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Shaman King Interview with Brian Hacker
March 14, 2005 by Knives

Well I managed to get an interview with one of the lead game designers for the Shaman King TCG. Have fun reading it everyone. Oh and props to Cecillbill, and Mohammad for helping me come up with questions.

1. How did you come up with the unique mechanics for this game? What gave you the idea for back and forth battling? Did DBZ or Yu Yu Hakusho inspire chamber cards?

Brian Hacker: I believe that Upper Deck had identified the chamber card technology as something that would be a great fit for a game  before I got here. One of the few constraints that Jeff Donais (game director at UDE) put on me was to make sure that we used the chamber
card technology into the game. Strangely enough, the game was near finished and the charging/signature move mechanic wasn’t in the game. It’s hard to explain just how hard it is to integrate new technologies like this into a game. Since you can’t shuffle the chamber card into a deck, along with a variety of other constraints, you have to get very creative to work it
in there somewhere.

The original idea for Shaman King came from an epiphany, where I thought of a different way of breaking sports like football or tennis down. I thought of them as games in which players are exchanging an initiative to do something, and then I had a strange idea about a variant of tennis where a ball would have to bounce four times to score a point, and so each bounce would make it easier to hit back. This idea became the core of the system, that of having chances to do actions, rather than holding cards and choosing from a hand like most all games have. What is a little strange is that I had been working on the game for almost two and a half months, but had nothing until the “a-ha!” moment came. Pretty quickly after that, the idea took a shape that is recognizable to the game we call Shaman King.

2. How many cards will normally be in the expansion sets? How about Base Sets? Or will each set have a random number each time?

Brian Hacker: At this point, I think we will stick to the 50 chamber card, 141 regular card set numbers. That may change though in the future. It is possible that we would bring back the original shaman with new signature moves as well, although I don’t think that will happen in the second set.

3. Can you describe the rarity system for us? How many different types of rarities will there be?

Brian Hacker: There will probably be the same rarities as there are now, with common/uncommon/rares in both the regular cards and the chambers. Spectergrams figure into that as well.

4. While playing the demo I noticed something about this game's resource system. After taking damage, the player on the receiving end tends to get a boost in Furioku. The player that dealt the blow sees his Furioku shrink in comparison to the damaged opponent. Thus giving the
losing player enough leverage to recover. Did you guys intend for this to happen?

Brian Hacker: Yes. One of the things I don’t like about most games is that there someone who is winning usually will get rewarded for winning and then a landslide victory gets generated. Another problem is that someone knows the winner of a game much earlier than the game’s finish. I think that Shaman King solves both these problems with the 3 point system and the homeostatic features that you mentioned (furyoku shrinking when you point, growing when you get pointed) I think that any game I design will try to make sure that the losing player has some compensation to losing, so that he has the opportunity to stay in the game, always giving him a chance to win.

5. How did you get into the business of designing card games? Did you just walk up to Upper deck, with an idea? Or did they come to you?

Brian Hacker: I first designed an NBA game with my design partner Dave Smith. We sold it to WoTC who then used a few mechanics for their NBA game (which I do not like – not to bash competition – WoTC has a great product, but their NBA game wasn’t good) Then we turned to other games, some of which Upper Deck showed interest in buying, which turned into jobs here at UDE. It’s possible that you will other games from myself and Dave that were made before our time here.

6. How long has the Shaman King TCG been in development?

Brian Hacker: I started working on Shaman King almost a year ago, so from day one of design until the cardfile was turned over was probably around 8 months.

7. I have heard that each character from the Manga will have his own strategy. Care to elaborate?

Brian Hacker: Different shaman have different strategies inherent with them. They have different traits, but also unique signature moves and spectergrams that help promote certain strategies. We are introducing them at a rate of ten per expansion, so most of the fighting characters from the Manga/Anime will show up as Shaman at some point.

8. What characters will we see in the first set of cards?

Brian Hacker: For Shaman, Yoh, Jun, Trey, Len, Jeanne, Lyserg, Duncan, Zeke, Matti, and Lola. There are teamwork cards that involve other characters from the show as well.

9. How many people have worked on the Shaman King TCG?

Brian Hacker: Many have had some contribution. The central people to work on SK are myself, Dave Smith, Dave Humpherys, and Danny Mandel. There are some new faces working on the expansion as well.

10. What if Shaman King becomes as popular as the Yu Gi Oh CCG?

Brian Hacker: I’ll be very happy. At this point, I’m more concerned with people liking the game, its mechanics, the art etc. Yu Gi Oh is the biggest game going, so it’ll be awhile before any comparisons could be made. The biggest compliment for a game designer is for their game
to be played. I want the fans of the show and people who like TCGs to enjoy playing Shaman King and even if it’s not the number of people that love Yu Gi Oh, I would be happy if they appreciate all the things that make Shaman King special.

11. What games did you guys play before coming up with the Shaman King CCG? What games to you currently play?

Brian Hacker: I have played a lot of CCGs, but very few stick out as ones that stuck with me for a long time. Working on my own stuff didn’t allow for a huge amount of time for playing other people’s stuff unfortunately. I played M:TG for many years as a pro, but now I pretty
much just play VS and poker.

12. Do you guys have any childhood heroes? What T.V. Shows did you enjoy as kids?

Brian Hacker: For game designers, I like Sid Meier a lot. As a child, I watched a lot of Max Headroom and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That sort of thing. I don’t think the cartoons were as good as they are now, so I think I’ve gotten more into anime and cartoons as I’ve gotten older.

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