Monday, August 01, 2011

Match & Magic

It took two weeks longer than I thought, but the Q&A with Jeff Laflam, the creator of upcoming PC game Match & Magic, is finally ready.

A little background first. Two years ago in August, Jeff contacted me with a request to take a look at a game he'd created called "Elemental." He said this was his first game, and I didn't expect much, really, but I was willing to try it out.

What I realized very quickly, though, was that I was playing something important, a game that was almost impeccably designed and executed. It was a match three game, and its very core, but there were so many interesting variations, so many entertaining nuances to gameplay, that I couldn't stop playing it. Even the music was insanely catchy.

The only part of the game that didn't stand up to the otherwise-uniform excellence was the art. It wasn't bad, by any means, but it was very basic, and this game really, really deserved more. So I e-mailed Jeff, told him he was a game creating wizard, and made a few suggestions. And I told him that the art really needed to be reworked if he wanted the game to reach its full commercial potential.

Other people were telling him the very same thing, as it turned out, and he decided to both expand the game as well as do a major art redesign. That's why there's been a delay from the fully playable version in 2009 to today, when the game is finally nearing release.

Having said that, though, I think the delay has been more than worth it. Take a look at one of the new screens:

I don't have a screenshot from the earlier version to compare it with, but it was spartan. This is lush and quite beautiful, courtesy of artist Geoff Mellon, who is clearly terrific.

So, why did I fall in love with this game? Primarily, because it plays like a rogue-like in a match-three format. Take a look at the screenshot just above: you have a tile-matching area in the center, a spell book on the left, "hot" spells at the center-top of the screen, and the current events panel on the right.

At any one time, you might be battling one creature (or several), depending on what your matches have created. But at the same time, you might also be trying to fulfill collector tasks or special tasks that will grant you spell cards upon completion, and these spell cards can be very powerful. You might also be trying to dispel certain effects. Up to five different event cards can be active in current events panel, so the amount of strategic decisions available to you during each turn are staggering, and require you to carefully balance need versus risk.

Plus, there is a tremendous array of creatures and spells, which creates an unbelievable number of situations. Again, that's just what happens in a good rogue-like, which generates interesting stories, which are always the hallmark of an excellent game.

Now, if you're wondering if all this decision making gets hectic, the answer is no, because the game is turn-based, not real-time. So you have all the time you want to sort through the possible combinations of actions--oh, which also include setting which direction you want tiles to move when they're matched. The ability to control the direction tiles fall makes possible some very interesting multi-move strategies to reach a goal.

All right, I've gone on for so long here that I'm going to make part one of the Q&A start tomorrow, which part two on Wednesday. So come back tomorrow and I'll have the first part of the interview with creator Jeff Laflam.

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