Developer Interview: Auto Assault MMO

In May, I reviewed the Auto Assault Trading Card Game for Played To Death. As part of the prep for that, I interviewed Scott Martins at Worlds Apart.

Questons are in italics.

Auto Assault shares a lot of visual similarities with Star Chamber. My presumption is that there’s some degree of code-sharing going on, but often in development code-sharing is easier to talk about than to actually do. How abstracted is the engine underlying both games? Were you able to focus on game mechanics and assets to create Auto Assault, or did you have to rewrite significant portions of the underlying engine?

We’ve actually created a very modular and extensible infrastructure for creating digital-property style games.

That allowed us to really focus on the game and the gameplay of Auto Assault itself, rather than the tech. Frankly, for TCG design and development, a digital development environment can be a lot more efficient than paper-based iteration and playtesting.

Our overview at: http://www.worlds-apart.com/company/tech/ covers this in more detail.

Star Chamber is cross-platform. Are there any plans for an Auto Assault port to the Macintosh?

Yes, we’ll be releasing a Macintosh build of AATCG here within the next week. (Editorial comment: We’re still waiting.)

What was the hardest bug you had to track down in development? How did you eventually figure it out (if you did).

Because of the existing infrastructure, there weren’t any particular technical challenges with Auto Assault TCG, per se.

Again comparing Auto Assault with the earlier game, one major difference is that Auto Assault is a “more pure” card game (eg, there is no strategic “star map” portion of the game). Was that designed in from the beginning, or was it something that developed as you refined the game.

That was a part of the design of AATCG from the beginning. We particularly were looking for a design that would also work well on paper for this game, because of the possibility of printing it as a physical TCG.

How many of your customers buy additional cards after the starter pack? Do you expect that to be significant ongoing revenue, or do you expect most of the revenue to come from new players buying the core game?

In general, most of the revenue on the online TCG business model comes from incremental purchases and microtransactions from existing customers. This is particularly true for Auto Assault TCG, which has significant promotional tie- ins to the Auto Assault MMO that allow MMO players to sample AATCG for free.

One obvious advantage to publishing a CCG on a computer is that there after cards are created, there is little or no marginal cost (read: printing and packaging) to selling each additional one. Do you plan on printing real cards? Do your customers seem interested in that?

We are exploring that possibility, and there is some interest in it. We think the design of AATCG has the potential for pretty strong among customers who play other TCGs in the hobby market.

What games, other than Car Wars, inspired Auto Assault? Are there any odd inspirations that wouldn’t be immediately obvious?

Well, for Worlds Apart, our primary source of inspiration for the TCG design was the MMO itself. We played it and went through a number of early design iterations trying to come up with a game engine that was true to the experience of playing the MMO. The most important elements that we were looking for were that it be fast-paced and destructive, and we think we acheived those elements with this design.

What’s the best mechanic in the game, the one cool thing that you think makes the game “click”? Conversely, what one thing in the game feels wrong or clunky to you? (“Nothing feels wrong, the game is perfect” is not an acceptable answer here.)

The thing that really “clicked” for me for this game over previous design iterations was the speed attribute and its display using the speedometer graphic. And while the display of that attribute is key to the feel of the game, it’s multipurpose function (defense vs. scoring missions) and the decision points and tradeoffs therein really became the core of the game engine.

Nothing feels “clunky” to me, but if I had to pick one place where I wish we’d put a little more time and energy, it would be in making the base vehicle stats a little more varied.