Game Design Using a Computer
When I first got the idea for the game of Cybermancy, I knew that I wanted it to be as balanced as possible, meaning that I wanted every card that I created to be useful in some context. In order to achieve this, I knew that no card could be stronger than any other, based on the costs of the card. So, that meant that I needed to calculate the stats for every card, based on both its RAM and CPU cost. Additionally, I would need to take into account the values of each card's Health and Attack, as well as any special abilities it might have. If that sounds like a formidable task, all I can say is: you have no idea. Considering that we decided on 50 cards per deck for the basic version of the game, that meant that I needed to design and balance 100 different cards. I knew that I wanted every card to be both unique AND useful, so there were no shortcuts or copying that I could do: every card needed to be individually crafted, and all the stats had to align with its costs. The Attack and Health values were easy: they could be adjusted up or down easily enough to accommodate different summoning costs, based on an algorithm I used to calculate how many points of stats a card could have relative to its costs. Where things got tricky was in the special abilities of each card: a single card could have multiple abilities, and to further complicate things, each faction had its own unique ability, and they could be mixed and matched in any number of combinations. The first step I needed to take was to develop an algorithm that calculated the cost of each special ability. That done, I then needed to balance each of the stats on the card so that, no matter how the stats were distributed, all the stats on the card equaled the stat total calculated from the costs. The idea of manually doing this for a hundred different cards was daunting indeed, but luckily, I had a resource that I could call on: my brother Woody. For most of his working life, Woody had done consulting work for the oil industry, specifically in the area of Risk Assessment (he's one of the primary reasons why refineries and other such facilities don't blow up). To do this, he designed specialized software which modeled the systems of a given installation and calculated things such as corrosion rates based on temperature, pressure, fluid velocity, corrosivity, etc. This modeling was done with a database holding the relevant data, and a software interface that allowed users to enter values, track changes, calculate failure rates, etc. Having worked with him as a database programmer myself, I knew that he could build a system for tracking all the data for the cards, and make the necessary calculations to keep the cards in balance (you can see one screen of the interface in the graphic at the top of this post). Armed with this fantastic tool, I was able to create the cards in a fraction of the time it would have taken had I tried to do it manually. What's more, Woody was able to model the game-play systems in the same database, which allowed us to play the game using the computer; this proved invaluable, as it let us quickly sand off the rough edges and fine-tune the mechanics of the game before we started live play-testing. In short, using the computer greatly reduced the time required for both design and play-testing, and also allowed us to more quickly make changes when necessary. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, without the aid of the computer, it's quite possible that Cybermancy might never have seen the light of day. Having an idea for a game is one thing: bringing it to reality is quite another, and I feel extremely fortunate that I've had the help of such talented and creative people working tirelessly to make my idea a reality.