When Jagex announced card-game Chronicle all the way back at RuneFest 2014, no-one was quite sure what to expect. This was the first time Jagex had developed anything outside of RuneScape and spin-off RuneScape Classic and suddenly they were looking at developing something new.
Cards game were had recently exploded in popularity vogue: Hearthstone had exploded into the mainstream and the 20 million players had racked up 2 billion hours played between them
Now it's 2016 and Chronicle has come to the end of its closed beta. To celebrate, we went to Jagex's 15th anniversary party to catch up with lead game designer James Sweatman to see how things are going.
bit-tech: So, for the uninitiated, what is Chronicle?
So, Chronicle is a brand new strategy card game based in the RuneScape universe, and it’s different because we’re making a game in which you fight your own cards and you build quests for those cards, so instead of the, kind of, traditional mechanics it’s very very different in that your cards are yours to play but they’re yours to fight as well, and the mechanics on those cards are gonna interplay with also a rival legend who’s gonna be doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the board. So you play four cards at the same time as your rival and those cards are gonna interplay with each other, but also something you’re gonna fight against as well. So it’s like a kind of mini-RPG. Each time you turn the page is a new adventure for you to write.
bit-tech: Where did the inspiration for a card game come from?
Yeah, so, it’s funny because we didn’t start out building a card game, we started out building, kind of, differentiations on RPG mechanics, and one of the things we found is that we kept building the same thing, which was ‘a character gets created and then it goes on a quest’, and the input the player had was in this creation stage. We thought instead, ‘Well, why not control the quests?’, and so we came up with this idea of building quests and sending a character on them, and that turned into a PvP experience. We made that in paper format, and it’s something we really enjoyed. We iterated it through into digital, and that’s the game we’ve got today.
bit-tech: Having played it, with the loop of fighting four cards one after another, it feels like more of a tabletop game than digital. Would you say that you’ve been inspired by any particular tabletop games?
I mean, there’s a bunch of stuff that we play a lot in the office that we’ve been inspired by. I mean, some of the stuff that the team really enjoys has kind of helped direct some of that, but not anything in particular. The game’s always come from this idea of building quests and interacting with the cards. It’s not in particular inspired by a single game, more just, kind of, our collective inspiration of playing card and board games over the last, kind of, ten, twenty years for different people in the team.
bit-tech: Hearthstone clearly isn’t a direct comparison but a lot of people reading this article are gonna ask, ‘What are the similarities and differences?’, so, could you sum up what's different?
The key thing with Chronicle is that the core gameplay isn’t really comparable to any other CCGs [Collectible Card Game] out there at the moment, and that was really important for us starting out, is that we didn’t want to make a game that was the same as any other game. We didn’t want to say, ‘Oh, okay, we could make a RuneScape version of, you know, Hearthstone or Magic,’ that’s not what we wanted to do, because, you know, that’s not what we’re about. We want to make new interesting games, and that’s what people want to play, new interesting games. So that was the key thing for us when we started, is a new cool mechanic, a new way to play CCGs, and that’s how it started out, and whilst the core mechanic’s different we’ve also kept things that people would, you know, associate with core traditional CCGs, the way the cards are laid out, the way you buy packs. All of those things that you’re gonna expect to see with a CCG we have within Chronicle, but the core experience is very different and very unique.
bit-tech: Jagex are often enthusiastic about being one of the companies that got in at the entry level with freemium. How do you see payment working with Chronicle?
So, like with a lot of the other subsystems, the monetisation will work in a very similar way to most CCGs, so you’ll be able to earn currency by playing the game and then you can buy packs with that, or you can spend real money to buy packs, but also we’ll be adding customisation to that as well, and that’s a big factor in Chronicle, is that because it’s in this big 3D world and you’ve got these characters you’re gonna be able to customise those characters as well, but we want to make sure that people can earn things for free as well. It’s a free-to-play title.
We’re gonna try and put some new interesting ways to interact with the monetisation as well, but some of those things are still under wraps at the moment we’re gonna try out.
bit-tech: So you’d say it was more ‘pay to progress quicker’ than a ‘pay to win’ or anything like that.
Absolutely, yeah, and we want to make sure that with this all comes with the balance of the cards in a CCG, so whilst there are more powerful cards at the rarer levels we want to make sure that it’s all about skill rather than raw power, so those cards at the higher levels, you’re gonna be able to have to use more skillfully.
It’s not about just buying your way to victory, it’s more about earning the right to be victorious.
bit-tech: The Open Beta starts on the 23rd of March, what’s the roadmap from there for Chronicle?
So, the key thing from the 23rd is making sure that all the new features we’ve added to the game over the last couple of weeks are gonna be really exciting for people to enjoy, but then from then it’s gonna be adding to that.
We’re gonna be adding more cards, more legends. We’ve got two new legends planned, which are based on the Old School characters, which is gonna be really interesting for that community, but also in terms of expanding out the mechanics from those legends. On top of that we're looking at offline progression and single player campaigns.
bit-tech: How’s Chronicle going to interact with 15 years of RuneScape’s canon?
So, we’ve got the luxury of being able to touch anything we like, basically. We started out and said, you know, ‘Do we want this to be part of a specific time within the lore?’, and it was gonna be too restrictive for us.
We’ve got Old School creating their own legacy now and you’ve got RuneScape getting bigger and bigger, and with Idle Adventures creating their own new characters, we want to be able to touch on all of that. We want to bring all of those communities together with one game that can have all of those characters, have different mechanics and explore those universes, but connect them as well, so we’re gonna be bringing those together and doing some really cool stuff with it.
bit-tech: What would you say has been the toughest challenge?
With any CCG in particular it’s getting balance, so getting the balance right, getting it so we don’t have the one deck to rule them all. That’s always the biggest challenge, and we’ve been really, kind of, on that as a thing over the course of the closed beta, so working with the community. If they have issues we wait to see if the meta shifts, because that can happen, you know, there might be a powerful card but then people find ways around that. We don’t want to, kind of, upset that balance too much.
But where things have been clearly wrong we’ve been changing them, and we’ve got plans over the course of the closed beta to rectify certain issues with a couple of legends that we’ve had, and we’ve got plans for our new legends as well to make sure that doesn’t happen with them, but that’s always the biggest challenge and it will continue to be throughout the game’s history I imagine, but it’s part of the fun of building a CCG.
bit-tech: How often do you see the team releasing new content and balance changes once the game is out?
So, we’ll probably keep up the same cadence that we have recently, so similarly to the experiences we’ve learnt on RuneScape being able to do weekly releases, we’re gonna continue to do that at least in the start of the open beta. So any issues that come in, any new ideas, anything we want to try out we’ll get out as quickly as we can. As long as the players know that that’s how we’re gonna be doing things I think everyone’s excited for that, and they loved that during the closed beta and we’ll continue to do that in open. Probably slow down after that once we get into a good rhythm, because, you know, doing things weekly is a big stressful thing to try and do, but it’s really exciting and we’ll do updates as quickly as we can but not in a rush.
It’s more to make sure that we’re getting stuff out there and tested and played and the community enjoys it. So we’ll be doing things quickly but it’ll probably slow down into a more, kind of, biweekly or three-weekly schedule after that.
bit-tech: While no-one can decide their game is an eSport, Is Jagex looking at this potentially for Chronicle, will the team be pushing for a competitive league?
So, it’s one of the interesting things, like, when we first started making the game, and obviously, there're other games out there that really lean upon the eSports arena as a big selling point in the game, and when we started out we said, ‘We’re not gonna push it as an eSport. That’s up to the community to decide whether it’s something that they want to stream, whether it’s something that they feel is competitive enough to warrant that,’ but we’re gonna give everyone the tools that they need to do stuff like that, and it was amazing over the course of the closed beta to see the community start their own community cup. It was all self-organised, but we started to help out towards the end because we wanted to make sure the community felt like Jagex was involved and really supported what they were doing, and that was a really exciting, Connor, our community manager, went out and did a commentary on one of the last games, and that was fantastic to watch on Twitch.
bit-tech: What's been the most exciting part of this process for you?
The game itself. It was the first day we took it to RuneFest. So, we do RuneFest, which is an annual fan event we do for RuneScape players. Up until now it’s just been RuneScape. We had the pleasure of, in 2014, taking a really early version of Chronicle to RuneFest, which was fantastic, and we built it in just 13 weeks, and the players loved it, and it was so exciting. But that was fantastic for us. Seeing the team, kind of, engaging with players and having the players give us ideas and generate new content for us was really, rewarding and really exciting, and a great win for us. We really loved that.
bit-tech: It seems like a lot of the highlights for you have been getting the community involved. How much would you say that normal players are involved in the iterative process?
Just by playing the game players are involved in its future. So, we obviously talk to the community face to face and through Twitter and the different social channels, but in playing the game, in playing a card, in interacting with a specific legend, they’re adding to our data pool so we can understand how they’re playing and what they’re doing, and they’re changing the game by playing the game in a specific way. So, every single person that plays Chronicle is influencing its future and its development.
bit-tech: Thanks, James!
Chronicle feels completely unlike any other card game, but has a lot more in common with a board game. You play four cards in a row to create "a quest" and then you and your rival will go through your parallel quests at the same time, killing monsters, accumulating gold and skills, and throwing negative effects and the occasional attack on the rival.
Conflict is less direct than I've come to expect from a CCG, and conflict is conducted by proxy as you buff the next creature your opponent faces or perhaps curse them with a well-timed spell.
The biggest compliment I can pay Chronicle is that it's genuinely compulsive. I found myself reluctant to drag myself away at the end of the preview event and I'm eagerly awaiting the open beta: there's something almost meditative about slowly plotting your own course through the world and focussing on building yourself up. Several times I found myself ignoring the rival entirely and just getting all of that sweet loot for myself.
Probably explains why I lost nearly every game I played, then.