Development Diary #27
THE KINGDOMS OF IMMACUS SAN JOSE PROTOSPIEL ROUND UP
Kingdoms of Immacus is now officially Protospiel tested (yay). Just like Trolltem Poles, I was a little nervous showing off all my hard work, but this event really put into perspective what I should focus on with Kingdoms of Immacus and the plan moving forward. I'm really happy with how the game performed, so let's take a look at the nitty-gritty details.
The Art is Beautiful
I mean I thought the art was beautiful , primarily because I didn't do most of it. I've been so fortunate to work with some really great artists that have been able to capture my vision for some of these cards, and I have nothing but good things to say about them and my experience with them. There is still a ton of art to do, but next year, I'm going to seriously sit down, look at the budget, and determine the speed to which Kingdoms of Immacus can get to completion. From the art that I did, players seemed to like it and people did feel a connection to their heroes.
The Graphic Design is Polished
I did get several comments about how clean and visually appealing the graphic design looked. That's great news because I have spent an ungodly amount of time polishing the pebble on this one to dust. I know before release I may do some additional tweaks, but for now, I'm happy where I am at with the way it looks and putting it on the table for other people to play. I did get a lot of people hanging around and staring at the game as we played, which is a good sign because I think it looks poppy on the table.
Spinning Those Cards is a Beautiful Thing to Watch
This one I wasn't expecting. After playing with a designer, he had commented on how beautiful it was to watch me spin my Domains with such speed and ease. Now that I take a step back and look at it from a mechanics perspective, it is one of those kinetically intriguing things that draws you in. Other games have you rotate cards, but rotating, upgrading, and rotating again is pretty cool, and it's satisfying. Cranking out a ton of resources and spinning cards like a mad man is fun and fun to watch, I just never gave it that much thought.
Boy This is a lot to Explain
This is what was going through my head with each new group of people I interacted with. Objectives are clear and simple to understand, but after that, things get a little hazy. If someone has no background in strategy card games, I need to teach the fundamentals that people take for granted in games like Hearthstone. Stack that on top of the unique things in Kingdoms of Immacus, and you have a lot of listening to do as I go over all the things.
Explaining big games is nothing new, and other more complicated games have the same issue. To get through the whole process, I stuck with the Kingdoms of Immacus fundamentals, which is build your economy, empire, and leave the fighting for later. Once players got the resource system down, then they could build buildings, which allowed for troops, and the game moved at a pace of difficulty the player became comfortable with. This was my design intention with this game from the beginning. If you're going to make an onion of a game with layers, let the players peel their own onion.
If You Play Kingdoms of Immacus Like Magic:The Gathering, You're Going to Lose
I have been playing this game for so long, that I forgot to tell a player this isn't like Magic, so don't play the game like that. There are no killer combos that end the game in one or two rounds. The game is a slow burn, and you can't fight the mechanics to speed run a win. Kingdoms requires balancing your economy, troops, and buildings like an RTS, so play the game like an RTS. The game takes long-term strategy, and then tactics when your opponent trips up your plans. You can't Zerg rush anything in the beginning because there is nothing to attack, and if your opponent has stuff on the battlefield, you may be wasting precious resources to build an army as they stall you with economy building and a masonry.
Reteaching What a Card Game Can be
Okay, Kingdoms of Immacus isn't setting out to dethrone any major IP (I couldn't if I wanted to lol), but it is different than the big ones currently out there. The biggest issue I see in the strategy card game market is the excessive overabundance of head-to-head copycats that don't offer anything drastically new. I do think Gwent has some nice things going for it. This isn't a dig on any game, I think there is space for all these games, but it has trained players to approach these games all the same way. It's my job to break some of those online TCG habits, and once people saw where I was coming from with the game, it seemed to click with players. I ain't gonna lie, it was pretty cool watching a new player start to toy with this massive economy he built.
One of the biggest jolts to the player's system was the fact the hero dying wasn't the end-game trigger (online TCG training). They don't really die, but ditch the battlefield to lick their wounds. In the game, you aren't the hero, but instead, an aspiring hero directing the kingdom's new strategy after the Great Interloper War. Once the hero is gone, it's all you young hero. The Hero is intended as support and to shut down cheesy Zerg tactics. I do feel like the resource dump is a little steep, so I may increase their defense by 1, but we'll see. The fact the players were sad when their hero was gone is a good sign. I want players to feel like the hero is important, they have value, and their absence is missed.
The Card Game In Media Res
Some good advice I got from a designer was to start the game in media res during playtesting. I think this is great advice to get the player to the point where they aren't building the game, and instead, they are ready to jump right into the action. My only issue with this is you're skipping the stuff that makes Kingdoms of Immacus different in a lot of ways. If I give you all the buildings, then you don't need to build them, if I build your economy, you don't have to build it, if I unlock everything and now you can use all the cards, you got a lot of information on your hands. I do like this idea to get players to the table, but I need players to dig deep if I want to see any underlying issues I am missing...
These People Aren't Vegetarians
Since I had a light and a heavy game, I was able to judge people's reaction to the games I had to offer at the event. I had several people only interested in Kingdoms of Immacus, and I definitely heard some excited whispers on the sideline about coming back and playing the game. Next time I really want to formalize the times I will be at the table to make sure I am around for players at set times. Since it was my first event, I was not prepared for how emotionally exhausting presenting all day could be. My point is, people really wanted to play something meaty, but not 2-hours long. Kingdoms has been consistently clocking in at 1 hour, so I am happy with that time for the experience you get with the game.
Final Thoughts on Kingdoms of Immacus at Protospiel
For it being Kingdom's first showing with a lot of stuff to still do, I'm really happy with how Kingdoms did. Someone stopped mid-game and asked me how long have I been developing this game, and when I told them, they nodded and said "you can tell." That's an amazing compliment from a player. They could see I was respecting their time with something that had undergone an extreme development cycle. Of course there can always be more to tweak, but people knew I wasn't throwing them something broken. This event made me feel much more comfortable about my universe. I was scared husky ghosts and holy cows would turn off players, but like me, they seemed to want something a little fresh. I'm proud of Kingdoms, and I can't wait to get to a finished super polished product.
What's Next for Kingdoms of Immacus
The next step is art. It has been an ongoing step, but I need to speed up the art process as well as the number of artists I have working on Kingdoms; otherwise, we're looking at a 2030 release date lol. I don't have a triple-A budget, so I need to be careful to balance quality, speed, and the financials of putting together such a large game. I'll be doing some art as well, but I'll be splitting my time between Trolltem Poles and a super secret unnamed project (ooo how exciting :D).
As art is being worked on, I need to reach out to some local Magic: The Gathering players. I need to find players who are immersed in the card game life to rip Kingdoms to shreds before release. I think the mechanics are in place, but I need to see what cards are too nasty or possibly broken? With my rarity system, I already nerf cards that seem too powerful, but I need more eyes on this.