style="width: 250px; height: 335px;">
the launch of style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
Tactics, the denizens of Ten
Ton Hammer wanted to learn more about this latest incarnation of their
collectable addiction. Tracking down Mark Tuttle, SOE Denver Studio
Lead for Magic:
The Gathering Tactics, we
convinced him to tell us his secrets or endure endless rounds of
playing against our blue migraine decks!
Ton Hammer: As a way of
introduction for folks that haven’t heard about style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
Tactics, could you, in your
own words, say what the game offers that’s different from the
collectable card game and style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
Tuttle: style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
Tactics is an online 3D
tactical strategy game set in the style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
universe. It’s different from the card game, obviously, in
that it is a digital offering. It’s different from the
current digital offering of style="font-style: italic;">Magic
in that this is not just a digital 2D card game. This is a fully
realized 3D tactics game. You will have 3D versions of favorite
characters; you will actually get to see spells fade out over the
digital tabletop. There are sounds, there are particle effects,
there’s music, there’s a great storyline; it really
fleshes out the universe of style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering.
Ton Hammer: With that tactics
style of gameplay, line-of-sight obviously comes in as well as
movement, obstacles, distance, and that sort of thing. The other
question that people may have concerns elevation. Is there any kind of
bonus from attacking from above?
Tuttle: We don’t
have elevation in the game at present. It’s something that
we’re looking at adding in a later point. We do separate
flyers and ground units, much in the same way that the trading card
game works. If you’re a ground unit, you lack the ability to
attack a flyer unless you contain certain keywords such as
“reach.” The Giant Spider, for example, does have
reach, so flyers are within attack reach of that character.
Elevation…no, but we do have the sense of height in the game.
Ton Hammer: You mentioned
that players familiar with the card game are going to see the spells
realized in a 3D world for the first time. What other benefits or
advantages would working knowledge of the card game give you, aside
from story and visuals?
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">In MTGT, you can go into
the client, into the collection manager, and see every figure and spell
that is available in the game even if you don’t own it.
You’ll know what is out there. You’ll know all of
the figures and all of the spells for every color that’s
Tuttle: One of the rules that
we had with Wizards of the Coast when we began developing this game is
that figures and spells that we use from style="font-style: italic;">Magic
have to do roughly the same thing. A lightning bolt should feel like a
lightning bolt; a fireball should feel like a fireball. We translated a
lot of the rules across. Some things were tweaked ever so slightly as
to make the transition to a tactics game where you have to worry about
position, movement, and obstacles. I think that a style="font-style: italic;">Magic
player, once they get a brief familiarity with style="font-style: italic;">Tactics,
will be able to look at a spell and figure out what that spell is going
to do for them.
Another thing is, and I saw someone post this on our Facebook site the
other day: Magic
is a thinking man’s game. I think that’s true. One
of the things that we were very careful about with style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
is that combos are very important. It’s not a one-to-one
here. This spell combined with this spell combined with that spell and
used by this figure might have an overall effect where the total is
greater than the sum of all parts. Combo play is very important for the
player. It’s really how you win and lose games in the current
We brought some of that over. style="font-style: italic;">Magic
players won’t be saying that, “I need these forces
to defend my front line here, and these forces to be my flyers, and
these to be my archers.” They’re going to say,
“I got a guy who can do this thing here. But if I combine
with this spell or put this enchantment on him or I put a negative
enchantment on an opposing character, I can make something greater
happen.” style="font-style: italic;">Magic
players’ brains are already wired for that sort of gameplay,
and they’re going to find that in style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering
Ton Hammer: Also, just from
my hands-on with style="font-style: italic;">MTGT,
it seems that a lot of the general strategies translate across from the
card game. Things like building a spellbook from only two colors, such
as black and blue, as opposed to making an ineffectual rainbow deck
that reaches across all four colors.
Tuttle: It does.
You’re aware that we use a slightly different manifest than
they use in the trading card game, but it’s still the more
you get towards the five color rainbow deck you get, the harder it is
in the early game to have the mana that you need to bring the things
out or to cast the spells that you want to cast. The preference for style="font-style: italic;">Magic
players, and this is my own observation from playing style="font-style: italic;">Magic
for 17 years, is that two colors seem to complement each other nicely.
That works in style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
Ton Hammer: Just to clarify
players, mana generation in style="font-style: italic;">MTGT
comes from the makeup of your spellbook, correct?
Tuttle: Exactly. If I make up
a white/green, depending upon how many actual mana icons (throw
colorless out the window) I have, say 50/50, then I’m going
to generate either a green or white mana every turn. If that starts to
shift one way or the other, then the ratio starts to shift as well.
It’s designed to make sure the players don’t get
mana starved, and that new players don’t have to learn the
complicated concept of putting mana in a deck. I think that that is one
of the mistakes a new player in style="font-style: italic;">Magic
makes in that they don’t know how to balance the resources to
the things that they want to play. Hopefully, our formula works nicely
and helps folks out on that.
Ton Hammer: Speaking of new
players, how do you teach new players the game?. Could you talk a
little bit about the single player campaigns and the tutorial?
Tuttle: When you come into
the game and choose your color of mana, which is going to pick what
starter you get, and select your avatar, you’ll be introduced
to the tutorials. Tutorials are divided up into chapters and are very
short. Essentially, they show you different concepts; they’re
a very quick lesson. You click through the tutorials, then
you’re introduced to what we’re calling the
tutorial mission. It’s a prelude tutorial. It’s
going to walk you through a very short gameplay mission. It’s
going to show you what you need to do and some very important tactics
and suggest attacks and counterattacks. It’s going to show
you how ranged attack, both effective and non-effective range perks. It
will introduce you to zone-of-control. It’s going to
introduce you to attacking from a certain direction; flanking.
When it gets to the last section, it’s going to open up and
tell you, “here are the pieces that you have to play with; go
over there and complete this mission objective.”
It’s a very quick campaign mission, but it’s going
to get you really familiar with all the clicks that you’ll
need to know in the course of a game. Then there are five introductory
missions, which at that point of time, you’re on your own to
solve those as you see fit.
Ton Hammer: How many single
player campaigns will the game have at launch?
Tuttle: You’ll have
the prelude tutorial mission. You’ll have the five free
tutorial missions. Then we’re going to have four additional
chapters that will be on sale in the store, and each of those contains
five missions. With some quick math, it looks like we’ll have
26 different missions that will be available at launch. That is content
that we will update frequently. We just won’t new chapters
when we release a new set. We will be releasing new chapters between
Ton Hammer: Are those
chapters sequential or can you pick and choose which ones you want?
Tuttle: They are sequential
because they tell a storyline.
Ton Hammer: Do you know the
pricing of those chapters yet or are you still working on that?
Tuttle: We’re just
about ready to finalize pricing, but it looks like the chapters will
cost five dollars. What you’re getting for five dollars is
five gameplay missions. There’s a reward at the end of every
mission. Those come in the form of either a spell or a figure. At the
end of each chapter is a unique figure that is not found in boosters.
For five bucks, you’re getting a lot of gameplay,
you’re getting a reward after every one, you’re
getting experience to level up your planeswalker, and you’re
getting that unique figure at the end.
Ton Hammer: Have you
determined the pricing of the booster packs?
Tuttle: Right now
we’re still at $3.99 a booster pack, but we’re
still finalizing things over the next couple of days for launch.
Ton Hammer: Do you have an
idea in mind of how many booster packs a player will need to be
seriously competitive in that it is a dueling kind of game?
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">One of the rules that we
had with Wizards of the Coast when we began developing this game is
that figures and spells that we use from Magic have to do roughly the
same thing. A lightning bolt should feel like a lightning bolt; a
fireball should feel like a fireball. We translated a lot of the rules
such a subjective answer to that, because people have different ideas
of what playing competitively means. You could argue that it takes four
of every figure and spell to be competitive; that way, you can build
every possible spellbook imaginable. I know people who play style="font-style: italic;">Magic
competitively with very little expenditure. They pretty much build
their decks based upon the cards that they know are out there, and they
go hunt those down on the secondary market.
you can go into the client, into the collection manager, and see every
figure and spell that is available in the game even if you
don’t own it. You’ll know what is out there.
You’ll know all of the figures and all of the spells for
every color that’s available. If you build your spellbook on
paper or a spreadsheet, and you say that this is what I want to play,
you can then go hunting through the auction house and find the items
you’ll need. There’s two ends of the spectrum of
what you’re willing to spend to be
Ton Hammer: So if you
don’t have deep pockets, you might be able to be a close
trader and build your spellbook.
Tuttle: Keep in mind too,
I’ve been dealing with trading card games since 1994, and
I’ve seen guys go into a store and drop 50 to 200 bucks on a
game. They get a pretty good selection of cards, and then
I’ve sent a kid walk in, drop five bucks on the counter, get
two or three packs, and draw the mythic super-duper rare and end up
trading it to the guy that spent 200 bucks. Now that kid has a large
selection of cards for just trading that one card.
That’s one of the fun things about the blind repeat model.
You never know what you’re going to get. You might get lucky
and get something really, really good, and using that, get to where you
want to be.
Ton Hammer: Will players be
able to trade figures and spells for figures and spells, or does it all
come back to currency?
Tuttle: It’s all
done through the auction house.
Ton Hammer: Are players
trading for currency or are they trading for something else?
they’re doing is trading for gold, which is the in-game
currency. Gold is used in the auction house. You can win gold by
playing dailies that unlock with each chapter. That gold is also used
as entry into tournaments.
Ton Hammer: So the daily
missions are there to allow the players a way to earn gold and buy
themselves some specialized cards they haven’t come across
Tuttle: Yes, and you can also
purchase gold in the store as well. We’re giving you two
paths. We’re giving you cards by completing campaign chapter
missions, we’re giving you gold by participating in the daily
campaigns, but we’re also giving you the option to purchase
gold in the store. We’re trying to give the players multiple
paths to get to where they want to be, depending upon what their
ability to spend in the game is.
Ton Hammer: Artifacts were
part of last week’s asset drop. How are these different from
figures in your deck?
assume you have the Icy Manipulator, which is one of my favorite
artifacts from long ago. This is an item, if you look at the metaphor
of the planeswalker, this is something that he would have in his bag or
pocket that he would pull out and use. When you play the Icy
Manipulator or any other artifact, except for artifact creatures,
instead of dropping a thing out on the battlefield, it goes onto your
ability bar. It now becomes a button that the planeswalker can select
and use that artifact. It’s something he has in his bag,
it’s kind of like his spellbook, but it’s something
that he can push the button, pay the mana cost, and then activate that
artifact. Artifact creatures work just like other creatures in the
game; they’re just colorless. You cast them from your
spellbook and the creature appears on the table.
Ton Hammer: Customization is
always a big thing with MMO gamers, who make up the bulk of the folks
reading this interview. At the start, we’ll have 3
un-customizable planeswalker avatars. Are you thinking of adding to
Tuttle: Yes. We’ll
be adding different body types at some point, perhaps even different
races. We’ll be offering you customization on your
planeswalker avatar itself. As you level up, you can receive different
clothing to wear, different items to hold in the hands, different
effects that are attached to your planeswalker. This is something that
we’re looking to start with Set Two and then beyond that.
When you’re facing off with opponents on the digital
battlefield, you’ll start noticing differences between them
and the power level of that planeswalker is going to be apparent from
their avatar’s appearance.
Ton Hammer: Are those
customizations primarily cosmetic or will they have other bonuses
associated with them?
Tuttle: Well, we
haven’t completely spec’ed that question out yet,
so I’ll divert away from it a little bit. Definitely cosmetic
for sure, but if you consider the new talent trees, which are a new
piece that we’ve offered into the style="font-style: italic;">Magic
lexicon here, I can well imagine that different abilities on the talent
trees might show different things on the planeswalker. It’s
kind of a backwards way of answering your question. It’s not
that customization will add something, but rather the ability the pick
up the customization is tied to something that is giving you a
Ton Hammer: Regarding talent
trees, I was surprised both by their inclusion in style="font-style: italic;">Tactics
and how powerful some of those opening round of talents were and how
useful they were just from my limited time with the game. How are
talent trees game changers?
Tuttle: It’s just
like another handful of spells. You could almost think that instead of
our spellset size being roughly 180, it could be, I don’t
know the exact number, 275 or something like that. These abilities,
most of them are just passive abilities that increase the percentages
or increase the amount of healing or the amount of damage. Some of them
are much wider effects that you could potentially find on a spell, if
we were another type of game. It becomes something that you spend a
point on, making a decision to go down this path.
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">Magic is a
thinking man’s game. I think that’s true. One of
the things that we were very careful about with Tactics is that combos
are very important. It’s not a one-to-one here. This spell
combined with this spell combined with that spell and used by this
figure might have an overall effect where the total is greater than the
sum of all parts.
What it really allows is for us to play into the fiction of the
planeswalker in style="font-style: italic;">Magic: The Gathering.
You’re a planeswalker, walking the planes and learning new
magic and skills. We were putting a game together that has a persistent
avatar that grows with you and we want you to become invested in. It
only made sense that we started assigning talents, abilities, and
leveling to that avatar. The cool thing about it is, you and I can come
to the table with the exact same spellbook – card for card
– and we’ll play completely different based upon
our talent trees. It kind of adds another level to style="font-style: italic;">Magic.
players are curious about it. I’ve seen some people worry
about it, but most people seem to be excited about having another set
of dials for them to turn to maximize their experience.
Ton Hammer: Talent trees seem
like another fun way to tweak and micro-manage and add variety, and
also a way to ground people in the colors they choose.
Tuttle: Possibly, but look at
it the other way too. We don’t force you to spend just on the
color you selected at the start of the game. You can spend across all
five trees, but you have to spend from the top down, just like most
other games out there. What it allows you to do…let me go
back to my white/green deck. “Man, there’s some
really cool things on the black tree that will really be nice for this,
but I don’t have room to add black to my deck. However, I can
do it this way and spend some points on that.” Maybe blue has
some things on its talent tree you might like. It allows you to dabble
in some of the themes of the other colors.
Ton Hammer: While
you’re working your way through these talent trees on your
way to level 20, will you offer respecs to talent trees and that sort
Tuttle: Yes. Right now, with
the talent trees, we have a two gold price on a respec. We have some
ideas, in future sets, of maybe allowing you to create multiple specs
that you can actually tie to a deck. You want a spec for your black/red
deck, well then you’ll load this spec here. You want a spec
for a different deck, you want spec this way. That’s one of
the nice things about this game is that this is a live game and
we’re constantly going to be adding features.
We’re certainly going to be listening to player feedback. If
somebody has a good idea that, “Hey, I want do to
this!” We’ll evaluate it, and if it’s
something that will benefit the game and the player community,
we’ll have the ability to make those changes and put those
things in. We’re launching the initial set and
it’ll be the initial experience, so this is how the game will
be. How the game will be a year from now will probably have a lot more
cool bells and whistles and neat things. It’s an exciting
Ton Hammer: Another questions
coming from an MMO gamer perspective: will roleplayers be able to band
together with each other into something like a guild?
probably add guild functionality in sometime after launch.
It’s something we have in our other game. It’s a
social hook that we couldn’t fit into launch, but
it’s definitely in our plans to do, so yes.
Ton Hammer: Do those plans
include ways to compete with each other within a guild, or maybe allow
for guild vs. guild tournaments?
Tuttle: I think
that’s a cool idea. (laughs)
Our thanks to Mark Tuttle for the interview.
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