DEVELOPER DIARIES

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Marvel Trading Card Game

Cross-Platform Compatibility and Story Mode

Posted Mar 26 2007 9:44AM by Dave Ellis

Hey everyone! I’m back. In this entry of the Marvel Trading Card Game dev diary, I’ll spend some time talking cross-platform compatibility and the evolution of the Story Mode game.

PC/PSP Cross Platform Compatibility

From the inception of the Marvel Trading Card Game, we were determined to make the multiplayer game playable across multiple platforms. You would be able to play on your PC when you were at home, and on your handheld when you were on the road. We thought this was a pretty cool idea, not to mention innovative—no other games that we know of offer this kind of cross platform compatibility.

Originally, we planned for all three version—PC, PSP, and DS—to work together. The DS plan fell by the wayside early-on, unfortunately—development time and platform limitations didn’t permit our DS developers to pursue that option, so the DS version was ultimately limited to Wi-Fi and online play with other DS players.

We did get the PC and PSP versions to talk to one another, however, and it worked out very well in the end. The biggest challenge during development was that the code for both the PC and the PSP version had to remain in sync at all times—if a change was made to PSP code, the PC version had to be changes as well, and vice-versa. We also tried to keep the layout and presentation fairly close between the two platforms so that we could share as many art resources as possible. Ultimately, much of that fell by the wayside because of the comparatively small display on the PSP, which forced us to modify a number of the onscreen elements.

The only drawback to cross platform compatibility is that, in order to patch one version of the game, both have to be patched. Patching PC games is easy, but patching PSP products isn’t—especially when you’re talking about as much data as we have in MTCG. If we patched the PC version without patching PSP, the –ability to connect and play between the two platforms would be lost.

In the end, despite the development challenges and the post production challenges we faced, we think that this feature opens the online experience to a far broader audience than would otherwise be possible.

Building the Story Mode Game

MTCG’s single player game was a huge undertaking that involved not only a great deal of work on our end, but a huge amount of artwork by a number of Marvel artists and an equally huge story by John Layman, an accomplished Marvel writer. And that’s just the Story Mode facet of single player!

We wanted MTCG to be an immersive experience, so Story Mode had to have an epic comic book feel. Early in the brainstorming process, we were trying to come up with some sort of story element that explained why the player would be “using” characters from the Marvel universe as pawns in some giant card game. To do so, we’d not only have to come up with an identity for the player (a god, perhaps, that was toying with the Marvel universe) but we’d also have to come up with an explanation for why heroes and villains could potentially be fighting side-by-side.

We quickly abandoned that line of thinking—it would have involved a convoluted story and a rather far-out concept that would have had to pass Marvel approval. In fact, we decided to abandon the idea of a character that represented the player altogether. Because the player in MTCG plays with a wide variety of hero and villain characters in his deck, there is no one character that could adequately represent the player at any given time.

We finally decided that there was no reason to rationalize the player’s role in MTCG—after all, the card game itself doesn’t do that! So, when you play the single player campaign, you are just…you.

I won’t go into too many details about the plot—you’ll have to play through Story Mode to see how it all unfolds. Suffice it to say that the story involves the Sentinels because Sentinel decks ruled the tournaments when we first started developing the game.

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Because different people like to play different decks and some players like hero decks while others prefer villains, we decided to divide the Story Mode into two separate paths. One path tells the story from the heroes’ perspective, while the other presents the villains’ side. At the start of the game, you choose a path and play through that path. The story is divided into 6 chapters, and each chapter has between 7 and 14 missions (series of card matches). The final chapter is shared by both paths (but has subtle differences when you play the second path through). After you play through one path, the other path unlocks and is available for play.

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As you might expect, each path pits you against different opponents, and nearly every opponent has a different deck. Actually, nearly every opponent has two different decks—one that the opponent uses the first time you play against him, and a more challenging deck that he uses if you go back and play him again after you defeat him. Around 300 unique 60-card decks were created for the AI opponents in the single player game! Luckily, we had our Assistant Producer (and card guru) Charles at Konami to help us on this front. He created the decks for one path, and I created the decks for the other (as well as the tutorial and Challenge Mode decks).

In order to take on all of these opponents, you need more than the 60-card starter deck you get at the beginning of the game. We decided to keep the feel of buying cards and opening packs as part of the video game experience. Every time you win a battle, you receive points. These points can be used to purchase packs of cards at the single player card store.

Each chapter on both paths has a themed pack that unlocks along with the chapter. There is a card pool for every chapter from which the packs are compiled. Each pack contains 5 cards—3 commons, 1 uncommon, and 1 that has a 50/50 shot of being uncommon or rare. The cards in each chapter pool are not only themed to the chapter’s storyline, but also to the path you are on. So, villain path packs tend to have more villain characters and related cards, and the hero path is geared toward hero teams.

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In addition to purchasing cards at the card store, we included matches throughout the game where you have the opportunity to win cards that are added to your library.

I suppose the discussion of the Story Mode game wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the special rules battles. Charles at Konami was a big proponent of including battles where there was some ultimate goal other than to reduce your opponent to zero endurance. For example, your opponent starts with a character in play, and you have to KO that character before you can win. I had my doubts initially, but with some refining and balancing the special rules battles became a lot of fun—and, in some cases, very challenging indeed!

Although we are very happy with the way that the Story Mode game turned out, there are some things that we would do differently if we had it to do over again:

  • Single Path. The two-path system presented some logistical problems, so we would probably have consolidated the experience into a single path with alternating hero and villain missions.

  • (Slightly) Shorter. We feel that the Story Mode game turned out to be rather long. There is probably over 100 hours of game play in Story Mode alone if you play both paths to completion. That might be a tad much for the average casual player.

  • More Generous Card Distribution. Part of the MTCG experience is building your card collection. While the points you earn in Story Mode allow you to buy plenty of card packs, we should probably have put more cards in the packs and/or increased the probability of getting rares and uncommons, some of which are very difficult to obtain.

Next up—tutorials, puzzles, and the Challenge Mode game.


-Dave


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