Interviews

Sony Online’s Magic: The Gathering: Tactics, an online multiplayer game with collectible spells based on Wizards of the Coast’s popular card game, launches today. We spoke with the game’s executive producer, Mark Tuttle, about the game, its development, and plans for the future. 

Snackbar Games: The Magic license is inherently tied to its mechanics. What was your philosophy about what you could mess with and what needed to stay as close as possible to the card game?

Mark Tuttle: It’s been a fascinating process. This game has changed many times over the 18-month cycle of development we’ve had here. I think where we started is that there are a couple of things that has to be in this game. We have to treat the iconics like the iconics. Everything has to feel right. Serra Angel has to feel like Serra Angel. Lightning Bolt has to feel like Lightning Bolt. That was rule number one. It has to feel like Magic

From that point on it had to look great, it had to sound great. We needed to create the world that Magic: The Gathering takes and really offer the player; we had to bring these characters to life. We needed great sound effects and great character animation, and great models, and really good gameplay too. 

Lastly, the thing I was firm about was combos. I wanted to make sure that spells and figures could be combined together. That’s really what the Magic player likes to do. They like to look at a table full of cards in front of them and say okay, how I can take 40, 50, and 60 of these and create something. 

Then we talked to a lot of players talked to a lot of people in the company and we asked for inspiration. What do you like in a tactics game? What’s important to you? What’s a trump we can throw out? I think what we have is the biggest compliment we’ve got from players that has played this as they walk away saying: You know it’s a great tactics game, but it feels like Magic. If someone says that, then I feel we’ve won.

SBG: There’s a large in-person Magic community. Are there plans to get these people involved some way, with promotions or something?

MT: You know, it’s not out of the question. We’re not trying to move Magic players from the paper product into the digital product or anything like that. We want to introduce it to Magic players and tactics players, players who are just younger players that are starting to find the gaming they like to play. Any way that we can reach out to any of those groups, we’re certainly willing to do so. 

I think that if somebody plays a game and they like a game, they will tell their friends about it. “Hey, I found this really great game. Here’s where you can play it too.”

SBG: You’re starting out in the Dominaria setting. What are your plans for future expansion? Are you trying to update in parallel to the card game, theme-wise? Or are you trying to go in your own direction?

MT: It’s funny, but we get that question a lot. And it kind of surprises us. You know, not really. We’ve got 17 years of Magic: The Gathering to catch up on. So there’s no specific plans of really tying into, at least on a whole set basis, to what they’re doing in the paper card game. You know, we’re a licensee of the Magic brand, so I don’t know that that would necessarily happen, but I can also not say that that would never happen. For right now there’s no plans to do so. 

We’ll have a review of Magic: The Gathering: Tactics soon. In the meantime, you can download and try it for yourself by heading over to the official site.

Chris Taylor, CEO of Gas-Powered Games, set out to create a big shiny new RTS with the original Supreme Commander, and most believe he succeeded.  With this week’s release of Supreme Commander 2, we took time to hear a few thoughts from Taylor about the sequel and why it’s time for you to start smashing robots to pieces again. 

Snackbar Games: What are the 3 biggest changes in Supreme Commander 2?

Chris Taylor: First, we introduced a brand new concept, the Tech Tree.  This takes the whole concept of strategy to the next level. Our map designs are unlike anything seen in an RTS game. Incredible vistas, and terrain that stretches out to the horizon with clouds that circle incredible mesas, are where these battles now take place.  Last, but certainly not least, our unit design.  Supreme Commander 2 is more asymmetrical than any of our previous games, which means you’ll have to carefully study each faction to learn the strength and weaknesses of each.

SB: Is SupCom 2 running on the same game engine as the original?

CT: We started with the original SupCom 1 engine and have made some huge changes.  First off, we completely rewrote the rendering engine, and with that have introduced all the latest and greatest in rendering techniques, including a global illumination model with point cloud lighting.  We completely replaced the UI system, and take up less space than ever on the screen.  And finally, one of the most important changes in the RTS genre to come along, have adopted a far more sophisticated pathfinding system, what we call Flow Fields.  Pathfind is on an exciting new path, and we are leading the charge!

SB: Tell us a bit about the new faction.

CT: The Illuminate are the Aeon, re-imagined.  We wanted to improve upon the old design to make it easy to identify the units from a functionality perspective.  From a story perspective, the faction still has its roots in the original Aeon Illuminate, but has grown to adopt a new culture and philosophy, and has chosen to keep some of the old name for political reasons.  The new faction has been designed to focus on teleportation and hover technology, and still has a “zealot-like” overture to it.

SB: What are your most favorite units in the game? Why do you love ’em?

CT: It does change, but lately, I’m loving the Noah Unit Cannon (or NUC) because it’s so insanely fun to use.  It’s not the most powerful, but it very fun to play with.  When I play Cybran, it’s the Cybranasaurus Rex, because it’s an intimidating and powerful unit, and it’s a very refreshing visual. 

SB: How long will 1v1 MP matches last, on average?

CT: It does depend on the map size, but on average maybe somewhere around 30 minutes, add 20 minutes for a larger map, subtract 10 for a smaller one.

SB: What does SupCom 2 offer the more hardcore competitive RTS players?

CT: It offers a game experience that is seemingly straight forward, but under the covers, it can be very deep… the kind of game that changes week to week, as you learn the subtleties of it.

SB: How is Gas Powered Games updating/upgrading the online component for multi-player matches with SupCom 2?

CT: We’re on multiple platforms so we are starting off with 1v1, and then as time goes on we’ll look to expand the options.  We do like feedback and want to make sure we’re expanding in the right areas.  You can send me your wishes to [email protected]

SB: What’s something that you didn’t feel worked as well in SupCom but that you were able to vastly improve in SupCom 2?

CT: I think we’ve achieved a better overall balance in the way the game plays.  For example, in SupCom 1, the game can start very slowly, but moves very quickly in SupCom 2.  We’ve got better factional diversity, and we’ve got great asymmetry… and we’ve tidied up the gameplay for a game that is easy to get into, but hard to master.  And this philosophy touched almost every part of the design.  It’s a brand new game, but veterans will still be able to jump right in.

SB: What are the primary differences between the 360 and PC versions of SupCom 2?

CT: Would you believe not very much at all!?  That’s right, we’ve been able to pack the 360 with every feature available on the PC.  The first major difference is the UI, as we’ve designed a custom UI from scratch for the 360, and it plays beautifully… you’ll be blown away.  Lastly, we support 8 player MP on the PC and 4 on the 360.

SB: As far as downloadable content goes, how does Gas Powered Games plan to support SupCom 2?

CT: We’ll support the game with tuning and balancing updates as often as they are required, but we aren’t yet ready to make any announcements regarding DLC quite yet!

 

Tony Hawk is the king in two arenas: skateboarding and extreme sports games.  We got the chance to ask him a few questions about RIDE, ultrarealism and its consequences, and…the White House?

Snackbar Games: The original Tony Hawk Pro Skater was released almost exactly 10 years ago. How much have you been involved with the progression of the game since it debuted?
Tony Hawk: I was involved less in the last few games of that series, mostly because Neversoft knew what they were doing by then. In other words, I no longer had to explain what a 360 flip to crooked grind looks like. They were submersed in the skate world after working on the series for so long. But for Ride, I have been hands-on since day one. We started from scratch on this one and I had to make sure it was done right.

SB: Musicians have cited the “Guitar Hero effect” as keeping people from taking up real instruments. Are you afraid that, with the addition of the new peripheral in RIDE, skateboarding is going to experience a similar trend of people not trying the real thing?
TH: Not at all. I think this game will encourage kids to try the real thing more than our last series.

SB: Are you prepared for the backlash when people inevitably start destroying their carpets/TVs/pets/couches/relatives with misguided trick attempts?
TH: All I can say is: keep a wide berth and move any sharp edges. Just kidding, I think people will realize what’s involved very quickly and play it safe.

SB: The board peripheral for RIDE could easily be mistaken for a real deck. What kind of research went into developing it?
TH: We tried many variations of blank skate decks, incorporating sensors, sonars, infrared, and even trackballs. The board was the most challenging part because it has to feel like a skateboard, but also be intuitive without using trucks or wheels. I would say that half the battle was figuring out the right hardware design.

SB: This kind of controller has never been done at home, but there have been similar things done in arcades. Did you ever play any of those arcade games?
TH: All of them, including Alpine Surfer and Top Skater. I own an Air Trix machine.

SB: We’ve heard about your trick challenges with developer Robomodo, and…frankly, you seem to be crushing them. Exactly how good are you?
TH: According to current high scores, the best. But I’m sure that will change quickly once the game is released. I am very good at holding manuals and steering towards obstacles, which is one of the hardest techniques.

SB: Besides the peripheral, what is your favorite new feature in RIDE?
TH: That you can approach each level with different goals (speed, trick, etc).

SB: Are there plans to include the White House or the OEOB into the game? You know, for the full Hawk experience.

TH: Aaha, not quite. I caught enough heat for that already.

SB: Any insight into what’s being planned for the sequel to RIDE?
TH: We have just begun to utilize this technology, so I envision a better skating game. But my overall dream is to have other spinoff games as well (snowboarding, surfing, etc).

Game CoverWith the launch of NCsoft’s newest MMORPG, Tabula Rasa, a few short weeks away from it’s official launch we had a chance to talk to Starr Long, one of the game’s producers, about the game and the MMO genre in general.

Snackbar Games: Popular opinion from your camp seems to be that the MMORPG genre is stale, stagnant. If this is the case, why have you taken it upon yourselves to be the force of change?

Starr Long: Many of us on the team worked on Ultima Online. In fact I got the project started at Origin as a proof of concept with Ken Demarest A

With this year’s E3 in the past, we decided to sit down with Microsoft and have a little chat about a product they debuted before E3 that has some potentially interesting tie-ins to the path that video games seem to be heading, Surface. In case you haven’t heard of Microsoft’s Surface product, it turns an ordinary table-top into a vibrant, interactive surface. It will debut as the first commercially available surface computer from Microsoft and it’s slated to provide effortless access to digital content through natural gestures, touch, and physical objects. The units that Microsoft has today are 30A