Modules, Magic: The Gathering, and the Next Steps for co.llide

co.llide-0.4.0-modules-black

One of our goals for ver­sion 0.4.0 of co.llide was to pro­vide a small but fairly bal­anced set of build­ing blocks, called mod­ules, for all play­ers to use in con­struct­ing ships. How­ever, vari­ety is the spice of life, and we plan to even­tu­ally release a large num­ber of unlock­able mod­ules for play­ers to add to their per­sonal col­lec­tions. In this post, I’ll be dis­cussing some ideas for these future mod­ules. I’ll also be talk­ing about a poten­tial prob­lem that we face as design­ers, and one par­tic­u­lar source of inspi­ra­tion that we believe offers the solution.

The Cur­rent Con­stel­la­tion of Modules

The cur­rent set con­tains 37 dif­fer­ent mod­ules of vary­ing size, shape, and func­tion. The most impor­tant is the Galileo Core. Every design is required to have exactly one core, which serves as the heart of the ship and must be pro­tected at all costs. The core also pro­vides a small amount of omni­di­rec­tional thrust, giv­ing the ship its base mobility.

The remain­ing 36 mod­ules help to shield the core and pro­vide addi­tional giz­mos that ben­e­fit the ship, including:

  • Two types of thrusters, which help the ship to move and turn.
  • A damper, which auto­mat­i­cally slows the ship’s momen­tum when­ever the thrusters are inac­tive. Some pilots may like this effect, as it helps main­tain control.
  • Five dif­fer­ent weapons with vary­ing range, speed, and firepower.

Together we feel that these mod­ules pro­vide a pretty good first taste of what co.llide is all about, and we encour­age every­one to try them out in the edi­tor and then let us know what you think!

More Mod­ules, More Mayhem!

At this stage in devel­op­ment, the cur­rent set of mod­ules feels OK, but it barely scratches the sur­face of the kinds of mechan­ics we would love to see in co.llide. For example:

  • What about new weapons? What space­ship bat­tle game would be com­plete with­out hom­ing mis­siles, death rays, EMP emit­ters, trac­tor beams, cor­ro­sive gel, nanobot swarms, and energy lances?
  • What about stealth mechan­ics? Per­haps some mod­ules could include giz­mos that hide your ship from view, or make it invis­i­ble on radar.
  • What about the abil­ity to repair a ship mid-fight?
  • What about new forms of mobil­ity, like the abil­ity to “dodge” by chang­ing tra­jec­tory in a quick burst, or even a short-range teleport?

The Threat of Module-splosion

While all this may sound excit­ing, sim­ply cram­ming new mechan­ics into a game can be a recipe for dis­as­ter. Imag­ine that rather than sit­ting down at the edi­tor with 37 mod­ules, you are instead pre­sented with 100, or 500, or 1000. Even if the var­i­ous weapons and abil­i­ties con­tained within were per­fectly bal­anced, the aver­age player would prob­a­bly feel over­whelmed at the sheer num­ber of avail­able choices.

So as design­ers, how do we pro­ceed in grow­ing our game with­out falling into this trap? For starters, we can take a page from those that have gone before us. In par­tic­u­lar, we plan to bor­row a few tech­niques from one game genre that has dealt with this prob­lem in a way that stands the test of time. I speak of course of col­lectible card games, or CCGs.

I need 20 cc of CCG, stat!

To be clear, co.llide is not a “card game.” Think­ing abstractly how­ever, it does bear some sim­i­lar­i­ties to the typ­i­cal CCG. Both involve a build phase, wherein the deck/spaceship is con­structed by choos­ing ele­ments from a much larger set, and a sep­a­rate play phase, wherein play­ers com­pete using what they have built.

Richard Garfield’s Magic: The Gath­er­ing is per­haps the most widely known CCG, and for good rea­son, con­sid­er­ing it’s the one that effec­tively started the genre with its debut in 1993. Twenty years later, MTG has racked up a mind-boggling num­ber of cards (the offi­cial data­base sug­gests that over 13000 unique cards exist) and yet remains fun and man­age­able for new and old play­ers alike. One of the keys to the suc­cess of MTG is, in my opin­ion, the way that it seg­ments the mas­sive library of cards into smaller, more rea­son­able groups for the ben­e­fit of both the play­ers and designers.

Starter Decks

When a new player pur­chases cards at a game shop or online, chances are high that they will start out with a basic starter deck. A starter pack comes with a small set of cards, pro­vid­ing every­thing the player needs to build his or her first deck but with­out throw­ing them imme­di­ately into the deep end.

Sets and Blocks

MTG releases cards in sets, which are orga­nized into groups called blocks. If you’re a rel­a­tively new player with a small col­lec­tion, or if you like to play in tour­na­ments, chances are you’re only look­ing at cards from within the most recent few blocks, which lim­its the pool to some­where between 1000 and 1500 cards. That still sounds like a lot, but MTG breaks it down even further.

Col­ors

Any­one who has played Magic knows that most cards fall within one of five dif­fer­ent col­ors: white, blue, black, red, and green. Each color comes with its own par­tic­u­lar strengths, weak­nesses, and gen­eral fla­vor of play. Each also cor­re­sponds to one type of card, called a basic land card, which is used dur­ing a match as a resource for play­ing other cards of that color. To build a deck that con­sis­tently draws enough of these resource cards, play­ers often choose to restrict each deck to only a few colors.

Putting it All Together

The beauty of this sys­tem is that it offers play­ers a high-level deci­sion that helps nar­row the pool of pos­si­ble cards for con­sid­er­a­tion. As a player, I might decide that I like the feel of, say, the black and red cards best, and then set out to build a deck that only con­tains those col­ors. Next sup­pose I stum­ble upon a cou­ple of cards that seem to work well together, play­ing off sim­i­lar mechan­ics. Now I’ve grasped at the begin­nings of a strat­egy, which gives me a lens through which to view other cards in my col­lec­tion. Soon I’ve built a deck around this strat­egy, and pos­si­bly incor­po­rated a few oth­ers. Only by play­ing matches will I deter­mine whether my deck is any good, or if it needs work. Either way, I’ll have learned some­thing about the game that I can use later when I inevitably return to the draw­ing board.

This expe­ri­ence, the sat­is­fac­tion of build­ing under con­straints, test­ing out strate­gies, push­ing them to their lim­its, throw­ing them away, and start­ing all over, is ulti­mately what we want for co.llide. So what have we learned? It’s all about con­straints and cat­e­go­riza­tion! There­fore, to orga­nize the mod­ules, and to make things a lit­tle more inter­est­ing, we are propos­ing to add the idea of…

Fac­tions!

A fac­tion will con­sist of a set of mod­ules that share a com­mon theme, sim­i­lar to a color from MTG. In addi­tion, each will pro­vide a spe­cial­ized core mod­ule. Build­ing with a faction’s core will apply a small faction-specific bonus to the ship, and most impor­tantly, will pro­vide a dis­count to the build cost of other mod­ules within the same fac­tion. Under this sys­tem, play­ers will be able to build a ship around the style of a sin­gle fac­tion, while still being allowed to pull from other fac­tions for hybrid strate­gies. And of course, fac­tions are a promis­ing way for us to add some more detailed nar­ra­tive to the world of co.llide. After all, as any CCG fan can tell you, it’s all about the fla­vor text!

So that’s the plan, or at least, part of it. As much as I’d love to dip into details of some of the fac­tions that we have in mind, we feel that it’s still a lit­tle too early to men­tion specifics. I expect that soon we will start unveil­ing these fac­tions, so be sure to fol­low along and give us feedback!

Andrew Dolce

Andrew has a back­ground in com­puter graph­ics and aug­mented real­ity, and is excited about mak­ing games that look and feel awe­some. He also owns too many board games for his own good.

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