One of the more interesting, and popular, games at TwitchCon in San Francisco last week was Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins. It’s a hybrid of first-person shooting and collectible card game mechanics.

While I was standing in Hi-Rez Studios’ booth, waiting for my turn to try out this bizarre mashup, I found myself with an excitable man wearing a Paladins’ T-shirt. He seems wired, like a 5 year old that’s downed a pitcher of Kool-Aid all by himself. I can’t tell if he’s snorted a couple of lines before coming back to the booth or if he’s just really excited to see people’s reactions to the game.

Seeing as the employee in question is Rory Newbrough, the lead designer of Paladins, I am leaning toward him experiencing a creator’s high — that endorphin overload of seeing other human beings responding positively — as perhaps intended — to something you’ve created out of nothing.

I hesitate to speak up and ask too many questions at first, not sure if this is a good or bad time to be discussing game design with him. On one hand, he may be so into the moment that I’ll get some really great incite. On the other, I may send his high into a nose dive.

No one wants to be the guy that crashes a designer’s creator’s high. Yet, I don’t want to be the game industry writer that passes on a designer interview, either (and for more, check out part two).

GamesBeat: Can you tell me a little bit about the mechanics of Paladins? It’s a first-person shooter, but with cards?

Rory Newbrough: Right. So depending on the type of cards you set up in your hand, [this] determines what style you’re going to want to play. For example, we have a class that throws a bomb. And [using a card] you can change that bomb to leave an acid cloud behind that burns people.

GamesBeat: Right!

Newbrough: So there are a lot of different things you can vary there. You can pick something [a card] that generates more health, or that allows for something more defensive. You could … maybe increase your maximum health or generate quicker cool downs [on effects]. So there is a lot that you can do to kind of customize your game play based off of what you want to do.

It is a team based shooter, so we have seven playable characters in the demo right now. They all have different sets of abilities and weapons that they bring with them, what with being a first-person shooter. So you pick the character that you want and modify them with the cards.

GamesBeat: So the card system, how does that work? Do I have to buy cards? Are there card drops? How do I get these cards in my hand so I can use them?

Newbrough: So Paladins is very similar to other collectible card games. You’ll open card packs and collect cards that way.

GamesBeat: Right.

Newbrough: There will also be ways to unlock them in the game. Once you have them, before a match, you’ll go through a deck-building process. You essentially collect 15 cards, put them in a deck, and load them into the game yourself.

Once you’re in the match … every time you level up you’ll start randomly drawing cards from the deck and you get to choose which one to equip. It’s almost like a buff or like you’re equipping something. And those [card abilities] will stay for the whole game.

GamesBeat: Interesting.

Newbrough: The cards themselves have ranks on them. So they start weaker in the beginning but then they’ll rank up over time. So really this adds a bit of a “traditional RPG [role-playing game] and MOBA” feel where you’re playing the match, and toward the end, you’re 10 times stronger than you were at the beginning.

Obviously, you achieve experience as you kill other players. You start leveling up, then pick a new cards, etc.

Paladins Cassie

Above: Cassie and her bird … and her annoying bow and arrows

Image Credit: Hi-Rez Studios

GamesBeat: So do certain cards only work on specific characters?

Newbrough: Actually, most of the cards are pretty general. They’ll work on everybody … but there will be [some tied to specific characters].

So, there are three types of cards: Armor cards, which are basically defensive and utility based; Weapon cards, which are mainly meant to modify your in-hand weapon and how or what you fire; then the third type of card is Ability, so what these will do is modify the abilities of your character. And all of those are customized for that character.

So, for example, this guy [he motions to a tiny goblin like creature that sits inside of a 6-foot-tall mechanized piece of armor, with a Gatling gun hand], one of his Ability cards will bring in a second mechanized arm gun, so he can shoot twice as much.

So these cards can do stuff like enhance your firepower, or the rate of fire has increased, or when you equip this card you’ll do more damage. Stuff like that.

GamesBeat: Right

Newbrough: So most of the Ability cards are linked to characters, but the Weapon and Armor cards are for everybody.

GamesBeat: What sparked up this idea to throw cards into a FPS game?

Newbrough: We kind of iterated a lot on this game. We’ve actually been working on this for over a year now. And we knew we wanted to do a FPS after Smite. We knew we wanted to make it objective based as well. So we kind of decided … to look at it [the genre] and say, “How can we modify this experience?”

You know, we decided on this idea of how do we make it so we can use whoever we want, however we want, and customize the character as we see fit. And we wanted to make it fantasy as well, so it [the cards] could’ve easily been replaced as a “buff” or “equipment,” but we looked at one iteration of the game and said, “Oh, Hey! We like cards. We’re card game fans. Let’s put them in there.”

And so we started exploring how do we actually put cards in there and make them work?

We tried [his eyes roll back and makes a sweeping gesture with both arms] … everything under the sun. We iterated on so much stuff, like how to get the deck building process to work. How to pull up cards that make sense. Stuff like when you die, the cards will go into cool down. We experimented a lot!

It was really just a lot of ideas to get to where we are.