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PAX 2009: Mind Control Software’s Project Mind Twist

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At this year's PAX event, there were a number of developers who had booths on the show floor to display their latest digital creations, but Mind Control Software was not one of them. Instead, Mind Control's Randy Buehler, director of business development, was at PAX to talk one-on-one about their newest venture, a game they are creating in collaboration with Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield currently known as Project Mind Twist.

Mind Twist is set to be a free-to-play turn-based strategy game, targeted specifically at gamers who, in Randy Buehler's words, "like to think." It's for an audience where Magic: The Gathering is still popular along with many classic titles like Warcraft III and Starcraft from Blizzard. Then again, many of those titles are still so popular because the genre itself has been overtaken by the role-playing game genre and its bigger MMO brother.

"There aren't enough games being made for thinking gamers," Buehler said. "Where are the turn-based strategy games? Where's the 10-minute competitive strategy titles where one wins, one loses?"

"There's an under-served audience for strategy titles," Buehler continued. To this extent, he noted the success of Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, which had 170,000 full game purchases in its first five weeks of availability and was the most-played Xbox Live title for the two weeks following its release. That market, Buehler said, is something other developers and publishers haven't truly taken advantage of when it comes to designing for a digital platform.

And if anyone would know about that, it's Buehler. He first rose to fame as an up-and-coming Magic: The Gathering player, winning the Magic: The Gathering Tour Rookie of the Year honors in 1997-98. Buehler later joined Wizards of the Coast, working as a developer on Magic: The Gathering and its digital counterparts and rising through the ranks to the position of vice president. He was laid off in December 2008, after more than 9 years at Wizards of the Coast, but re-emerged only a few months later as part of Mind Control Software, along with Richard Garfield.

Project Mind Twist is not the first title to come from Mind Control: they've already launched a game called Vector City Racers, targeted at a younger male demographic, which pays the bills. But Project Mind Twist is the game the folks at Mind Control have wanted to make since Day One, a project that is certainly different from the many other free-to-play games on the market right now.

"The thing I'm excited about is taking what we know about tabletop games and bringing it to consoles," Buehler said. But before they can get to consoles, Mind Control are launching Mind Twist on Facebook and the iPhone as a starting point. Buehler noted, however, that the game can and may eventually be ported to Xbox Live, the Playstation Network, WiiWare, web sites like Kongregate, and any number of other platforms. One of the reasons they'll be able to do this is because Mind Twist will use one central server set, creating a persistent world that can be accessed from a number of different points. It's not the first time developers have tried cross-platform titles, but in general, they have not been runaway successes. Buehler is hoping Mind Control and Mind Twist will change that.

With so many platforms, though, a question does arise: how will Mind Twist work with so many different control schemes? "If you're making a shooter, with one version for the PC, one using a controller and one using touch controls, you can't make a fair game," Buehler said in response to that question, noting that Mind Twist was different because of the genre it was in. "It's a turn-based strategy game, not a RTS, not a twitch game."

Buehler added that because of the nature of the turn-based strategy game, where the end result of your input is always the same and where being the quickest doesn't matter, Project Mind Twist can work across a number of different control schemes, whether it's the Wii remote and pointer or the touch screen of your iPhone.

As for the game's plot, it's still under wraps, but Buehler did mention a few aspects of the game play. Players start with a collection of characters, adding more as they progress along through the game. However, the game is not a card-based game and there won't be super-rare items, but it does have its roots in Magic: The Gathering, Garfield's earlier work. "Basically, we wanted to turn Richard loose on a digital platform and see what happens," he said.

Project Mind Twist doesn't have a definitive release date yet, and the name is probably going to change, but it's an ambitious project, nonetheless. If Mind Control Software can pull of what they're aiming for, they might finally be able to make cross-platform game play a possibility and help revive interest in the strategy genre alongside Starcraft II. Whether or not you're a fan of these kinds of games, this might be a title you'll want to keep an eye on just to see if they can pull off one of gaming's Holy Grails, so to speak.

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About Brian Szabelski