Jonathan Coryn, creator of Player Non Player

Welcome to the new Solo Dev format! In this first season, I’m going to meet up with 7 French solo devs to ask them questions about how they work, how they organise themselves and, above all, to introduce you to 7 games that are clearly worth a look. We start with Player Non Player, Jonathan Coryn’s first game.

After exhibiting his work at the Centre Pompidou, the MUDAM in Luxembourg and the Musée d’art et d’histoire Paul Eluard in Saint-Denis, Jonathan Coryn is finally unveiling the fruit of six years’ work with Player Non Player. A former student at the Beaux-Arts in Cergy, Jonathan is both an artist and a French game designer, acclaimed for his creation, Player Non Player, which won the prestigious Most Amazing Game Award at the A Maze festival in Berlin in 2023. In this narrative exploration game, Coryn explores complex emotional themes such as grief and the relationship with the body, while skilfully fusing electronic music, thanks in particular to the collaboration with Agar Agar.

Point’n Think: Your path to game development has taken an unconventional route, starting with your time at the Beaux-Arts. Can you tell us how your training influenced your transition to games development, particularly in terms of your experimental approach?

Jonathan Coryn: My time at Beaux-Arts was a real journey of artistic exploration, less structured than what you usually find in video game schools. The strong focus on contemporary art was marked by teachers who, for the most part, were more inclined to present innovative artworks and concepts than conventional video game design principles. We even had a teacher who focused more on code, showing us contemporary artworks that were closer to what you might see in an exhibition. There was the Worldbuilding exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz last year. These exhibitions often reflected artists who used real-time game engines, such as Unreal Engine or Unity, to create experimental works of art, although most of them often remained at the ‘toy’ stage, i.e. playful works.

Solo dev Player non Player

Some teachers, however, were less familiar with video games and some were even reluctant to integrate them into the curriculum. However, this mentality seemed to be changing by the time I was a student. Interestingly, six years on, things seem to have moved in this direction, with art schools increasingly embracing video games as a legitimate means of artistic expression. That said, my experience was not without its challenges. In my first year, I encountered resistance to my exclusive exploration of the digital medium. Some professors felt it was necessary to explore a variety of artistic mediums in order to sell to art collectors, which included concerns about the commercialization of video games. Despite this, I persisted in my path and it eventually paid off.

PnT: You describe Player Non Player as an experimental project that has evolved over several years. Can you tell us about your iterative process and the way you approach the development of your ideas?

Jonathan: Player Non Player was born out of an iterative and experimental process, fusing my personal artistic inspirations with the existing world of Agar Agar. Initially, I created prototypes by exploring various concepts, proposing ‘toys’ to the Agar Agar team to gather their impressions and thoughts. It wasn’t long before a theme emerged: a mixture of violence and gentleness. My first prototype, the villa, featured a virtual hand with physical interaction, allowing the villa to be grabbed and destroyed. This contrast between caress and violence was at the heart of the initial experience. Then I introduced playable characters, giving players the freedom to interact with them in a similar way to GTA, where they could interact with, and even kill, the characters.

However, I felt that something was missing from this experience. So I went back to a concept I’d developed at Beaux-Arts, a caress simulator. Inspired by the work of Robert Yang, I came up with a more melancholy and emotionally profound concept, where the player could bring comfort to a sad character by stroking him. This concept, imbued with a liminal and melancholy aesthetic, has been reintroduced in Player Non Player, enriching the gaming experience with a unique emotional dimension. The player is invited to combine gestures of gentleness with acts of destruction, offering a poignant exploration of the themes of compassion and violence.

The liminal aesthetic, marked by the choice of saturated colours and the presence of melancholic characters, plays a crucial role in creating this emotional atmosphere. This fusion of gentleness and destruction has been subtly integrated into the game’s tutorial, providing players with an immersive and effective introduction to the gaming experience. In just 30 seconds, players are guided through the game’s mechanics, invited to explore its complex themes and unique interactions.

Robert Yang, a game developer and assistant professor of art at New York University’s Game Center, stands out in the world of video games for his provocative and innovative creations. Known for his homoerotic video games exploring themes of gay culture and intimacy, Yang challenges the norms of virtual spaces with his innovative approach. His works, such as The Tearoom, a 3D bathroom sex simulator, and Rinse and Repeat, a shower simulator for men, push boundaries and spark conversations about sexuality and representation in video games. In addition, Yang’s background in architecture and furniture design enriches his work as he explores the intersection of virtual environments and real-world structures.

Recently, Yang unveiled his latest project, a queer online gardening simulation called We Dwell in Possibility, created in collaboration with renowned cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis. Moving away from its usual 3D realism, this free browser-based experience invites participants to interact with suggestively shaped objects and plants amidst a crowd of simulated naked AI characters. Through this project, Yang continues to question the status quo, asking who is represented and excluded in virtual spaces while exploring the politics of digital architectures.

PnT: The integration of sound and music in Player Non Player seems to play an important role in reinforcing the emotional resonance of the gaming experience. Can you explain how sound design and music have been used to enhance the player’s immersion and connection with the game’s themes?

Jonathan: Clara Cappagli and Armand Bultheel, the two members of Agar Agar, and I met at the École des Beaux-Arts in Cergy. Sharing a passion for art and experimentation, we decided to collaborate on a game project after graduating in 2018.

Our initial intention was to create a game together, with the naive idea that it would only take a few months to complete. However, by opting for a totally experimental approach, the project took on an unexpected scale, requiring six years of development. The process was extremely iterative. I presented Clara and Armand with mini-scenes and prototypes, drawing on both my own culture and the pre-existing world of Agar Agar. For example, the sword in the game is the same as the one on the cover of their EP, Cardan. Their feedback on these elements was essential, as they provided a unique and enriching artistic perspective. We quickly agreed to work on themes that would evoke both gentleness and violence, a duality often found in their music. Their musical style, mixing euphoria, pleasure and sweetness tinged with despair, resonated with my own artistic work. This synergy between our respective worlds was a real creative driving force throughout the development of the game, creating a real artistic ‘match’.

Agar Agar, a French electropop duo formed in 2015 by Clara Cappagli and Armand Bultheel, quickly established themselves on the Paris music scene. Their first single, Prettiest Virgin, released in 2016, marked the start of a meteoric rise, closely followed by the release of their debut album, The Dog and the Future, in September 2018, and their acclaimed performance at the Olympia in December of the same year. Their band name, inspired by agar-agar, derives from Armand’s observation of ants at home, reflecting their creative and original approach.

Clara and Armand, both graduates of the École nationale supérieure d’arts de Paris-Cergy where they met Jonathan Coryn, have fused their artistic talents to create a unique sound blending 1980s synthpop and techno. Their musical journey, marked by remarkable collaborations and performances, has propelled them to the forefront of the international scene. With singles such as Fangs Out and Sorry About the Carpet, accompanied by cinematic video clips directed by emerging talent, Agar Agar continue to explore new sonic avenues while remaining true to their distinctive aesthetic.

PnT: We talked a bit about the genesis of the project and all the work around sound in the game. Could you tell us a bit about the history of Player Non Player and how you came up with the narrative for the game? 

Jonathan: The story of Player Non Player developed gradually and intuitively. Initially, the creative process unfolded quite organically, with no real pre-established plan. Initially, there was only the character of the swimmer, around whom I developed the first ideas. I started by setting up a text system, but I soon came up against a major obstacle concerning the theme of consent. The swimmer character would express his disagreement when the player tried to interact in an inappropriate way, but the game didn’t adequately reflect this notion of consent. The playtests revealed this flaw, which led me to completely reconsider the narrative approach.

I then set about dividing up the different characteristics of the characters into several distinct entities. This process gave rise to three main protagonists, each representing a different facet of the central theme of grief. Gradually, the story developed to explore these themes with depth and nuance. Grief became an essential narrative pillar of the game, but it was only as development progressed that I fully realised the significance of this message. This theme emerged organically, integrating naturally into the story without my initially being aware of its importance.

Solo Dev Player Non Player

The inspiration for this thematic exploration stems partly from my personal experience, but also from broader reflections on the human condition. Works such as Shadow of the Colossus, with their ability to deal with grief in a powerful and moving way, influenced my artistic vision and fed into the narrative construction of Player Non Player. Odile’s reference to Freud reflects this desire to explore the psychological mechanisms surrounding the perception of mortality and the human need to reassure ourselves in the face of the inevitability of life’s finitude.

In the subconscious, each of us is convinced of our immortality

Sigmund Freud

If we were all constantly aware of our own mortality, of the inevitable end that awaits us, it would be quite simply overwhelming. To cope with this inescapable reality, we develop coping mechanisms, strategies to alleviate our existential anguish. Some people turn to religion, seeking solace in the belief in an afterlife. Others take a philosophical approach, taking refuge in ideas such as Epicurus, who argued that death is nothing because we cannot perceive it.

Epicurus argued that since we are no longer conscious after we die, it should not trouble us during our lifetime. However, despite these attempts to avoid the thought of death, it remains omnipresent, a constant reminder of our finite human condition. This reflection on our relationship with death adds a philosophical depth to the gaming experience, inviting players to ponder fundamental existential questions as they explore the narrative universe of Player Non Player.

Solo Dev Player Non Player

PnT: Your architectural choices in Player Non Player, particularly the incorporation of Brutalist elements, evoke a sense of grandeur and solitude that resonates with the game’s thematic exploration. Can you talk about the importance of Brutalism in shaping the aesthetic and emotional landscape of the game, and how it complements the narrative themes of grief and acceptance?

Jonathan: Brutalist architecture (which we talked about in a previous focus) is of key importance in the world of Player Non Player, not only in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of emotional narrative. This choice is not accidental, but stems from a personal fascination with the austere and imposing aesthetic of Brutalism, an aesthetic that seems almost devoid of humanity, reminiscent at times of the authoritarian regimes of the past. However, in the context of the game, this brutal coldness is skilfully nuanced, almost humanised, by the presence of the characters and their emotional narratives.

Take, for example, the Villa, an emblematic element of the game, directly inspired by Carlo Scarpa’s Tomba Brion. Designed to embody a space for contemplation and mourning, the Villa is a perfect example of the fusion between the raw grandeur of Brutalism and the emotional depth of the themes explored in the game. More broadly, Brutalism offers a unique visual and emotional experience, playing on monolithic forms that are difficult to fully grasp, creating a sense of disquieting strangeness. This ambience is reinforced by subtle references to retro games, particularly those from the PS1 and Nintendo 64, evoking childhood memories and adding an extra dimension of mystery and nostalgia to the gaming experience.

Solo Dev Player Non Player

The Brion Tomb, designed by Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa between 1968 and 1978, is a work of architectural art located in San Vito d’Altivole, near Treviso, Italy. Commissioned by Onorina Tomasin, widow of Giuseppe Brion, founder of the Brionvega company, the tomb is a private mausoleum for the Brion family. It is distinguished by its futuristic forms and symbolic importance, with two twin sarcophagi at the centre of the ensemble. Carlo Scarpa, renowned for his mastery of concrete and attention to detail, gave this work an aura of poetry and mystery, incorporating symbolic elements and ornate details.

The Brion Tomb complex, with its meditation pavilions and chapel, is a synthesis of the influences that have marked Scarpa’s career, from his interest in history to his admiration for Japanese architecture. Visitors are guided through an architectural journey where water, concrete and vegetation combine to create a unique sensory experience. The central location of the tombs of Giuseppe and Onorina Brion, surrounded by symbols and artistic motifs, embodies the affection and unbreakable bond between the couple. The Brion tomb is not only a tribute to the memory of the deceased, but also a place for contemplation and reflection.

PnT: Player Non Player also explores themes relating to the LGBTQ+ community and the relationship with the body, which adds another layer of complexity to the narrative. Can you share your thoughts on how these themes emerged during the development process and how they contribute to the overall experience of the game?

Jonathan: Initially, these themes weren’t at the forefront of the creation, but they emerged naturally as the game took shape, given that I myself am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Initially, I didn’t identify the game as being explicitly queer. However, when I submitted the game to events such as A Maze, I realised how important these themes were in distinguishing my game from others. This discovery led to further reflection on queer representation in the game, taking into account the responsibility to present these themes in an authentic and respectful way.

In the game, the swimmer character, for example, is gay, and this manifests itself through his interactions with the other characters. The narrative choices and game mechanics allow players to explore complex aspects of LGBTQ+ relationships and identity, while offering a unique perspective on the relationship with the body and sexuality.

Being gay myself allows me to dare narrative choices and interactions that might be considered subversive, but which contribute to enriching the gaming experience by offering an authentic and nuanced representation of human diversity.

Solo Dev Player Non Player

Queer culture is also increasingly present in the reappropriation of digital tools to express and claim power over bodies. Artists such as Arca, who invent chimerical characters equipped with physical or digital prostheses, illustrate this ability to reinvent oneself and reappropriate one’s body in an artistic and political way. In the field of video games, developers such as Robert Yang explore queer interactions in a subversive way, offering players the chance to experiment and identify in new ways. This approach not only represents diversity in an inclusive way, but also challenges social norms and fosters greater understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities.

PnT: When you presented Player Non Player at A Maze in Berlin in 2023, you mentioned that it was a festival you’d spotted from the start. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with this festival and its importance for independent developers like yourself?

Jonathan: Taking part in A Maze was a landmark experience for me. Right from the start of the development of Player Non Player, A Maze was a festival that I had specifically targeted to showcase my work. Although this festival may seem relatively confidential to those not directly involved in the world of independent games, it occupies an important place for developers like me. I’m particularly impressed by the diversity of selections at each edition, ranging from triple III games to more experimental projects hosted on platforms such as This variety reflects the richness and creativity of the independent games industry, and A Maze provides a valuable platform for showcasing innovative and original projects.

The selection of Player Non Player was a surprise for me, thanks to my impostor syndrome. However, being selected for the festival was a significant validation of my work and creative vision. What’s more, winning the Most Amazing Award was an unexpected but rewarding experience, especially when up against big-name games like Signalis. In terms of impact on my game itself, my participation in A Maze has been a catalyst for its development. Although the game was already in the demo phase at this stage, the recognition I received at the festival strengthened my determination to perfect my work. The positive feedback received at the event also fuelled my motivation to refine certain aspects of the game, particularly the interactive cinematics, which ultimately helped to enrich the overall player experience.

PnT: You mentioned that taking part in A Maze helped you gain visibility and attract the attention of the industry. How has this recognition influenced the development of Player Non Player and your career in general?

Jonathan: I have to admit that the results have been mixed. In terms of visibility and industry attention, taking part in A Maze helped me gain recognition. It opened doors for me and gave me the opportunity to meet some of the industry players. I even managed to get meetings with publishers, an opportunity I might not otherwise have had.

However, in terms of direct impact on the game itself, I have to admit that the results were not as spectacular as I had hoped. Despite the attention paid to Player Non Player during the festival, communication around the game didn’t really take off. I saw a modest increase in the number of wishlists on Steam, but nothing comparable to other games with more modest scopes. This left me wondering how the game was being received by the public. I wondered whether the problem lay with the game itself or with my ability to promote it effectively. Perhaps Player Non Player didn’t correspond to current trends or market expectations, which made it more difficult to promote.

PnT: What was it like working as a solo dev? Did you try to grow and become a team at a certain point?


Working as a solo dev has been both a rewarding experience and a major challenge. For the first few years of Player Non Player‘s development, I managed all aspects of the game myself, from design and development to graphics and marketing. It was an intense and exhausting time, but I learned a lot and got to experience different aspects of the game creation process. However, there was a decisive moment when Agar Agar changed record companies and released a budget for communication around the game. This enabled me to call in a communications agency, which gave me invaluable support. This collaboration gave me new impetus and helped me achieve a level of visibility that I might not have been able to achieve on my own.

Despite these efforts, finding publishers interested in the game proved to be a major challenge. The feedback I received was often similar, with the idea that Player Non Player was too singular a game to find its audience or that it should be made free to attract attention. However, I remain convinced that the game could have enjoyed greater media success with a more effective communication strategy. Looking at examples like The Wreck, I realise that the success of a game often depends as much on its visibility as its intrinsic quality.

PnT: Being solo on so many aspects of game creation, you must have learned a lot by trying. The game is made on Unity, isn’t it?

Jonathan: Player Non Player was developed on Unity, but I encountered some challenges with this platform. Initially I used Bolt, which was later bought out by Unity and renamed ‘Unity Visual Scripting’, which promised to generate code in C Sharp, but unfortunately this feature was dropped after Unity bought it out, which complicated the development of the game. Despite these difficulties, I was able to learn a lot on the job, particularly when it came to programming. Having trained in arts and literature, my mathematical skills were limited, but I quickly realised that programming wasn’t as intimidating as it looked. By understanding that programming was essentially a series of 0s and 1s to be interpreted visually as blacks and whites, I was able to overcome the initial difficulties and gradually improve.

When it came to shading and level design, I also had to learn a lot on my own. The shaders, in particular, were a challenge at first, but once I grasped the basic concepts and understood that it was essentially a matter of manipulating black and white values, I was able to make rapid progress. Similarly, for the level design, I experimented with different approaches and learned along the way what worked best for my game.

Solo Dev Player Non Player

PnT: And with your next game, are you going to switch to Unreal?

Jonathan: Switching from Unity to Unreal Engine was an important decision for me, motivated by several factors. Firstly, I was impressed by the technological capabilities of Unreal Engine, particularly in terms of graphics and performance. In addition, the stability of Epic Games as a company gave me more confidence in choosing this platform for my project. I had to re-learn many aspects of game development, including programming, design and performance optimisation. What’s more, the Unreal Engine interface and tools were new to me, so it took some getting used to. There were several reasons why I chose Unreal Engine over other engines like Godot. Godot seemed less suited to my needs, with a steeper learning curve and features that weren’t entirely what I was looking for. Unreal Engine offers advanced features such as Lumen rendering technology and advanced lighting systems, which were essential for my project.

PnT: You mentioned using tools like Notion for project management and Task Timer to track your working time. How have these tools helped you in your development process and how do you manage to maintain an efficient organisation while juggling your part-time job and game development?

Jonathan: Notion enabled me to create a detailed roadmap, track my progress and plan my tasks efficiently. Thanks to its flexible features, I was able to organise my ideas, break down objectives into smaller steps and prioritise. This gave me a clear vision of what needed to be achieved and helped me to stay focused on the tasks in hand. Task Timer has been an invaluable ally for time management. By setting time limits for each task and tracking my progress precisely, I was able to maximise my efficiency and avoid getting distracted. It also gave me a better idea of how long each task would take, which helped me to plan my days realistically.

Juggling my part-time job with game development, maintaining an efficient organisation is essential. I’ve developed personal strategies based on discipline and proactive time management. I set myself clear and realistic goals for each week, taking into account the constraints of my schedule. By prioritising tasks according to their importance and urgency, I try to devote time to the most critical aspects of developing my game. My status as a freelance artist has also played an important role in my ability to reconcile work and game development. With relative job security thanks to my part-time work, I was able to devote time and energy to developing my projects without fear of undue financial pressure. This gave me the flexibility to adjust my schedule according to the needs of my game project.

Solo Dev Player Non Player

PnT: How do you see this concept of auteurism in the video game industry, particularly in comparison with other art forms such as film?

Jonathan: Recognition of the creative role and individual vision of the developers behind each game is essential. This recognition is often more pronounced in other art forms such as film, where directors and scriptwriters are widely recognised as authors in their own right. In the video games industry, there is a growing community of developers who claim their identity as authors of their games. However, this recognition can also be mitigated by the focus on development studios rather than the individuals who work within them.

I personally see auteur gaming as a fundamental aspect of my work. On my platforms and in my communications, I emphasise my own identity as a video game creator, rather than highlighting a studio name. This decision stems from my conviction that each game I create is the result of my own creative work and my unique artistic vision. As far as the financial and legal aspects are concerned, it’s often more advantageous to have artist-writer status, especially when working independently. However, this can pose challenges, particularly in terms of funding and institutional recognition. For example, obtaining funding for individual projects can be more difficult than for projects run by established studios. Internationally, the concept of the auteur game is also subject to cultural and industrial variations. In France, for example, there seems to be a growing desire to promote auteur games, in parallel with similar initiatives in other artistic fields, as the CNC is doing with cinema.

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