Combat CardsJanuary 29, 2007
Originally this article appeared in the Second Life Herald under the title “Dodge This, Tringo: Combat Cards Deals Itself Into SL Gaming Scene”
Special to the Herald, by Onder Skall of Second Life Games
It started with a couple of friends sitting at the kitchen table. Doc Boffin and Jaladan Codesmith wondered what it would take to create a kick-butt card combat game for an MMO. A deck of playing cards, some masking tape, a magic marker and a lot of imagination later, and a new game was born. This was the very definition grassroots gaming.
The game’s first Second Life incarnation was called SIMCombat and didn’t involve any graphics at all. The numbers were all handled through basic dialogue boxes, and the animation took the form of a slow-motion turn-based combat. When HUDs became available in 2005, Doc and Jaladan wanted to bring more graphical elements into the game. The cards that they had used at the kitchen table lent a tangible quality to the game. The problem was, neither one of them could really draw. If they were really to do a proper launch, they needed an art guru. Plus, they faced a key challenge: Would the game be fun?
Happily, Doc and Jaladan accomplished their mission, and in early 2006 a game was born that in its simplicity, sophistication and compulisve replayability would rival that pink elephant of Second Life gaming, Tringo.
Tringo is regarded as the big SL success story for three reasons: it makes money, it made the leap into the real world, and it works properly most of the time (which is more than you can say about most of the grid). It plays to SL’s strengths and it’s addictive. Hooray for Tringo. Can we talk about something else now?
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to. So far, nothing in-world has struck that balance of dynamic play and simplicity that the Second Life engine requires to make a game addictive while at the same time being portable or easily translated into other media. It’s just been killing us fanboys. We’ve been desperately yearning for a Tringo-killer for years now, but none have come.
At least, not until now.
Doc and Jaladan’s game really started taking shape after a post to the forums recruited Osprey Therian to their team. Osprey runs Second Life Art News and has strong Photoshop-Fu. Soon they had a full deck of beautifully illustrated cards and a new interface system. Before launching this second incarnation, they needed a new name because people kept confusing it with Second Life’s combat sims. Combat Cards was born in early 2006.
It’s now a year later and the game is gaining momentum. Weekly gatherings in Spangle [<– teleport] attract a dedicated following of hardcore gamers. Even when playing from the other smaller gameplay areas, a central statistics system keeps track of the elite and newb alike. New players can use the free deck and they can purchase extra cards if they feel like they’re ready to customize. They’ve even just published their first expansion set.
When I asked Doc Boffin about the main challenges facing Combat Cards today, the answer was cultural: it’s a hard thing to describe how to play a card game in a virtual world. Even though complete instructions are posted on the wall at Spangle, nobody really likes reading the rules. They just want to pick up and go. Osprey is working on some video tutorials (see the YouTube clip below), but for the time being the best way for people to pick the game up is to come to the Friday events, at 2:00pm SL time.
When players face off, three cards are chosen from your deck and appear in your heads-up display. Each card has unique attack and defense ratings. Playing an attack card will animate your avatar, making them swing a sword at your opponent, who tries (and hopefully fails) to block your blow with some nice bloody particle effects. Some of the more powerful cards, however, can’t be used until a prerequisite blocking card is put into play first. Savvy players can guess based on these blocking moves what the opponent is going to play next. There’s a satisfaction in well played strategy, but it’s also nice to watch your avatar smack the heck out of your opponent with a big sword.
With its ease of play and its depth of engagement, Combat Cards has the potential to be a total Tringo killer. It already has a fanbase, and soon it will be impossible to ignore. The game seems to be just about to hit the tipping point where it explodes into massive popularity. When it does, a print version can’t be far behind.
With the imminent success of Combat Cards, this should shift the dialogue away from the question of why Tringo is the only game to hit it big. If we’re lucky, the conversation will soon be about why only independent developers are capable of making something that’s worth playing?
[Note: For more SL gaming news, check out Onder Skall’s Second Life Games blog.