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Solforge Fusion: Combining Physical Card Games With Web3 Primitives | Justin Gary

By Unlayered

Published on 2024-05-30

Discover how Solforge Fusion is bridging the gap between physical and digital card games, leveraging Web3 to create a unique gaming experience that empowers players and solves longstanding industry issues.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!

Solforge Fusion: Revolutionizing Trading Card Games with Web3 Technology

In a groundbreaking episode of the Unlayered podcast, host Sal sits down with Justin Gary, the designer and creator of Solforge Fusion, to discuss the evolution of trading card games and the innovative ways in which Web3 technology is being integrated into the gaming industry. As a veteran game designer with over 25 years of experience, Justin provides valuable insights into the creation of Solforge Fusion and its potential to reshape the landscape of both physical and digital card games.

Justin Gary's Journey in Gaming

Justin Gary's career in gaming spans over two decades, beginning with his early success as the youngest ever Magic: The Gathering US National Champion. His journey took him from professional player to game designer, working on high-profile projects such as Marvel and DC trading card games, as well as the World of Warcraft trading card and miniatures games. In 2010, Gary founded Stoneblade Entertainment, launching the popular Ascension deck-building game and collaborating with Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, on the original version of Solforge.

Gary's experience in both competitive play and game design has given him a unique perspective on the industry. He emphasizes the importance of following one's passion, stating:

"Following your passion is not an optional thing in life. It is so critical. The society tells us all of these different ways that we should be chasing money and chasing these standards of success, but the best decision I ever made, which felt like the hardest one at the time, was leaving that path [of becoming a lawyer]."

This philosophy has guided Gary throughout his career and has been instrumental in the creation of Solforge Fusion.

The Evolution of Trading Card Games

Trading card games (TCGs) have come a long way since their inception. Gary explains the core concept behind TCGs:

"The idea of a trading card game is that instead of a traditional game, or in a traditional card game, let's say I play a game like Uno, I buy a box and what's in the box is the same for everybody and we play with the same set of cards as in the box. A trading card game takes the concept of traditional trading cards like baseball cards and old collectibles."

This model allows for a greater variety of experiences, as players build their decks from their own unique collections of cards. The constant release of new cards ensures that the game is always evolving, providing depth and longevity that traditional board games often lack.

The Business Model of Trading Card Games

One of the key advantages of the TCG model is its sustainable business structure. Unlike traditional board games, where a single purchase provides the entire game experience, TCGs allow for ongoing content creation and sales. This model supports tournaments, live operations, and continuous engagement with the player base.

Gary highlights the synergy between the TCG model and Web3 technology:

"It's particularly useful when we start talking about Web3. It's so much more natural. A lot of games try to shoehorn NFTs and tokens into them. Whereas a trading card game by default, the players already understand, like, I have a game object I own, I can trade, I can sell. That's exactly how trading card games have worked for the last 30 plus years."

This natural fit between TCGs and blockchain technology is a key factor in the development of Solforge Fusion.

The Core Design Loop

Creating a successful trading card game requires a structured approach to game design. Gary outlines what he calls the "core design loop," which consists of six key steps:

  1. Inspiration: Identifying the unique selling point and core concept of the game.
  2. Framing: Defining the parameters and resources for the project.
  3. Brainstorming: Generating a wide range of ideas for game mechanics and features.
  4. Filtering: Narrowing down ideas to create a concrete, testable concept.
  5. Prototyping: Creating a playable version of the game as quickly and cheaply as possible.
  6. Testing: Validating ideas through playtesting and feedback.

This iterative process allows designers to refine their concepts and create games that resonate with players. Gary emphasizes the importance of testing:

"No matter how long you've been doing this 20-some odd years, I still have no idea if they're good until I actually test them. My instincts are a little better than they used to be, but you still have to test."

The Birth of Solforge

The original concept for Solforge came from a serendipitous meeting between Justin Gary and Richard Garfield at a game developer conference. Their shared vision for leveraging new technology to create innovative gaming experiences led to the development of the first version of Solforge, which was designed specifically for mobile platforms.

Gary recalls the excitement of that initial collaboration:

"We both love to take the core principles of design and see what new technology brings to the table and how we can leverage that to create a new experience that's rewarding for our audience."

The original Solforge introduced unique mechanics such as cards that leveled up during play and a five-lane combat system optimized for phone screens. Despite its initial success and dedicated fan base, the game eventually faced challenges that led to its shutdown.

The Pain of Digital Game Closure

The decision to shut down the original Solforge servers was a pivotal moment for Gary and his team. Unlike physical card games, where players retain ownership of their cards even after production ceases, the closure of a digital game can result in the complete loss of players' collections and investments.

Gary describes this as the worst experience of his career:

"When the day we shut the servers off, everyone's collections disappeared overnight. Everything was gone. And people would invest, you know, we were talking about like people invest a lot of themselves in this. Not only do they invest the community, they invest dollars, they invest time, they invest like a part of their persona."

This painful experience became a driving force behind the development of Solforge Fusion, as Gary sought to create a solution that would prevent such losses in the future.

Solforge Fusion: A New Approach to Trading Card Games

Solforge Fusion represents a bold new direction for trading card games, combining the best elements of physical and digital play with the innovative possibilities offered by Web3 technology. Gary describes Solforge Fusion as "the world's first hybrid deck game that lives in tabletop, web2, and now on web3."

This unique approach addresses many of the challenges faced by traditional TCGs while introducing exciting new gameplay mechanics and ownership models.

The Hybrid Deck Game Concept

At its core, Solforge Fusion is designed to bridge the gap between physical and digital card games. Players can enjoy the tactile experience of playing with physical cards while also benefiting from the convenience and expanded features of digital platforms.

The game introduces a novel "hybrid deck" system, where each physical deck is unique and procedurally generated. This means that no two decks are exactly alike, creating a truly personalized experience for each player.

Leveraging Web3 Technology

By incorporating Web3 elements, Solforge Fusion aims to solve some of the fundamental issues that have plagued digital card games in the past. The use of blockchain technology ensures that players have true ownership of their digital assets, preventing the loss of collections that occurred with the original Solforge.

Gary explains the natural fit between trading card games and Web3:

"A trading card game by default, the players already understand, like, I have a game object I own, I can trade, I can sell. That's exactly how trading card games have worked for the last 30 plus years. Of course, it makes sense that I can own and trade and sell my digital objects."

This alignment between traditional TCG concepts and blockchain technology creates a seamless experience for players while introducing new possibilities for asset management and trading.

The Card Creation Mechanism

One of the most innovative aspects of Solforge Fusion is its approach to card creation. Instead of relying solely on pre-designed cards, the game incorporates a system that allows for the procedural generation of new cards based on existing components.

Gary describes this process:

"We have a system where we can take pieces of cards and combine them together to create new cards that have never existed before. And so we can create billions of possible unique cards in the game."

This system not only expands the potential card pool exponentially but also allows for dynamic balancing and the introduction of new strategic elements without requiring constant manual design work.

Understanding Good Game Design

Throughout the discussion, Gary emphasizes the importance of solid game design principles. He argues that a well-designed game should be:

  1. Easy to learn but difficult to master
  2. Offer meaningful choices to players
  3. Provide a sense of progression and achievement
  4. Create memorable moments and experiences

These principles guide the development of Solforge Fusion, ensuring that the game is both accessible to new players and engaging for seasoned veterans.

The Future State of Solforge

Looking ahead, Gary envisions Solforge Fusion as more than just a game – it's a platform for ongoing innovation in the TCG space. The team plans to continue expanding the game's features, introducing new card sets, and exploring the possibilities offered by Web3 technology.

Some of the planned developments include:

  • Enhanced digital integration, allowing for seamless play between physical and digital versions of the game
  • Expanded tournament support, both online and in-person
  • Community-driven card creation and balancing initiatives
  • Exploring new ownership models and economic systems enabled by blockchain technology

Combining Physical Games With Web3

One of the most exciting aspects of Solforge Fusion is its potential to serve as a bridge between traditional tabletop gaming and the emerging world of Web3. By offering both physical and digital components, the game caters to a wide range of players and play styles.

Gary believes that this hybrid approach is the future of gaming:

"We're creating a new category of game that combines the best of physical and digital play. And Web3 technology is what makes this possible in a way that wasn't before."

This innovative approach not only enhances the gaming experience but also opens up new possibilities for collectibility, trading, and player-driven economies.

The State of Crypto Gaming

The conversation also touches on the broader state of crypto gaming and its potential impact on the industry. Gary acknowledges that many early attempts to integrate blockchain technology into games have fallen short, often focusing too heavily on speculative elements rather than compelling gameplay.

However, he remains optimistic about the future of Web3 gaming:

"I think we're still in the early stages of figuring out how to best utilize this technology. But games like Solforge Fusion are showing that there's real potential to create experiences that are both fun and innovative."

Gary emphasizes the importance of focusing on creating great games first, with Web3 elements serving to enhance the experience rather than define it.

Closing Thoughts

As the interview draws to a close, Justin Gary reflects on the journey that led to the creation of Solforge Fusion and his hopes for the future of gaming. He reiterates the importance of passion and creativity in game design, encouraging aspiring designers to focus on creating experiences that resonate with players.

Gary's final thoughts emphasize the potential of Web3 technology to revolutionize not just gaming, but creative industries as a whole:

"We're at the beginning of a new era in how we think about ownership, creativity, and community engagement. Solforge Fusion is just one example of what's possible when we combine traditional game design with cutting-edge technology."

With its innovative approach to trading card games and its integration of Web3 elements, Solforge Fusion stands as a testament to the evolving nature of the gaming industry. As the lines between physical and digital continue to blur, games like Solforge Fusion are paving the way for a new generation of immersive, player-centric experiences.

The success of Solforge Fusion could have far-reaching implications for the future of both tabletop and digital gaming, potentially inspiring a new wave of hybrid games that leverage the strengths of both mediums. As the project continues to develop and the community grows, it will be exciting to see how Solforge Fusion and similar initiatives shape the landscape of gaming in the years to come.

Facts + Figures

  • Justin Gary has been making a living from games for over 25 years
  • Gary was the youngest ever Magic: The Gathering US National Champion
  • Stoneblade Entertainment, Gary's company, was founded 14 years ago
  • The original Solforge was the first native mobile TCG, predating Magic Arena and Hearthstone
  • Solforge Fusion is described as the world's first hybrid deck game that exists in tabletop, web2, and web3 formats
  • Gary teaches creativity and design at the Wharton School of Business
  • The core design loop for game creation consists of six steps: inspiration, framing, brainstorming, filtering, prototyping, and testing
  • Trading card games allow for a business model that supports ongoing content creation, tournaments, and live operations
  • The closure of the original Solforge servers resulted in the loss of players' entire digital collections
  • Solforge Fusion uses a procedural generation system that can create billions of unique cards
  • The game combines elements of physical card games, digital platforms, and Web3 technology
  • Gary emphasizes that following one's passion is critical for success and fulfillment in life
  • The development of Solforge Fusion was inspired by the pain of losing digital assets when the original game shut down
  • Web3 technology allows for true ownership of digital game assets, solving a longstanding issue in digital gaming
  • Gary believes that the hybrid approach of Solforge Fusion, combining physical and digital elements, is the future of gaming
  • The game's design focuses on being easy to learn but difficult to master, offering meaningful choices and a sense of progression

Questions Answered

What is Solforge Fusion?

Solforge Fusion is the world's first hybrid deck game that combines elements of physical card games, digital platforms, and Web3 technology. It's designed to bridge the gap between traditional tabletop gaming and the digital realm, offering players a unique experience where each physical deck is procedurally generated and can be played both in person and online. The game leverages blockchain technology to ensure true ownership of digital assets and introduces innovative mechanics like the ability to create billions of unique cards.

How does Solforge Fusion differ from traditional trading card games?

Solforge Fusion differs from traditional trading card games in several key ways. First, it uses a hybrid model that combines physical cards with digital gameplay, allowing players to enjoy the best of both worlds. Second, it incorporates Web3 technology to provide true ownership of digital assets, solving the problem of lost collections when servers shut down. Additionally, Solforge Fusion uses a unique card creation mechanism that can generate billions of possible cards, offering unprecedented variety and strategic depth compared to traditional TCGs with fixed card pools.

What inspired the creation of Solforge Fusion?

The creation of Solforge Fusion was inspired by Justin Gary's experience with the original Solforge game, particularly the painful shutdown of its servers which resulted in players losing their entire digital collections. This event motivated Gary to find a solution that would prevent such losses in the future. The game also draws inspiration from Gary's extensive experience in the gaming industry and his collaboration with Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering. The desire to leverage new technologies to create innovative gaming experiences was a driving force behind the development of Solforge Fusion.

How does Web3 technology enhance the Solforge Fusion experience?

Web3 technology enhances the Solforge Fusion experience in several ways. It allows for true ownership of digital assets, ensuring that players' collections remain secure and accessible even if the game's servers were to shut down. This technology also enables new forms of trading and economic systems within the game. Furthermore, the use of blockchain technology aligns naturally with the existing concepts of trading card games, where players are already familiar with owning, trading, and selling game objects. This integration of Web3 elements creates a seamless experience that builds upon traditional TCG concepts while introducing new possibilities for asset management and player-driven economies.

What is the "core design loop" in game creation?

The core design loop, as described by Justin Gary, is a six-step process for creating games. The steps are:

  1. Inspiration: Identifying the unique selling point and core concept of the game.
  2. Framing: Defining the parameters and resources for the project.
  3. Brainstorming: Generating a wide range of ideas for game mechanics and features.
  4. Filtering: Narrowing down ideas to create a concrete, testable concept.
  5. Prototyping: Creating a playable version of the game as quickly and cheaply as possible.
  6. Testing: Validating ideas through playtesting and feedback.

This iterative process allows game designers to refine their concepts and create games that resonate with players. Gary emphasizes that this loop is applicable not only to game design but also to other creative and business endeavors.

How does Solforge Fusion's card creation mechanism work?

Solforge Fusion's card creation mechanism uses a procedural generation system that combines different components of cards to create new, unique cards. This system allows for the creation of billions of possible unique cards within the game. By taking pieces of existing cards and combining them in various ways, the game can continuously introduce new strategic elements and maintain balance without requiring constant manual design work. This approach not only expands the potential card pool exponentially but also ensures that each player's deck is truly unique, enhancing the personalized nature of the game experience.

What are the key principles of good game design according to Justin Gary?

According to Justin Gary, good game design should adhere to several key principles:

  1. The game should be easy to learn but difficult to master, providing accessibility for new players while offering depth for experienced ones.
  2. It should offer meaningful choices to players, ensuring that decisions have significant impact on the game's outcome.
  3. The game should provide a sense of progression and achievement, giving players goals to work towards and a feeling of growth.
  4. It should create memorable moments and experiences that resonate with players long after the game session ends.

These principles guide the development of Solforge Fusion and are considered essential for creating engaging and long-lasting game experiences.

How does Solforge Fusion address the issue of lost digital assets in online games?

Solforge Fusion addresses the issue of lost digital assets in online games by leveraging Web3 technology. Unlike traditional digital games where player collections can disappear if servers shut down, Solforge Fusion uses blockchain technology to ensure true ownership of digital assets. This means that players' card collections and other in-game items exist independently of the game's servers, providing security and permanence. Additionally, the hybrid nature of the game, combining physical and digital elements, further safeguards players' investments by allowing them to retain physical copies of their cards even if the digital platform were to become unavailable.

What is the future vision for Solforge Fusion?

The future vision for Solforge Fusion is to become more than just a game – it aims to be a platform for ongoing innovation in the trading card game space. Plans include:

  • Enhancing digital integration for seamless play between physical and digital versions
  • Expanding tournament support for both online and in-person events
  • Implementing community-driven card creation and balancing initiatives
  • Exploring new ownership models and economic systems enabled by blockchain technology

The goal is to create a dynamic, evolving game ecosystem that continues to push the boundaries of what's possible in both tabletop and digital gaming, while leveraging the unique advantages offered by Web3 technology.

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