Interview: Hothead Games’ Hamish Millar talks Kard Combat

Hothead Games seem to be on something of a hot streak lately. In only two months, the developer has released three critically acclaimed games to the App Store. Cell Bound, Chromanoids, and Bunny the Zombie Slayer have all managed to earn positive words from our review crew here at Gamezebo. Now they’re looking to add a fourth title into the mix with Kard Combat, a game about battling mages with online play and a freemium twist. We recently spoke with the game’s producer Hamish Millar about this upcoming title.

Card battle games seem to be something a growing trend on the App Store in recent months.In your own words, what is it that makes Kard Combat stand out from the competition?

Apart from having a high pedigree of console development and Richard Garfield’s support behind us, I think that there are two things that make it stand out.

The first is that it isn’t a collectible card game (CCG) in the traditional sense. CCGs can be a huge time and money investment as you try to build the most powerful deck you can. Once you have an incredible deck, you can then likely destroy anyone who hasn’t spent a commensurate amount of time and money on theirs. Some people spend thousands of dollars on CCGs, and cards can then become redundant as the rules change. With Kard Combat, you can spend just 99 cents and be as powerful as any other player online.

The second is that, despite being a turn-based game, Kard Combat keeps a faster pace than other card games out there. This was very deliberate. People gaming on mobile devices have shorter attention spans and less patience generally, so we catered to this with an arcade-style presentation of the game and a user interface that gives you all the information you need to make a turn in one quick snapshot, without having to change cameras or open up menus. But if you want to deliberate and look at your opponent’s cards, spend time on your next strategic move, then we have provided this option too.

In developing Kard Combat, Hothead Games had the privilege of working alongside genre progenitor Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering.How did this relationship come about?

One of the early Wizards of the Coast was working here at Hothead at the time and he knew Richard pretty well. We’re always looking to partner with great people and so we gave him a call.

What sort of input did Richard have in the development of the game?

Kard Combat is a game that has evolved over many years and iterations. Richard’s company, 3 Donkeys, designed the basic mechanic, the card set and all of the card values. This data was licensed from them, based on their game Spectromancer, which, in turn, is based on an older game called Astral Tournament. To that effect Richard is a co-designer on Kard Combat.

Hothead then built the game, using that mechanic and card tuning, as an iOS game from the ground up, using an IP that we specifically created for that platform.

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While Hothead Games may be known for many things, mobile gaming isn’t one of them.Yet since making your debut on the App Store less than two months ago, you’ve released no less than three games, and Kard Kombat is about to become a quick fourth.Why the sudden interest in developing iOS games?

We do have our next console game, The Baconing, coming soon but we feel 2011 could well be the year of handheld gaming…it’s obviously a growth area with a massive potential. We’re not the first to the table, but we feel we can be part of this sector of gaming too, so that’s pretty exciting. We know that we can make great games for mobile devices, and we’re learning very quickly how to do that. Now we just need you to tell everyone about them. 🙂

In terms of multiplayer, Kard Combat features asynchronous gameplay that will allow competitors to take turns at their leisure – kind of like Chess-by-mail.You’ve done this using OpenFeint technology, however Apple has just announced that similar features will be coming to Game Center in the fall.Based on this, are there any plans to add Game Center in a future update?

We’re adding Game Center into our worldwide release due very soon. Game Center friends, achievements and leaderboards seem par for the course now. OpenFeint has been great for asynchronous play, whether you like to stretch a bunch of games out over a long time or get one done in a few minutes because the turns update so quickly. We’ll likely offer the same experience through Game Center for people who just prefer that flavor. We’ll also be looking into synchronous play, or at least creating a similar experience asynchronously by adding a timed multiplayer mode.

Shadow Era, a game that many feel may be Kard Combat‘s chief rival on the App Store, owes a lot of its success to the vast number of platforms it’s playable on.Can we expect to see a similar proliferation for Kard Combat, or will this one remain strictly on iOS?

We’ve launched on iOS first so we can see how the game is received, learn from that experience and then apply that learning to other platforms.

Are there any plans to add additional mages, challenges, or cards in the future through content updates?

Absolutely. I just finished writing a draft franchise plan full of new features and content updates about as long as my leg. The plan is not only to the new content you describe, but to deliver it regularly so that people feel rewarded by choosing to play our game.

The card art here is absolutely stunning, and would no doubt look great in print.Has any thought been given to adapting Kard Combat to a physical card game?

The idea has been bounced around the office quite a bit. At the very least, we plan to get a few decks printed just to test them out at some point. Beyond that, you know how it works – if people will pay for it then we’ll do it. Perhaps that’s our team mantra, although it doesn’t apply to humiliating ourselves in public. Yet.

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Any chance you’ll be auctioning off the original artwork used for the cards?

We’ve just had some incredible posters printed displaying card art, which we’re sending down to Richard to sign for us. We might auction some of those, although we want to make sure that some of them are kept for prizes for tournaments and other sorts of Kard Combat competitions…

As far as physical card games go, is there a particular title that’s had you hooked recently?

Here’s my big confession. I’ve always been a videogamer first and foremost. I’ve played nearly every videogame known to man, completing over 500 of them. I keep a list of every game I’ve ever played with notes on each one. One of the things I love about Kard Combat is that I can tell that it was built as a videogame from the ground up. This applies to the entire history of the game and is the same reason that Richard was attracted to the idea in the first place. For this gig, I’ve needed to learn a lot about card games very quickly. Fortunately there’s a booming card and board game culture here at Hothead. During that time, I’ve been diving into the physical world of Magic, and also more comical games like Munchkin.

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