Interview: Magic: The Gathering – Tactics with James Nance
Earlier this year, I caught up with James Nance, Director of Development at Sony Online Entertainment Studio in Denver. I got to take a look at Magic: The Gathering – Tactics and learned more about this latest addition to the franchise. Here is what he had to say:
“If you've played Final Fantasy: Tactics, Disciples, or Heroes of Might and Magic, it's familiar ground here. This is the first time that the Magic The Gathering IP has been brought to 3D, and the first time any of these iconic characters have been seen in 3D. We have a lot of icons from the card game like Serra Angel, Lord of the Pit, Ancestral Recall, Fireball, Giant Spider, and Astral Prism. It's a lot of familiar cards and spells, a lot of good stuff. At the selection screen, you build your spellbook, which is the equivalent of our deck. You have a list of units and spells, and to build a spellbook you basically drag and drop or double-click them. You're building mana pools as you do this; the idea here is we still want to keep lands as a concept, as a resource game, but we don't want to make people collect them, add them to their spellbooks and have to manage them. We also don't want to ever have a situation where somebody gets a great new unit or spell, and they can never use it because they don't have the land they need.”
“You create a planeswalker, you give them a name, you pick a land affinity, and you choose their appearance and you can customize it over time. Your planeswalker levels up and gets more powerful and they get access to more slots to add things to the army and build up the spellbook. They also have talents they can invest in, so they specialize in different types of magic. So, if you were a plains mage or a white mage, you might put points into the white magic talent tree and have abilities like, on their turn, your units might spontaneously heal.”
When asked about special abilities for which characters like the Royal Assassin are known and whether they will be available on this style of battlefield, he said “Absolutely.” But the way it would be balanced is, much like the card game, you'll be charged Mana (or lands) to activate these abilities during the game.
“Because it's a visual game, we can actually hide the Royal Assassin. We can bring him on the field, show that you summoned him, and then remove him from play so that only the controller sees him. When he shows up to kill your enemy, it's a complete surprise. Hidden units and hidden effects are a big part of the game. Hidden effects are how we handle Instants. Because it's a turn-based game and we eventually want to accommodate 2v2 and 4v4 play, we have to keep things moving. We don't want to interrupt the flow of things all the time. So how we handle Instants is, you would cast it on your turn, and it would remain as a hidden effect. If I cast a counterspell, you don't see that I've done so, and next time you try to cast a spell something pops up to tell you that you've been counterspelled.”
“Quick Match PvP is available if you just want a quick game or want to play a casual game against your friends. Campaign mode will put you on a well-known plane but will expand to others. The campaigns are single player and they have different maps and different victory conditions. It might be to move your units from one end of the board to the other if you're trying to get to the entrance of a castle. It could be to eliminate guards, destroy a watchtower, or defend an objective, so it's not always to defeat another planeswalker. The campaigns are pretty cool because they give you experience points you can use to advance your planeswalker; they give you tournament tickets that you can use to enter tournaments, and you can earn spells and units through campaign play.”
“A lot of the keywords make an appearance in MTG: Tactics, so we had things like 'Reach', 'Death Touch', and 'Flight.' They have an equivalent in the Tactics game, but they're not necessarily identical in the card game. We changed things to make the game a little more balanced. So 'flying' doesn't make you immune to attacks from a non-flyer, but you take half damage from melee, and you can fly over obstacles. Something that doesn't happen in the card game is we have actual walls and pits and different types of actual terrain you have to navigate.”
As you can see, the team at SOE in Denver has a good handle on the popular IP, so Magic the Gathering fans should be looking forward to this title. Unfortunately, the release date is still unknown. Of course, we'll be sure to keep you posted once we find out more about SOE's upcoming game.
In the meantime, check out our Magic the Gathering - Tactics game page to see all the screenshots of the game.
Leaving San Diego and the newspaper business behind, I've spent almost a decade involved in L.A.'s gaming industry. Over the years I've played and even helped develop everything from PC and console titles to tabletop and card games. I'm currently writing a novel based on my experiences in the industry which should be available in late 2013.
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