Monday, December 19, 2011

New Version

Santa’s little computer programming elves have been furiously coding in order to bring you new cards for the Christmas season. (Back to real life.) Forge’s development team, which has been called the “A-Team of programming” and the “Java Giants”, has been energetically coding new cards and features. There are 400 new cards for a total of 9,745 cards, making Forge the “best videogame ever created”. (Soon to be copyrighted phrase by Forge’s crack team of invisible lawyers.)

Some of the new cards include:

Aerial Caravan (4UU, 4/3 creature, flying) has "1UU: Exile the top card of your library. Until end of turn, you may play that card" which is awesome because you can play any card for only 1UU. Combine this with Sensei’s Diving Top for complete insanity.

Autochthon Wurn (10GGGWW, 9/14, trample) - Has convoke so you tap creatures to reduce the mana cost. Other convoke cards include Conclave Equenaut (4WW, 3/3, flying) and Conclave Phalanx (4W, 2/4).

Instants can also have convoke like Devouring Greed (1WW, "Exile target attacking or blocking creature").

Basandra, Battle Seraph (3RW, 4/4, flying) has "Players can't cast spell during combat" as well as "R: Target creature attacks this turn if able". Both abilities combine to completely dominate the game. If you can get this card on the board, you have a good change of winning the game.

Cease-Fire (2W, instant) says “Target player can't cast creature spells this turn. Draw a card". This card (almost) makes your opponent skip a turn AND replaces itself. Cease-Fire is very good in constructed and awesome in sealed or draft.

Please note that you need to play Cease-Fire BEFORE your opponent’s main 1 phase. If the computer has already cast a creature and it is on the stack, you are too late.

Damping Matrix (3, artifact) turns off all activated abilities, which is awesome. This one card can completely change the flow of the game.

Engineered Explosives (X, artifact) has "sunburst" which means "This enters the battlefield with a charge counter on it for each color of mana spent to cast it."

Engineered Explosives lets you destroy all non-land permanents that have a converted mana cost equal to the number of (sunbursted) charge counters. This card is roughly a targeted Final Judgement. Any card that lets you destroy multiple creatures is a game-winner. Engineered Explosives combines well with cards like Birds of Paradise, which can produce any color of mana.

I presume most everybody knows this but let me mention it anyways. If you have green mana Engineered Explosives will destroy all cards that have a converted cost of 1, which means if the card cost was 1 or W or B or U or R or G, the card would be destroyed. If you have green and blue mana Engineered Explosives will destroy any card with a converted cost of 2, such as 1G, 1U, BB, or RG.

Goblin Cannon (4, artifact) says "2: Goblin Cannon deals 1 damage to target creature or player. Sacrifice Goblin Cannon". This card makes me laugh. A beginner will pay 2 and deal 1 damage. An advanced player will wait and spend 6 to deal 3 damage.

The reason that you can use this ability multiple times is because Goblin Cannon is destroyed when the ability resolves, i.e. is pushed off of the stack. If Goblin Cannon said “2, sacrifice Goblin Cannon: etc…” then you could only use the ability once because the ability’s cost forces you to sacrifice the card. Before the colon is a cost. After the colon is an effect.

And I’m pretty sure that the computer will only pay 2 and use Goblin Cannon once.

Pro-Tour Wannabe,



(11-25 is when this version of Forge was first posted to the forums.)

Link - Forge 11-25 (Windows, Linux) 31 MB and can be
          unzipped with Winzip or 7-Zip (free, open source)

Link - Forge 11-25  (Mac) 32 MB and can be unzipped with Keka

Download - Card Pictures (160 MB) - These are some of the low-quality (LQ) card pictures. 

Java - Forge requires Java in order to run

If you have any questions/comments, please post them to the forum.

Contains lots of goodies such as:
Installation and Updating to a newer version Instructions
Advanced Updating to a newer version Instructions
The Mac OS application version info
Picture location info
Launching Forge and Memory Issues
Java 7 Issues
Card Picture Issues

Reporting Bugs:
Forge is always a work-in-progress. Some cards (and card interactions) are more buggy than others. To report a bug, please follow the instructions here.

New Features:
When a spell or an ability appears on the stack and it says "(OPTIONAL)" you can right-click it to decide if you want to always accept or to decline it.

The JuzamJedi cube has been updated with a newer list of cards.

These are the people that help make Forge awesome. They donate their time to: slog (read) through somebody else’s code, fix tiny details, stress out and go prematurely bald so we can have such a great piece of software. I (and everyone that uses Forge) sincerely thank you.

Chris H
Friar Sol
Jeff Wadsworth
Max mtg
Rob Cashwalker

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wizards of the Coast - Lay-offs

You want to work at Wizards of the Coast right? The place were Dungeons and Dragons is right around the door and is home to best TCG ever created. Even the venerable, Pro Tour commentator Randy Buehler was laid off, ouch!

I have a hard time understanding how Wizards isn't rolling in money because Magic Online seems like such a huge success.

Here is a link to those laid off.

Dork Tower, a free online comic, is great!

Rich Baker has posted his farewell on WotC's forums.
Today, Wizards of the Coast eliminated my position. I have unfortunately been let go, after more than 20 years of employment with TSR/WotC.

I still hope to write for the Forgotten Realms novel line as time and opportunity permit. In fact, I'm going to go home tonight and finish my second draft of Prince of Ravens. There may be some more opportunities down the road.

D&D fans... thanks for a great run. I hope I've given you some good gaming over the years. Your game is in good hands with Mike and Monte.

For fans of the A&A minis games, I would like to say that this does not signal the cancellation of any miniatures lines. I hope I can take on some of the design work on a freelance basis, but we'll have to see.

Time to splice the main brace, as they say. Good gaming, all!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Accidental Creation of Forge

In many ways Forge was a happy accident. I was bored and looking for something “interesting” to code. People can go there whole lives without programming something “interesting” and most code is as interesting as a phone book.

Magic: The Gathering had a number of hard problems, such as how to code many different types of cards. Obviously the more card text meant that the card would be tougher to program. Some of the thorny problems were, “How to encode a Magic card into Java?” and “How you do allow a card to override almost any rule?”

Forge uses two mechanisms for the card code. Readable “scripting” and Java code, which is much longer but infinitely flexible. The scripting is very useful that it probably accounts for 90% of all of the cards in Forge. The scripting has also become more complicated, which is a good thing, because it can be used to add more cards.

Forge allowed me to witness the trials of a “real program”. Once a program is over 10,000 lines of code, then you start to see all of these tiny problems that you may or may not be able to fix. A “real program” is like a concrete building which is set in stone. Although buildings can be moved and overhauled, they take an enormous amount of effort. (When I began writing Forge I purposefully ignored “protection” because it was too complicated. I was amazed when Dennis changed hundreds of lines of code just to get protection working.)

The graphic user interface (gui) is also a hard problem, with no clear solution. There is a ton of information that the player would like to have at his fingertips and the screen quickly become full. I took my stab at Forge’s gui design and it was functional but sparse. More and more gui details have been added, such as attacking and defending icons, which makes the game easier to play.

The gui continues to evolve. Here is a beautiful screenshot to wet your whistle. (Please note that this gui is not currently available and is a work-in-progress.)

Devoted Magic Player,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Forge Sharpens Your Skills

One of my goals of Forge was to sharpen people's Magic skills even though the AI would be a little dumb. My idea was that people would use a wide variety of cards and could play more games.

Having actual experience with a wide variety of cards is essential to becoming a good Magic player. Rarely will one card be better than another in all circumstances. Comparing Terror and Assassinate will make a good example.

The question is, "Which card is more valuable?" Obviously Terror costs 1 less and is an instant, making it very valuable. Assassinate can kill any creature if it is tapped, which usually means that the creature gets in one good swing before you can kill it. In general I would take Assassinate over Terror because Assassinate can kill black creatures but it would really depend on the type of deck or format. (Forge doesn't really use the concept of formats like Modern or Legacy.)

Obviously the best way to get better at Magic is to just play the game. It doesn't matter if your opponent is the reigning world champion (Jun'ya Iyanaga) or a random friend. Just playing the game will help you know when you should attack and if you are winning or losing.

(A quick side note, if you are winning you should be willing to trade creatures when you attack but not when you block because you want to the game to end sooner rather than later. If you are losing, you want the game to last longer because you are hoping that you can draw a powerful card to change your situation. When you are losing you should trade creatures very carefully.

Trading creatures means that both creatures die.)

In Forge, the AI attacks often to put pressure on you. The AI may even lose because he attacks too much but sometimes the AI is correct. Since the AI tries to be aggressive, it will occasionally startle you and make you sweat, which means that it is a good game.

Hopefully Forge has made you a better Magic player :+)

Question of the Week:
Has Forge sharpened you Magic skills?

Just a guy,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sealed and Drafting the Forge Way

(This card is an Innistrad token picture which is pretty cool for just a token.)

Forge’s quest mode is fully realized and fleshed out, while the sealed and drafting modes are bare bones. Obviously Forge’s sealed and drafting modes don’t have questing “levels” and it is easy to win against the computer.

Unfortunately the drafting mode is very easy. While the AI does create his deck from the cards that he picks, the decks are mediocre at best. The AI could draft much better if the card set was much smaller. Trying to give 9,000+ cards a power rating, such as A or C, is much harder than only giving 350 cards a rating. Forge does allow the user to create a custom set to draft from but it is complicated.

I do not know how to make the AI better at sealed deck. Basically you are trying to create a deck that is “good” with a semi-random collection of cards. The deck should have a basic mana curve with mostly creatures, some removal is possible, and a few creatures/spells that are good finishers: either creatures with evasion or spells that cause direct damage. While I understand the basics of deck building, I don’t know how to specifically program the AI to build better decks.

Programming a better drafting AI seems impossible because you need to create a specific formula for the computer to follow. Human intuition is trained through observation but computer programming is accomplished through logical steps, if this is true then do that. Programming is like following a recipe with mathematical precision, there is no “flavor to taste”.

Basically the computer is an idiot and computer programming makes the idiot appear smarter than he really is. (If you have ever seen an unintelligible error message, you will quickly realize how dumb the computer really is.)

From the very beginning, I knew that Forge’s drafting and sealed mode would not feel like real life but it would it be an approximation. When you draft in Forge you still have to watch your mana curve, choose good creatures, splash for big spells, and stay in your colors, all of the things that you have to do when you draft in real life. I’ve never drafted or played sealed deck in real life, so for me Forge is as close as it gets. (I’m guessing that most people have haven’t drafted or played sealed deck in real life but who knows.)

Question of the week:
Have you played draft or sealed deck in real life?

Currently not programming but has thoughts
of programming again some day…

--Part of this blog is just me hammering the fact that programming is very hard. Programmers understand this but many other people do not. Think of Java code as concrete. Concrete cannot be randomly thrown around and neither can code.

--Artificial intelligence is just an illusion, like a magic trick. The illusion can be strong but it doesn’t mean that it is true. I have no fear of computers learning to think and becoming sentient. (Despite many movies to the contrary.)

Someone once asked, “Can a computer think?”

He replied, “Does a submarine swim?”

(Stolen from here.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Forum Is Currently Not Working

Currently Forge's forum is not working as well I hope the problem is only temporary because the forums have been very useful. Please post any relevant information.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Is The Quest Mode So Much Fun?

The quest mode is my favorite part of Forge. There is something intoxicating about starting with a random selection of cards and transforming your deck into a Magic killing machine. The computer quest opponents clearly have stronger cards than you do and you might even be envious when you see them play a duel land from Alpha.

The quest mode is fun because it forces you to use a wide variety of cards. Some cards like Shock, which deals 2 damage, are clearly worse than Lightning Bolt which deals 3 damage but when questing, Shock is a very good card. In fact I don't mind paying 2R to get an effect like Shock because it is so powerful.

Strategies like life gain or land destruction are not very powerful in constructed decks but they are viable strategies when questing. Even when the computer occasionally uses life gain or land destruction, it can be very surprising and frustrating.

The quest mode is fun because it can be very challenging and you will lose a few games. Sometimes you lose because you made a mistake but sometimes you lose because the computer just drew the right cards. Recently when questing, I had 2 wins and 6 losses. The computer seemed to be on a lucky streak and I had no chance of winning against two 3/3s with vigilance and double strike (it was a sliver deck). It was ironic because I thought, "I'm losing and I'm really enjoying this." If you can lose and still enjoy the game, then it is a really good game: videogame or otherwise.

The quest mode forces you to learn your deck well. By playing the same deck over and over again you really get a "feel" for the deck. I tend to fall in love with the quest deck that I'm using because I know that I've tuned this deck, one card at a time, and transformed it from wimp to warrior. Every quest deck is unique. I recently played a quest deck where I had one dredge card and it was a game winner against decks that had a lot of removal. I could keep playing the dredge card over and over again.

On paper the quest mode is boring and menu based but in reality it is an addictive add-on that makes Forge infinitely replayable.

Question of the week:
What is your favorite Forge format: constructed, sealed, draft, quest or something else?

Keep on questing,

My quest strategy:
1. Two color deck with 9 lands of each color
2. No more than 5 cards that cost 5 or greater
3. My goal is a creature heavy deck with a few removal spells or combat tricks
4. No (or few) 1/1s because they are so wimpy
5. Try to have 1 or 2 "finishers" that will win the game, either creatures with evasion or spells

I'm not a great deck builder so I usually see which two colors have the most cards and I add all of them. Then I look through the list and remove the really horrible cards that are over-costed or not very useful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Version

New versions of Forge are always a reason to celebrate.  Forge now has a total 9,536 cards which means that it has 200 new cards.  Imagine having to pay for those 200 new cards individually, yikes!

(Sometimes I forget that people still use cardboard to play Magic.  I'm guessing that Magic Online must account for at least 50% of Wizards income since electronic cards don't have to be printed, packaged, and transported to a 3rd party.)

Forge added about 34 flip cards from Innistrad and the older Kamigawa block. I'm just going to show some of the new cards, enjoy! (All the card pictures are from which is like Gatherer, except with bigger, higher-quality scans.)


(11-04 is when this version of Forge was first posted to the forums.)

Link - Forge 11-04 (Windows, Linux) 31 MB and can be
          unzipped with Winzip or 7-Zip (free, open source)

Link - Forge 11-04  (Mac) 32 MB and can be unzipped with Keka

Download - Card Pictures (160 MB) - These are some of the low-quality (LQ) card pictures. 

Java - Forge requires Java in order to run

Link - To the previous post about the new version of Forge that has some installation information

You can move your decks files by copying them from /old forge directory/res/decks/ to your new deck directory.  You can also copy your pictures from /old forge directory/res/pics/ to your picture directory.

If you have any questions/comments, please post them to the forum.

Keep on forging,

Many people helped with this version. A special thank you goes out to them.

Chris H
Friar Sol
Jeff Wadsworth
Rob Cashwalker

Monday, November 7, 2011

Forge: Stable and Unstable Versions?

Innistrad token
I love Forge but that does not mean that it is perfect.  Forge is an ever-growing, mutation.  And as we all know some mutations cause the X-Men and other cause the less interesting superheros like Aquaman or The Tick.  Programmers are free to add (almost) any feature that they want, there are no committees or vetoes.  Everybody is allowed to do (almost) anything, so if Forge seems like a patchwork of different ideas…well…it is.

Ideally there would be a stable version of Forge and an unstable version.  Users who did not want to deal with crashes or buggy cards would download and enjoy the stable version.  People who wanted the bleeding edge, with new cards and features would choose the unstable version.  The stable version would always have fewer features and cards than the unstable, because some issues cannot be easily fixed. 

The biggest downside for having a stable and unstable version of Forge is that is requires more time and effort.  Most of the programmers would probably work on the unstable version and a few programmers would solely work on the stable version.  Both versions would share 95% of the same code.  Features that were fixed for the stable version could be integrated into the unstable version and vice versa.

Although this sounds easy in theory, in practice this would require a different mindset.  Most programmers add new cards, which is relatively easy to do.  Cards are not thoroughly checked for accuracy.  There is no set of tests which a card has to pass.  The stable version would require that each card pass a minimum number of tests that were specifically written for each card.  Obviously adding more tests would mean more code and more time.

A couple of years ago I did create very hackish, duck taped patch for Forge that removed a list of buggy cards.  (The cards were replaced with a generic creature card that cost 2 and created a 2/2 creature.)  The card names were kept in a require text file which anybody could update.  While this did not remove the buggy features from Forge, it did remove the buggy cards, which was an improvement.

All in all, Forge is becoming less buggy.  I applaud the efforts of everybody who has helped make Forge the great, fun, fantastic, original program that it is.


The Tick cartoon was actually pretty good but the live-action TV series with Patrick Warburton smelled pretty bad.  Tick’s battle cry was, “Spoooon!”  Which always made me laugh.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Power Creep and Good TCG Design

Magic: The Gathering is very fun to play but it is hard to dissect the nature of "fun".  One of the key areas that Magic does very well is that it avoids power creep, which is the tendency to create ever more powerful cards thus obsolescing older cards.  Cards from Alpha can easily play against newer sets like Innistrad.  (Obviously some of Magic's older cards are costed much too high and I hate paying more than 3 for a 2/2.)

One way to avoid power creep is to not make cards clearly better.  What I mean is, if a cards does X, avoid creating cards that do X plus something more.  Try to create cards that are similar to X but also have an ability that is sometimes better and sometimes worse depending on the situation.  Make the player struggle (in a good way) to figure out what is the card's overall power level and in what situations is it inferior and superior to previous cards.

Minimizing power creep also keeps vintage formats healthy.  Vintage players would hate to buy card X only to find out card Y is noticeably better.  As long as you give cards the right amount of variation, it keeps the format "healthy" with a diverse assortment of winning decks.

Obviously using Forge is a great way to see a wide selection of Magic's 14,000 cards.  (Some of you may have 8,000+ different cards in your collection but most of us don't.)  Magic: The Gathering is the result of relentless playtesting and the active avoidance of power creep.  I remember reading that only 10% of all cards that Wizards creates during development are actually printed, which means that we, the public, only see the top 10% cream of the crop.  Often you can't create the best cards without creating plenty of bad ones.

While it may seem like Magic "just happens" to minimize power creep, I'm sure that the "powers that be" are always on the lookout for it.  "Because if you aren't looking for it, you'll probably fall in it", which is a random saying that I just made up.

So in closing, power creep bad, Magic good, and if everybody had a million dollars the economy would fix itself.  (I'm joking of course because if everybody had a million, a million wouldn't be worth anything because money is based on the idea of scarcity.  Hugs are not based on scarcity: wtf?!?) 

Alpha Forger,

Forge and other free programs are based on the idea that scarcity doesn't matter and that people will donate free work/time if the project is good enough.  The cool thing is when free projects like Linux and Firefox actually generate real jobs and revenue transforming a "free project" into something that actually boosts the economy. 

On a side note, Forge will never generate money because of licensing issues.  This isn't a slam again Wizards, just a fact of life.  Wizards owns Magic and no one else can use their IP (intellectual property) without their permission, just like your fan-made script of "Star Wars 3.5: The Death of Jar-Jar Binks" is never going to get made because George Lucas won't authorize it.  

 I've never seen the unauthorized edit of Star Wars which is colorfully called the phantom edit which minimizes the Jar-Jar problem since less Jar-Jar is always a good thing.  At least Lucas didn't make Jar-Jar a Jedi, "Me-sa going-to wield-a lightsaber-sa?

Next time I'll discuss how Mark Rosewater uses Hitler's still-living brain to generate new cards and to warp the space-time continuum so that Roseanne is always stays on the air.  (Either you do get the joke or you do not.  There is no try.)

....and I'll stop there, which also happens to be my craziest rant.
(so far)

[End Transmission]

"Power creep" reminds me of the song "Creep" from Rock Band..."But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo..."

[End Transmission: Again, sheesh...does this guy ever shut up?]

It's easy to be random at 4am.


Monday, October 24, 2011

New Version and Updating Instructions

Approximately once a month I proclaim Forge's new cards and features.  Forge now has 9,383 cards which means 200 new cards were added.  Forge has 225 cards from Innistrad and is only missing 50 cards from that set.

Some of the new cards include: Behemoth's Herald (cost: G, creature, 1/1) which lets you put the gigantic Godsire (cost: 4RGGW, 8/8, vigilance) for only 2G if you sacrifice 3 creatures.  (And yes Forge has Godsire.)  White’s mages will relish Charge Across the Araba (cost: 4W, instant) that lets you return any number of plains that you have in order to give your creatures +1/+1 for each plain.  Forge also has two other sweep cards: Barrel Down Sokenzan (cost: 2R, instant) and Sink into Takenuma (cost: 3B, sorcery).

Bronze Bombshell (cost: 4, 4/1) that deals 7 damage to your opponent if you can “give” it to him.  Obviously you will have to think about this challenge and choose your cards carefully.  The Future Sight expansion was very “futuristic” with new keywords like delve which were mentioned on only 1 or 2 cards.  Delve means “You may exile any number of cards from your graveyard as you cast this spell. It costs 1 less to cast for each card exiled this way.”  Forge now has Death Rattle (cost: 5B, instant, delve) which destroys a non-green creature.  Forge also has the only other card with delve, Tombstalker (cost: 6BB, 5/5, flying, delve) which is very impressive.

Provoke is always a fun keyword to use.  Provoke means “When this [creature] attacks, you may have target creature defending player controls untap and block it if able.”  Basically you get to choose which creature blocks your creature.  The new card is Crested Craghorn (cost: 4R, 4/1, haste) which basically kills any X/4 creature.  Forge has 3 other provoking creatures, to find those cards in the deck editor type “provoke” in the “text” field.


Link - Forge 10-17 - (Windows, Linux) 30 MB and can be
unzipped with Winzip or 7-Zip (free, open source)

Link - Forge 10-17  (Mac) 32 MB - Use Keka to uncompress 7z files

Download - Card Pictures (160 MB) - These are some of the low-quality (LQ) card pictures.    

Forum Post - Quest opponent pictures, booster pack pictures, and pet pictures can be downloaded.  Scroll to the bottom of the first post.

Java - Forge requires Java in order to run

If you have any questions/comments, please post them to the forum.

Thanks for reading,

p.s.  Below is valuable additional info that I wasn't sure where to put.  I know that using and upgrading Forge can be complicated so I'm including this info in order to try to be as easy as possible.

How to download the card pictures
To download all of the card pictures, from the New Game screen, click on the menu named "Menu" and select "Download Card LQ Pictures".  LQ stands for low quality.  The "Download Card Set LQ Pictures" downloads each time the card was printed.  For example Shock has been printed in 10 different sets, so Forge would download all 10 pictures.  Forge can use high quality card pictures but you need to ask about them on the forum.

To move your card pictures read "Installation and Updating to a newer version" which is below.

Picture location info
by Chris. H.

The quest opponent icons jpg picture files go into your /res/pics/icons folder. The quest pet icons jpg picture files go into your /res/pics/icons folder. The quest booster package jpg picture files go into your /res/pics/booster folder. The card token jpg picture files go into your /res/pics/tokens folder.

Your forge game may not come with one or more of these three folders as part of the forge archive. In this case you should use your computer's OS file system to create the proper folders with the correct names and they must be located inside of the /res/pics/ folder.

Installation and Updating to a newer version:
by Chris. H.

We have changed the archival format used for the Forge distributions from ".zip" to ".tar.bz2". There are utilities for Windows, Mac OS and the various *nix's that can be used to decompress these ".tar.bz2" archives. We recommend that you decompress the Forge archive into a new and unused folder.

Once the Forge archive has been decompressed you should then be able to launch Forge by using the included launcher. Launching Forge by double clicking on the forge jar file will cause a java heap space error. Forge's memory requirements have increased over time and the launchers increase the java heap space available to Forge.

After downloading and installing a newer version of Forge you may want to move certain files from the older version over to the newer version of Forge. You should maintain your older version of Forge as a back up incase you make a mistake while installing the newer version.

1) The /res/pics/ folder contains the card pictures, token pictures, quest opponent icons, quest pet icons and the booster package images.

2) The /res/decks/ folder contains your deck files. The /res/draft/ and the /res/sealed/ folders contains files for the sealed and draft mode. You should copy over your files inside of these folders that end in the extension ".draft" or ".zsealed".

3) The /res/quest/ folder contains your questdata file. This file includes all of the information for your current quest.

4) The Forge root folder contains a preference file named "forge.preferences" and you should also move a copy of this file over to the newer version.

To make Forge look better (in my opinion):
1. Run Forge
2. Open the menu, which is named "Menu"
3. Select "Display Options"
4. Scroll to the bottom and select "Nimbus"

Many people helped with this version. A special thank you goes out to them.   

(Names listed alphabetically)

Chris H
Friar Sol
Jeff Wadsworth
Max mtg

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quest Mode

Eons ago when the world was young, Forge didn't have a quest mode.  While the 1-on-1 matches, drafting, and sealed deck mode was engaging, people were clamoring for more.  The natural evolution was some sort of quest mode but the details were fuzzy.

The overall discussion about this new "quest mode" had one major focus: a limited cardpool where you would earn more cards.  While this was a good start, I had to still hammer out a few details before I started coding.  In order to show progress I came up with the idea that each "level" would have a different title like "Interested Newbie" up to "World Champion".  While the superficial titles didn't change the gameplay, it did make the quest mode seem more like a videogame.

I tried to be funny and one level was named "Better Than Jon Finkel".  If you continued to play one more game after you quest had ended, your title would read, "Serra Angel is your girlfriend".  This was intended to be a videogame secret but I don't think it surprised anybody.  The girlfriend remark always made be smile when I saw it.

The quest mode allowed players win new cards but the exact details were sketchy.  A few people suggested a full-blown card shop but that would require a separate, new user interface which would entail many more hours.  I took the simple, easy path and players would win a booster pack full of random cards, this giving them cards that they did and didn't need.  (I thought about how to give players only cards that they needed but that seemed complicated so I decided to ignore the issue.)

While the quest mode was very simple, it was very addicting.  At first I thought that quests should be 20 or more matches but through playtesting I learned to enjoy short quests.  Short quests with only 10 matches was the mode that I played the most.  Some people took questing to new lengths and played more than 100 matches.

The quest mode has grown and added many new, exciting features like a card shop as well as other bonuses like buying pet creatures that begin the game in play, as well as being able to buy more life (because you start the game with only 15 but you can have more than 20).  The current quest mode awards more money if you win in under 5 turns and even has special opponents that functions like videogame bosses which can only be played once after certain events. 

Maybe in the future Forge will have XBox badges like "Won the game with 30 life" or "Decked the computer".  Several people have mentioned that they would like a puzzle mode where you have one turn to win the game.  (Years ago the Inquest magazine had a twist, you had to lose the game in 1 turn.)

What features do you think need to be added or removed from the quest mode?

Enjoy questing,

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fast Games and Good Times: The Benefits of a fast and stupid AI

When I started the Forge project I had some major doubts in my mind.
1.  Will the program be usable? 
2.  Will a fast, stupid AI be fun?

Thankfully issue number one isn’t an issue.  Forge is very usable by non-programmers.  I know that Forge isn’t the prettiest piece of eye candy that you have ever seen but I’m very happy with it.  99% of the user interface complaints went away when Forge actually drew the cards in hand and on the battlefield, instead of only displaying the card picture on the right.

Issue number two hasn't been a problem.  Having a simple, fast, stupid AI seems to be a major benefit instead of a weakness.  I can play a Magic game in about 10 minutes which is about 3 times faster than a normal game against another player.  The benefit is that I get to play 3 times the number of games in the same time, which equals 3 times the fun.

Forge minimizes the longest, most boring part of the game: waiting for your opponent.  The gooey goodness of Magic is when I’m thinking about how to beat the computer into submission with some absurd combination of spells and abilities.  Maybe I get to cast a crazy 7UU costed spell or use a nearly worthless card to win the game.  The computer is just smart enough to keep me on my toes by using counter spells and punishing me for any foolish combat decisions.

I also worried that Forge would be dead meat compared to a program with a smarter AI but that didn’t happen.  Magarena was released (for free) and it has a great AI that plays like a real person.  I love playing Magarena because the computer will completely pound you into submission and will never say, “I’m sorry”.  In like manner, it is great fun to win because you can feel the computer working against you.  Magarena is absolutely brilliant but it hasn’t made Forge less fun.  In a way, Magarena has allowed me to see how fun Forge really is and that having a better AI wouldn’t increase its fun factor.  (You can read more about Magarena here and how to download it.)

Forge is absolutely fantastic with a fast, dumb AI.

One of the cheapest Magic players in the world,

Monday, October 3, 2011

Trading Card Game Design and Why is Magic so good?

About 7 years ago I was first introduced to Magic.  Even though I didn’t understand most of the cards, I knew that it was going to be a fun, spellbinding game.  My mind started to race and I thought that all trading card games (TCGs) must be as good as Magic, so I learned a couple of other games and immediately I could tell that the “fun factor” just wasn’t there.  Magic is truly unique.

I’m no TCG expert and I’ve never designed a single card but recently I’ve started looking at a few other TCGs.  One of the goals of a good TCG is to make each faction or color feel different.  Magic somehow makes red cards very “red”.  Red cards feel angry, chaotic, and full of randomness.  Even the name often lets you guess the color of the card.  Making each color feel and play differently is one of Magic’s greatest strengths.

The Marvel/DC VS System had too many factions.  The VS System encouraged players to use one or two factions by restricting group attacks to characters that have the same faction.  The problem was that the VS System introduced too many factions.  Each new set had new factions and the previous factions only received a few cards.  The VS System was great because it let you use all of the great superheroes but eventually it crumbled.

The Spoils provides an interesting twist on Magic’s combat.  In the Spoils you can have many different combat phases because each creature can attack separately.  While this is just a small change, it increases the number of decisions that a player has to make.  (The Spoils only has 4 sets but let’s hope that it doesn’t die.  You can even play it online using OCTGN, which is one of those programs that lets you play online but doesn’t enforce the rules.  You can read more here.)

The Inuyasha TCG also has an interesting combat mechanic.  Each character has up to 3 attack colors, out of a total of 5.  Characters can attack other characters only if the same color exists on both cards.  This makes cards harder to evaluate.  A character might have a green attack of 5 but a blue attack of 1.  With this mechanic card designers would need to be careful to make groups of characters feel similar by using similar attack colors and values otherwise each character would feel independent and random.  For example, maybe “good” characters would  have high blue and green stats while “evil” character have high white stats.  (In Inuyasha good versus evil characters are a major theme and Inuyasha is often depicted as both “good” and “evil”.)

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games turns combat completely upside-down.  Instead of two people playing against each other, both people play cooperatively (co-op) against an “encounter deck” that spits out enemy characters and obstacles.  Recently Fantasy Flight Games bought the Star Wars license and plans to release a co-op Star Wars TCG.  (In a co-op game if one or both of the players beats the encounter deck, both players win.)

The one facet that Magic does better than anyone else is that each set feels different.  Each set has a different world, theme, and conflict but sets are tied together by new mechanics.  Without a coherent theme, a card set could easily become a random collection of cards (which is sometimes how I feel when using Forge).  Making each set interesting is a very hard challenge but Wizards makes it look easy.

A TCG must be “fun” although there are hundreds of aspects to “fun”.  The TCG must feel “fair”, as in both players have a chance to win.  A TCG must allow both players to interact and respond, otherwise you might as well be playing a one-player game.  Good artwork never hurts and good TCGs need to be playtested for hundreds of hours.

Most TCGs burnout after a few years and stop being produced.  Only few TCGs last more than 5 years.  This fact saddens me a little bit but I guess that is how the world works.  In reality most individuals keep up with only 1 or 2 TCGs.  Most people don’t have to time/effort/money to take an interest in more than 2 TCGs.  Even keeping up with one game like Magic is more than enough for most people.

In conclusion, maybe paper TCGs are dead?  On the positive side there are a number of free online TCGs and I’m sure some of them are very good.  Here is a discussion about free online TCGs.  

( is a great resource because it has rules and variations for almost every TCG, card and board game in existence.)

Keep on tapping,

--When I say, “Maybe paper TCGs are dead?” I mean bringing a new paper TCG to market seems impossibly hard compared with a cheaper-to-produce TCG videogame that lets you play against the computer with a couple of hundred cards.   

Offline TCG videogames are my favorite niche and even though they aren’t insanely popular, somebody could still make a handsome profit.  I know of exactly five offline TCG videogames: Forge, Magic’s Duels of the Planeswalkers, Shandalar (old Magic PC program), Marvel Trading Card Videogame, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Trading Card Game for Nintendo DS.

--I tried to understand the Netrunner TCG, which still has a pretty strong following despite being 15 years old, but the rules flowchart scared me to death.  You can read the rules and how to play online here.