Charlie’s Entry: The Story of Uncaged

So we’re officially less than a month away from the release of our card game, Uncaged!

Uncaged has its origins as all card games do:
With a horrendous physical injury that left its original creator unable to do much else other than play card games.

No, seriously. Without going into too much detail, a training incident left me unable to do much of the physical activity I love and like many nerds, I turned to gaming. Recently a few friends of mine had started playing nerdy card games again (Magic: The Gathering as well as Yugioh, etc.). Frustrated with the direction that many of these games were taking, I did the thing much of my generation is known for in scenarios where kicking and screaming did nothing:

I said: ‘Screw it, I’ll make it myself.’

This of course, was a complete failure of a prototype and only resulted in paper print-outs of text on generic fighting images but hey, it was the first step forward. There it sat, hastily glued together in card sleeves for the next few months, gathering dust in my closet.

We then had our monthly game jam in December of 2016 where I pitched the game via a playtest with our CEO. I have the coding skills of a pool noodle so my addition to any game jam wouldn’t be much more than moral support. He greenlit it upon completion of our game under the condition that it go through a few tweaks that would make it a little more friendly with the casual audience. A few signed pieces of legalese later, we were off and running.

Then came the playtesting. A LOT of playtesting. We overhauled the mechanics several times, most of the time going nowhere. It was a difficult process, but in the end our team managed to keep the feel I had intended: A combat sport game where an underdog could win SOMETIMES, and a solid strategy and counter-strategy would win MOST of the time.

Finding this balance wasn’t easy. A combat game where strikes, grapples and submissions were played with cards lacks much of the urgency as say, a live MMA event. However, with the months of playtesting grind came a very sharp game, one that I think many people who enjoy both combat sports and/or card games can enjoy. It includes the strategy and gameplanning of a card game and manages to keep the excitement of a combat sport.

The game itself is played much like a classic 2D fighting game. Commands are entered with cards instead of buttons, with opportunities for attackers to be counter-attacked, and defenders to be cracked. Players at any given moment are either attacking with a series of strikes or grapples depending on their deck design, or defending with just the right combo-breaker planned at the right moment.

Much of the ZeMind team saw fit to help develop the game, starting with several programmers and our art director. One of the biggest things that I had paid little respect or attention to was the wording on the cards. This quickly changed. We had to get the text to encircle the intent of the card without getting too granular. Micro debates in aesthetics and language quickly became the norm. For example, In accordance to our art director’s attention to uniformity and detail, he wouldn’t allow the text to shrink beyond a point. This would clash between my own wishes to have the game cards state their actions and intents without any wiggle room, regardless of how many characters it took. We would end up striking a balance after more developers suggested a change in wording.

This give and take relationship would become paramount to moving the game forward. Pushing and pulling was the new norm, and in the end it made the game stronger.

Much like the legalese on numerous contracts, the card language had to be so airtight that a savvy wordsmith couldn’t re-interpret the rules or abuse a loophole for an unfair advantage. Unlike the legalese on numerous contracts however, we had to fit the card text in the same amount of characters as your average Tweet.

We went through numerous language changes. NUMEROUS. The card game at its core still uses the same keywords as it did in the beginning, but now exists in a sea of easier-to-understand non-mma language. We had numerous card game testers come in and try to pick apart the dialect. After roughly 4 months of debate, we had finally picked the phrases that would make up the bulk of our card game (as well as the entirety of our starter deck). This part of development really floored me, as a team of actual game developers went over word by word what a card would do vs what a card would imply it does. The attention to detail was fantastic, and as the game progressed it became apparent that Uncaged would become something far better than what I initially imagined.

Originally printed on flimsy paper backed by an actual, well known card game, Uncaged had finally been hammered into a place where we could finally start looking at the aesthetics. Check back in next time for an update on what we did to pick the art, style we reviewed and the aesthetic ‘Feel’ of our game.

Check back for more updates!
-Charlie Ze CardgameMaker

P.S. We’ll have the second part of this article up and running soon! If you’re interested in playing our game, stop by the Gaming Garage at the Canadian National Exhibition this year for a chance to play it and pick up a copy for yourself!

Until then follow us on social media for more updates on our release of UNCAGED!