AHHH! SO EXCITING! Today I get the absolute pleasure of revealing the first of the cards NISEI has produced, as part of the Downfall set!
Before I get to that, just need to clarify a few things that have come up a lot.
Ashes is a series, or story arc if you will, that contains two sets - Downfall and Uprising.
Downfall and Uprising each contain 65 cards.
Uprising is scheduled for release in Q2 of this year.
We plan to release four sets a year, each containing roughly 60-65 cards
Some sets - but not all - will be part of a larger story arc.
Rotation will happen between releases - we’ll let you know the schedule for that once we’ve finished with Downfall.
Occasionally we’ll break with this pattern, and do something different. Like what? Well I’m not here to spoil that today…
OK, so are you ready? Sitting comfortably?
Now… do you recognise any of these three individuals?
All three of these pieces are by Wyn Lacabra, who I think you’ll agree has done an absolutely stunning job.
I KNOW, RIGHT? They might have retired from the runner life, but it doesn’t mean they don’t still hang around on the edge of the subculture, occasionally helping out an old friend… and I’m a big fan of the flavour texts too, a lovely little nod to the original cards.
With me today to talk about where the idea came from and how it was executed is @crithitd20 (Design Manager), @divadus (Development Manager), @anzekay (Associate Developer/Playtest Coordinator) and @bluehg (Art Coordinator)
So then… whose idea was this, and where did it come from?
@crithitd20: These cards were initially designed by me after I received a suggestion from Tim Bunn back in August 2018. He had given the suggestion that we see old runners return as connections and I was absolutely thrilled with the concept. On the first attempt I hit on the choices of Kate, Noise, and Andy due to their popularity and because trying to make Whizzard would elicit too many Scrubber jokes. I knew they needed to be 5 influence, as they were meant to embody the history and playstyle of their faction, and I knew we wanted to try and reference older effects that players knew and loved. Kate and Noise began as much simpler designs that were extremely close to their original IDs, but ended up being much more inspired by my design for Andy, which rather than copying the original ID's card text tried to emulate how it felt to play that ID back when it was legal. This ended up being the inspiration for development that turned the original cards into the much more exciting and enjoyable build-arounds we ended up with.
@divadus: As Greg states, the initial iterations of the ideas were mostly just the respective identities’ text boxes smooshed onto the cards themselves (for Kate/The Artist, that is literally what it was) - which gave us a surprisingly large amount of room to expand on the basic concept.
How did the rest of you feel when you first saw the idea?
@bluehg: I was immediately excited about the idea! This is what I’ve always wanted for these characters I’ve grown attached to—to see them grow and change and be used in different ways in the universe. They’re some of the most iconic characters in the game, and I’m extremely proud of the opportunity to revisit them in the universe. You never know; these might not be the only Runners revisited in upcoming art! :wink:
@anzekay: When I first saw the designs during our prototypes pass I was... not immediately on board with the raw concepts. They were just the original IDs in connection form, and they really didn’t click very well with me at all. I changed my thoughts on them as soon as I heard that the art team had designated the cards for commissioned artwork, however! It was kind of a major turning point in the Dev cycle for me, where the fusion of theme and mechanics that Netrunner is so famous for became a bit more of a reality in the creative process. Getting inspired by art or card names to create something that evokes a strong positive response for the entirety of the card is one of the most powerful design avenues, in my opinion. So that meant not only did I now want to keep the cards, I also wanted to ensure they’d be potent, viable cards.
Nailing down exactly what the cards would do was the next tricky idea. At first we tried thinking of ways to execute the original ID abilities but in novel ways, but nothing really felt particularly interesting. Until @divadus had the rather inspired idea for The Nihilist that was Noise + Wyldside. The final form of the card is fairly different to his first concept (he and @crithitd20 honed it to the fine point it is now), but the notion of original ID, in an adjusted form, plus something inspired by an iconic card used in decks under those IDs was super compelling.
Was it easy to nail down 2 iconic abilities for each of the cards?
@divadus: [Noise] was the easiest by a reasonable margin, because Wyldside was such a perfect thematic tie-in and straightforward effect that was a great way to counterbalance The Nihilist's otherwise frustratingly RNG-reliant R&D trashing ability. The Corp can ‘embrace the mill’ to slow the Runner down or allow the Runner to party away and rocket through their deck. Various numbers and dials were tuned along the way, but the fundamental function remained constant throughout testing.
It so happened that the other two connections were much harder to find the perfect faction-appropriate ability to mesh together and also balance appropriately. Unlike Noise, where the two card choices felt fairly obvious, Andy never really had an archetypal card that defined her playstyle. Kate had Prepaid Voicepad, but we already had plans a-brewing in that regard.
@crithitd20: Funnily enough, not really! In retrospect these cards aren't particularly complex, but without an initial direction it was a challenge agreeing on what play style these connections were meant to achieve. In the end we settled on cards that reference both the ID on the card and another card that was iconic with their history. Nihilist evokes Wyldside and Noise, and since those two cards are so incredibly powerful Nihilist was tempered both by using a punisher mechanic and relying on virus counters. In particular, the punisher mechanic is very reminiscent of the tough choices the corp had to make against Noiseshop, only now the consequence isn't quite as oppressive. Class Act specifically replicates how it feels to start the game as Andromeda with a grip of 9 cards, and the unique filtration ability feels inspired by Mr. Li. Andy was always defined by setup speed, something no other Criminal has truly replicated, so having both abilities help with setup felt more natural than anything else we tried. Artist was the hardest to nail down, with Kate having competitively been defined by non-Shaper cards like Prepaid Voicepad and Security Nexus. In the end we chose flavor over function and gave her restrictive versions of the abilities found on her original ID and her Magnum Opus.
@anzekay: I spent a long time trying various combinations for Kate, even trying a version that was meant to be a sort of Clone Chip/SMC concept, but we eventually settled on Magnum Opus as the ideal card and fused it with a install-with-discount ability. The card went through several iterations, some that were exceptionally strong, before we nailed down the more sedate but still playable form it is now.
Andy was another matter entirely. The reality is that the most common Andy cards were just common Criminal cards, so there was nothing that really felt good. I toyed with the idea of stealth, but that didn't work out. We had some ideas for giving you a psuedo-mulligan after installing her, but that felt too janky and also only functioned easily if you trashed her to use it (and we wanted these cards and their glorious art to stay on the table). Eventually some longer discussions came upon the idea of giving her a sort of grip filtering ability, but initial versions proved far too strong and we had to whittle it down. We settled on the draw 4, plus a sort of Daily Business Show like ability, as a balanced version of the original concept
@bluehg, how did you go about creating the art brief for these pieces, and were there any discarded ideas that didn’t make the cut?
The art briefs are made from a quick primer from either Holly Chandler (@BreakOneBarrier (Creative Director)) or Iain Fairclough (@Dis (Creative)). I develop this idea, research other reference photos for characters and pose, and communicate a color palette and mood to the artist. In general, I used Magic: The Gathering art prompts as a reference point, trying to leave a lot of room for the artist to play around in and modify the prompt to their style.
There was another idea Iain had for the art for these characters. All characters’ backs would be facing the viewer, and all you could see of the character was their shoulders and the back of their head. This was a really great idea for keeping the characters enigmatic and depicting the new environments they’d find themselves in. My main problem with it was that it kept the focus on the environment, and not revisiting seeing familiar faces, so we ended up opting for clearer depictions. Holly gave me the first pitch for Andromeda, and the three of us worked together for the concepts on Noise and Kate.
@bluehg, what made you approach Wyn for these?
I knew these resources in particular had to have a really good artist behind them. I generally scour DeviantArt and ArtStation to find people I’ve never heard of before. This picture was the one that sold me on Wyn Lacabra: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/PGa9B. He’s a great character artist, and I highly recommend his work if you’re looking for evocative personalities to come through in a drawing. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him, and I very much look forward to commissioning him again in the future. You can find his ArtStation here: https://www.artstation.com/wyncg
@crithitd20, I know you’ve said The Artist (aka #62) is your favourite art in the set - did you expect this when you first showed off the card text?
@crithitd20: Absolutely not. When I first joined NISEI I didn't assume we'd have the means to produce commissioned art for our cards at all, let alone something matching the quality of major publishers. Through the sales of kits as part of our Organized Play system and through our Patreon supporters we've been able to get an impressive amount of the set commissioned, with the remainder also looking incredible through some truly inspired digital effects. Kate has always held a special role in my heart as my favorite character in the game, and seeing her visually realized in such a dynamic and vibrant way was a truly special experience for myself; hopefully many others feel the same way. I cannot overstate how incredible a job Creative has done, and I'm truly grateful to the community that has been so generous in giving us resources needed to produce works like this.
Thanks for your time guys, I know you've all been really busy getting these all perfect!
I'm betting some of you are already planning to slot these into new decks, so tell us your plans in the comments - and come back in two days when the Creative team will drop some more hot scoops and talk about how their process works!