The Chance of a Lifetime
I saw a video about the Rise and Fall of Prince of Persia on twitter the other day and it brought back a ton of memories of my early career as a Level Designer. Prince of Persia Forgotten Sands Wii was my first “real and big” project as a Level Designer. It will always have a special place in my heart and my memory.
But let’s not talk about Prince of Persia here.
Not a lot of people in the industry can say that they had the unique chance of creating their own game working at a AAA Studio.
Might and Magic Duel of Champion (RIP) is the game I was able to create, from scratch at Ubisoft and I want to talk about it. Because nostalgia.
How it happened?
The funny thing is, I’m not exactly sure I remember exactly. I was in some sort of limbo between Assassin’s Creed 3 and other things I think and we were looking to do other things at the studio. It was known by pretty much everyone that I was a lover of Might & Magic and there was some sort of opportunity with the franchise as I recall.
At that time, Black Hole Entertainment were working on Might & Magic Heroes 6. There was some sort of will to port the game on the WiiU but with a twist. At least, that’s what some people were asked for.
André, a producer came to me and a few others one day and ask if we were interested to work on this potential game. I was already sick to death about working on Assassin’s Creed and on top of that, as a Strategy Game lover I accepted in a blink of an eye.
We threw a bunch of ideas on how we could port the game with a twist but one thing we were always going back too is how we could use the RFID reader on the console. We wanted to have some sort of plastic card that you would scan and it would give you units in the game.
Then at some point we wanted to add a card game in Heroes 6.
At that moment, the studio Executive Producer came to me and another guy, a really senior programmer and asked us both if we wanted to ditch the port and just work on a card game. I was playing Magic the Gathering a TON back then and so was the other guy.
“Jeff, you have the chance to create a whole fucking card game from scratch”, I told myself that day.
How I’ve done it
So yeah, I had to create a card game in the world of Might & Magic.
I learned quickly that almost everything is copyrighted by Wizards of the Coast in term of card game. That part was a real pain in the ass!
The goal was to make something unique.
I remember trying every single thing that existed in the franchise and one game stuck.
Might & Magic Clash of Heroes
I really loved the unit placement mechanic in the game. This ended up the major thing in Duel of Champion card placement on the field. We first tried with 3-4-5 rows but ended with 4. Three was too small and five too big. For once in my life, 3 was not the magic number!
As a Heroes of Might & Magic 3 absolute fan, I also wanted to have that feeling in the game, somehow, we tried different things. There are a quite a bunch of different resources you can have in the game but that was way too much for a card game. Eventually the whole buying of card that we had at first got replace by some Leveling Up mechanic. In the ended we scrapped all I wanted to do with the buildings, it didn’t worked out. (Not until way later in the live service.)
We created event cards instead. Something each player would bring with their deck that would influence the game and create more variety. These cards would be buffs or debuffs for both players. It created a really interesting dynamic.
It was also important to have the Heroes feeling in the game. When creating the deck, the player had to select one Hero card. This was also selecting the faction (obviously).
I then added all kind of cards like creatures and spells.
The interesting thing here is that, we had no tech but, who needs tech for a card game?
I had all the cards in a big Excel file. All with placeholder image, names, stats, effects and so on.
I gave a “value” to everything. All stats, effects, type and so on had a certain value and then I wanted every rarity of cards to be at a certain value from Common to Legendary cards. With this I created a first draft of balancing. If I was creating a creature card with big number for attack, that card probably had almost no defense for example or the price of the card would be super high. The price of the card was a negative value I was subtracting from the total pool of power points related to a card. It was far from being perfectly balanced but that was a good start!
That was so fun.
All of the ~250 cards I created for the first pack of the game were printed on paper and then added in a sleeve along a Magic the Gathering card!
Then we played.
And played again.
Removed cards, replacing cards creating cards and so forth.
Then at some point. We had a conference call with Ubisoft World, Design Director. That thing was stressful. I had to show an ugly card game prototype to a guy in France via Skype!
It went so well. We went into production.
Straight from the start I asked my producer to bring QA people who had knowledge about card games as quick as possible. They played the game 8 hours a day with printed cards on paper.
Then we played again and again.
During that time, more people joined the team, mostly artists, FX artists and especially Concept Artists. They were so excited. Everyone of them at the studio wanted to work on the game. For once, their work would be seen and even used as gameplay!
Every Friday, nobody would work on the game. Everybody in the team were playing the game. Trying new strategy and new decks.
The dream I tell you!
Then I moved On
Yeah. You know. I’m a Level Designer after all.
Just before we went into close beta with the game, I left the project in the end of the team and continues my career as a Level Designer. The game mechanics were all set. The team just had to add more cards and more variety and tastes to each factions. Also add new factions!
It was kind of sad for me but I didn’t wanted to move my career as a Game Designer. It’s not interesting for me at all.
So I went back on Assassin’s Creed after a couple of months of literal pure awesomeness.
Even to this day, I have a hard time to believe that I had this chance. Knowing the right people and being known by many helped for sure. I would do that again in a heart beat for a small project like that without a doubt.
Even though the game died (thanks Heartstone!), I’m still really happy about the product that tiny team was able to ship to the world. It was a pretty hardcore card game but it was liked by many and, that was enough for me.
I have a life goal of releasing a board game or a card game. Funny thing, to some extent, I have already done it.
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