In Praise of Craftsmanship

The web-site is going back into mothballs for a while.  On Monday, I start at Magic Leap, and since everything I’m going to be doing is under the cone of silence, there won’t be anything to say publicly.

But, before I go, I wanted to give a big shout-out to the design team at EA Capital Games.  I’ve been playing Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes during this cross-country transition, and while it is not revolutionary or particularly inventive, it does all the little things well.  At its heart, it’s a re-skin of Heroes Charge (which is itself a re-skin of a successful Asian game), and while it uses the same core combat, equipment, and progression mechanics, it does so with lots of polish.

It’s hard to capture all of the little bits, in part because there are so many of them, but just for starters:

  • The crafting system UI obviates the need for understanding the crafting system; you drill down until you find the piece you need, then go directly to where you need to get it.  All precursor combinations are handled automatically.
  • The daily activities cover all of the core activities in the game, so you are rewarded for engaging with everything, every day.
  • The sim system allows you to grind without spending tons of time.  It is monetized, but so gently that you can still use it as a FTP player, which just incentives conversion more.
  • There are multiple dimensions of advancement that are revealed over time, including tutorials that introduce and repeat key interactions before unlocking major gameplay components.
  • The materials needed for different characters’ advancement span all of the gameplay modes.
  • You never need to see your inventory, which would be hugely cluttered and illegible on mobile devices.
  • When sending items to guild-mates, it shows you how many of that item you have before you have to decide whether to donate any.
  • The AI is stupid enough to give players an incentive to control the characters directly, but not so stupid that it can’t beat you.  This also levels out PvP matches considerably.
  • Players can select targets for the AI without directly controlling characters, which is faster but clumsier than controlling them in detail, a valuable tradeoff at times.
  • Combat is predictable but not deterministic; there are enough variables to allow for a wide range of strategies, but even exotic combinations make sense within the ruleset.

I could go on and on for pages.  From the raid system to the advancement maps, the timing of leveling over the first week’s play session, the variable timings for refreshes, the balance of the gachapon, the character/shard system, there is just so much that the team has done right, over and over and over again.  Clearly, there are excellent designers and solid design leadership on this team.

If you need a grindy RPG time-waster to carry around in your pocket, I highly recommend it.