With Jagex kicking off open beta for Chronicle: Runescape Legends on March 23rd, I sat down with Designer James Sweatman to discuss Jagex’s new free-to-play strategy card game – its features, monetization, and what to expect from the open beta.
Zach Sharpes (ZS): Explain your role regarding Chronicle: Runescape Legends real quick and also a general synopsis of the game.
James Sweatman (JS): My name’s James Sweatman I’m the lead game designer on Chronicle and we are making a strategy card game based in the Runescape universe. It’s different because you fight your own cards. In Chronicle you are building quests with your own cards and you fight your own cards. So, it’s very different than the traditional board control/board game style that you’d experience with traditional CCGs. So yeah, it’s a really interesting change in the genre and we are very excited for it.
ZS: I finally got my hands on it and thought the game was awesome. However, since the game is free-to-play, people wonder what the monetization will be like. What will be monetized and what is your general philosophy behind how you’ll monetize Chronicle?
JS: The monetization will be pretty traditional in its delivery for a CCG, so you’ll be able to buy your packs, but also we will be adding customization into that. One of the main things, is as a free-to-play game, you spend your time to earn currencies and you’ll be able to buy card packs and expand your collection just by playing for free. The game is balanced for that. If you spend enough time, you’ll be able to get all the cards you want to have in your collection. We’ll be adding customization into that as well. You’ll be able to purchase card backs, add things to your character as well. So we will be focusing heavily on that aspect so players can make the game – the game they want. The characters are big 3D characters and you’ll be able to add things to them. That’s really exciting for us as well, but we’ll be adding more as we go forward and we’ll be looking toward the community to see what they want.
ZS: You guys detailed one of the more recent characters today and one that is somewhat in the future. Can you elaborate on both of those characters and their features?
JS: Sure, so the first one which we released as a small preview last week for the end of the closed beta was Vanescula. She’s a Vampyre and her main focus is health management. She will steal health from characters and creatures, she will use her own health as a weapon, and she will damage herself to grow stronger. That’s an interesting way to play a glass cannon role – where you’ll deal big damage, but, feel weak a lot of the time. Which ends up being intriguing playing off of the two legends as the quests go on.
The next character is Morvran. Morvran is the great slayer master in all of Gielinor from Runescape. A slayer master kills monster and sets tasks for players to kill monsters. He’s going to set out slayer tasks with the quests. For example, kill three dragons in this questline, or kill three bears. Those will then give your rewards. Morvran because of that is heavily incentivized to do tribal style play. Connecting types of cards that are the same all together and defeating them for big rewards. Which makes Morvran a very interesting combo based character.
ZS: To touch on characters a bit more, you guys will obviously be releasing more as development goes on. However, how many are currently in talks to release by the end of open beta and about how frequently do you guys think they will be released after the open beta?
JS: We've got plans for the next two characters, we know mechanically what we want to explore with them. We want to bring the old school theme into the game more and those two characters will certainly be old school characters. Beyond that, we are looking to get as much as we can into the game that we feel is right. If we feel there’s more mechanics we want to explore, we might explore some of those with just cards for existing characters. We are not setting a cap for our legends. If we want to make 9, 10, or 11, we will do just that and will carry on with as much as we feel the game can support. For the upcoming legends after Morvran, it will probably be a couple months for each one, but we haven’t got any firm timeline for them.
ZS: It’s great that you guys will be taking the time to ensure everything is balanced before adding more. Another thing that also regards balance is cards and card count. So, with open beta you guys have a good chunk of cards available, but exactly how many will there be, and how many cards are you guys shooting to try and expand to before launch?
JS: There will be at least 300 for open beta, but it’s probably going to be in excess of that by far. We are going to be adding an extra 30 or 40 with the new legends but also, we are going to be filling out more cards for stuff within the tribes because we feel like our tribal play isn’t quite as good as it needs to be. We are going to be adding to that with more old school characters as well, which is going to be really interesting for us, but we haven’t got a firm target in mind. As long as the game feels like it’s got enough cards in there for you to feel like your investment in the new card packs is worthwhile, then we’ll be happy. We don’t have a specific number, but we’d like get to 400. We just don’t want it to feel like there’s too many.
ZS: That’s really good because more card variety is always something people like, but if you have too many cards and it’s not really balanced, then you have a scenario where there’s a ton of cards with few viable decks and it becomes useless to have those cards there. We spoke a little while ago about Dungeoneering, can you explain a bit about what it is and what players can expect from it?
JS: Absolutely, so Dungeoneering is inspired from Runescape's Dungeoneering, which is a game mode where you lose all your gear, have to start from scratch, build up, and go through dungeons. So we’re taking inspiration from that. Basically it’s a draft mode within Chronicle, so all of your collection and everything you earned is put aside for the time being and you are put against dungeons with increasing difficulty and challenge from PVP. As you mentioned earlier, there’s cool ideas there for maybe a standalone version so you can play with just your friends, draft decks, and go through dungeons. All of this is set within a cool board game aesthetic. So, your lot of characters are going through the dungeons as you complete each challenge, grow stronger, and get better rewards. Were also looking at different mechanics that we can explore over the open beta and can change that a little bit as well. Maybe you can double down on your rewards for better bonuses, but you might lose them and we’ll also try other different mechanics that explore what draft mode can be in a card game.
ZS: A lot of card games have a linear path of progression that allows players to get more cards, maybe foil versions of those cards, but not much else. What types of alternative progression do you guys have in mind besides that to differentiate the experience?
JS: Obviously the fundamental aspect of the game will be card exploration and expanding your collection, but like you said, we want to broaden the appeal of what you do day to day – not just earning cards. We got the skilling system, one of the big things in Runescape that has been a part of its success is skilling, which is basically doing activities to earn xp within an area which you then use to get unlocks, weapons, and so on. We are taking that concept and bringing it to Chronicle. Every time you play a card, every time you earn a reward – it will grow a skill. That skill will then reflect the style of play you like to enjoy, but it will also unlock specific rewards. You’ll get emblems and titles that you can then apply to your player character which shows your style of play. Everything you do will always be adding to those skills and unlocking more rewards. Each one of those will unlock unique challenges as well. There will be specific things beyond daily quests or playing just a game or two. You’d have to defeat this creature in one hit, play a whole round without taking any damage – all of these little things you can try and achieve through the unique mechanics of Chronicle.
ZS: To wrap things up, we all know whenever a card game gets released in this day and age – it gets compared to Hearthstone. Even though in a lot of cases it’s unfair, the knee jerk reaction you see in communities, is anything with cards – is a copy of Hearthstone. For example, I’ve even seen Duelyst being called a Hearthstone clone despite the fact it’s completely different. What would you say is your favorite aspect of Chronicle that you feel will set the game apart from its competition?
JS: One of my favorite things is because you set up your turns simultaneously, both players set up four cards and you don’t know what the other person has played. You can then set up cards that can reduce their gold, steal something from them, or buff their next fight so it’s twice more difficult than they expected it to be. Those type of interactions you just don’t get anywhere else. It makes it incredibly fun and so enjoyable to set up that turn, press it, and sit there on edge waiting for the activity to kick off. It’s a really exciting piece of gameplay we think is going to go a long way. It’s my favorite part of the game doing just that. Especially when the scenario is where you break someone’s weapon or steal some of their gold – completely ruining their play. It’s a really fun experience.
ZS: Yeah, I found that to be a very interesting mechanic. Since I never played Chronicle before, it took a moment to realize that the cards I play, my own character has to face, but they have effects that can affect the other player. Then, you have the gold count which allows you to summon even more powerful cards. If you don’t finish off your opponent before the end of the 5th chapter you have to face off, so you might want to stack weapon cards before the end – it was just an interesting experience. March 23rd is the open beta, I’ll definitely be playing it, but thanks a ton for sitting down and having a chat with me about your guy's upcoming strategy card game Chronicle.
JS: Not a problem at all, thank you!
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