I’ve talked before about why we add new features to Combat Cards, but thought it would be interesting to look at how we do it. As a designer, I won’t be covering the technical side of coding the feature, creating the art assets, etc. – just talking about the design process which says ‘the new thing will work like this, but not like that’.
I guess this process may be the same for any creative industry, but I can only discuss how we (or rather, I) do it in videogame creation, and rather than talking about it as an abstract concept, I thought we could look at a specific upcoming feature.
One of the tasks on our list of features to add to the game is to allow players to flip cards over and get more information from the card’s back.
So let’s run through what the card backs will show, and the design process used to make that decision. As ever when I discuss upcoming features, please bear in mind that this is all work in progress, and details may change once we begin implementing it, or the feature may be delayed or even cancelled for some unforeseen reason.
I talk about the ‘why’ a lot, because step one of videogame design is to understand what the goal of a feature is, so you know if you’re working towards that or going in the wrong direction.
These are the ‘why’s’ for the two elements we’re going to display on the card backs:
- Extra stats – there are elements of cards which we don’t currently show (for example, each card’s ‘body type’), and we think that as players become veterans of the game they will want to know these details so they can optimise their tactics.
- Background text – adding a short description of the character on each card will help players who aren’t familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but also makes them ‘real’, rather than just an abstract playing piece. Being able to picture each miniature as a hero / villain / footsolider / etc. is one of the key strengths of the 40K universe over an abstract game like Chess.
Now we know what each element of the card back is for, let’s take a more detailed look at it.
As we’ve already decided that the stats are there for veteran players, it makes sense to work out the sort of information those players would like to see and focus on that.
One of the areas we don’t currently expose is each card’s Initiative value, so we can use this to show how that’s worked out. We can also include information which will help collectors by showing which Rank cards were unlocked at, their unique ID number, and so on.
The background text is a little more complex, because we’re aiming it at players new to the 40K universe, but still want it to be interesting to fans who know their Bolter from their Stubber.
We also have the added complications of each piece of text being very short (to fit it on a card), and not knowing which order players will read the entries.
To get around this we’re ensuring each piece of background stands on its own, and we’ve written the entries to roughly match the order you might gain the cards. This way, the first entries you read from each faction introduce it and explain key concepts, with later text going into more detail or getting more esoteric. Hopefully this will suit both audiences, and the text will still work if you’re missing cards from your collection.
After this comes the dev work of actually implementing the feature. For each card the stats need to be defined and the background text written, with all this needing to fit within certain guidelines (for example, game balance for the stats, and length of the text for the background).
Obviously, another critical element is that all of this fits with what 40K players expect when they look at that particular miniature (for example, that a Helbrute will have a lower Initiative than a Jetbike). Games Workshop help us with this, suggesting changes when something doesn’t match the lore.
After the feature is implemented and tested it’s added to the game (then tested again before it goes into the Live environment, but that’s something for a later blog post).
Once the feature is ‘in the wild’ we use analytics to look at how it’s working compared to what we predicted (for example, whether players at each Rank are looking at the back of the cards, and for how long). This can help us tweak the feature (for example if players don’t even realise the cards have backs) or remove it altogether if it’s unpopular or causing unexpected consequences. But analytics and stat tracking is another subject for a later blog post!
In the meantime, thanks for reading and please let me know if you’d like more (or less) of this kind of look at upcoming features. You can contact us via [email protected] or through the Combat Cards Facebook page.