Plus, the team’s plans to make Take Two a competitive format, and why they create cards like Owlcat.
Shadowverse’s third expansion, Tempest of the Gods, came out yesterday, and the set of 104 new cards promises to significantly shake up the anime-infused CCG’s gameplay. To find out a little more about the development of the set and the future of the game as a whole, I spoke with Game Producer and Executive Director at Cygames, Yuito Kimura. Read on to find out about how the team thinks the game will slow down, their strategy of turning Take Two into a competitive format, why cards like Owlcat exist, why Blood Moon may be OP and more. (Oh, and you should also check out my chat with Lead Game Designer Naoyuki Miyashita and Card Designer Yuichiro Sato, which is more of a class by class, card by card analysis of Tempest.)
IGN: How far out does the team start work on a new set?
Yuito Kimura: About six months before the release is when we start selecting cards.
IGN: How does Tempest fit into the world established by Rage of Bahamut?
Yuito Kimura: We deal with mythologies and myths in Rage of Bahamut, so we have many characters and cards from Rage of Bahamut that have that theme in this Tempest of the Gods expansion.
IGN: Does each expansion try to tell a story? Or is the design driven more by gameplay?
Yuito Kimura: When we create new packs, we think about the abilities and the characters in each pack. For example, with Tempest of the Gods it’s based on mythology, so we have lots of godly cards and godly mechanics.
IGN: Shadowverse always has a pretty interesting spectrum of cards – in Tempest you have gods, you have busty women and heroic men, and then you have Octobishop and Owlcat. How important is it – even in an expansion where the theme is gods – to have these kinds of humorous or absurd characters?
Yuito Kimura: It’s not really fun to look at just one kind of card, so we try to include something that’s, like, remotely related, or not even remotely related aesthetically to keep it fun.
IGN: A card like Owlcat – is that created purely for the memes?
Yuito Kimura: Definitely, and like with Ultimate Carrot in the last expansion, we try to have something that’s fun and get people talking. We always reserve a place for cards like that in each expansion.
IGN: Yeah, that Ultimate Carrot card is hilarious, as is Gourmet Emperor Khaiza. I was wondering actually – is he specifically meant to be an Iron Chef reference?
Yuito Kimura: Something along those lines. We wanted to create a chef in the fantasy world. There’s actually a character in Rage of Bahamut who solves any problem with just his cooking skills.
IGN: The awareness of Shadowverse has really grown outside Japan. Are the things that Japanese players want different to the things Western players want?
Yuito Kimura: When it comes to players in Japan, we have a wide variety of people playing this game. We have young people, like kids, students, playing this game, and Shadowverse has turned into something like a communication tool for them. We have more casual players than hardcore core gamers in Japan compared to the Western player base, where the name Cygames is not even that well known. So we feel that the Western players, there are more people that are into card games, like, hardcore gamers.
When it comes to Western players, we find they’re… more focused on achieving higher ranks. People in, for example, the Master rank, they want reasons for getting better and getting into matches. They want more rewards for doing so, whereas in Japan, it’s more important to provide reasons to continuously play and provide continuous fun elements. For example, we have the daily bonus function. That’s something any given game in Japan has. That’s a necessity, but that’s not really the case with the Western gaming market. There are those differences.
IGN: I guess every card game has to straddle the divide between casual players and more hardcore players. Let’s talk about the future of Shadowverse. This is the third expansion and the card pool is growing ever larger. At what point do you need to introduce formats?
Yuito Kimura: We think it’s still okay, but obviously the more cards there are, the more likely the new players will be confused when they start playing the game, so when that gets to a certain point that’s when we need to start thinking about implementing formats.
At least throughout this year we think it’s fine to keep it as is, but maybe further from there we might have to start thinking about introducing formats.
IGN: Is that something that’s likely to happen this year? Or is it further down the road?
Yuito Kimura: At least throughout this year we think it’s fine to keep it as is, but maybe further from there we might have to start thinking about introducing formats.
IGN: Have you given much thought to what the best solution for Shadowverse might be?
Yuito Kimura: It’s kind of hard to say, but we think it’s important to ensure that the main way of playing the game is what people like to do the most, so we’ll have to think from there.
IGN: In terms of other things that might happen with Shadowverse this year, I’m curious about whether you have any plans for additional modes – a tournament mode in the client, for instance, or something crazy like Hearthstone’s Tavern Brawl. Anything along those lines?
Yuito Kimura: We have no plans for something like Tavern Brawl in Hearthstone, but we are considering making a tournament mode.
IGN: When I spoke with Miyashita-san, he mentioned the changes to Take Two. Can you tell me a little more about what has changed and why?
Yuito Kimura: The base idea was to make Take Two more competitive, and so, in order to do that we had to think about balancing out everything and making sure this format is viable. The changes we made, they aren’t significant, but they are important to make this something more competitive.
IGN: What, specifically, are the changes?
Yuito Kimura: That’s something that Miyashita would be better to answer, but we have changed the kind of cards that appear during the selection process, and you can now only get cards from the most recent three packs, while we do have some basic cards in there. More cards with higher rarity are likely to appear during the selection.
IGN: The idea of Take Two tournaments is really exciting. Can you tell me a little about what the plans for those are this year?
Yuito Kimura: With Take Two matches… it really comes down to deck building skills, and also playing skills as well. Being versatile when playing the cards. The kinds of skills that are required to be good in Take Two are very different to those required in ranked matches, where you prepare your deck beforehand. So what kind of decks are played, or made, is always different, and this is something that’s really hard to do with real life card games, but with Shadowverse, being a digital card game, it’s easy to hold tournaments with this format, and that’s the base idea of this tournament.
The kinds of skills that are required to be good in Take Two are very different to those required in ranked matches…
IGN: Will it be a single tournament or will you be running Take Two tournaments in parallel with standard tournaments? What will the schedule be like?
Yuito Kimura: Right now we’re thinking about doing a Take Two only tournament at first, but in the future we definitely want to do something for hardcore players of Shadowverse where it requires many different skills, whether it be a standard play or a Take Two play, so we are definitely looking at that for the future.
IGN: It’d be cool to have a Championship with both, where players have to prove their deck building skills as well as their deck execution skills.
Yuito Kimura: Yes.
IGN: Let’s talk a little about Tempest of the Gods and the direction Shadowverse’s gameplay is going in. What do you and the rest of the team want to change with the release of Tempest of the Gods? What are the key things with this expansion?
Yuito Kimura: The game will be a lot slower than now and it will take more turns to finish the game, so different cards will see more play compared to the current environment. When it comes to the moment when you actually manage to finish the game, the actual impact will be bigger, is what we’re expecting. And we have a couple of cards that utilise the class mechanics, like Necromancy and Vengeance, so it’ll be important to effectively use your class’ unique mechanics.
IGN: So is this shift to a slower style of game a direct response to the team feeling the game was too fast? Or is it just time for a change? To have a different direction?
Yuito Kimura: It was more the latter, we wanted to introduce something new, and matches that take a long time is not something we wanted from the start. It’ll be harder for new players to start playing if it takes too long to play. This is something that we had in mind from the very start – to make the game quite fast-paced in the beginning, and then later on introduce more slower cards and abilities.
IGN: A lot of people say that control decks are more difficult to play, but I personally think there are strong arguments that aggro can be just as difficult. Is there going to be a place for aggro in this meta?
Yuito Kimura: Not so much. The overall pace might be slower, but there will be some aggro decks that survive through it.
IGN: In terms of working on a set from six months out, let’s just say that Tempest of the Gods comes out and it slows things down too much. How nimble can you be changing the next set to address that? Or is that something you don’t want to do – being reactive instead of longer term planning?
Yuito Kimura: That’s not something we’re actually expecting. If anything, we think it’ll be faster than we’re currently expecting. Firstly, we’re expecting things to be slower – we could see it not go as slow as we’re expecting right now, but we don’t think it’ll be any slower than we’re currently expecting, and if the reason why it becomes slow is because of a particular card, then we’ll make changes to the card. We think it’s important to pay attention to the winning rate of the cards and decks, so if the reason why the environment is slow is because there are several viable slow decks then we think that’s fine.
IGN: There are some awesome new cards in this set, but not really any new core mechanics. What’s the philosophy around when it’s important to introduce something fundamentally new – like Enhance – to the game?
When it comes to new abilities, we’re thinking about roughly once every two packs – or sets.
Yuito Kimura: When it comes to new abilities, we’re thinking about roughly once every two packs – or sets. So once a new ability is introduced, then with the following set, we expect to see more sophisticated play with the new ability, and then we’ll go on to release another new ability in the next set.
IGN: Interesting. That said, there are definitely some interesting new directions you’re taking cards in Tempest of the Gods. For instance, there are several cards where followers can’t be damaged by spells and effects. That’s very Havencraft specific. So there are things you guys are doing to change the flavour of the classes.
Yuito Kimura: Thank you very much. Theme-wise, Heavenly Aegis from Havencraft, is something that really fits well with the theme of Tempest of the Gods.
IGN: The reactions to some of the card reveals online have been pretty crazy. Heavenly Aegis and Lightning Blast, for instance.
Yuito Kimura: But once you actually play those cards, you realise that they aren’t as super strong as you expected them to be.
IGN: In that case it’s good design, right? You see the cards and they’re exciting, but then they turn out to be balanced.
Yuito Kimura: Thank you.
IGN: We’ve seen the whole set now. Which cards, specifically, do you think are going to most shake up the meta?
Blood Moon – it’ll shake up the meaning of Vengeance. I personally think it’s a little bit too strong.
Yuito Kimura: Definitely Blood Moon – it’ll shake up the meaning of Vengeance. I personally think it’s a little bit too strong. Another card is Captain Lecia from Swordcraft. She’s a fairly popular character in Rage of Bahamut and her ability is pretty strong, too. So yeah, those cards.
Another card I’d like to mention is Deepwood Anomaly. When that card was revealed and I was looking at online comments in Japan, people were going crazy, so that’s another interesting card. If you’d like to hear more, I can keep going! (Laughs.)
IGN: Maybe the question, then, is what do you think the strongest archetype is going to be once Tempest of the Gods comes out?
Yuito Kimura: On the dev side, we know which one’s strong, but that’s not something I’d like to say here. We think that’s something for the players to explore, and since we’re the ones making this game we shouldn’t really say one particular card is stronger than another.
IGN: Coming back to Blood Moon – you mentioned you think it might be too strong. Does the team have a watchlist when working on a new set? The Hearthstone team, for instance, has its designers rating cards out of ten, and when a card is consistently scoring nines and tens, they pay particular attention to it, and ask – is it too strong? Do we need to change it? How does that process work at Cygames?
Yuito Kimura: When we are making new cards and playtesting with those cards, the testers always write their comments and those testers all have achievements in other card games, and when a particular card keeps winning, then at that point they start talking about why they win and whether any changes should be made. And that’s something that’s happening every day, on a day to day basis, so it’s not really about rating cards.
IGN: Are there some cards that you think the community is underrating right now?
Yuito Kimura: …I’d like to not mention a particular name here, but there is a legendary card that people aren’t talking so much about right now. I think it’s pretty strong, but I also don’t want to say any names, in case it turns out to be not so strong! (Laughs.)
IGN: Thanks a lot for your time!
Cam Shea is senior editor in IGN’s Sydney office and spends too much time obsessing over CCGs. Tweet at him here.