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Card Hunter: Irrational Co-Founder Goes Solo

The danger of a phrase like ‘Irrational Co-Founder’ is a bunch of people will probably presume you’re talking about Ken Levine. So let’s get that clear up-front: this is not a post about Ken Levine. This is a post about another founder member of System Shock 2/BioShock developers Irrational. Jon Chey has been with the studio since the very start, and prior to that did a stint at god-factory Looking Glass – so he’s someone you should take an interest in. Lately, he’s been heading up the former Aussie wing of Irrational, rebranded as 2K Australia and which did a bunch of the work on BioShock 2 and the upcoming XCOM (I know, I know) – but now he’s going it alone as an indie dev named Blu Manchu. The first project puts board games, card games, browser games, RPGs and strategy games into a blender, so he’s not exactly starting off small.

Trying to describe Card Hunter (especially without actually having played it) is going to be tricky, so let’s start with this adorable spoof trailer they’ve made:

Do I need to explain that it’s not actually a boardgame? I hope I don’t. It does, however, have a rather nice pseudo-boardgame, semi-3D look to it.

I’m also getting a bit of a Munchkin or Talisman vibe, and the game’s official summary adds to that:

– It’s free to play and you win cards by playing the game, not by buying expensive booster packs.
– Search dungeons to find treasure and then equip your loot to build out your decks.
– Use your cards to move your characters and battle monsters’ decks.

We’re taking two great flavours and combining them into something new. Classic fantasy adventuring meets collectible card gaming and the result is entirely new. Tired of pressing buttons while grinding away at quests? Card Hunter is all about skill – your skill at deck building and playing your cards. Tired of paying for endless new card sets? Card Hunter lets you win by playing, not by paying.

Which isn’t entirely illuminating either, so let’s quote from Chey’s interview with Gamasutra instead:

“Imagine you’re playing a board game/card game, only it’s largely a single-player experience. The best way to describe it is, imagine I take an MMO, and every time you fight a monster, instead of playing a timer game with with pull downs and buttons that you click, you’re playing a turn-based strategy game.

You have little pieces on a board, and you play cards to move those pieces around, and that’s the battle you fight. And at the end of the battle you win some treasure, which you then use to trick your characters like you do in an MMO, but those characters are actually pieces in the board game.”

Which sounds pretty good to me, although I do hope there’s some meaty multiplayer modes in time too.

Also worth reading the Gamasutra interview for is Chey’s comments on why Irrational made the jump to console and sold themselves to 2K:

“I think we would have liked to have stayed PC developers, but we just got squeezed out. I think we’d still be squeezed out of that market. The big budget shooter PC market, I doubt it’s ever going to come back to life, other than ports from the console side.

So yeah, we were squeezed out of that, and had to go to console, and I think it turned out to be great for us, because hey, we could make a real business out of it, and make games that sold several million copies, which is what we needed to do for the budgets we were investing in them.”

But before anyone boo-hisses, bear in mind that Chey’s now trying to turn those fat console-bucks to a greater good – back on PC, back being experimental. “That has given me the ability now to fund the speculative — frankly, very speculative — game development. I’m entirely funding this venture. There’s no publisher investment, there’s no publisher, there’s no outside investment, so I don’t have to convince anybody that this is a good idea other than myself, which is a little frightening, but at the same time I think it’s an opportunity to do some games that wouldn’t get funded otherwise, frankly.”

He also talks about the fact that the aforementioned ‘squeeze’ is gone and there’s now an awful lot more scope to be successful on PC than there was a few years back. Hooray for PC!

There’s more on Card Hunter at the official site, and hopefully we’ll get to have a go soon.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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