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Q&A with Magic: The Gathering – Tactics Producer Mark Tuttle

College News gets tactical and magical with Sony Online’s executive producer

Picture this scenario: You’re a Penn State graduate with a newly acquired graduate degree in combinatorial mathematics. Shortly after becoming a professor of mathematics at Whitman College in 1993, you set your sights on the future and ponder your next move. If your name is Dr. Richard Garfield, you settle on finalizing and releasing “Magic: The Gathering,” which becomes the most popular and addictive collectible trading card game on the planet.

Eighteen years later, there are a staggering six million “Magic: The Gathering” players across 70 countries, and the game has been a towering success for Dungeons and Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast. This week, a new – and most importantly free – way to play the game has been released for PC gamers everywhere thanks to a partnership between Sony Online Entertainment and Wizards of the Coast. With the game’s hundreds of spells and limitless combos, will “Magic: The Gathering – Tactics” appeal to hardcore veterans of the paper card game and be accessible to newcomers alike?

College News recently chatted with Mark Tuttle, Executive Producer of “Magic: The Gathering – Tactics”, to get a bit more insight into this digital incarnation. First let’s get you up to speed with a developer diary Mark recently recorded.

CN: From an outsider looking in, what the heck is “Magic: The Gathering – Tactics”?

Mark Tuttle: The other digital incarnations of Magic (“Duels of the Planeswalkers,” “Magic Online”) are basically just translations of the card game. Tactics is an online, 3D tactics game, kind of perpendicular to the card game. We’re taking familiar gameplay, familiar characters, familiar themes and spells and putting them on a 3D battleground. You’re a planeswalker – a powerful magician – casting spells and summoning creatures to defeat your opponent. Your avatar will grow with you as you increase your spell book and your abilities.

CN: Since this is a Sony gig, are there any plans for a PlayStation 3 version?

Mark Tuttle: Definitely, it’s coming sometime in 2011.

CN: So this would be a free to play title on the PlayStation Network? Will it adopt the same model as the PC version with optional micro-transactions?

Mark Tuttle: That’s the current plan, the goal is to make it as close to the PC version as possible. Unfortunately there won’t be any cross-platform play. I’d certainly like to see that though.

CN: Popular PC games like “StarCraft 2” match up multiplayer opponents based on skills. How are online matches determined for Tactics? Are players matched up evenly?

Mark Tuttle: If you wander into a tourney you’ll pretty much get paired with whoever else happens to be in the tournament, whether it’s constructed, booster draft or open tournaments. It’s no different than walking into a shop or larger event. You’re going to be playing against whatever skill level is sitting across from you. There are a lot of games online where noobs just get destroyed. We do have a mode called Casual Play. The way that works is you’ll be paired up with somebody who has a similar score, of fairly equal skill level, to try to preserve that good game experience. It’s based on your Player vs Player(PVP) play.

CN: One of the drawbacks of free-to-play games is that cash-crazy players can buy a competitive advantage. Any risk of that happening here?

Mark Tuttle: I know guys who will spend a ton of money on a new release (of the card game). They’ve got four of everything, but they’re not that good. Then there are people who make a very targeted deck who are very good players and stay very competitive without spending lots of money. I don’t think how much you spend is a reflection of how competitive you are or aren’t in this game. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money you’ll probably have to work harder at it, but you’re still going to have a lot of fun.

CN: You guys recently held a beta test for members of the press. Did your developers have any revelations or notice anything to change at the last minute?

Mark Tuttle: Absolutely, that’s the beauty of these games. We can test and test and test, but because our spells can be chained together, you get things that are completely unexpected. We play test as hard as we can.  Then on the day of release somebody finds something and we slap our heads and go “oh, God.!” We’re constantly balancing, constantly changing. In 10 years we hope to be here still tuning the game and churning out sets.

CN: I participated in the Beta, and couldn’t stop drooling over the possibility of managing and building my spellbooks on an iPad…

Mark Tuttle: I have a lot of fantasies about having an iPad and writing it off on my taxes (laughs). But it’s the kind of thing where anything is possible. There are no plans for that right now but I wouldn’t rule anything out.

As a commanding Planeswalker in “Magic: The Gathering – Tactics”, players cast devastating spells such as Fireball, Doom Blade, Pacifism and Lightning Bolt, and control incredible creatures like Serra Angel, Lord of the Pit, Colossus of Sardia or Raya Dawnbringer. Look for this fellow Magic junkie online under the Station ID killyourfm. Download the free-to-play game at http://www.magicthegatheringtactics.com/

Hardcore Magic junkies should check out this website, which details literally every card in the game.

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