Hey there, guys! I recently spoke to Patrick Nimmich, Founder of Fjord Games, the team behind the upcoming browser-based cyberpunk collectible card game, Dusk of D.A.W.N. I had some questions for him about his game and company as well as other topics such as CCGs in general and indie development. We also talk about the unique world that surrounds the game and what makes this CCG truly unique.
PanzerSG: What is Fjord Games all about? How did it start?
Patrick Nimmich: Fjord Games is, just like so many other independent game development companies, the realization of a long-time dream. At the moment we are a small team of four people in the process of developing our first commercial game. We came together in the fall of 2012 and have spent the last winter trying to figure out the exact game we would like to debut with. After a couple of WebGL tests and prototypes and the realization that a beautiful 3D game is just too much to complete in a short amount of time, our game designer Marcel came up with the idea of creating a collectible card game. We developed a prototype and after that went smoothly, we started with actually developing the game back in May.
PzSG: What is Dusk of D.A.W.N.?
PN: Dusk of D.A.W.N. is a collectible card game set in the year 2089. When the artificial intelligence D.A.W.N. went haywire, she took control of most electronic devices on the planet. Governments broke down. Wars seemed inevitable. It took a lot of effort, but a group of hackers from all over the world was finally able to disassemble her and give civilization a breather. Mankind is now at the dawn of a new age. In this world, now controlled by megacorporations, the player finds himself waking up from years in cryostasis. The player no strives to rebuild his former corporate empire from the days before D.A.W.N.
When you first start out playing, your pool of cards is a bit limited. After all, you have to rebuild your corporation from the ground up. You battle other corporations, be they human-controlled or AI-driven to regain power. To do this you have four card types at hand: Units, Buildings, Strategies and Tactics. The first three all have a place on the game board and are your line of defense. The Tactic cards are played instantly and can really turn a game upside down. When you play a match, you also have a chance to receive loot cards from your fallen enemies and for every completed match you gain experience points. With each level you gain this way, you unlock specializations which support you in setting up specific strategies.
Of course, as in any CCG, the whole process of building your deck plays a strong part. As you get more and more cards you can try out different compositions. With over different 100 cards available at launch, there are quite a lot of possible ways to approach your enemy. If you happen to have a surplus of certain cards you can also invest them into research. This gives you a chance to develop stronger cards to use in the game.
PzSG: What makes Dusk of D.A.W.N. unique, compared to other computer-based Collectible Card Games?
PN: On the technical side there is the fact, that this is a pure HTML5 game. You just need a modern browser and you can play everywhere you want. On your tablet, on your PC at work, at home on the couch with your laptop. There is no hassle with installing plugins. Just just fire up the website and you are good to go. Still, it feels a lot like a client game due to its clean and polished graphics. Switch your browser to full screen mode and you probably will forget that you are actually playing a browser game. To set things further apart there are now click & wait mechanics like the ones you see in many browser games. You connect with your friends and other players and play in realtime.
On the other side there is the broad range of feature. Apart from the standard modes for PVE and PVP matches, the Deck Management and the Research & Development feature we already have a lineup of other features we want to implement. There have been rumours going around about the game needing “runners” which seemed very fitting for a cyberpunk universe. But we also want to include a friend system, clans, tournaments, a PVE campaign. There is just so much on the horizon right now. And think about the advantage of this platform independence. If a friend sits at home with his tablet and you have a break at work on your office PC you could just fire up the game and start playing with him.
Finally there is the art style. With Hjalmar Boulouednine as an artist, we have someone in our team who gives the whole game world a very unique look and a consistent style.
PzSG: Dusk of D.A.W.N.’s world, as I understand, is quite unique. Can you tell me more about it?
PN: Usually, when you play a TCG or CCG without a franchise in the background, you get a rough setting for the game. It might be categorized as high fantasy or a WW2 scenario and that’s it. We are trying to take it beyond that, because we actually want to tell a story.
The moment where the player wakes up, the world is in a state of chaos. Imagine today’s world, where even refridgerators can have an internet connection and transport this vision over 70 years into the future. Everything will be connected. D.A.W.N. had very little trouble getting into almost every system on the planet. She has been disassembled, but there are rumours going around, that parts of her might still be residing in closed off networks around the world. Throughout the course of the game cycle we intend to explore what exactly happened to her. And it is possible, that she might reappear in some form.
Then there is the fact, that a few people have emerged, displaying psionic abilities. We don’t know yet why or how this happend, but their number is increasing and their story is one that should be heard. Is this the next step of human evolution? Did this happen, because of the prolonged exposure to the digital matrix? If the player sticks around, he might find out. And finally there are the more worldly concerns. Most governments have broken down. What kind of an impact does that have on the world? Megacorporations already made territorial claims and some of them are building their own armies. This will have an impact on how the player interacts with the world.
PzSG: What made you choose this particular setting for Dusk of D.A.W.N.?
PN: There were a number of reasons. The first iteration of the concept was actually going to be set in a fantasy/medieval realm. But somehow we didn’t find that very engaging. With our game designer being an avid Shadowrun player himself, the leap to creating a cyberpunk world was not very big. I also did a bit of research on the topic and almost 90% of the online card games I found, were fantasy games. Then there were a couple of animé and mixed-genre ones and very few who truly embraced scifi/cyberpunk. I have to admit, cyberpunk can be a hard sell. Producing a niche game in a niche setting is a gamble. And that gamble can only be taken by an independent company, because the big players are usually too afraid of the risks. We wanted to be brave enough to stick out and I think right now, we are doing just that.
PzSG: When is Dusk of D.A.W.N. going to be released? Is there a beta program running currently?
PN: We are only a few days short of releasing our first alpha build to the public. We want to involve players as much as we can into the development process. You can already sign up for the alpha and the beta on http://www.fjordgames.com/duskofdawn/beta
Still, there is no strict release date right now. We do have a schedule, but this is our first project and I don’t intend to become the one who breaks his promises, when he publicly announces a date. At this time we are trying to gain some momentum. Our ingame trailer will be released shortly and we are also in the process of preparing our crowdfunding campaign. This, again, will be hard sell, because browser games rarely do well in crowdfunding campaigns. We hope to prove the nay-sayers wrong. So depending on the outcome the public beta release will be in early 2014 and then we will take it from there.
PzSG: CCGs in general, lost popularity quite a few years ago. With the reappearance of the genre with games such as Hearthstone, do you foresee CCGs coming back to the gaming scene for good in the near future?
PN: We talked about this in our team when Hearthstone was announced, which was about a month after our decision on creating Dusk of D.A.W.N. At first there was a moment of shock, but then we realized that Hearthstone could be very good for other TCGs/CCGs. Back in 2005 it was World of Warcraft, who finally opened up the world to MMORPGs. Of course there were others before, but they opened the genre to the average gamer. This could happen with CCGs as well. We will really have to see how things progress. Will more CCGs be played during the next years? It is most likely, yes.
PzSG: As a company that is relatively new to the scene, what do you feel are the biggest challenges indie developers have to overcome on their route to success?
PN: There are two primary challenges. The first one is about money. Very few people can afford to work full-time on a game that doesn’t pay their bills. That is also a challenge for us. If you want to promote your game and do some progress, 2-3 hours a day usually won’t cut it. You have to be engaged and connect with the world, you have to build a following. But you also have to eat, and pay rent and insurances and everything else that comes with everyday life. It is a challenge we are facing as well. If the game doesn’t progress in the alotted amount of time or the crowdfunding campaign fails, I will have to take a day job again and that will cut down my development time and the amount of community work I can do.
The other major challenge is visibility. Right now the world is flooded with independent game developers. Very few are able to make the jump to form a professional company and even fewer are able to stay on that level. We have to fight to be seen. Reviewers on magazines get so many mails per day that they can’t review any game. That was different a few years back. So you have to prove yourself. And if you have a special hook a great game and enough staying power, there is a chance for success.
PzSG: Dusk of D.A.W.N. is planned as a free-to-play game. What is your view on free-to-play games and what made you decide to produce Dusk of D.A.W.N. with this model?
PN: I have a very critical stand, when it comes to free-to-play games. Most of those games include so many mechanics just focused on milking the game for all it is worth. There is a constant debate about pay-to-win and I really dread the moment, where we make a mistake and become the target of such a discussion. There have already been a couple of inquiries about our model and it is amazing how many blind accusations you have to face. We hadn’t even revealed our plans and already people claimed to know how it was going to work.
Right now, I am very satisfied with our concept. We don’t have any payment-exclusive content in the game and we have mechanics in place to even the score between paying customers and customers playing for free.
I know where the free-to-play bias stems from and I totally understand it. But I wish people would differentiate between the big kahunas and the small indie devs. We create games because it is our passion. Otherwise we wouldn’t have worked for almost a year now without earning a single penny from it. Were we creating a title for a different platform, we might even have chosen a different payment model. But with browser games you can’t really go many other ways. Advertisements don’t really work, so you need some kind of shop system. And not having to pay might increase our chance of people actually checking it out. Also gamers usually don’t pay upfront for a browser game. So free-to-play was the best way to go.
PzSG: Do you have any tips for any aspiring game developers out there?
PN: Tips are always difficult at this point. If we had already made it, I could speak from a point of experience. Now I have to speak from a point of belief. I believe that in order to make it, you have to learn, try really hard to get better, connect with other game developers, embrace criticism and communicate your own opinions constructively and honest. This way you will gain the respect of your fellow developers, you will grow and your game will go somewhere. Don’t stand still, move towards your goal or you won’t get there. Make awesome games.
Dusk of D.A.W.N. is a Collectible Card Game, currently under development by Fjord Games. It features full browser-based functionality with no client-side downloading required. Register for the beta here: http://www.fjordgames.com/duskofdawn/beta
Definitely worth checking out even if you aren’t a fan of card games, simply due to its rich world and backstory.
Also, check out my YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/PanzerSGGaming
I make gameplay videos and commentaries!