Spellwars Screenshots, June 10

June 11, 2009 at 11:09 am (iPhone development, spellwars, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Spellwars development has been banging along, but none so much as the visual development. My designers and artists are just fantastic, though I am always looking for more Spell Artists. If you think you might be interested, please don’t hesitate to contact me (click the contact tab in the top right of the page for direct contact info).

I thought I’d give an update and include some screenshots, showing off some of the more recent work.

I hope you like what you see. There is so much more to come, I can’t wait to get this out to everyone who is waiting and wanting to play.


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Enjoyable vs Competitive Gaming

March 6, 2009 at 7:17 pm (iPhone development) (, , , , , , )

After having just spent a couple hours reads through various game theory web sites and blogs, and almost all of sirlin.net, I’m feeling inspired to write about my approach to developing Spellwars. I want to communicate what kind of gaming experience I am aiming to create, and I’ll start by discussing what the possibilities are.

Types of Gaming

From a certain point of view, one that I happen to share, all gaming (and in particular, all multi-player gaming) can be divided into two categories: enjoyable gaming, and competitive gaming.

Let me clarify a couple things about this statement right off that bat. First, the statement describes the act of playing a game, not the game itself. Certain games naturally lend themselves well to one category or the other, some games easily cover both…and of course quite a lot of games are neither. A few examples of games that are typically played for enjoyment might be World of Warcraft, Diablo II, and any of the myriad of the iPhone mafia games. Yes, there is a degree of PvP competition in all these games, but the driving force of the player engagement and experience is not primarily one of strategic competitiveness.

Second, I am not stating that the two are mutually exclusive. The same game might be played both competitively and for enjoyment, even by the same person at the exact same time, but typically a game is played much differently when it is played competitively than when played primarily for fun.

Types of Games

To explain, lets flip the lens, and look at the games, not the playing.

Consider, for example, Magic:The Gathering…which has an extremely strong following of both casual players, and competitive players. A competitive match is so fundamentally different than a casual, fun game of Magic that the two experiences barely resemble each other. But, it is important that the game supports both types of playing, and does so very well. A competitive game is not necessarily any better or worse than a casual game. The game of Magic can be enjoyed in both capacities, they are just different types of experiences.

On the other hand, there are a certain group of games are pretty much meaningless if not played competitively. Consider for example, Texas Hold’em poker. If you aren’t playing for money, even if it’s fake, there is really nothing interesting at all about playing. The entire draw of the game is all in the competition, the reading other players, calculating the relative values of cards, and the probabilities of outcomes. Chess and Go are two other games, that while they can be played “for fun,” they loose their essential quality and meaning when done so. For the sake of easy reference, I will call this type of game a “pure competitive game.”

The last group, included just for the sake of completeness, are those games that really don’t lend themselves well to any sort of meaningful competitive playing. Some games are just not designed to be played competitively (consider the bulk of World of Warcraft outside of the minimal PvP aspect), but the fact is that most multi-player games do aspire to competitive play. That’s usually the point of making the game multi-player.

Typically, the single major feature that any game in this category lacks is balance. A balanced game is what allows for two players to engage in a competitive battle that is fun and interesting for both sides. When one side is too powerful, there is no competition, there is just domination. It turns out, for those of you not actively engaged in game theory or game design, that creating a well balanced game is incredibly difficult. Add the other real world game requirements, that a game also be fun and engaging, and it’s not too hard to see why most games fall short.

Now, I am no game theory purist. I am interested in creating a game that is, at it’s core, an enjoyable experience. I do happen to believe however, that a well balanced game that can be played competitively adds an element of depth that provides a level of fun and enjoyment that can not be attained by games which ignore the element of balance. I believe that games which support both a casual, fun experience, as well as a deep, balanced, competitive experience offer the best of both worlds, and are the very best type of game.

And that is exactly what I am gunning for with Spellwars.

I do not want to create a pure competitive game, of the type where the game is only competitive, and not fun for the game itself. These pure competitive games tend to actually be played out as merely meta-games, without much of an interesting game left when you are done meta-gaming.

What the hell do I mean by that?

Consider what playing pure competitive games at the highest level actually consists of. I’ve done this with M:TG, and I’ve spent enough time researching game theory and AI that I know the same applies to Go, Chess, and yes even competitive RoShamBo. Basically, the actual mechanics of playing the game become secondary to analyzing the meta-game, that is studying the competitive strategies that other players might possibly use, and then constructing your strategy, be it your deck, your chess opening, or your programmed AI, based on your analysis of the competitive landscape. The actual playing out of the game, once it comes time to play a match, becomes a distant second to the work put in at the meta-gaming level.

For the RoShamBo example, the game itself is so trivial and boring that no one actually plays it. But is it a game that is played competitively? Apparently so. And can you actually apply strategy to it? Yep, you can. Check out this program, Iocaine Powder, which slaughtered the competition in that initial RoShamBo competition. Coming across this really drove home two main points to me:

1. Competitive gaming has nothing to do with gaming, it is all about meta-gaming
2. I want Spellwars to be a fun game, as well as a fun competitive game (i.e. meta-game). But primarily, I want it to be fun to play.

I’m here to create a game, and if it results in an interesting meta-game, hot damn. I am paying very specific attention to the game design to make sure it is balanced and has the ability to support competitive play. I want to encourage people to collect spells and construct spellbooks that can win them a tournament (yes I plan to run tournaments). But I think it’s more important, first and foremost, that the game be engaging and fun on its own.

To me, this means that I will put effort and resources into developing the parts of the game that have nothing to do with the competitive part of the game. These are areas like creating beautiful art, developing storylines and characters, creating rare and limited editions of spells, making strong and powerful items and spells that are fun to find and use. (I personally feel that enabling personal expression through the game is the most important feature for Spellwars, but more on that in a future post.)

So in summary, today I learned that I want to create a game that allows for competitive play, but not at the cost of enjoyable play.

I’d love to hear what you think, these are the types of topics that can drive game designers crazy. For me, it’s what inspires me to keep going…to make that game, the one that does it all better than any other game has done it before. And for the iPhone, right now there’s no competition to speak of. I want to set the standard.


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First Screenshots of project “Spellwars”

February 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm (iPhone development, spellwars) (, , , )

That’s right, I’ve got some pretty pictures. They’re actually not all that pretty, graphic designer I am not, but they get the point across. I am hoping to generate some interest in the community out there (that means you), if the project looks interesting to you drop me a line: I’m looking for people to work with me.

So lets get to the game. A basic description of what I have right now, is a simple 2-player spell combat game. The game resolves on a board, not unlike battleship, on which players take turns playing spells from their hand, not unlike Magic: The Gathering. A battle starts off looking like this:

Getting ready to start a duel

Seriously, do forgive the lack of design. Anyway, once you tap start, combat begins and you are presented with the spells in your hand, and you then choose one to play:

Choosing a Spell

After you choose your spell, it is placed in the middle of the board. You can then drag your spells around anywhere on the board, before you decide to continue. Once you’ve placed your spells where you want them, tap Turn, and the combat engine will resolve the turn.

Turn 2

It should be noted, the goal of a battle is to reduced your opponent’s HP to 0, by dealing damage through your spells. Each player starts with a certain number of HP, based on other things in the game that have yet to be fully implemented, so for today we’ll say both players get, oh, 50 HP. Sounds good.

Spells interact based on their location on the board, and their area of effect, visualized by the colored circle around the icon. Some spells have a large area, some are smaller…the value of each is different, depending on what your are trying to accomplish with a given spell. Typically a spell will be either serving in attack, defense, or support…potentially all of the above.

Each turn, the spells on the board resolve on a stack, with individual spell speed determining the order of spell resolution. There is no “your turn” or “other person’s turn,” it all happens at once. If 2 spells overlap, the active spell does damage to the “defending” spell, if the spell’s defense is reduced to 0 it is destroyed.

Resolved Combat

Spells in your hand are pulled from your active set, currently called a Book. Think of the deck concept in any CCG, same thing. Each turn, you draw a single spell. Each turn, you can play a single spell. Combat continues until one person runs out of HP. I am tailoring the gameplay so a single game can be played in no more than a minute, probably something like 30 seconds for a single duel vs the CPU. I figure that is about the amount of attention span most iPhone users have, most of the time. The app starts up in about 2 seconds, so you can easily play a game or 3 while waiting in line at starbucks.

Where do the spells come from? Basically, the rest of the game. Which is really the bulk of the game. I’m working on that part next. I envision a multiplayer world, somewhat like lootwars, but with unique places to visit and custom challenges…my version of instanced dungeons vis-a-vis World of Warcraft or Diablo II. My vision is that a big part of the fun of the game is in hunting down and finding rare and unique spells to build up your collection, and to have fun and powerful spells to duel with. You can bet there will be hard to find spells, spell sets, spell combines, limited editions, etc. I know that balancing the supply of items in an economy like this becomes of paramount importance, it’s at the top of my list for things to design very, very carefully. Digital economy, here I come.

On Motivations and Background

I started this project because I found a real void in the iPhone game world of solid multi-player games with deep, compelling game mechanics. Lootwars is by far the most well-designed MMO-ish game I’ve played, but it leaves me feeling so un-fulfilled, wanting so much more. I’ve been gaming for 20 years, and what first pulled my interest was the Rolemaster/MERP games in the mid 80s. Those games had such deep game mechanics that I almost never was able to get past just working through all the tables and numbers…and I loved it! The few game sessions we had as kids were fun, and I knew that one day a computer game implementation of something like that could make for an incredibly compelling engagement. I’m starting to feel the tips of that now.

Later, in the mid 90s, I again got sucked into a simlar game with similarly deep mechanics, Magic: The Gathering. From playing in small towns, to bigger tournaments with large prizes, to the million dollar Pro Tour, I spent enough time playing Magic to gain a real deep respect for the engagement power of a delicately balanced game. The guys at WotC work very hard to make sure Magic stays fun and balanced, even with the influx of hundreds of cards and dozens of new game mechanics a year.

These are what inspire me, and what drive me to create this game. The iPhone deserves it’s own game for gamers, by gamers. I want to make something that is appealing to a broad base of people, there’s no sense in catering solely to hardcore players, but that also has a deep set of interactions and fun things to do, that you can spend as much or as little time as you want, and still find more of the game to explore. I know it’s not easy, but I’m up for the challenge. And I’m looking for others who are like-minded. I can’t do this alone, it’ll take both partners and a supportive community. If you want to play a part, you know where to find me.


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