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How are Marvel Snap cards designed? Ben Brode breaks down dev process

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  • Posted on 14th Nov, 2022 09:54 AM
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What exactly goes into making a new card in Marvel Snap? Ben Brode joined Dexerto to break down the full Second Dinner process.

What exactly goes into making a new card for Marvel Snap? With hundreds of variables to account for, game-changing interactions to balance around, and dozens of Locations in the mix, there’s plenty to keep in mind when designing new additions. Ben Brode joined Dexerto to reveal how Second Dinner gets the job done.

When it comes to expanding on Marvel Snap’s roster of iconic heroes and villains, it’s not quite as simple as just chucking everyone’s favorites into the lineup right away. Instead, developers at Second Dinner opt for a more considered approach, one that sees just a single new card shaking up the meta with each passing month.

This more cautious method of delivery is employed for a number of reasons. On one hand, the team always wants players to expect something fresh with each seasonal update. On the other, they’re keenly aware that dropping too many powerful cards all at once could create an imbalance due to the game’s Collection Level system, wherein, the rarest unlocks are randomly provided at Pool 3.

Thus, each new arrival is thoroughly tested long before it goes out into the wild. But just what does that design process look like? How do the devs settle on which new card to implement and when? How does the team keep on top of an ever-growing list of art variants? Chief Development Officer Ben Brode went through it all in a recent conversation with Dexerto.

‘Top down’ & ‘bottom up’ cards in Marvel Snap

New cards are put forward in one of two ways. All designs in Marvel Snap follow either the ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’ rule, as Brode explained the CCG terms. “We’ve done a lot of both.

“Once upon a time, card games had the name and the art at the top and the rules text on the bottom. So do you come up with the rules text first, and then figure out what to call the card, or do you come up with the name and the art, then figure out what it would do?”

Marvel / Second DinnerWith over a hundred cards already in Marvel Snap and plenty more on the way, there’s a great deal for devs and players alike to keep on top of.

In some instances, characters immediately spring to mind before their potential impact is defined. The likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and even Nightcrawler, were all must-haves from the very beginning of Marvel Snap’s development, meaning the team mostly ran with a top-down approach early on.

“So we’d have the character first, we know we’re gonna make a Nightcrawler card, but what would it do in Marvel Snap?” Brode said. “We think about the powers of the character, what’s iconic about the character, and design around that.”

It’s this methodology that helps a vast majority of Marvel Snap’s cards align with their inspirations. Agatha taking control of your plays fits perfectly with her character. Galactus outright demolishing the board makes complete sense. It all comes from a place of logic and a team wanting to do right by Marvel’s biggest heroes and villains. Though admittedly, it’s not always the case. Every now and then, the desired ability comes first.

“Sometimes we think, we’ve got a bunch of these super bad villain types, like Red Skull who will help your opponent. They’re evil cards so they’ve got downsides. So what if you wanted to build a deck with a whole bunch of these cards together? Well, we need a card that removes their abilities or turns their downsides into upsides.”

In this particular instance, the team had no idea who they could add to fit the description, but they knew exactly what effect they wanted. A card like Zero is a prime example of a bottom-up design.

“I didn’t know who Zero was when I first started working on this game. So I would type in ‘power nullification’ onto the super-powered Marvel wiki, and it would return all of the Marvel characters that had power nullification abilities,” Brode explained. Problem solved.

Breaking frames with original artwork

Conceptualizing a card is obviously just the beginning of Marvel Snap. Given each comes with its own upgrade path, custom animations, effects on the board, audio cues and voice lines, interactions with other cards, and of course, an assortment of stunning art variants, it takes a great deal of effort to bring them all to life.

As a result, Second Dinner has largely looked outward for assistance in handling a bulk of the game’s artwork. While VFX, gameplay systems, and sound design are all controlled in-house, external artists are given the chance to shine in all-new ways thanks to Snap’s variant system.

Marvel / Second DinnerEach card in Marvel Snap comes with a wide range of unique art variants.

“Our art director Jomaro Kindred had a huge network of incredible artists he started working with,” Brode said of the team’s early days on the project. “Almost all the art in the game is commissioned from world-class talent who either already worked in comic books or have done incredible work in the past.”

Some variants are purely different spins on popular characters while others completely alter their appearance. Be it the Summer Vacation set dropping Doctor Octopus off at the beach, the baby set turning ominous villains into charming toddlers, or the Luchador set giving your strongest heroes a new masked identity, there are hundreds of unique looks in the mix on top of default appearances. Some players even craft their decks around a particular art style, looking to play each card in a particular batch to keep things consistent.

“We’ve been trying to get a really broad variety of different art styles in the game so it’s been really fun working with some artists that have maybe never done comic book art before. It’s really fun to see the Marvel universe through their lens.”

As for Brode’s favorites, with a collection level of over 4,000, he has a soft spot for the “charming” Dan Hipp variants and the Summer Vacation set.

Dan Hipp / Marvel / Second DinnerDan Hipp’s iconic art style fits perfectly in Marvel Snap.

Upping the tempo of new card releases

For the time being, Marvel Snap’s dev team plans on continuing forward with its current cycle. One new card per season, AKA one new card per month. Though with the arrival of Collector Token just on the horizon, there’s a chance we could see an increase in this pattern in the near future.

As it stands, players currently have two options in which to acquire new cards. Either through the Collection Level system, grinding through Pools 1-3 and claiming rewards at random, or through each season’s Battle Pass, manually purchasing one new arrival each month. However, a third method is just around the corner in Collector Tokens.

As teased in an earlier development roadmap, these unique Tokens will give players a means of collecting a specific card, rather than having to rely on RNG. A rotating shop will provide a window in which to grab a highly sought-after hero or villain for your arsenal. And while no exact date has been locked in, Brode shared with us that its release is coming “sooner than later” and that when it arrives, it could shake up Second Dinner’s plans moving forward.

Marvel / Second DinnerFuture Marvel Snap seasons could incorporate multiple new cards.

“I think we’ll end up releasing more than one [card] a month at some point,” he said. “We’re talking about Collector Tokens and how we’re gonna add more cards at the end of the road, more really rare cards. People will earn Collector Tokens and use them to buy the cards they really want, they won’t have to rely on randomness.

“I think once we have those systems in place, we could do more than one card a month. We could even do one card a week if we wanted to, so we’ll see how it goes. But we have a lot of new stuff we want to try in the next couple of months.”

One of those things is obviously the Tokens and although Brode wouldn’t share specifics on how they’re acquired nor how many players will need to purchase a new card, he assured fans will know soon enough. “We’re working on it right now. It’s probably the highest priority for us now, Collector Tokens and getting new cards into the game. It won’t be anytime in the next couple of weeks, obviously, there are a bunch of holidays in the US we’re working around, so we’re trying to find a good time. But it’s soon, we’re actively working on getting this out there as quick as we can.”

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