Evil Eye curse, and alienation of the Self from its natural state with the Sartrean gaze. I think building on these ideas from the demo is something I’d like to do much more with; how to do so, I’m not really sure yet… in addition to tying this all back to typing, too, of course… (you can tell I obviously think about big ideas a lot without not really knowing what to do with them… blame Kotaro Uchikoshi’s methods for this one… (I’m praying to god the Evil Eye doesn’t become a major plot point in AI: The Somnium Files or else I’ll be outed as a fraud.))
The music in the game fucking rules. Do you guys plan on putting up the soundtrack for people to enjoy?
cough* soundtrack DLC *cough* $$$ *cough*.
… But seriously, I think all of our music team would be OK with that, although there is no official source for that quite yet. Stay tuned (hah sound pun) for a potential Soundcloud thingy maybe.
When the eventual vocal version of the ending theme comes out, then we’ll see.
I made it policy to ask RPG indie people if they’ve played Etrian Odyssey. So yeah, what’s the Typocrypha team’s hot takes on that series?
(Looks nervously at Hughe.)
Etrian Odyssey is SO GOOD. But you all probably figured I’m a huge Atlus fan in general. I originally got into the series for the battle music alone, starting at EOIV. I’ve played through EOIV (great + broken), Untold I (was okay), Mystery Dungeon (forgettable as hell), and EOV (has my favorite classes but not as broken as I’d like). My favorite part about the series is the excellent design and polish in basic RPG combat, breaking the end-game, and the music. My least favorite part about the series is how long it takes and feels to play. I do auto-pilot A-button grinding because I hate how long it takes to train characters, even farming FOEs. It’s a very exhausting process to replace/retire characters in these games. Also, I kinda wish the EO games would emphasize the character imagination/role-playing aspects of the game more somehow in the mechanics beyond just the EXP dungeon events in EOV, and also make treasure boxes not crap all the time too (I DON’T WANT TO RISK MY LIFE AGAINST DINOGATORS FOR MEDICAS III, ATLUS). Now that EOX is coming out with the best features of every game, I hope EOX is the most broken piece of crap in the world with all the subclassing you can do. It’d be my favorite EO game if that happens.
…as for the rest of the team, well, I polled around. Tina’s a fan of the flavor text, cooking, mapmaking, and also shares my pain of doing auto-pilot A-button grinding. Uh, let’s see, and Bernard like the series even though he hasn’t played them for a while. He appreciates the status ailments being really damn good, which I agree with.
…grand total of 3 people on the team has Etrian Odyssey opinions! Woo?
The itch.io page mentions the dissolution of the team. Will the original team stay the same to continue work on the game?
We’ve actually been seeing pretty steady fall off ever since the project started. This was mostly because the game was part of a school club, and people had to study and stuff. But at this point, we do have a pretty solid core team that will hopefully not get super lazy over the summer.
Yup! The core team is staying together and we intend to work on this game until we are satisfied with where it’s at.
At worst, everyone leaves me to the vultures and I complete this game by myself by 2069. If I don’t die. Uh, let’s hope neither of those happen.
Where do you see Typocrypha going in the future?
Well, we want to make a complete game, but what that means is tough to define. We actually had a long and partially inconclusive discussion on what makes a game “complete.” And in the end, since we’re still constantly reimagining and reworking Typocrypha in terms of design, story, and pretty much everything else, it’s hard to say. But we do want to get it out there “completed,” and if that makes no sense to you, don’t worry, because it doesn’t mean much to us either.
Now that we don’t have finals or deadlines, we can go balls to wall with that Anime opening as well as crazier battle animations (but not as crazy as Sephiroth’s Supernova).
As of writing this now, we’ve come up with some radically different changes in both story structure and mechanics. Because we’ve completed our goal of completing a scoped-down, finished game at GDA, we would like to take the game in different direction than implied in the demo, in order to better support the core features of the game that matter to us. More diverse gameplay and longer, developed narrative, while intertwining the two together more. Something the demo doesn’t do justice to at all is the interplay between reading and writing. We want the narrative to feel much more integrated with the gameplay, and not just something tacked onto a fun battle system.
For fans of typing games and RPG combat, we want the gameplay to do more than just basic attacks and status ailments. For fans of visual novels and RPG story, we want the narrative to really execute the ideas of this game with justice and integrate it better with interactivity. (And maybe be a bit more subtle/nuanced). Typocrypha excites us, and I hope to see the day where we can deliver on these fronts. It will be finished when it feels finished. Which… well, with a budget-less* game like this, let’s hope that time will come eventually. I can’t guarantee if the finished product will be good, but if nothing else, I hope it will be memorable.
*As this is a voluntary project, no money was spent producing assets for this game. Because we bought club t-shirts for the game, like the poor fools we are, we technically have negative budget. I bought not one, not two, but three shirts. Someone please help us. Our children are starving.
You can follow the official Typocrypha twitter for updates on the game and you can follow Hughe at FangMakesStuff. Also, if you’ve played the demo yourself and liked it, consider sending in your feedback!