State of the Game

February 2022

Author
Leonard Perez
February 24, 2022

Hello Friends! My name is Leonard Perez, and I’m the Senior Product Manager for the Emergents Trading Card Game.

We wanted to take some time to share all the progress we’ve made since we released our roadmap back in November 2021. 

January-February 2022 has been a transformative period for the TCG in many respects, and there are many things we are excited to present to you… so buckle up.

Review of 2021

Last year was foundational for the Emergents TCG project, literally! 

The team more than doubled in size. I joined in February to lead development. Next, game designers Corey Burkhart and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa joined mid-year to start work on game balance and future card design. Finally, in August, Brad Thompson joined as art commissioning director to begin bringing in sweet card art.

Our primary objective for 2021 was to move into a Closed Alpha phase. We achieved this milestone in November 2021 and have been carefully increasing the number of players in the Alpha.

In our path to release the first Alpha, we completed the starter (free) set of cards, designed and began our art pipeline process, implemented countless interactions and animations in the client, and set up the initial networking code.

It takes a lot of work to go from this:

Screenshot from the first playable version of the game (June 2021)

To this:

Screenshot from a development build (February 2022)

Current Period

We started 2022 with a lot of momentum but knowing we still had a lot of work to do: a starter set that was 90% complete on the game design side (card mechanics and balance) but almost no final art, a several pages-long backlog of interactions and animations that needed improvement, a similarly long list of technical issues that impeded us to service an extensive player base, as well as implementing the most basic game modes (PvP, Bot Match, and Direct Challenge) and a serviceable but not “world-class” UI.

We are happy to report that we have made substantial progress in these areas and more!

Technical Improvements

Optimization pass

“Develop first, optimize later” is a common philosophy in game development. We embraced that; playing a game of Emergents could draw as much as 80% GPU resources in some of our test machines (as well as just a tad less in terms of CPU and memory resources)! In some extreme cases, it even prevented a few Mac testers from playing entirely. 

We dedicated a few sprints in January to reviewing and optimizing the code for performance. The improvement has been dramatic: GPU, CPU, and memory requirements in the latest dev build aligned with those of existing TCGs. This does not mean, however, that we are finished here. As a game still in its Alpha Phase and made with an expressed desire to be enjoyable on mobile devices, we will do further optimizations on the codebase and our assets in the months to come.

PvP networking code

Our first joint game designer/Alpha testers play session in January doubled as the game’s first real server load test. This session exposed several issues in our underlying multiplayer server code. Losing connection to the server after just one PvP match was the most pervasive. 

Requiring players to restart the app after every game was definitely a no-go for us, so we spent a decent amount of time just playing matches with our tech people in tow, reproducing and logging as many bugs as possible.

The latest dev builds are now able to play many matches consecutively. While not yet perfect, they represent a significant step forward to us moving to a Beta and increasing the number of players.

Event System

At InterPop, we frequently talk about our ambition to not just make a good Web3 game, but to make the best TCG game, period. This goal requires the ability to live operate the game modes we show to players at any given point to keep the game fresh and exciting. Herein laid the problem: All game modes were hardcoded in the game. If we even wanted to make a minor change to our PvP Match format, we would need to create a task and assign it to one of our engineers — not a great process for a small and nimble team.

Enter the event system! We spent most of December through February designing and developing a parametric system that controls our play menu UI, the game modes that are on offer to players at any single point, and any format limitations on them. Creating new game modes (or “events”) is now as simple as updating a parameter in our admin panel!

There is still a lot to be done to support more game modes and the exciting ideas our game designers have. Still, while not player-facing, this work is foundational to our shared dreams and aspirations. 

Speaking of supporting new features…

New Features

Random Match (sometimes called Random XY) was introduced in late December/early January. This game mode creates an entirely random deck for you and your opponent to play, and it’s a fun way for new players to explore new card interactions. In true agile development fashion, it was also a simple enough game mode to do for the first iteration of our event system.

Limited Pool, just released in our dev environment as of the writing of this post, was showcased in our Feb 24th stream. Limited Pool is our first “limited” style game mode, where players are randomly assigned a pool of cards and go on a run until they win five times or lose twice. We expanded the event system to develop this game mode, allowing us to set up “runs” that persist through sessions and dedicated game mode “pages.”

Our next major initiative is to create a tutorial that provides a good on-ramp for new players. We also plan to keep gameplay fresh for existing players by introducing event rotation and also adding challenging “scenarios” to test the abilities of some of our most skilled players.

Look & Feel Exploration

Simultaneously, the creative team embarked on a significant exploration of all of our UI and effects to draw more on the type of comic book essence that is central to the Emergents Universe.

Some of the most exciting updates can be seen in our re-designed player avatars and duel UI:

Proposed duel UI layout update as of Feb 22nd. Notice the dynamic avatars, angular UI shapes, and re-arrangement of certain areas of the duel screen.

Sample player avatars, one of several game cosmetics to be introduced.

Similarly, we have also re-imagined some of our existing special effects, like wildcarding:

Old Wildcard success

New Wildcard success:

And created new animations where none existed, like cards moving to the gutter: 

This body of work is not yet finished, and it might take some time before it is all added to the client, but it is so exciting that we couldn’t just keep silent until then!

We also started composing several music tracks specific to the game. The addition of music and sound effects will surely elevate the experience for all players.

What to expect in Q2

The following weeks and months are key to us as we prepare to transition from a small Closed Alpha to a much bigger (but still invitation only) Beta. That transition will require us to build several tools to service invitations and provide support to a growing player base. 

We plan to release an in-depth explanation of the game economy, so you can learn about individual collections and how to acquire or trade cards and other collectibles with other players or even us. Stay tuned for more on that!

Expect music and sound to be fully integrated into the game in Q2. In addition, game visuals will be updated on a rolling frequency for every new release from March until the end of the quarter.

Finally, if you are following the project and would like to join our community of players. Join the Discord and sign up for our newsletter. Subscribers to these will be the first group selected for invites!  You can also just come to chat with us in Discord; we are always happy to bounce ideas and discuss the Emergents TCG.

Thank you, and I hope to see you soon in the streets of Culverton!