On March 6th, just after the last match of the 100k invitational had wrapped up, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview both Matt Dunn and Ryan Sutherland. Rewinding for a moment, I had spent a fair bit of time hanging out with them on the Wednesday prior as well. These guys are two peas in a pod, jokes were being cracked, laughs were being had and snacks were being shared. In fact, there was a bit of raucous banter during the interview itself that I cut out, but just assume that all three of us were laughing throughout the interview.
One last thing before I let you go, some might ask why I didn’t just release the audio rather than transcribe all of this? Ultimately the guys were able to talk more openly this way which should result in a benefit for all of us. These two are an incredible creative team and what they have in store for us is pretty mind boggling. Since they were each so heavily involved in Armies of Myth and Primal Dawn I wanted to take the chance to get some insight into the backgrounds of the two sets and what it is like to pass the torch as we approach Hex’s fourth PVP installment.
Koma had just defeated JJ in the finals of Hex’s first 100k tournament. I quickly jumped in on the Fiveshards group picture before heading upstairs to meet with Matt & Ryan in the player lounge area. We found some open couches on the dimly lit balcony. Music played on the overhead speakers in the background and both Hex staff and fans mingled on the floor below as the tournament crew began breaking things down…
Funktion: Going to mainly be talking with you guys about set 3 and set 4, about thematics and where the story goes. Why don’t we start off with having you each introduce yourselves, wanna flip a coin to see who …
Ryan Sutherland: I think Matt Dunn should go first! Matt Dunn goes first.
Matt Dunn: Ok.
Ryan: It’s his birthday after all.
Matt: *Laughs* It’s not actually my birthday. They’re trying to guess when my birthday is.
Ryan: For the record, what’s your birthday?
Ryan: You, you’re under oath I believe.
Matt: I don’t recall taking an oath at any point.
Ryan: Who is your daddy and what does he do?
Matt: So my name is Matt Dunn, also known as Squiddy or MattyTheSquid in the forums or other whathaveyou. I’m a designer on Hex, and was the lead designer on Armies of Myth. I also do a lot of work on various other things.
Funktion: What about you Ryan?
Ryan: My name is Ryan Sutherland. I was the lead designer on Primal Dawn. A lot like Matt we’re kinda the content designers for anything that relates to content which could be… dungeons; we took charge on most of the dungeons for AZ1. Matt Dunn’s had a much heavier hand in AZ2, but we’ve worked on a lot of rewards cards as well and all that stuff. That’s what we’re here to do.
Funktion: Matt, with set 3 what cards were you rooting for and were there any that you wanted to shine more brightly?
Matt: Wow. Well it turns out that there were a bunch of cards that I was rooting for that actually did turn out to see some level of success. Winter Moon as a champion was one I was hoping would see the spotlight and we saw her quite a bit today, Windsinger as well, especially being one of the novel characters. It has been great to see someone with that level of recognition as a character within our lore up there on the screen and also just being a dominant force in the game. That’s been a lot of fun… If there was one that I would like to see a little more of… I’m a little attached to the Golden Avenger, there’s a long story behind that guy, it’s basically the…
Ryan: It’s the story of Batman!
Matt: *Laughs* not sure if we should say who it is specifically or if we should find an artful way around that…
Ryan: Here’s the thing though, for the record it’s not the story of Batman.
Ryan: It has nothing to do with Batman. It is Matt Dunn’s weird interpretation of what Batman is.
Matt: If you look at the trilogy, the story it seems like he was trying to tell, with regards to y’know the Batman universe, it was the story of how any normal person can rise up to become something more than just a normal person. Really when you see Batman in the comics, he’s standing shoulder to shoulder with these demigods and he’s just this normal human. This trilogy is exploring that idea of how a person can become more than a person, a symbol, and you see that in the second movie with people around him taking up the fight. He inspires them. Ultimately, in the third movie… I choose to believe that Bruce Wayne passes away at the end of the movie at which point the whole point of that story is that Batman isn’t Bruce Wayne, he is this idea that lives on and then is taken up by those he leaves behind.
Ryan: Sure, HOWEVER! For those of you who actually watch the movie, Bruce Wayne does not die. Spoiler alert.
Matt: It was a nuclear bomb! Even Batman can’t survive a nuclear bomb…
Ryan: I think we’re getting off subject, lets bring it back to Hex.
Funktion: I wasn’t gonna stop you but sure lets bring it back to Hex.
Ryan: Can I have my take on Golden Avenger? I saw two Golden Avengers this weekend and both were dragged straight to the reserves during the draft portion of this event.
Matt: It is because they were so dangerous.
Ryan: Pick 1 pack 1 AND pick 1 pack 2, I saw Vazreal open his reserves and drag it straight into the reserves. He was respecting the power… Batman did not rise today.
Matt: Give it time. It is just that idea of the hero that falls and someone else takes up the mask and becomes the Golden Avenger. I always want to see that story to play out and hoped that story would get to play out in a game some way.
Funktion: *Laughs* In a game, in a tournament, in California, for a lot of money.
Matt: Yeah, exactly.
Funktion: Alright for both of you guys, we’ll start of with Ryan. What types of cards do you personally enjoy the most? What is your go to card?
Ryan: My go to card? Value! I like creating value cards because people like value.
Matt: *Laughs raucously*
Ryan: No, I like troops they are fun to make. Prismatic cards too, they are actually the most fun to make because you get to mash up things that don’t go together or things that you can’t do normally with just a single shard card. You have cards, like the Houndmaster, which get to make an attacking thing and a blocking thing. You get to show that this shard likes to do this thing one way and another shard likes to do it another way, now here it is all together in one big package. That is just a lot of fun. OH! And also uncommons, those are our favorite.
Funktion: What about you Matt?
*Eaglov stops by to come say hello*
Matt: What was the question again?
Funktion: Oh right, well you get a little more context to it because the other day Ryan was prodding me to ask you about some beautiful cards that will probably never see the light of day.
Ryan: *Grins and points to himself* I was? That doesn’t sound like me.
Funktion: So yeah are those your favorite cards?
Ryan: Ohhhh… those ones. Those dirty, dirty cards.
Matt: It’s like… I suppose I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for this type of thing. For those of you who don’t know at the early point in the game’s life, before I had to focus on more of the design stuff, I was the sort of the rules guy for Hex and I sort of inherited that from the WoW TCG where I was on the rules team. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the rules of games almost for the express purpose of learning how to break those rules. There’s a long standing joke that designers and rules people are arch-enemies, designers are trying to make something new and rules folks are trying to make sure things work the way they always have. So, I figured, ‘Hey! Know your enemy’. So I’ve tried to learn the rules and then try to break them. Which means that I sometimes make things that are… lets say, pushing the envelope of what can and can’t function within the rules. (It seems like thinking about this brings him joy, Matt pauses for a moment with a huge smile) Wow, I don’t know if I would actually say those were my favorite things to make.
Funktion: They were some of my favorite things I saw this week.
Matt: *Laughs* I think some of my favorite designs, I don’t get to do them often, you only get to do a few of them a set or so but they’re the ones that are trying to tell a story or capture the feel of an important character within the lore. Like with the Golden Avenger, there’s a story behind this character. Being able to try to tell a story through a card like that is a fun challenge to try and rise to. In fact, one of my favorite cards like that is in Primal Dawn and I feel like it is a great execution of that because it is a really important lore character. [Matt never said specifically what the card was, and in writing this now I really want to know. If I had to guess my money would be on William Rowan]
Ryan: Thank you! I’ll agree with that though. Any time you get to top down something so specifically it is just great, like with Succubus. Someone comes along and says, “We need a Succubus.” You’re thinking, “Okay I get to work with just that and I don’t have to worry about what other roles this is taking within the set. I get to focus on just this one card.” Y’know too often we get bogged down and we get into a rut of needing to make sure a mechanic is represented or that some play-style gets its thing. When I get to create a card that just embodies an idea that is one of my favorite things.
Funktion: In the birth of a set, when you’re just starting to design it, at what point are the champions born?
Matt: I would say that it is certainly not at the beginning.
Ryan: *Nods* No, definitely not. I almost think that they’re born out of necessity.
Matt: Exactly! The beginning, the very beginning, there is often a lot of trial and error. As with all creation, you will get things wrong much more than right because you’re just exploring your own ideas and seeing how they work. You’re especially finding out what doesn’t work. So you’re trying things and finding what to salvage and what to throw out the window. As that happens you get a feeling for what is going to be happening with the set and some of its mechanics. You say ‘Hey, if we’re doing this then what sort of champions do we need to support or what sort of ideas are going on.’ If you’re lucky every now and then you’ll get a spare slot or two where you get to try something a little off the wall. Like Ryan has said it is almost like you discover who the champions of the set already were but you never knew ahead of time. You just discover what you need as you go through.
Ryan: A lot of times I don’t even worry about champions until we’re sitting down and it is time for our first draft. Then it is time to slap some champions together. Now most of those won’t see the light of day because you have to go through and refine all of that stuff. I’d say we try to cut out some area for things that aren’t directly tied into the mechanics but it is still important to have the ones that are key to the draft format we’re trying to create.
Matt: It is not uncommon for us to try out some new stuff and ask ourselves, ‘What do you actually want to see out of this champion?’
Ryan: Just like with Mightsinger Alyndra, she was one of the late additions to…
Ryan: To Armies of Myth. A lot of times you just don’t have anything to ramp into and so there was a need there and we filled it.
Matt: One hundred percent.
Funktion: Alright so fill in the blank here with one word… “A well designed card/set should be _____.”
Matt: One word huh? I like this challenge… hm…
Ryan: I’ll go! I’ll go with elegant.
Matt: Oh beautiful.
Funktion: I called it, had that written down here that someone would say elegant.
Ryan: Elegance is one of the most important things to me.
Matt: That’s a great word to sum it all up.
Ryan: You gonna go with that one too?
Matt: There’s gotta be another one that can fill in that blank and still makes sense.
Ryan: “Stolen from set 4”
*Both laugh heartily for a solid moment*
Matt: Well you know, that Charge Colossus was an all-star.
Ryan: We traded, it’s fine. It was nice to see it make an appearance.
Matt: It’s always been such a treat to see. The first time we ever laid eyes on it we knew this card was gonna be loved and that’s why we’re taking it. Okay! Actually that’s a good one. A well designed card or a well designed set or really a well designed anything should be loved. You see this all the time, when people work on something they love, even if you can spot flaws in it, there is just this different feeling when someone is creating something that they care about. Y’know when you read a book, see a show, watch a movie, play a game and you can tell that the people crafting it love what they’re making it shows through. You can just feel it and it is important that you have that feeling when you’re making whatever it is that you’re making.
Ryan: *Nods in affirmation* Good answer.
Funktion: How would you describe set 3 & 4’s main design goals? [Sic]
Matt: Alright, so with set 3 one of our biggest design goals was to introduce the next 4 of the main races. With the first chapter we were introducing the Dwarves, Shin’hare, Humans and Orcs. Now this was a chance to discover who the other 4 races were and learn more regarding who they are, what their story is and what they’re all about both mechanically and thematically. So making sure of that was an important goal for the set and I believe that we were true to the spirit of each of those races. This was the test: some people might be crazy for the coyotle and they don’t know what they do yet, so, could we deliver something for that person and have them say ‘Yes this just feels perfect!’. The same goes for the vennen, the elves and the necrotic. That was definitely the chief thing for Armies of Myth. Also, in there, we knew that we’d be delivering on prismatic cards for the first time. We wanted them to be exciting but they also just came really naturally. Alright, yeah, if you had to boil it down to its core aspect though, Armies of Myth was about the next four races, along with how they fit into the grand scheme of things but also not leaving the previous four behind.
Ryan: Armies of Myth and Primal Dawn are definitely two pieces of the same thing. We worked very closely when making these two sets. Even though there was time between these two releases, while we were working on them there were some cards that were being developed at the same time. In fact there was a card from Armies of Myth that inspired me to create empower which then expanded out to other things. Empower actually started out as an elf mechanic until we realized that it was too cool and then expanded it out to all of the shards.
Matt: The fascinating thing with empower was how well it played with not just the elves or coyotle but even with the earlier Ardent mechanics.
Ryan: Yeah it did, it was a pretty perfect alignment of the stars. With orcs you get to play your early guys but later on you aren’t behind and then with humans and inspire it works really well anywhere along your curve. I’d say a lot of what Primal Dawn was trying to do was not only wrap up what set 3 was doing but also what sets 1 and 2 were doing. Now that we’ve introduced all these races we can say it is time to really show what this world of Entrath is all about and start telling some stories. I like to think that with Shards of Fate through Primal Dawn we are introducing the actors and then it will be time to see the actual show.
Matt: You’re right, it’s not just that Primal Dawn compliments Armies of Myth but that together they’re also a mirror for Shards of Fate and Shattered Destiny.
Ryan: That was definitely one of our biggest goals. To complete everything we’ve done so far. At one point… well I probably shouldn’t pull back the curtain too far.
Matt: Yeah c’mon, save some surprises for later.
*InfamousNeo stops by to check in*
Funktion: Primal Dawn has a number of avatars in it. Avatars are one of my favorite things in the game, are any of them in particular your favorites?
Ryan: There are definitely a lot of sweet avatars. Dunn do you have a favorite avatar?
Matt: I absolutely do, *he pauses for emphasis* the Chronodaemon
Ryan: Dunn, would you like to tell the story of the Chronodaemon?
Matt: I s’pose I could.
Ryan: EXCLUSIVE! Put it at the top, Chronodaemon Exposed!
Matt: It is a funny story. One of the things we get sent to us daily in Hex is a breakdown of all the metrics which Datadragon has been tracking. What is getting played, what is winning and how everything is going. It is actually very similar to HexMeta over on the Fiveshards site. Anyways, the email that sends that to us is cron, C-R-O-N, no H though my memory might be faulty.
Ryan: You sure? Yeah I think you’re right. The second part is definitely daemon.
Matt: Yeah, daemon, D-A-E-M-O-N. Every time we see this I’m just thinking, ‘Oh man that would be a SWEET name for a card!’ Can you imagine some sort of chrono-demon? That would be AWESOME!!!
Ryan: I almost feel hurt telling this story, because I think the Chronodaemon is this sort of amazing creature…
Matt: IT IS!!! Sometimes amazing ideas, even if they start from a place that is silly, if you accept them you start to think ‘What does it actually mean to be a Chronodaemon? You’re this demon but also this sweet sort of time demon.’ Then there’s all the imagery of what it came to look like.
Ryan: Yeah that one really is amazing; now that I think about it I probably would have chosen that one too. If I’ve gotta choose a different one it has gotta be Forever’s Child. She is just so joyful and the Orchin are probably my favorite thing that came out of Primal Dawn. Our art has gotten exponentially better set after set. When I saw the Orchins come in I immediately thought that I need one of these on my desk. We need some merchandise, we need merch stat! They are just adorable. The style of Forever’s Child and the Orchin is a little different but that’s because they’re the creation of a child’s imagination, that’s what they are. Yeah she just looks like she’s having a blast. I would go with her and I love what she does and think that the players will too. I’m looking forward to taking her through Entrath.
Funktion: Alright, final question. If you were an avatar, what primal would you be the avatar of?
Both of them start laughing uncontrollably.
Ryan: Hail Grimlar!!!
*Matt continues laughing.*
Ryan: Hail Grimlar!!! [Funktion: I can only assume this is one of their RPG characters.] Dunn?
Dunn: Let’s see. I have choices of gluttony, temptation… avarice is already taken I think.
Ryan: Avarice is taken? I bet you Grimlar could become our avatar of gluttony.
Dunn: Ohhhh… that’s sweet, maybe. Well, sign me up for gluttony I guess.
Ryan: It is amazing how much more I wanted you to answer this question than I wanted to answer it myself cause I don’t know what I would be the avatar of. What am I the avatar of Dunn?
Funktion: There we go, that’s even better. Why don’t we flip it?
Ryan: I would still have gone with gluttony for Dunn. He knows the finer things in life and how to enjoy them.
Matt: Ah yes, thank you. Let’s see.
Ryan: Those butter cookies were so good.
Funktion: Yeah and those coconut candies were yummy.
Matt: Indeed. I always try to have some tasty snacks nearby.
*talk of said coconut snacks ensues*
Ryan: Alright, so Dunn, what am I the primal of?
Matt: Let’s see here… maybe some kind of like digging animal.
Ryan: I hope it is airhorns!
*everyone makes airhorn noises*
Matt: That’s not a bad choice. The primal of sweet sweet sound effects.
*Cory Jones approaches*
Funktion: Oh! Alright a special treat.
Ryan: Yes! Okay, Cory what would you be the primal of?
Cory: Ah. So part of the primal concept was that I always had this fantasy that my real mother was luck and my dad was creativity and they came together to create inspiration which was the kid. So I would be inspiration.
After a brief pause…
Matt: Okay I’ve figured it out. Maybe Ryan is chaos? There are so many times where we don’t know where to eat or y’know what type of character we should roll.
Ryan: It is fate!
Matt: No, fate is already taken.
Ryan: Yeah ok, so maybe some sort of chaotic fate… or airhorns, one of those two.
Matt: Ryan loves to just roll a die and see what happens and it makes for some really interesting things.
Ryan: Stop choosing, start rolling. You don’t get to choose things! It isn’t just chaos it is also adapting to chaos. I enjoy the sense of let the chips fall where they may but let’s see what we can do with them. Whatever that thing is, whatever you call that, it is what I would be the primal of.