Cards in a collectible card game are obviously important. But when Wizards of the Coast renamed a Godzilla card to avoid unfortunate reminders of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and started banning any cards from Magic: The Gathering found to be racist, they also showed how significant they can be. And along with the potential for such impact, the cards themselves can require much in their development. Abrakam's Faeria, a digital card game inspired by Magic: The Gathering and other influences, features over 400 cards packed with content. Jean-Michel Vilain, creative director of Faeria and CEO of Abrakam, discussed over email what goes into creating this visually arresting suite of cards.
Starting to Make a Card that Resonates
With plans for a future launch on Nintendo Switch, Faeria features cards that balance art, gameplay, and more with a goal in mind. When asked if they ultimately focus on representing a stunning visual, conveying information in a neat package, or supporting game design, Vilain said it was all of the above.
“It’s bringing all of that into a strong resonance,” he explained. “A successful card is a card where its name, gameplay, text, frame and illustration all resonate in a way that creates something memorable for the player.”
Vilain shared that creating a Faeria card starts with playtesting.
“First we’re going to try a dozen different gameplay runs, test them, keep one, find a name that will both resonate with that gameplay and our world,” he explained. “Then the game designers will write one or two lines to explain what the illustration needs to depict or emphasize.”
After that, two or three sketches are made to plan out this illustration. One is selected, and then the artist takes it to a final rendering.
“In my opinion, the art is very detailed,” Vilain commented. “More than what you would usually find in other digital card games.”
Embracing Animist Philosophy
He described Faeria’s overall art direction as “poetic, with lots of animist and tribal inspirations.”
Animism is a belief system that says creatures, places, and objects are alive and animated with their own spirit. The Japanese religion Shinto can be considered animistic due to its belief in “kami,” spirits that inhabit everything in the world.
Faeria’s art is also rooted in a deep fondness for Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films. Vilain shared that Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away provided the most inspiration. He also explained that Miyazaki’s work proved vital in nailing down Faeria’s visual style.
“The story is that we’ve spent a good amount of time trying to refresh the faerie from Brian Froud, which is the more Celtic expression of our art’s DNA,” Vilain said. “But it never convinced us really. Until we decided to interpret that classic faerie with the Miyazaki approach and spirit.”
But while Miyazaki and Celtic art have inspired the game, Vilain explained that Faeria also has its own artistic identity.
“We certainly have a few illustrations which [contain] obvious inspiration from Miyazaki, but I think we’ve managed to take from his universe and use that to go a different route, to our own fantasy world,” Vilain said. “Sometimes it can be a detail that’s directly reused, but what’s been most important for us was to put ourselves in the mindset of animism, which is core to the Japanese philosophy, that all things have their own soul. Putting love and life into details and small entities is something that helped us find our own identity, I think.”
What do you think of card art? How important is it to you in a card game? Have you played Faeria? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.