Roy Shapira is the Game Director for Zombie Battleground. He is interviewed by Extranji, an active member of the community, to talk about the process of creating each new card for the game.
This is Part 1 of 3 in a series of interviews. In this clip, Roy talks about the card design process.
Check out the other two parts here:
Audio Interview (11 min.) — What Does the Card Design Process Look Like?
Extranji: Hey there, Zombie Battleground fans. My name is Extranji. I’m here with Game Director, Roy Shapira. I’ve collected a list of questions that some of the community’s had about the game… some questions that I’ve had about the game. And we’re going to go through and get some answers. I hope you’ll find this cool, as I do.
So, first question on the list is, what is the process of making a new card? How long does it take? What do you guys go through?
Roy: Basically, when we are preparing a new card, first of all, it needs to be number balanced between the factions. So we need to make sure that we have about the same number of Generals, Commanders, Officers, and Minions for all the factions so there wouldn’t be a situation where one of the factions is overpowering the rest of them.
The second thing that I’m looking for: the stats and abilities should fit the rank. So if it’s a General, it needs to be something unique, something powerful and sought after that changes the balance of the games, kind of. If it’s a Minion, it should just be there as cannon fodder. So it really depends on what card I’m working on.
If we take for example, a Commander — not the most powerful, not the least powerful, but right there in the middle. So a Commander has its own rank buff from the get-go, so whenever he goes into play, it gives the rank buff to other lower-ranking cards in play. I take that into account while giving him the stats, and usually I try to balance it compared to the goo costs. Let’s say the basic is 5 goo cost will give me 5 attack and 5 defense. And then I have to balance it with the ability. So if the ability is, for example, is Heavy — something fairly simple — then it’s kind of roughly worth 1 attack and 1 defense. So five goo cost will give me 4/4 Heavy. And if the ability is a bit more complex, it’s a bit more giving like a +1, +2, does 2 damage on entry, stuff like that, then that means I have to lower its attack. If it gives 2 defense, then I need to lower its defense in the stats. So it has to be a balanced card by itself.
After I have a balanced card by itself, in the design process, I look at the rest of the cards and how it synergizes with the rest of the cards — in the same faction and from other factions. Does it have something that is similar? Does it have anything that already catches this kind of role? How many Heavies do I have? How many Ferals do I have? And so on. And then we make sure that the card itself — the idea of it — is balanced [in the game]. We will not really know if it’s really balanced and good until it goes into the game and we actually try it. So as long as it’s on paper, its like an educated guess, so to speak.
I try to imagine the rest of the cards and try to play imaginary battles in my head, and so on. Then after I have it designed according to the ability, the right class, and the rank, I give it a name. So if it’s a Fire guy, who is also Feral, then I try to find some sort of a more aggressive name — something sleeker, shorter, and something that would fit the ability as well. So for example, if I have a card that its abilities is kind of like throwing a fireball upon entry, then I’ll try to think of something that would do that… like a Fire Match, or Fireball, or Pyro-something, whatever. So usually the name kind of grows from the ability and so on, but the name at that point is not really solid. It’s kind of like a vague direction.
Then we give it to the art team. The Art team starts with a sketch and the sketch is really a rough direction according to the ability, the rank, and the size of the zombie. If it’s Heavy, it’s more bulky. If it’s Feral it’s more aggressive and animalistic. If it’s a Walker, it’s a slower, classical zombie kind of look.
Think about a Minion as kind of a 12 year-old boy body. An Officer is kind of like a 16 year-old boy — scrawny. A Commander would be a 25–30 year-old man. And a General would be like a 40 year-old veteran.
Extranji: Yeah, all grizzled.
Roy: Yeah, all grizzled and full of scars. He knows what he’s doing, don’t mess with this guy. Or maybe he’s like GooZilla, just like a giant monster.
Extranji: Yeah, we got a few of those big guys, like Gargantua.
Roy: Gargantua, exactly. He’s like this huge lava guy. Inspired by Kronos from Clash of the Titans. And then the art team kind of draws what they feel like this is going to be. We have Janette, our Lead Artist, she gives her two cents. And the artists themselves, each one of the artists has their own style and their own kind of vision. I give them a little bit of leeway. As long as it fits the general direction, they kind of bring their own creative vision into it.
Once I have the sketches, we go through some iteration phases. We go through, “okay this is not really showing the ability”, “this is too much… this is too little… this guy is a Commander, not an Officer…” et cetera. So it goes through several cycles, and eventually, we hit the right tone — the right direction for the sketch. We do a color test, making sure that the colors fit right, which is kind of like a really rough 30 minute “let’s see how it looks with colors.”
Then it goes into polish. And polish usually takes a while. At least a day, maybe two days, depending on the complexity of the image. More complex Generals may take even longer than that. After I see the final product — the final creature or how it looks like — it might go down a rank, it might go up a rank, it might get a name change according to it. Something would pop out. It’s more like a gut feeling than anything else. “This guy looks like a Frank… This guy looks like a Bob…” Whatever.
Extranji: …looks like a Cherno-Bill.
Roy: Yeah, exactly. This guy looks like a… yeah. Because the artist, he just did some nuclear chimney, like a huge chimney, radiation and all — because his abilities. And I said, “Oh my god, this guy came straight out of Chernobyl.” And we said, “Hey why not call him Cherno-Bill?”
Roy: So it’s kind of like a synergic [process] that grows with the art. Everything combines together. After we have the art, after we have everything done, we put it into the game and start actually testing him live in the development branch, before it goes to the public. We test them, see how it goes, see how he works as part of the deck, see how he works as part of the AI deck, see how it is to fight him, see how it is to fight with him.
Extranji: Do you guys have a very big tester QA team for balance?
Roy: Well, we do have like a 60-person studio, so lots of testers. And we do have like a thousand people in the [early backer] community, so more testers. But before it goes to the community, before it goes to the backers, we do some in-house testing, we have the QA team, we have the game team, we have the game designers. Each one of them is looking at the card a little bit different. The QA looks if it’s working. The designers look at it as “does it synergize well with everything else? Is it balanced with everything else?” I look at it, as the Director: “Does this one feel right? Can it be more? Can it be less? Is it lacking something? Is something missing to make it more awesome?” And eventually, we get into a place where it’s kind of balanced — it takes like one or two iterations to get it into a place where it’s, “Okay, we’re good to go to start community testing.” And we send it out into the Alpha. Once it goes out into the Alpha, we get community feedback. Lots of times the feedback is silent. It’s like, “Did they even use this card?” Other times it’s very vocal: “This one is broken… What’s going on with that?” You know?
Extranji: Yeah, yeah… I’ve definitely expressed my own opinions on balance in the Discord so far.
Roy: Exactly. So sometimes it goes “Slab it” — you know, all the Slab memes and such. And of course once we do get that, then we have to rebalance it a little bit. That’s why we have the community, so we can make everything fun and balanced.
Extranji: Yeah, definitely! You can only do so much testing with a 60-person team.
Roy: Exactly. In the future, after we have version 1.0 out, we’re going to have a Beta branch where we going to test it with a smaller group people that will agree to be Beta testers. And we’ll have at least a couple of months of testing before we release a card. And obviously, unless it’s super broken, it’s just going to be there. Well, we’ll see how it goes.
Extranji: I don’t think I’ve heard of many other major card game studios [that do that]. I don’t think Blizzard does that. I don’t think I’ve heard of that for Magic: The Gathering or anything. So you described this process that you go from like… you start with maybe the stats or some concept for the ability, and then you give it a name and take it to art.
Have you guys ever started and gone in reverse? One of your artists drew up this really cool concept sketch and you were like “Oh, we got to make this into a card.”
Roy: Actually yes. It happened a few times. I think Boomstick started like that, Bulldozer started like that, and we went the other way around. The art team created something and we kind of… It really comes from anywhere, but this is the regular process that we do. Even if we get the art from somewhere or an idea from somewhere, then we put it into the ringer from the start. That part about the art, the part about the idea is — it’s there — it just needs to go through the cycle to be fun. That’s the bottom line. We need it to be fun and balanced as part of the game.
Extranji: Absolutely! All right well, yeah, thanks. That is a super cool snapshot into the design process.
Stay tuned… There’s more to come!
Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of this interview.
We’ll be coming at you with more content each week, so let us know in the comments if you have any burning questions you’d like to hear Roy talk about in more detail.