Should you be in the market for a hilarious narrative driven experience which will let you amend the rules of the game, all while creating fully customised card decks and becoming a bit of a champion in the process, then the release of Cardpocalypse on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch may well be something to take in. We were so intrigued in the offering from the award winning studio at Gambrinous, that we just had to find out more, grabbing the director of the studio, Fred Mangan, for a little chat. He was more than happy to give us the lowdown on Cardpocalypse.
Hi. Please introduce yourself – what is your role at Gambrinous and on Cardpocalypse?
Hi there, I’m Fred Mangan, I’m a Director at Gambrinous and was the Art Director on Cardpocalypse.
So, sell it to us… why should gamers buy Cardpocalypse?
Cardpocalypse is a game for anyone who was ever a ten-year-old kid at school. More specifically, anyone who’s after a solid dose of 90s nostalgia should get their hands on the game. It’s an awesome story of Jess who finds herself in a new school that’s gripped in a wave of obsession over Mega Mutant Power Pets – the latest, raddest, baddest trading card game. Not only does Jess need to make friends and deal with schoolyard politics, but she also has to fight off a horde of invading mutants. Inside the RPG is a fully playable and collectible card game that’s used to win friendships, show-up bullies and hopefully keep the Mutants at bay.
At its core, Cardpocalypse is a collectible card game, so how have you managed to differentiate yourself from the likes of Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering and GWENT?
Those games were all part of the melting pot of influences for Cardpocalypse, but where we’ve focussed our energy is on the introduction of legacy-type elements. Since we’re a single player game, we have to worry less about PvP balance and have used that freedom to give the player a lot of fun and interesting decisions to make, not just on their card collection but around the actual rules of the card game. Jess quickly discovers that the kids at Dudsdale Elementary use a system of permanent stickers to power up, add new abilities to, and rename their cards. There are also moments where the player can create their own card with a unique set of powers, or piece together torn-up cards to form new combinations. Once the supernatural begins to affect the school, the player also gets to to layer in new global rule options into the game which can affect, for example, the way the cards are drawn or how pet food (our version of mana) is spent. We want the player to have a lot of fun exploring the different rule choices and how they can bend and break the game – something that just wouldn’t be fair in a multiplayer experience.
Set way back in the 1990s, at a time when Pokémon and POGs were a pretty big deal, is it safe to say that you’ve drawn inspiration from these hugely popular playground antics during the inception of Cardpocalypse?
Absolutely! The core of the story, the card game getting banned in the school, was formed around this idea. Everyone in the team had a different story about heavy-handed teachers banning the latest toy trend in their school, whether it was yo-yos, Ninja Turtles or Yu-Gi-Oh. While there’s plenty of our personal anecdotes in the game’s quests, we also found while researching just how universal many of the experiences are around this age. We all know the kid who’s well-meaning aunt bought the wrong type of cards for their birthday. Worse still, we were that kid.
The story is centred on a young girl named Jess, who’s a massive fan of the ‘Mega Mutant Power Pets’ TV show and accompanying card game. She also happens to be in a wheelchair, which is a rarity for anyone taking on the hero role in general, let alone in gaming; could you tell us a bit more about that decision?
There are so many interesting stories that are missed out by deferring to default character tropes. We never set out to make a game about the experience of being a wheelchair user and while it’s largely incidental to the events in the game, it is something that has formed Jess’s character. Her outlook on friendships and her no-nonsense sass allow her to be a pretty solid judge of character throughout the game – these are the things that we imagined coming from earlier experiences without needing to be explicit about it. Reactions to the chair all come from the other characters in the game, and Jess deals with most of them matter-of-factly. First and foremost she’s a fun, curious and passionate kid, she just happens to use a wheelchair to get around instead of a pair of legs.
Will most folks be able to grasp the rules and quirks of ‘Mega Mutant Power Pets’, or should a bit of card-playing experience be required? Is there enough depth for the veterans to garner enjoyment from it?
A great result of the decision to let the player introduce rule changes throughout the game is that they’re active in the increasing difficulty of the play. We begin the game with Mega Mutant Power Pets being a relatively simple card game, you play minions that attack each other in an attempt to get the opposing champion to zero health. At the stage where the player has mastered the core gameplay they’re given choices to add complexity to the rules. As such they learn new strategies and tactics as they themselves add rules.
That said, it was important to us to have strategies and synergies that would appeal to old-skool card gamers too, especially once you start getting your hands on stickers that allow you to add keywords and change the factions of cards to create weird and wonderful combos. Some of our team are 25 year veterans of MtG and are still discovering new approaches to Mega Mutant Power Pets.
There are clearly a lot of cards to acquire, but exactly how many are there in the game? Furthermore, how tricky was it to come up with so many different ‘Mega Mutant Power Pets’ minions and their additional powers?
There’s 178 playable cards in the game, excluding the variations that come from creating your own cards during the story. As with any endeavour so large we started with a burst of creativity and got through about half of them without too much trouble, and having a lot of fun with visuals, names and powers. Each of the four factions Woofians (dogs), Meowtants (cats), Sinnisers (reptiles) and Pipsqueaks (rodents) has a core set of abilities and themes so these helped give direction when we slowed after the initial flurry. It’s a dream for all of us to do this sort of world-building, so ideas came from every member the team. We made it clear from the outset that no idea was too crazy and there are plenty of strange and delirious fever-dream creatures that made it into the ranks. It’s awesome getting to see people’s reactions to them.
Card games are often played with and against friends, but there’s no multiplayer in place here. Was that ever considered and, if so, why didn’t it make the cut?
We knew from the outset that we were making a single player experience. It’s what freed us up to hand over some of the decisions on card changes and rule choices to the player. Some of the most fun ways the game’s rules can be evolved during a playthrough would make for a very unbalanced multiplayer game. That said we did have the discussion a number of times throughout development and explored how a multiplayer variation might work, never say never, but our focus here was on creating a super enjoyable single player experience.
On average, how long would you expect Cardpocalypse to last? Is there much replayability in this single player offering, both in terms of content and the opportunity to grab achievements and Gamerscore?
An average playthrough is around 10-15 hours, depending on how deep the player wants to get into the trading and deck-building. There is definitely plenty to be gained from playing through a second time, and exploring cards and rule decisions that were missed in a previous game – especially with new knowledge of how some of those might combine. There’s plenty of fun to be had trying out different factions or collecting rewards from sidequests that you may have missed the first time through. Completionists will certainly want to dive back in to play again to get all those achievements as some story and cardplay decisions will take them on varied paths.
Are there many classic pop culture references or Easter eggs for us gamers to look out for throughout the experience?
Oh my god, so many! There’s layers upon layers of easter eggs throughout the game. Every room in the game has references not only to set the time period, but also to simply keep ourselves amused throughout production. I’m also a big fan of telling stories and communicating character through environments which ensures there will be plenty of little details in the backgrounds. We encourage players to take their time in each scene and keep an eye out for all the fun things hidden. Movies, TV, music, literature, pop-culture, as much as we could cram in. Some are obvious like Kyle’s “Not the Mama” t-shirt, while others are much more cryptic, like the tune notated on the music room chalkboard. There’s one or two that I put in which the rest of the team haven’t even discovered yet.
What can be expected in terms of voice-overs in Cardpocalypse and does it have a soundtrack that’s going to get the adrenaline pumping during battles?
We always knew that voice-acting would be a nice-to-have feature for the game, but not 100% needed. After doing some tests early on we realised that voicing just the cutscenes gave a huge amount of character and life to the kids, especially Jess. The compromise between fully-voiced and no voices allowed us to keep tight with schedules and not run over budget, while still adding depth and connection to the kids. The talented team of actors we got in also helped us out with character emotes and have really brought the school and the interactions you have with the other kids to life.
Likewise the music also adds a huge amount to the life of the school. Our composer, Tommy Buckley, put together an absolutely kicking theme song for us which harks back to the animated shows of the 80’s and 90’s. He then worked to draw themes and phrases from that to weave in and out of the background music for the school, with every room having its own custom track. This approach means that we have a wonderful continuity of sound through the entire game. Once you hit the card battles the guitar licks ramp up, the synth slides in and the energy lifts so that the music becomes worthy of the clashing Power Pets. Tommy also wrote a theme tune for each of the Champions in the game, so the first time you get their new card you get treated to a fun little vignette introducing them. We think players are really going to enjoy these.
With Cardpocalypse ready to launch on 12th December for Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, do you have any more games in the pipeline?
It’s a constant discussion we’re having at Gambrinous. There’s nothing solid in production, but we’re starting to kick around some concepts. Nothing to announce unfortunately. Presently we’re putting the effort into Cardpocalypse and exploring ideas for additional content and modes to add new experiences to the game.
And finally, who would win in a battle… Wolfgang or Charizard? 😉
Without bias or prejudice, Wolfgang ;D
The thing to note here is that Wolfgang is a commander, a leader of the pack, the Alpha Dawg! So if you’re taking on Wolfgang, you’re taking on his army of minions too. I don’t know that any Pocket Monster, however evolved, could deal with that alone.
Huge thanks have to go out to Fred for taking the time out in the build up to launch of Cardpocalypse on Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo Switch to answer our questions. We hope you like what has been said and if you feel like hit of 90s nostalgia is going to be something to your liking, let us know in the comments below.
We’ll be sure to remind you the minute Cardpocalypse releases on the Xbox Store (£20.99), and will have full thoughts surrounding how it all plays out covered in our review of the game real soon. Keep an eye out for it.