Toying with Mechanics and the Exciting Problems Therein

7:15 AM Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless,
and add what is specifically your own."

- Bruce Lee

Core mechanics are the keystone of any game.

Ark Rift began with Hearthstone's core mechanics of:
  • 1 mana increase per turn determining playable cards from hand 
  • One card draw per turn
Great base to wrap novel mechanics around and layer new mechanics on top of, but who wants to play Hearthstone with a new skin when they can just play Hearthstone? (Well, other than that HS is getting a bit annoying these days with excessive power creep and the monthly grind)

Ark Rift's new card types (structures and barriers) were built around those mechanics to instill our theme and storyline but these implementations were not enough to make Ark Rift a novel game in its own right.

Today was all about shifting core mechanics to create a mood and a playstyle that is all Ark Rift.

We're toying with resource removal in exchange for in-game xp. This creates exciting and fast-paced gameplay and is reminiscent of RPGs where you kill something, you get XP! Hooray, XP for everybody!

This means that cards cost nothing and killing on your turn gives you xp with which to use powers (the more xp you have, the more powerful the power you can use).

A limitation of 2 cards played per turn allows some minor momentum building but, of course, the shift delivers a whole new set of problems.

Runaway Leader: Once a player is ahead, they tend to stay ahead
Too Much Luck: Drawing a slightly more powerful creature/structure early on nearly always ensures a win

Fortunately, these issues have solutions.

Catch-up Mechanics:
  • Cards like "Overload," which clears the board, is one such mechanic that removes the gap in both xp and # of creature/structure/barrier in play. 
  • Once a player is under half their health, they may play 3 cards per turn instead of 2 (may change this to simply player with lower hp plays 3) 
Making Players more or less Lucky: 
  • Allow for initial hand mulligan 
  • Cut creature differences (creatures must be buffed to greatness or sacrificed for greatness) 
  • Create an xp requirement to play higher level creatures
Resource removel and making each card more relevant makes the core goal of "bash opponent until dead" all the more intricate and interesting to reach.

The first and only such game that I know of that completely removed resources is Solforge. Beautifully designed. Their core mechanic revolves around playing creatures that go back into the draw deck upon death and return leveled up.

Of course, we are trading a core resource system with a peripheral one. The biggest and most obvious problem with our novel in-game xp system is how do you get xp if you don't have attacking cards in play? Or if you have only weak cards to play, the benefits of your opponent multiply by not only killing your card, but gaining the xp that comes with it.

Eh, we'll solve that. What I really like about this system though, is that buffing your creatures can be dangerous. The more powerful your creature, the more xp your opponent will get when they kill it...MwahahaHAHAhahAHAHHAHAHA!!!!


Tracking Player Behavior

5:42 PM Sunday, September 27, 2015

There are so many things that make creating a digital card game AWESOME! You don't have to live within the bounds of what's physically possible. That means you can have funky card shapes (fiscally unreasonable for a real card game), cool animations, the possibilities are truly endless.

That also means you can track data in real time in order to improve the game as it is being digitally play tested and after the game is up.
So, you can track anything you want...what do you track? The questions below pertain specifically to Ark Rift and could be helpful for our program to answer during development:
  • Which cards are most often sacrificed for energy? 
  • Which cards are included in decks but played the least? 
  • How often must a turn be sacrificed (due to no playable options)? 
  • How often is a turn ended with excess energy (and how much)? 
  • What is the average number of turns for a game to end? 
  • How often do players use Lvl 1, Lvl 2, and Lvl 3 powers respectively?
And some questions for after the game is up:
  • Which cards are picked for tournaments? Not picked? 
  • Which cards are chosen for a tournament but never (or rarely) played? 
  • If a player receives a super rare card in a pack, are they statistically more likely to buy more?
  • Which character/faction is most popular for second choice (after tutorial character)?
If you have any other stats you think would be helpful to track, include them in the comments!


Getting Inspiration for Creative Card Titles

12:19 AM Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One of the challenges of coming up with a large set of cards is coming up with titles for all of them.

Great resources are wikipedia lists (of course), thesauruses, and another one of my favorites is MAPS! ( secret...good thing no one is reading this!) This is particularly helpful with funky made-up creatures.

Look at a map and grab some words you like. The magic of place names is they often have an auto-effect of "familiar but not too familiar." You can also experiment with grabbing a location name and switching out a letter or two (especially if it aids in creating a single and apparent pronunciation).

In order to add a little extra personality and flavor, I like to preface names with adjectives. That's how we get cards like, "Twisted Rizal," and "Vindictive Sibu".

For variety, titles with found or made-up words can be used as adjectives themselves. In the case of "Malaba Cat," (inspired by a crossing point between Kenya and Uganda,) we're using "Malaba" to indicate a breed/species.

Okay, so why all this title stuff? Well, I've been working on our Ark Rift structure cards and here's the most basic list:

  • Factory
  • Bungalow
  • Stable
  • Barn
  • Greenhouse
  • Power Plant
  • Mill
  • Foundry
  • Aresenal
  • Barracks
  • Hunting Lodge
  • Refinery
  • Generator
  • Mine
  • Temple
  • Warehouse
  • Canal
  • Monument
  • Tunnels

Structure cards are going to be of massive importance in Ark Rift, producing all available repeating effects (where the effect happens every turn). While creating these structures, I am creating both titles and mechanics simultaneously. Some mechanics are inspired by the title (let's make thematic sense!) and some titles are included to house a mechanic that I want implemented.

When you look at this simple list of structure types, can you already imagine what they might be capable of?


Character: Rizza Vice

3:15 PM Monday, September 21, 2015

Rizza Vice is a champion/hero/superstar of the game (one of 6).
She's snarky and a regular badass.

If she had a title following her name, it would be, "Rizza Vice, Our Lady of Perpetual Violence."

She's one of the Outliers, a group of humans that no one ever expected to survive. Her deck is hard-hitting, face-bashing goodness.

Her attitude: Kill now, ask questions never...and have fun with the "kill" part...


Increase the Power!

9:32 AM Friday, September 18, 2015

"Increase the power to a higher level,
I like you better when you're possessed by the devil"

~Electric Six

Enjoy your quote of the day because today was all about POWERS. We've added the powers mechanic to our characters and have started play testing.

I'm already irked by the lack of continuity in this blog (starting it in the middle of the game-making process) but I'll change all the dates later to ease my need for organization.

Powers Rules! I mean...Power Rules:

  • Each character has a unique power series (Lvl 1, 2, and 3)
  • A power can be used once per turn and is charged by xp gained from killing opposing creatures, barriers, and structures
  • As xp increases, it may be used or saved in order to accumulate enough xp to use a higher lvl power

So far, I'm into these! Here's an example of a power series:

Level 1: Puts last discarded card into draw deck (randomly)
Level 2: Puts last discarded card into hand
Level 3: Puts last discarded card into play

Other types of power examples are increasingly powerful converters (i.e. 1 energy --> 1 hp, 2 energy --> 2hp, etc)

I am a little concerned about runaway leader issues. A game like "War of Omens" is an online deck builder with mechanics that I really like but once there's an early on gap (esp. Vespitole vs. Daramek) it just gets wider and wider. I foresee this as a potential issue.

My current method of game design has an inherent power creep. Each deck is built to counter the mechanics formed in the previous deck. Looking forward to finishing up so I can swing back around to both beef up and trim the fat.


What to Consider for Card Frames

6:57 PM Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hey there, Everybody!

Tom, our wonderful lead artist, has put together more mock ups for us. You may have seen the previous entry with a couple of samples. Too tired to scroll down? Here's that example (left) and a new one

Which one do you like best?

Of course, when I saw the first frame (left), I was in love. It was in at a preliminary stage, yes, but here was a key part of the game existed!

But how could we make that first version better? It's helpful here to outline some guidelines for card frames:
  • Simplicity
  • Don't detract from the focus of your card
  • Readable text, values, and art
  • Any values (hp, dp, etc) should be easily seen at a glance
  • Minimize text using keywords that indicate mechanics (i.e. RUSH)
  • The focus is where you intend
  • In this case, the art!
  • Makes sense thematically
  • This is an extra depending on the simplicity of your cards, but in our case, we want to keep that Sci-Fi theme consistent across all our assets
That's a fairly decent checklist when it comes to building card frames but if you've got a card frame and want to check for all of these, do one simple thing:

Stick a picture in it! Any picture!

That gives you a ton of information in a short amount of time.

You can see that though our first frame was pretty (I think so), it was a bit over-worked, didn't provide enough art space, and distracted from the art so we chose to move forward with the second mock up.

Here's that mock up pushed to the next level:

We're still looking at alterations in this new card frame to make sure we're adhering to those guidelines (perhaps with color changes, altering value size, etc) but we're well on our way. Huzzah!


DCG Visual Assets

12:12 AM Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The sheer number of visual assets necessary to put together a digital card game is, in a word, insane! A brief list of some of the necessary visual assets for this game:
Card Frames
Card/Ability description
DP/HP (if applicable)
Rarity indicator
Card Backs
Individual Card Illustrations
Energy tracker
Character frame
Character portraits
Character power buttons
In play creature frames
Structure slots

Tom, our lead artist, brought us some card frame mock ups (and made our nifty header image for this site).

Here are a couple samples, one without an image and one with (note border translucency...oooh ahhh)

Just a preliminary concept but it's the little things like this that make this game feel real.

We'll be recruiting more artists soon to flesh out the individual cards. Very exciting!

Are you a digital artist who has randomly stumbled upon this page? Feel free to submit your portfolio!


Starting Games with a Story

6:07 PM Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hey there, Everyone! Today, just talking a bit about getting this game started.

When I got this project, I knew it was going to be a PvP DCG so I began with a story. There are a million methods to begin game creation, whether that's with theme, mechanics, aesthetics, feeling of gameplay, etc, and there's no one right way.

A story/theme angle accomplishes a few things:
  • Creates the setting
  • Informs mechanics
Setting can be a home base from which a TON of ideas spring up. Once you know where the game is, you suddenly know the flora and fauna, can imagine the people, culture, etc, and sharing a story brings imagery into the minds of others in a visceral way that can inspire them to share what they see in that setting as well.

And, when an issue arises with mechanics, decisions can be made and checked by asking, "Does that fit within our theme?" or "Is that something this character would be able to do?"

Even though the history of a DCG's world (sans franchises, of course) is typically boiled down to a few lines of text, and characters can become nothing more than a name and a portrait, having that history in mind throughout game creation allows for thematic consistency...well, kind of. (^-^)

As mechanics develop, some are just too good to let go and can trump and change initial story concepts...which is a great thing. A weird conversation between rules and story occurs but we can talk about that later...

Anyway, the story, the characters, it's what makes me love this game already. However it actually manifests isn't so important right now.