Atomic Mass Games Interview
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So I’m super excited to announce that we have the first interview back, and this is the one with none other than Atomic Mass Games William Shick. I was really hoping to get at least four or five questions answered, but Will went all out and answered them all – And even a couple of others! So, without further ado I’m going to jump straight in – There are some really interesting insights and some more information on a couple of the changes we can expect to see! All of my questions and comments are in italics and bold, so you can clearly tell the difference between me and Will!
Interview with Will Shick
Firstly I just want to say thankyou for taking the time to answer these questions, it’s really great and has created lots of interest around the blog which has been awesome. I had lots and lots of questions that got submitted, and I’ve tried to filter it down to the ones worth asking. If you could answer as many questions as possible I’d really appreciate it – But obviously feel free to not answer any that aren’t appropriate!
So starting with the most important question of all – Who is your favourite Marvel character, and why?
Starting off with the hardest question I see! It might sound like a cop out, but I don’t personally feel like I have a “favourite” single Marvel character. I do have several favourites, but even then, that list is always shifting based on which runs I’m reading or what other media I might be watching. I never thought I’d be as big of a Loki fan as I’ve become since seeing his character really grow and evolve over the last fifteen years, especially following one of my favourite Marvel events, Axis, which led into the fantastic Loki, Agent of Asgard series.
That said, I will change the question slightly so I can give an answer more in line with the original intention. The most impactful Marvel character to me will always be Peter Parker, Spider-Man. Because without the Nexus event of my Mom bringing me home a couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man from the grocery store when I was around 6 years old, my whole life experience could have been radically different. So, no matter which characters or story arcs are currently at the top of my favourite list, Spider-Man always occupies a special place in my heart.
The Marvel universe has what seems like a limitless amount of characters and villains – and the release schedule for MCP has been great – very fast and consistent. Does this mean in the future we might start seeing more alternate versions of the same heroes, or is the plan to really branch out and explore some of the lesser known Marvel characters, before going back and adding more alternate versions of miniatures?
We talk about this a lot on our various painting streams, but the idea that we would see multiple iterations of characters over the lifespan of Crisis Protocol was part of the very foundation of the original design. In fact, without this key piece of design I don’t know that I could have ever really started designing any of the original characters. I mean, seriously, how could you take decades of story, hundreds of iconic moments, and cram them all into one single stat card that would evoke everything about the character to everyone? Just thinking about that gives me anxiety because it’s an impossible task.
But the beauty of miniatures games is that we get to think about the game and its growth on an infinite scale. Thinking about, and building for, the future is key to the success of this type of game where it really is a living breathing thing. My favourite metaphor when talking about this is that good miniatures game design is like gardening. You plant, water, and tend to it. Amazing gardens need both a carefully thought-out plan for the future, but also require constant care and nurturing in the now. All this is to say that the Spider-Man from the Core Box is not, and never was the end all be all of Spider-Man in Crisis Protocol. It’s just a snapshot of Peter at a point in time in his story, meant to evoke his character and persona within that frame of reference. He’s no more meant to be Parker when he was bonded with the Symbiote than he is meant to be Spider-Man wearing the Stark designed Iron Spider suit. The fact is that we always are thinking about what future versions of the characters we might do when designing the characters we are doing now. So someday, when we get the opportunity to revisit the character, we can design them to feel appropriate and evocative of that unique snapshot in their history, that also adds exciting new options and strategies to the game.
This is all a longwinded preamble to say, we hope to explore every corner of the vast Marvel Universe on an infinite timeline. And that means always having a healthy influx of new characters combined with new versions of characters that have already appeared in the game. Exactly how that balance plays out is something that we are constantly looking at in regard to the holistic approach to the game and our role as stewards of the Marvel Universe.
How do you decide what threat value a character will be? With characters like Jean Grey, it would be easy to justify a three-threat version and a version all the way up to 8 threat with the Phoenix. How do you decide which version of a character to go with?
There is a large mixture of factors that go into deciding threat values. Part of it is based on the role that character plays within the makeup of their affiliation. Part of it is based on the character’s powers and abilities within the story arcs that make up the snapshot of the character we are trying to take from page to table. Part of it is based on internal game balance and comes about from the tension of the needs of representing the character from the page accurately in the game vs how that representation ultimately affects their impact in a game versus others within their weight class. With Jean Grey, we wanted to represent Jean at the height of her powers without the Phoenix force, while at the same time we knew that the affiliation wanted some tactical options in the 5-threat level. This then informed our decisions during testing to tune back certain aspects that might have pushed her to a 6 threat (because that higher value slot we wanted to save for a potential future iteration of her) and also tune up areas that might have put her into the 4-threat cost. Again, to go back to the gardening metaphor, we started with a plan of what we wanted, let things proceed organically through the process, and spent our time nurturing and pruning as needed to ensure the final form helped to enhance the beauty of the whole.
More characters naturally will mean more affiliations. Do you have a specific plan of all the affiliations you’d like to add, or is it just a matter of adding more with new releases and as the game grows?
We always have an idea of where we want to go in the future and how that will affect the list of affiliations both existing and potentially new. But we also stay flexible and adaptable to unexpected opportunities. For example, the Convocation affiliation was never part of the original mystic wave plan. Originally all those characters were just intended to add to already existing affiliations. However, once we started the design and development process, we came upon the idea for unifying those characters under the Convocation.
We’ve now got three leaders for the Avengers, and multiple for other affiliations too. Will every affiliation be getting multiple leaders in the future?
Anything is possible on a long enough timeline that I’ve learned to rarely say no to what could be. I can say that, much like everything else we’ve talked about so far, while there is often an initial plan in place which may say X affiliation will get multiple leaders and Y affiliation might only be designed around having a single leader, we are always going to seize opportunities to make the game the best it can be when they present themselves. No matter what surprises the future might bring, everything is carefully balanced around what we know during the time of actual testing.
Are there any more plans for leaderships tied to cards that are assigned at the start of the game more often, like Convocation, or is that a specific mechanic for that faction?
The future is wide open. So, while I would say players shouldn’t expect things like the Convocation or Dark Dimension in the future, the fact is that those things should show there is a whole lot of exciting possibilities when it comes to how leaderships and affiliations can work outside of the norm when the theme of the affiliation benefits from that kind of exceptional exploration.
Is an affiliation ever finished – As in they won’t get any more models in the future, or is the plan to keep them all open? Will some of the first affiliations, like Black Order and Wakanda, be getting more characters?
Hopefully everything we’ve discussed so far has made the answer I’m about to give completely unsurprising. No, no affiliation is ever considered “finished.” However, we always make sure to test and balance affiliations within the initial design brief. Affiliations like Black Order or Wakanda were balanced and tested around the expectation that they would likely see a slower pace of future growth compared to groups like the Avengers or Cabal.
How are the affiliations for a model decided? For example, Black Cat is affiliated in Midnight Sons but not Spider-Foes. Does game balance sometimes mean certain models might not make an affiliation that would thematically suit them?
Affiliations are primarily influenced based on the snapshot of the character we are trying to represent in the game. In your Black Cat example, the Black Cat we currently have in game is well past any animosity or outright conflict with Peter Parker in such a way that she would be running around with Peter’s most sinister foes. Which affiliations a character fits into can be just as critical to delivering on the representation of the character as their specific attacks and superpowers and therefore is something we consider just as carefully as their in-game kit.
How important are affiliated team tactics cards when creating an affiliation? Some affiliations only have a couple of cards, whereas some have a lot more that are a lot more impactful. Will we get more affiliation specific cards in future packs, or just in packs that contain leaders?
What Team Tactic cards an affiliation gets are certainly important to helping define the identity of the Affiliation and they are a large part of the initial design and development discussions surrounding the creation of any new affiliation to the game. Much like the answers about characters, all Affiliations are tested and balanced around the cards created during their initial design. The conceit being that we have to assume the affiliation will never receive anything additional in the future. Of course, new releases come into the game there is always the opportunity for them to build upon the set of Affiliated Team Tactics cards, whether these are found alongside new Affiliation leaders (like Web Trackers with Amazing Spider-Man) or new characters for the Affiliation (like Lovable Misfits with Angela).
Moving away from characters and affiliations – Do you have any plans to add different mission layouts to the game? Like a G and H?
We are always looking at different approaches to Crisis layouts and throughout our work on Crisis Protocol we have tried out different maps. Some of those have been used in narrative events while others simply didn’t work the way we hoped. As with everything else, will there be new layouts someday, I would say the safe bet is on yes but when and in what form those might take is certainly not something that can be definitively answered today.
What goes into creating a Crisis card? Do you start with a theme, like Demonic Portals, and then fit it into the rules? Or do you take a different approach?
Crisis cards always start with the theme first. Usually chosen based around a story arc that we think resonates or ties back to the character that it comes with. From the theme everything else gets worked out during the process from the type of Crisis, to the map, and the special effects of the Objective tokens.
Are any Crisis or tactics cards being changed or altered alongside the first fifty characters? Is the update of older characters a one-off thing to bring them in line, or will we get more character changes in the future?
I’m going to split this into two parts. First are any Crisis or Tactic cards being changed or altered alongside the characters? Yes, we are looking at adjusting a very small number of Team Tactic cards, mostly based around the timing of when they can be played to address unintended play patterns. Those will be released alongside the adjusted characters. As for Crisis cards, there will be no adjustments alongside the characters and the limited number of adjusted Tactic cards this year.
As to the second question of is this a one-off thing or not. Yes, it is 100% a once in a lifetime thing. All the characters we are reviewing were designed before the game ever released, and while we play tested all of those characters extensively with our amazing playtest groups at the time, no amount of effort was ever going to represent the number of games and emergent strategies of a global community. So, we felt like we had a rare opportunity to take what we had learned and apply it to characters that we discovered had slightly missed the overall mark.
As the previous Head of studio and now the Director of Product Development, have you been happy with the growth of Marvel Crisis Protocol and the direction it’s going in?
I couldn’t really be happier with how this amazing journey has gone so far. It’s been so incredibly humbling to see how players have just embraced the game and to watch people just lose themselves with excitement over getting to create their own little Marvel Universe on their table top with their friends. If there’s anything I wish I could do different it would be that I wish we could get to everyone’s favourite characters sooner, but as I’ve said before, given the chance we plan to explore every hidden nook and cranny of the vast Marvel Universe. But really, I couldn’t be prouder of the team, more impressed by the amazing community that has built around the game, or more excited for what’s to come.
Are there any plans for official tournament rules or matched play kits? Will we ever see regionals or more official competitive focused events like there is for X-Wing?
Currently there are no plans. Our studio philosophy since the beginning for Crisis Protocol Organized Play has always been centered around play focus which means we prefer to spend our resources on coming up with events that add to the base game experience whether that be new game modes like Ultimate Encounters or Narrative scenarios or something else entirely unexpected that adds value to everyone’s Crisis Protocol collection and experience. This isn’t to say that those players who value or enjoy testing themselves against others in a more competitive focused environment are doing anything wrong. Several of us at AMG played competitively at various levels in many different games throughout our years as players and hobbyists.
But the setting up and running those types of events for the subset of the community that is interested in that style of event are, on the whole, very easy and accessible. A simple search of Swiss pairings tournament rules and you are off to the races for being able to hold a competitive event. The one thing we are looking at introducing which I think does tie a bit into this is a more general store OP support kit that will provide stores promotional prizes and materials that they can use for whatever events they want to hold that aren’t the more specialized official event kits like Vibranium Heist or Separation Anxiety which introduce new game modes along with the components and rules for players to play them. So, if your local community or even a larger convention wants to hold a more traditional tournament or maybe even something more unique like an Ultimate Encounter challenge for Crisis Protocol, the general OP support kit will provide a nice selection of prizes to hand out to players that attend.
In game, if you could only ever play one affiliation, which one would you pick?
If I could only pick one? Honestly, I’d pick unaffiliated! I’ve never been particularly keen on specialization. I like the freedom to bounce around and try something new every game. It was one of my favourite things about the MCP Roster Challenge I did with Dallas this last May, was just going into with the intention to stay completely unaffiliated and instead only focus on characters that, at that exact moment, I wanted to paint and play with the most. It was super fun and, in my opinion, the heart of what Crisis Protocol is all about. Crafting your own stories and experience within the Marvel Universe.
Do you read comics, and if so what’s your favourite comic or comic run?
I’ve been reading comics since those first Spider-Man issues when I was 6. But just like picking a character it’s hard for me to pick a favourite. There are so many good ones and, just like movies or a book, part of what makes a comic so good is your own emotional receptivity at the time. I’ve been loving Immortal Hulk and the latest Amazing Spider-Man runs. Maximum Carnage is probably my biggest go to. I still have the original omnibus from when I was like 10 or so on my shelf. I also can always re-read Fear Itself or Axis. And She-Hulk is one of my all-time favourite runs regardless of era or creative team. So, for right now I guess I’ll stick with those, but tomorrow my answer might just be different!
Have you found yourself reading more comics since working on Marvel Crisis Protocol?
I don’t know if working on Crisis Protocol has caused me to read more comics than before. But it has given me a lot of reason to go back and re-read runs or arcs that I might not have done so otherwise. So…I guess when you stack that on top of the normal reading, yeah, I do have the opportunity to read a bit more Marvel than I might otherwise have.
It’s been great being able to ask you all these questions – And I’m sure you’re sick of answering them! Lastly I’d just like to say that lots of people asked how you relax, what you do in your spare time, and what your perfect Sunday looks like. Rather than ask all those, I thought we’d finish with just one question – What’s your favourite chocolate?
I’m always into Lightning Rounds so let’s do it!
How do I relax? Painting miniatures. I love the hobby of the game and painting is my zen meditation time. Over the last year I’ve worked into the habit of getting up early and starting every day with at least 1 hour of dedicated painting time. If I can’t paint, typically I like playing video games or reading comics.
Spare Time? Between work, being a Dad to two awesome sons, and husband to my incredible wife I don’t even remember what spare time looks like anymore. Honestly though I wouldn’t spend it any other way.
Perfect Sunday? Coffee and doughnuts for breakfast, multiplayer video games with the family, followed by board games, BBQ, and finishing off the day on the couch watching a movie while it rains outside.
Favourite Chocolate? 70% Dark Sea Salt Carmel!
We got some amazing, in depth answers there from Will, including a couple of insights into the future changes. Will mentioned that there will be some changes to a couple of tactics cards – But all the Crisis cards are staying unchanged! He also mentioned that they’re looking at OP kits for stores, and that maybe we might be getting a more powerful iteration of Jean Grey in the future! If you’ve made it this far I’m sure you’ve already read all of that for yourself, so I just want to say another huge thankyou to Will Shick for taking the time to answer all of these questions! I’m now even more excited to see what Dallas has to say! Let me know what you think of the interview in the comments below!
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