Hatchlings Games

Web Gaming 2.0 Revolution

The color pie and the color salad bowl

While staying overnight in the office helps productivity in the sense that you could just sleep on the desk with your fingers still on the keyboard, nothing could compare to the satisfaction of stretching out your arms and legs on a nice, proper bed.

Sleeping at home makes me remember my dreams better too; just yesterday I had quite an interesting dream of traveling with my mum on this helicopter-like contraption, where you could just point to a place on a Google Earth-like 3D map and you’d be there instantly. The other day I dreamt that I was back in my junior college uniform and going to school on hoverboard. It actually felt pretty real; I just had to tilt my body slightly to control its direction and speed.

Seems like I’m thinking too much into the setting.

Futurustic dreams aside and still on a personal note, Planar Chaos, the latest expansion to the popular trading card game Magic: the Gathering will be released in a couple of weeks’ time, and I’ll be attending the prerelease event (as I have always did for the past six years) this coming weekend.

While being a long-time fan of the game, I can’t help but to wonder what the guys at Magic R&D smoking when they designed the set. While a lot of fans might find the upcoming set a brilliant set, there are some players (including me) who feel slightly put down by the execution of the set.

You see, they messed up with the color pie.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

(Credits to billythefridge from the MTGSalvation forums for the picture)

To most people out there who don’t play Magic: the Gathering and were wondering what’s up with the title, the color pie is a term used in the design of the game. Basically, there are five factions, or ‘colors’ in the card game. Each color has its own characteristics which were defined as the game evolved. Using these definitions, technically any card made for the game could belong to one or more of these colors, and technically some cards cannot be of a certain color(s). Some cards, however, could fall into a grey area of can-ness and cannot-ness.

Planar Chaos is full of these. I mean, the name of the set itself tells you that it will be breaking a lot of rules. I suppose one of the disadvantages of having a ‘color pie’ – where all the flavors of cards belong to either a slice or another – is that your game is limited by the pie crust, the ‘outer layer’ that players perceive the game. Having damaging spells in white, a color traditionally associated with protection, healing and upholding of the law, feels like mayonnaise on apple pie – no matter how good you try to justify it, it just tastes weird. (I guess it would be different if there are people who are actually brought up on apple pie with mayonnaise… not that I want to know)

Encephalon tries to use a different approach on classifying cards. With reference to the color pie, I call it the ‘color salad bowl’. I could call it a ‘color soda fountain’ too, but I’m not sure if that many people actually like to mix their soft drinks likeme. Anyway, the pie has its ingredients all baked inside, while a salad bowl holds salad taken from a salad bar. The salad bar could hold every single card we can think of, and if we want to add more stuff, we just mix it with some other vegetable.

I guess the above comparison is very vague, and some people preferred baked pastries over raw vegetables, so I’ll just write down some points here.

(1) Encephalon allows expansion of factions. Each faction would just have one or two things that they’re good at, and slightly different things could belong in the same or another faction. In this sense…

(2) Factions actually don’t matter that much. A big portion of the cards are generic, while factioned cards are more of a rarity and are really good at what they’re suposed to do. Even if you have a lot of generic cards, they’re ‘spiced up’ by…

(3) Customization allow cards to be the same but still unique. Customization is one of the biggest selling opints of Encephalon, in the sense that you can actually ‘slot in’ and ‘take out’ stats and abilities from a card and put it in another. It’s like how you don’t pick out and eat the corn bits first. (Excuse me if you do)

In short, we’re not trying to make how deep a faction can go, but rather how far can we expand this game. I wouldn’t say the salad bowl is flawless (In fact I could point out a couple of flaws right now, but I’ll leave the homework to our competitors), but we just want to try out something new. We’re aiming for seven factions now, but of course, we could always get a bigger salad bar.

Related linkses:


January 17, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Trading Card Game | 5 Comments

Life of a Pawn II – Encephalon v2.1

A few weeks back, Hatchlings Games Lead Game Designer no-wing posted an article, Life of a Pawn. The popular article was a by-product of a certain discussion by our game design team. We were trying to resolve certain issues with Encephalon’s gameplay mechanics.

Granted, no game developer has infuse elements of trading card into a board successfully yet.  And granted that Michael Ooi, Lead Game Designer of an older Malaysia-based game development studio, John Galt Games did highlight to us an old but defunct trading card / board game called Guardian was fairly successful during its time. At one point, we switched our approach to the design of Encephalon from a trading card game perspective to a board game perspective. We analyzed Chess; one of the key features of Chess was the role of the Pawn.

Our latest changes to the game design (let’s call it Encephalon v2.1) have turned a Creature Card‘s life to one that resembles the Chess pawn. Let’s recall that Encephalon is a game with upgradable, customizable, tradable cards on a Chess-like BOARD. Note that Creature Cards in Encephalon < 2.0 could move x amount of squares, in any direction, every turn.

In Encephalon v2.1, a Creature Card by default cannot move more than 1 square. Unlike the Chess Pawn which can only moving forward, the basic Encephalon Creature can move backwards and also left and right along the board ranks. Also unlike the Chess Pawn, you cannot get promoted if you get to the other side of the board. Note that in an older version of design, way back when Encephalon was called by the codename BattleChess, Creatures Cards at the opposite end of the board can use action points to “attack the opponent”. The attack reduces the opponent’s life & resource, which was a shared resource.

Let’s come back to Creature Cards in Encephalon v2.1, where they only move 1 square. Game mechanics design decisions are mostly made to solve design problems (i.e. too much noise, dominating strategy, etc). And the reason we adopted this mechanics was to balance and to control the mobility factor of cards.

There was a major problem that Iris and I noticed during playtesting where mobility was a dominating strategy for a player. At one point using mobile creatures to control territory could be a one of the strategy for players. Mobility control & balancing became a major problem after we changed a subtle but game-changing battle mechanics that improved both the player’s tactical and strategic choices. No-wing or I could write about that change if there are enough requests for it through comments.

Now that most Creature Cards can only move one square, we found a REAL use for the next type of card – the Field Cards (i.e. terrain cards which modifies the board grid that they are placed on). Players can now play multiple Field Cards to form shapes (e.g. Tetris shapes). Each Field Card has a list of shapes which if formed accordingly will activate a certain stated ability. Each individual Field Card in a particular associated shape will grant Creature Cards on them a corresponding ability. Note that for Encephalon v2.1 Field Cards are not modifiable.

A major ability of the Field Card is Creature Card Launching. This is similar to the Chess Pawn’s first move; In Chess, the Pawn can move two squares during its first move. With good emergent gameplay rules for the deployment of Field Cards (which we believed we have), players who wishes to deploy mobility strategy can plan for it. Since the player has to plan for it, positional control using and giving mobility control becomes a concrete and deployable strategy. This feature allows emergent gameplay where players pit their deployment planning skills against each other.

The interaction and synergy between the Creature and Field cards due to the changes made in Encephalon v2.1 fixes many “noise” problems found in Encephalon < 2.0.

Related Links:

January 17, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Trading Card Game | 6 Comments