Magic guys tell us what XBLA game will offer newbs

Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers is slated to hit Xbox LIVE Marketplace later this afternoon. If you’ve never played Magic: The Gathering before, you may be thinking twice about the 800 Microsoft Point commitment — the Magic paper game isn’t the easy to learn. Understanding this, I asked two guys behind the XBLA title — senior business manager Worth Wollpert and senior brand director Aaron Goolsbey — what the game offered to newbies.

Their answer to my question revolved around two things: a visual tutorial and minor simplifications to the game itself. The developer, Stainless Games, have cut the initial two rounds of traditional Magic: The Gathering play and created a robust tutorial aimed at holding the hand of total rookies. Not bad.

“I think one of the key elements, for us, for this game versus what we’ve done in the past — aiming stuff at new players — is we took a different approach to the tutorial,” Wollpert told me. “We started by dropping players into game situations that are a little further along. We did away with the first couple of turns of the game that we found a bit dry.”

Hit the break for the rest of the responses.

“Obviously,” Wollpert continued “necessary when you’re actually playing the game, but it’s not the most exciting part of the game. Like, you want to get to the part where you’re casting dragons and attacking and casting big spells. So we sort of did some focus testing, found out — honestly, now that we’re looking back on it — pretty logically, that the most fun people were having was when they were casting their bigger spells and attacking with dragons and big monsters and stuff so we kind of focused the tutorial on that and made the game engaging and fun, and sort of left the rules behind the scenes. I mean, it’s not like it ignores the rules or anything like that. It’s just that we kind of lessened on the book learning and upped the fun quotient.

Then Goolsbey chimed in: “Magic has traditionally been best learned by a friend,” he told me. “Duels of the Plainswalkers is the next best thing to having a friend teach you. And, so, for us, it’s like the way that Worth’s team put together the design of this was that it walks you through the various turn steps, as well, in a graphically understandable way. It allows you to pause at certain times, and it gives you a good sense of the pacing. Additionally, they created decks for this particular game that are just fun to play. When worth was talking about the best part of Magic is casting those big spells and doing the attacks and really having a good time doing some stuff, those decks are designed to get people introduced to that right away.”

One thing Wizards of the Coast have learned over the last few years is that the Magic paper game isn’t accessible. They’ve been making strides with new decks and cooperative packs aimed at indoctrinating those without a clue. I’d imagine Duels of the Planeswalkers is a natural extension of that. Guess we’ll have to see.

What do you think, newbies? Will you try it out? Sound off in our comments. 


Brad BradNicholson