Today, Mind Control Software and Richard Garfield, board and card game design legend and creator of the seminal Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, have announced a collaboration to produce Mind Twist.
This title, for which only a teaser website exists thus far, is a head-to-head, free-to-play strategy game to be delivered to iPhone as an app and Facebook via Flash, and supported by microtransaction purchases of player-controlled armies.
Garfield and Magic alumnus Skaff Elias have also joined Mind Control's advisory board, promising future collaborations with the developer on other products.
The Way of Mind Twist
"I'm looking for games that are playable by a wide audience, fairly fast, a good amount of luck, a good amount of strategy, and something that feels more like a paper game but was still made with a computer," Garfield tells Gamasutra, describing Mind Twist and his move towards digital gaming.
"I'm trying to make the game more broadly accessible than a trading card game," says Garfield. "TCGs are often very intimidating because constructing decks is a difficult task. The competition in the area is such that players know that they're potentially getting into something that is very complicated and very expensive."
Garfield says the game will feature versus battles that take approximately 10 minutes to complete. Instead of individual cards, players will buy pre-constructed armies that offer some customization, akin to buying pre-constructed Magic decks. He describes the game as "very expandable".
Garfield also says that this approach should "minimize" the advantage rich players could gain in Magic, because you can't select specific units and create whole armies; in Magic, any specific card, no matter how rare, could be used in any player-created deck. The strategy is preserved between those with a big and small budget, he says, because "I don't have the weight of my 50 purchases behind me; I just have that one deck, and my [personal] experience."
However, Garfield sees the potential for deep strategy all the same. "I want people to, when they play, not feel like they have to invest as much time and energy as they do with Magic, but still have the same game play depth that Magic might have, and the expandability." He describes Mind Twist as having "less of an arms race, less of a learning curve" than his popular creation.
The game, of course will offer a free army to get the player started, but if he becomes enamored with it, he can purchase more -- including any army he sees an opponent using. "If you like the game -- that's our job -- then you will be interested in getting more of these [armies] and increasing the breadth of strategies you can bring to bear," says Garfield.
Of course, purchasing optional armies implies a microtransaction model, but Garfield is quick to point out a nuance: "'Microtransaction' is accurate, but it's not as 'micro' as many games. We haven't pinned down exactly what [cost] it's going to be, but what I'd like to see is something more chunky than microtransactions, because you're buying the analogue of a [Magic] deck."
The Tech Solution
Mind Twist is being developed by Mind Control Software (IGF winners with Oasis, Vector City Racers), which has collaborated with Garfield in the past. The game is being built on its Orbital Game Platform, which will interface the two versions of the game which will be launched -- iPhone app and Flash app delivered via Facebook -- for competitive, realtime cross-platform play.
That may not be the end of Mind Control's ambitions, however. Andrew Leker, CEO and founder, says, "We can really port anywhere the market says we can port. There's no limitations to the platform we can be on given the nature of the games and the technology."
Possible platforms Mind Twist may travel to in the future include PlayStation Network, PSP, or DSi, for example, though these are all undecided at present. The Orbital Game Platform client-server architecture is such that "once the server components are built, given the nature of the games... They can be played anywhere," says Leker.
"We spend our own money on Richard's games," says Leker. "To be able to work with the giant in this field... It's just an extraordinary opportunity. We're a good partner for [Garfield and Elias] because we've got the tech and we've worked with them before."
The game is currently in development, but according to Leker, launch may not so far off. "We're building the prototype; it's playable right now. We continue tuning it for the two initial platforms, we get the online multiplayer running... We play it and play it and play it, add the right content and game design. We have to build out the server infrastructure." Time to launch? "Probably in the neighborhood of at least six months."
Notes on Design From a Card Master
Of course, comparisons with Magic the Gathering are inevitable. As noted above, they're not all favorable, but Garfield says he is very mindful of the potential for problems in finding an audience that can enjoy the game.
"We're hoping the casual players will not be motivated to buy an insane number of decks," says Garfield, "but the hardcore player will be motivated to because more decks [i.e. armies] is more fun. And our tournament environment... We'll have arenas which will rotate every couple of weeks or month, and they'll naturally have strategic advantages or disadvantages for certain decks."
When it comes to Garfield's experience with Mind Control and his previous work in computer games, it's clear that Garfield finds the difference significant.
"I've done consulting and some game design with Microsoft and EA and a bunch of other big companies, on both nontraditional products and some traditional products. And one of the things that is really often lacking in computer game design is a real appreciation and ability to do extensive playtesting."
"Just the product development cycle, getting the things programmed, takes so long, and quality suffers," says Garfield. However, The experience of developing Mind Twist, which was prototyped with a paper game, is "much more like paper games." With paper games like Magic, Garfield feels, playtesting "takes a much bigger proportion of time... And I think computer games could benefit from that."