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Friday
May272011

More on SCG4

While my main job right now is finishing up Flash Duel: Raid on Deathstrike Dragon and the Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack (and after that, the full Puzzle Strike Expansion and Yomi expansion), my hobbies are "Sirlin Card Game 4" and the Fantasy Strike fighting game.

I told you guys a bit about the fourth card game before, in painfully vague terms. I think I have to keep that up for a while unfortunately, but I can tell you more about how designs develop, even without the details. The last time I mentioned this game, I said how it was like Magic: the Gathering, but with some major new thing, and that even with that thing completely changing the whole game, you still have Llanowar Elves or whatever. So I had two "big ideas" on the table to push the game into even newer territory (in addition to the original big idea that really makes the whole game work in the first place). I also mentioned how I talked to Soren Johnson (Civilization 4) about it, and though we only talked that one time, I'll use his comments back then as a point of reference.

Big Idea #1

One of the two ideas he liked a lot, so I developed it more. I was concerned that it was too mentally demanding, especially in the first turn of the game, but it added a lot of flavor and also potential for strategy. The mechanics of the game in general suggest a certain theme and this idea played right into that theme, so it's easy to see why Soren liked it. After more playtesting with and without this mechanic, I have to say the game is just smoother and more fun to play when it's not there. Sometimes you have to cut good ideas. Even a good idea has to pull its weight and add more to the game than it subtracts. (Here, the subtraction was too much to keep track of and too much think about without it quite justifying the extra strategy and flavor.) I still keep this idea in the back of my mind though.

Big Idea #2

The other "big idea" was something I had tried to make work for a long time, and it never really did. Soren wasn't excited about it to begin with, but he said maybe there was potential on this one if it could be leveraged as a way to simplify the presentation of the entire game. It reminded him of something in Civ (as well as many other games, but he worked on Civ after all). I wanted this idea for flavor reasons and because I had a vague sense that it could somehow improve gameplay, I just couldn't figure out how. I hadn't thought of Soren's take that it could maybe ALSO simplify things, though. There's a lot of information you have to be aware of during this game, more than at any given time during a game of Magic, and he was very concerned about this. So he proposed a way to use this particular idea in a way that lets him only focus on a subset of all the stuff at any given time. Or at the very least, only have to focus on a subset of it all during the first couple turns. He said that if you can access more stuff as the game goes on, it feels less intimidating and it can also be good for strategy.

Soren's particular suggestions of how to implement this didn't work, but the concept was sound. I found a different way that does work and it turned out to be an incredible advancement for the game. Improvements to a game might come in the areas of a) accessibility, b) strategy, or c) flavor. It's rare and amazing that this idea simultaneously improved the game in all three of those categories!

Subtractive Design

After playing the game more with this new system, it became clear that there was some redundancy in the design that could be cleaned up. Specifically, with the "mana" (resource) system. The point of colored mana is the player can choose between having a really consistent deck (one color) and a more versatile deck that dips into several colors at the expense of being less consistent. The mana system I was using for this game was one of the things I was most proud about in that it still had that same kind of tradeoff, but that it did not depend on randomness. You were certain to get your mana, it's just that if you felt like being certain about getting several colors of it, then you would not be able to cast the more powerful spells in a given color. If you decided to stick with one color (such as red), then casting the equivalent of an MTG RRRRRR cost spell was more feasible. The game system in general really lent itself to this improved handling of mana.

The thing is, the "big idea #2" I mentioned above interacts with this colored mana stuff. In fact, it kind of obsoletes even having colored mana because the new mechanic takes care of the tradeoff in a different way entirely. And you don't really need TWO systems tracking how much you mix colors. As hard as it was to do because I really, really liked that first mana system I had, I got rid of it. Getting rid of it was a natural thing to at this point, but sometimes it's hard to let go of things when their time has come. In writing, they say "Kill your darlings" to address this exact situation. That refers to cutting a paragraph from your writing that is very well-written but that doesn't support the story as a whole.

So now we have two things on the cutting room floor. I guess there's another 100 things on the cutting room floor if you let me go all the way back to the real version 1.0 from over 10 years ago. But if we stick to the modern form of this game, the recent losses are are the first idea that Soren liked and the first mana system. What's left is more streamlined though. Mana is simpler to track, the game in general is simpler to track and to understand (though still quite a lot to ask of players!), and it's just generally in better shape. And now the joke is on me because after all that, after it has drifted further and further from Magic, there are still Llanowar Elves and Ball Lightning cards, and so on. You know what, those are good cards, so oh well. I'm finally getting happy with the feel despite "but it's like Magic" that I know people will say. It's so opposite of Magic in some ways that I think we'll live.

The Next Mechanic

This game has had entirely different themes at various points and some have been more focused on letting you take on the role of being a certain character, while others have been more zoomed-out, where you aren't any particular character. The current one is the more zoomed-out flavor, but I just *like* characters. WoW TCG has heroes, and it just feels great. MTG has Planeswalkers and they feel like a confusing mess sort of, but at least they strike at the same issue and they sort of let you "be" something tangible. I've tried many, many ways of injecting that sort of thing into this game, and so far they all made it a worse game. I finally have one that just might work though. It's sort of like something from MTG, it's sort of inspired by something else from WoW TCG, so I'll be testing this next. At first glance, it actually makes the game system a bit more convoluted (which is bad), but it has some *potential* for more strategy and it absolutely is better flavor. So this idea is worth a shot. We'll see how it works out.

The Future

Sorry I can't be more specific yet. Once the game system is in a more solid state, I will be more public with it and we'll start looking for playtesters. I think that might be a while though, considering Flash Duel: Raid on Deathstrike Dragon, Puzzle Strike Upgrade Pack, Puzzle Strike expansion, and Yomi expansion are still not done, yet. Oh yeah and there's that whole thing about making a fighting game. As usual, any artists or programmers wanting to volunteer on any of those projects, let me know. Example awesomeness would be if you want to help make a Unity version card game mentioned in this post, for online testing, or if you want to create an awesome 3d model of Grave for the fighting game. ;)

Reader Comments (12)

Looking forward to playing/discussing the new version of the game! Of course, I'm now trying to remember if Big Idea #1 is what I think you are referring to... you post is a little vague even for me! :)

May 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSoren Johnson

I'll show you again at some point. It's kind of inbetween versions right now, hopefully it will simplify to something worth showing, heh.

May 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Is this game supposed to be a TCG, preset decks, or something in between?

May 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt D

It will have preset decks, and not like shitty MTG pre-cons, I mean like real tournament quality preset decks. In addition, you can also customize your deck. As the design has evolved, there are now some limits to the customization. There are certain rules you still have to follow about having X number certain types of cards, but you can still customize a whole lot. It turns out that having some restrictions on customization really improves the actual gameplay part, so I think it's worth the tradeoff. It's kind of ironic because if you could just put ANYTHING in any proportion in your deck, like MTG, it sounds like a bigger world of possibilities. That's really an illusion though and the bigger world of viable and fun decks comes from making sure that all decks actually able to interact with each other, heh.

The "you can customize" and "you must play preset decks" will be different formats, so like two separate games basically. Right now the focus is on making the gameplay system actually work, and it's still not quite there yet. So I'm only using preset decks right now to get the rules in better shape, but with any eye toward how customization will work.

May 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

From these teaser posts I get the impression that the playtesting phase for card game design is far longer and more in-depth than in a traditional computer game. Would you agree? I'd love to see a comparison of development time between something like Yomi / Kongai.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVRBones

I'm not sure I do agree actually, but only because you might have drawn the dividing line in the wrong place. Here's 3 categories of game makers for you:

1) people who kind of don't care
2) people who do care
3) people who do care and set up an environment where caring is more than lip-service.

I think category 1 and 2 companies release games on pretty short schedules because they just have to, and have no real choice given their burn rates. I think that's true regardless of if you mean a card game or a video game. Blizzard is in category 3 though, and develops a game for really, really long until they actually are happy with it. Seeing that, I knew it's something I had to do, so I chose a card game that I could make without having a team of developers to pay every month.

Kongai had a really long development cycle, but maybe it's not a great example here? The thing is that Kongregate had limited resources and they chose (wisely, in my opinion) to focus a lot of their resources on getting their main site working how they wanted. They would spare a bit of time now and then to get Kongai going, so it meant that there just happened to be a pretty long period of testing. It's not that they set out to make it take a long time (or a short time, even), it's just that it happened to work out that way because their resources were often on other projects.

June 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Is the new card game gonna be set in the fantasy strike universe?

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenternYo

I certainly look forward to your big reveal, when and if that ever happens. You`ve certainly intrigued me with this idea. (Just as Iook forward to a physical copy of Yomi (it's on order)) I must say that I am glad to have been sent to your site - I really respect your design goals and find asymmetrical play really interesting. I've dipped into magic many times, but never really kept up because of the card cycles and advancement and investment required to continue play at the competative level. If there`s anyway I can help (play-testing etc.), I'd certainly be glad to.

On a side note - I'll probably end up trying to do some play demonstrations for Yomi at my local Yellow Submarine here in Kyoto - I'll be curious to see what players here will think of it.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe W

nYo: I've gone back and forth on that. Right now the answer is yes, it's Fantasy Strike.

Joe: Oh cool. Maybe we should translate it into Japanese and have a Japanese publisher sell it to game stores there? hmm.

June 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I may be able to help with a Japanese Translation of the Yomi instructions. I`ve not really spent enough time with the game to know the nuances in rules, nor looked at enough of the characters and their abilities yet. I also wouldn't be available to really start working on it until early September due to current work contract and vacation plans.

I can tell you for translations, it is generally better to translate from the foreign language into the native language. So an English speaking Japanese national would produce a more natural Japanese translation. I would be able to produce an understandable translation. (I managed to get my non-English speaking wife to play using poker decks as proxies)

Of the foreign board games and card games that I have seen sold in Japan - there are two main ways that translations are packaged. They either simply come in the Native language with an set of Japanese instructions inserted or they come entirely printed in Japanese. For example my copies of Robo-Rally and Carcassonne both simply include what appears to be printed from a PDF in Japanese. Robo-Rally has cards included and they are printed in English - the accompanying instructions had individually listed what each of the cards do. While a simple insert would cost less, I suspect that a full on Japanese Print edition of the cards would sell better.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe W

Well Yomi has enough text on the cards that it would pretty much have to be translated for real, not just a sheet inserted, I think. If you know anyone who could do it, let me know. I actually did have a friend translate the card data to Japanese a long time ago, but there's been many changes to the cards since then so a lot is probably obsolete.

Not like I have a lead on a Japanese publisher or something, but it would be great to somehow do this.

June 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Your comment on Blizzard is true not only for the development cycle of the product, but the lifecycle of the product--they never stop developing. DIABLO II was released in 2001, the most recent patch, 1.13c, was released in March of 2010--with skill tree changes, not just uber-???? content addition.

http://us.blizzard.com/support/article.xml?locale=en_US&articleId=21358

That kind of product dedication is rare in entertainment and positively baroque in computer gaming.

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjeblucas
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