Inferni devs on making a card game inspired by Magic's Commander format

Inferni devs on making a card game inspired by Magic's Commander format
Images via Village Studio

Written by 

Lloyd Coombes

Published 

26th Apr 2024 11:10

Card games have a proud history in video games. There are some fantastic, challenging card games already around, ranging from digital versions of cardboard like Pokemon's TCG to new upstarts like Star Wars: Unlimited, mainstays like Yu-Gi-Oh! and deckbuilders like Slay the Spire and Spellrogue.

With so many choices, it's hard to find a niche that hasn't been covered in one way or another, but Inferni: Hope & Fear is taking a different approach. Taking influence from Magic The Gathering's multiplayer Commander format, it's trying to offer a challenging but accessible deckbuilding experience with a battle royale slant.

The game, which we exclusively revealed will launch into Steam early access on June 28, comes from Village Studio, formed of veterans who worked on Angry Birds.

We sat down with the studio's co-founders, Will Luton and Cyril Barrow, at WASD in London earlier this week to talk influences, complexity, and the nineties-inspired visuals.

Cardboard inferno

Gameplay in inferni
Click to enlarge

So just what is Inferni? It's a deckbuilding battle royale, which isn't something we've seen a lot of - or maybe ever seen at all.

Still, there is at least one touchstone for the team to work from with the Commander format of Magic The Gathering, where players can target multiple players in their turn, or work together before stabbing each other in the back.

"The biggest, most popular format in Magic is Commander, where 8 players play," Luton, the game's Creative Director explains.

"It exists, it's the most popular in paper, but it doesn't exist digitally because of the UX. So we looked at that and solved the problems of making that game.

"The discussion we had internally was more about the opportunity we had to be innovative rather than the risk," adds Barrow, the Chief Operating Officer.

Card designs in Inferni
Click to enlarge

"The fear when you start up is a sentiment that is constantly there. We're trying to put that aside to see the opportunity.

"So the discussion we had is "there is a need, there is a paper equivalent that needs to be sorted", and innovation is very fun to work with.

"It's fascinating to work on the UX, on the UI, on the balance, on something that nobody else has done and we cannot just copy."

Players pick one of five characters, each with their own playstyle. Each of their decks is split between generic cards and more specialised ones, and players draft cards during a match to respond to their opponent's threats.

"You can look at players around you and say, 'Okay, this player's playing really aggressively, so I need to be defensive, or I need to be quicker, or I need to be more controlled,'" Luton says.

"So you end up dynamically shifting your strategy, which is really unique."

Oh, oh, oh, it's Magic

Inferni gameplay
Click to enlarge

"Magic is in my blood," Luton explains. "It's deep in there. So, if, you look at the game, if you play Magic The Gathering, you get that quite strongly from it, particularly, the mid to late 90s era of Magic.

"I think it's harder than ever to play Magic the Gathering because they've really ratcheted up the complexity of the cards to serve an existing audience, which is great.

"But I think as a new player, it's very daunting."

That love for Wizards of the Coast's long-running card battler helped shift Village Studios focus in a different direction, admitting that the team had originally planned to release a more casual 'match three' game.

Magic's influence, alongside that of indie darlings Slay the Spire and Vampire Survivors and many more, helped inform Inferni's development process - and avoid making things too complex.

"Game development is not linear and it goes through loops some cards we tried, we had to remove," admits Barrow.

A character in Inferni
Click to enlarge

That classic '90s aesthetic was brought on by what Luton describes as a "limited budget", but that the team leaned into the "janky" stylings.

"We embraced the games that we loved in the 90s, and we do a lot of opposites," Luton explains.

"So if you look at a lot of modern UX design, things are very clean, they're very bright, they pop and they shine.

"So we made something which is grimy and gritty and something that looks a little bit pixelated. There was a conscious choice there. The game is not polished, it looks a bit janky, but we're okay with it looking janky."

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The duo does acknowledge what makes it tough to get a bead on just how to describe Inferni.

"It's really hard to kind of describe what the game is because we're not making another shooter. We're not making another platformer. And it's great that stuff exists, and people are doing it," Luton says.

"The closest genre we have is TCG, but the T bit of that doesn't make sense, because you're not trading cards. It's also not quite a battle royale, because when people think of a battle royale they think of a shooter.

"It's kind of hard to quantify it, but I think that's one of the shortcomings we have in marketing today."

However you describe the game, you can wishlist Inferni: Hope & Fear on Steam right now - and a demo is expected in May so you can help describe it for yourself.

For more on digital card games, be sure to check out our rundown of the finest ones you can play right now.

Lloyd Coombes
About the author
Lloyd Coombes
Lloyd is GGRecon's Editor-in-Chief, having previously worked at Dexerto and Gfinity, and occasionally appears in The Daily Star newspaper. A big fan of loot-based games including Destiny 2 and Diablo 4, when he's not working you'll find him at the gym or trying to play Magic The Gathering.
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