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.