Designer Diary: The Path of a Lightning Bolt

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Rafa Novellino

The long and grueling battle had taken its toll on both sides. Weary and battered, the two stood face to face, surrounded by an atmosphere of crackling energy. I could sense the imminent climax of their clash. My summoner and commander, her flames flickering dimly, strained to muster a defiant voice, "Even in my weakened state, I will not be extinguished so easily!" The other, equal in beauty and power, her gusts reduced to gentle breezes, whispered a soft but determined reply, "Neither shall I yield, for as long as the wind blows so shall the winds of resistance blow within me." As she extended her hand to unleash a lightning bolt, a mix of weariness and resilience adorned her face. The crackling energy surged towards us, and I watched, with bated breath, the purest display of elemental magic.

- Wayfaring Pilgrim

In Sorcery: Contested Realm, both its breathtaking artwork brought to life by our exceptional roster of talented artists, along with the synergy of design and development, assumes a pivotal role in shaping immersive, enjoyable, and strategically rich gameplay experiences. Amidst this captivating universe, Lightning Bolt, painted by Ossi Hiekkala, stands as an iconic and quintessential card, that seamlessly blends into the game's tapestry. This lightning-themed, 3-damage-dealing spell both joins and pays homage to the legacy of its ancestors found across the expansive multiverse of card games while establishing its own unique place among them.

Lightning Bolt's significance, however, goes beyond its iconic power in the contested realms, serving as a compelling example of how the iterative design process shapes mechanics and balance. So join us in this article as we embark on a journey through the evolution of this iconic card’s design, tracing its path across three distinct versions that have undergone meticulous refinement. We delve into the decision-making process that propelled its transformation, exploring the interplay between thematic considerations, player feedback, and the pursuit of healthier game balance. From its inception as a formidable zero-cost spell to its refined manifestation as a measured and unpredictable force of nature, we shed light on the intricate thought process that guided each iteration of Lightning Bolt.

Magic of Quick and fickle nature

During the earlier stages of development, Sorcery’s system allowed players to cast spells with “Quick” in its typeline during their opponent's turn. It was within this environment that the initial version of Lightning Bolt emerged as one of the game’s most powerful spells ever witnessed. Embodying the essence of quick and fickle magic, it was granted the "Quick" keyword, and as a consequence, a mana cost of 0, given that our system was somewhat restricted in that it didn’t allow mana to be produced on the opponent’s turn.

As the game progressed, it became evident that the “Quick” mechanic wasn’t prominent or necessary at that stage. Furthermore, it was contributing to balance issues in card designs. While the game's elemental threshold system provided some additional room for balance, the overwhelming power of Lightning Bolt and others raised concerns. Taking these factors into careful consideration, including exploring alternative systems with greater flexibility in terms of Quick spell design, alongside the evolution of the game’s core system, adjustments were necessary to ensure a smoother and more enjoyable gameplay experience.

Ordinary Magic of jagged ferocity

During the transition from its initial version to the subsequent iteration, Lightning Bolt underwent significant changes to address its power level and align it with the game's evolving design principles. The most notable modification was the adjustment of its cost from 0 to 1, which established a more balanced resource investment for its damage output. Additionally, the card’s typeline was altered, removing the “Quick” functionality. This change reflected a shift in focus and allowed for greater coherence within the game’s mechanics.

The ability to deal a solid 3 damage to both Avatars or minions, regardless of distance, is incredibly powerful in a grid-based game where positioning holds significance. Adding to its power and utility, the card also had additional text stating that any remaining energy from the bolt would be redirected towards the site, usually the opponent’s, to inflict additional damage to their Avatar.

For a card of ordinary rarity that players could include up to 4 copies of in their decks, we felt like the card was still not ideal. It proved to be too flexible and effective in a wide range of decks, disproportionately punishing smaller or key minions without much effort. Once again, not ideal in a game where the strategic positioning of minions is key. Most importantly, player feedback highlighted the fact that there was a lack of counterplay against it, particularly when it came to Avatars on Death’s Door. The card was simply too powerful, versatile, and consistently effective at all stages of the game across multiple deck archetypes.

Ordinary Magic of shocking uncertainty

Lightning Bolt’s final version emerged as the culmination of its design journey, refining both its cost and ability to achieve a harmonious balance. With an adjusted cost of 2, the mana investment aligned more closely with the card's damage output, offering a fair and measured trade-off for players. Departing boldly from the previous version, Lightning Bolt's ability sought to better capture the wild and uncertain nature of lightning, while also addressing some of the negative feedback shared by players. The new text, “Deal 3 damage to a random unit at the target location,” along with the cost increase to 2 mana, transformed Lightning Bolt into a resourceful and thematic tool that showcased a clear Sorcery design. Players now have the opportunity to counteract the card’s limitless range by deploying disposable or robust units that can absorb the lightning’s impact instead of risking damage to their Avatar or other valuable units.

The storm subsides

Well, Sorcerers, from its swift and deadly precision in its initial incarnation to its final form as an unpredictable force of nature, we aim to showcase the intricate dance between design, balance, and thematic cohesion within Sorcery. Through iterative playtesting, data analysis, and careful consideration of team member and player feedback alike, we tirelessly work towards ensuring that every aspect of a card harmoniously comes together to create a cohesive and flavorful experience. Our goal is to provide each Sorcerer with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the world of Sorcery.

And as we now reach the end of this journey through Lightning Bolt's development, it is but the beginning of many other remarkable journeys to come. As Lightning Bolt continues to leave its electrifying mark on game tables across the globe, may its unpredictable yet energizing nature leave its marks on each of us.

Stay tuned for future Designer Diaries and we hope to see you all in the Contested Realm!

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