Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Hey all, welcome to my first dev post! I plan to update this with my current game development news, trials & tribulations, and lessons learned. It'll serve as both an avenue to communicate with people interested with where I’m at things on my projects (currently a cross-platform CCG) and a way for me to chronicle my progression so I can watch my growth in a living document and others can learn from my mistakes. I plan on three categories of posts: game content, game design, and coding. The content will focus on changes in story or game features that have been going on in whatever my current project is, the game design will focus more on the “why” side of content and the reasoning I have for choosing some of the directions I have, and coding will focus on some more of the technical challenges I had to overcome and how I accomplished them.

A bit about me: I'm a 24 year-old graduated chemical engineer living and working in PA and creating a game called Praxis in my free time. I've been designing games since I was about 10, back in a program called The Games Factor and later it’s big brother MMF/MMF2. All of those titles I’ve published can be found on http://www.acoders.com under my (very old and embarrassing) pseudoname t0nAd0. I’ve also done a whole lot of crazy spreadsheets for various games requiring optimization which can be found on my box account, here’s one for a city building maximize profits type thing. In recent years I've entered a few small code competition which I've placed 2nd and like 4th, and working on going from a very advanced beginner programmer to an intermediate programmer. Praxis is really my first ‘professional’ project, so let’s start there:

I started working on this game back in August 2011. I wanted to play a mobile CCG, and (at the time) the only quality game in the market was Shadow Era with some level of strategic depth. To me, Shadow Era had a number of glaring flaws and was really a computer game ported to phones. So I started digging up what exactly would make a good mobile CCG. The basic ideas I had were simple:

1. Quick games – if you have a mobile card game, you don’t have 20 minutes for a game. You have 5-10 minutes while waiting for the bus or waiting for a friend to call you back
2. Strategic Depth – most games sacrifice this level of complexity for quick games, but I don’t think they’re necessarily linked
3. Unneeded Imput – I found in Shadow Era, my turn was options for the turn were often quite pre-decided, or could be figured out very quickly. However I spent a lot of time showing my attacks, playing cards and waiting for resolution, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if everything that was a ‘no brainer’ was almost automated?

It was also nice because design-wise, a lot of it was “offline” design. A 3D adventure game requires knowledge of lightning, sound, modeling, polycount optimization, camera controls ,etc. A lot of the work on a card game goes into the design which is more of a mental exercise than a display of knowledge – making it a great first project.

So I prototyped an idea with a friend, and just to show where things started, this is a copy & paste from the VERY first email I sent out:

“Critera for Succss:
-Average 5-15 Minute Games with ability for "quick" turns. People don't want to sit around on their phone for hours. Unless stuck in deep strategy, turns shouldn't take more than a few seconds.
-Optimized for mobile. Needs to feel natural to play on a mobile device, something Shadow Era didn't accomplish.
-Easy to pick up -- no overly complicated rules that someone couldn't figure out after playing a game or two. Things can get more complicated over time but the core of the game is easy. This is largely due to the fact it'll be a free game on the market, if you can't rope someone in 5 minutes you're fighting an uphill battle. Dominion is fairly easy to learn hard to master. Argricola is too complicated to pull in new users.
-A dynamic/major mechanic that wouldn't work/is too tedious to see in a normal CCG. Something to set us apart from your normal CCG's, things like cards that evolve or persistant damage or tons of timers or anything that will add a level of depth without a level of complication.
-Emphasis on deck. There should be skill involved in the actual playing (something I don't like about war metal tyrant), but I want to see people connect with their deck. Magic does this with colors, WoW does it with classes/faction, EDH does it with general. Just something so you are proud of what you made and can talk with like-minded players about it. Especially a loop for new players ("Check out my goblin deck!" "My white black deck is awesome!").
-Variation in decks. I don't neccessarily want to see all cards on the same playing field of effectiveness (Kongai did this, and really all it resulted in was a perceptual lack of progression. What's the point of extra cards if mine are as powerful as they get? VS. did this too I think and it was what helped stifle their profits). I just want to avoid linear decks ("Well if you play general A, this is definitely the best build"). If a 'meta' exists there should be a counter to it, and I think that's what largely lacking in Shadow Era atm (It may just be because of their card pool size [author’s edit: it was, the game is quite robust now]). It doesn't need to be an overly complicated differentiation, as most people won't focus days on their builds, but it gives people something to think about while not playing, causing them to play again.

That said my few ideas;

In terms of computer-only mechanics here's stuff I've been spitballing
-Cards that 'evolve' through some means (upgrade cards, leveling up, merging together, creating armies, degrading over time) [author’s note: this was before SolForge was announced]
-Persistent damage (if I deal you 1 damage, it lasts until you die/are healed)
-Procedural board state (resource dealing from catan, cards shifting in war metal tyrant, lots of damage calculations with every monster you play attacking)
-Ability to change cards in game
-Resource management (automatic adding of resources in agricola)”

So that’s where it started. The first prototype was a 5 lane board with automatic attacks and simultaneous turns, and both players had a building row that could be upgraded. Each building could produce either War or Economy. War was used to play units (creatures) and tactics (spells), Economy was used to upgrade buildings. You won either by destroying their buildings or by fully upgrading your buildings. I spent a few months to even get this prototype up and running, learning a real scripting language (actually I started in unityscript, I’m not sure why) and working in Unity. And it was an utter failure. Essentially if you lost an Economy building first, you were behind in the rat race and you’d be outpaced. It wasn’t a quick loss, but unless you retaliated in the next turn or two there was no coming back. But you didn’t lose yet, you just knew there was no chance to win. We coined the term ‘no hope’ for this. And with that we created a new goal:

“If you reach ‘no hope’, you MUST lose quickly”.

And I realized this was one of the (initial, not anymore) problems with Shadow Era that bugged me: board control was so hard to gain back if you lost it, and without board control you’d lose. By turn 5 or 6, you’d know who the winner was going to be with 90% accuracy, but you wouldn’t end the game until turn 10 as the opponent dinged at your life total. Games are fun first and foremost, and there was nothing fun about this. A good CCG has the ‘push and pull’ where you’re neck and neck throughout the game, and that is crucial to a CCG that you can quit a game just by pressing the home button and going on with your day. It needs to be fun to lose, at least as much fun as you can make it.

There were a few more issues with our design: every effect that triggered when on the “play stack” which was wasn’t resolved until everything else for the turn was resolved. So if a unit had the effect “whenever an enemy unit enters play, deal 1 damage to it”, and you had 3 card plays for the turn, all three would be resolved before the damage effects would start going off. It was clunky and produced some interesting but mostly counter-intuitive effects. There was also an issue with a lack of defensive plays – offense was always the best defense, because there was no good way to stabilize in an “automatic attack” system. We could never have a birds of paradise in our game, because it would always be attacked unlike in MTG. And our story was weird and it was just ‘missing’ something.

Interestingly enough, my final version of my game before I had put a pause on it (college was over!) has VERY much like the new Heroes of Might & Magic CCG, minus the status cards to affect any row/lane, with two rows of units and flyers and everything. So awesome they were able to pull that idea together when I never quite could.

Since then, I played a game called Kingdoms CCG for about a year, where I met a lot of great people who I was able to bounce ideas off of, and the awesome developers there gave me some insight into the business and how to approach things in a good manner. A lot of you reading this probably came from there originally, so a huge thanks for displaying some interest in what I’m up to.

Next post I’ll highlight where the game is now gameplay wise, and maybe in the future we can talk about the story.


  1. I don't know if you've found it yet, but there's this:


    I post that chapter specifically because so many of your goals seem to be about what this calls "uninteresting decisions". To me, a significant requirement for automation (where bookkeeping is not involved) indicates that there are too many "obvious" decisions in the game. As you note, a large number of CCGs have this issue, and usually this means that the meaningful decisions are made during deck building, when the objective is to make the "obvious" decisions that you will encounter during gameplay more statistically likely to be good ones.

    I'm looking forward to having something playable. Avoiding a CCG replete with obvious decisions during play is something I'm very interested in seeing.

  2. Wow this blog is fantastic! Bookmarked and it'll be my new lunch reading material! I've actually been going through:


    On my lunch breaks, but it feels very... 'self help' feel good kinda style. I was looking for something a bit more objective. Still going to finish it (about 200 pages in) but this will be nice break.

    With each CCG that comes out I see a lot of the things I've thought about being added, but no one's quite... nailed it yet. I think there's a lot of potential here (which I'm gonna do a post on later) to shake things up -- maybe not at the AAA level, but definitely at the indie level.

    And you know you'll be one of my first people giving me criticism when it's in alpha! In all honesty I'd love for everyone to tear it up that it's a whole new game by the time it gets to beta. I'm not afraid of progress and trying things and I think that's one of this project's strengths.