Quadradius: Jimmi Heiserman and Brad Kayal

Curator: Kevin Slavin
date: August 16, 2011
Categories: Experience Design
Tags: game, videogame
From a game played on August 5, this screenshot captures a moment toward the end of the game. Kevin and his opponent have both taken a beating.

In this free two-player head-to-head internet game, a round typically lasts around 20 minutes.

In considering the genius of the online game Quadradius, I’ve had to set aside a few things. First, aesthetics: The interface looks like a half-painted cardboard set for a high school sci-fi musical. But the other thing I’ve had to set aside is time. Because this game has neatly absorbed a great deal of my time—a clue that there’s some subtle genius in there.

The aesthetics of Quadradius aren’t in line with my own, but that’s exactly what helps me recognize how well it’s designed. Because the game’s strength is not in how it looks, it’s in how it plays. As the editor of Kill Screen said—quoted recently in the New York Times—“flying a jet is a lot more interesting than just riding in a jet.” What’s beautiful and clever about Quadradius is how it unfolds in your head, against a live opponent, over the course of a game. 

So the first thing to do is play it. A full game, now.

A video from YouTube of an epic battle, sped up 350 percent to fit the 10-minute YouTube limit. Not every battle lasts this long.

If you’re back and reading this, it’s likely that you just got shut down by a 12-year-old. If you won, it might be because you were especially lucky, and that wouldn’t be uncommon. There’s much more luck in Quadradius than we’ve grown accustomed to in video games. To generalize broadly, contemporary video games are built on the premise of skill, of slowly advancing levels, grinding crop rotation, honing reflexes, learning the map. And to be sure, Quadradius is a game you can get good at, like chess or poker. But with chess pieces and playing cards with secret powers that end the game in an explosive thunderstorm.

Quadradius takes tabletop games as a point of departure. It simulates a tabletop game, but no tabletop game that could ever be played on an actual table. 

The board itself changes by the actions of the players. Over time, the board is burnt with acid, bombed to pieces and crisscrossed with trenches. Some pieces become teleporters, others might become kamikazes that take out a whole row. 

By bringing the procedural and random complexity of video games to the simple coherence of tabletop play, Quadradius stakes out some strange new territory. It’s territory in which you might get your ass kicked by a kid, but you'll probably do better next time. Which is a good reason to play another round. 

Also, most free games you see online are in some way derivative. When something like Farmville succeeds, there are a dozen like it. As Angry Birds take off, more and more birds arrive, angrier every time. But Quadradius is a mutant, a hybrid, and thus without offspring.

Which is fine. Like chess, poker or tennis—and unlike television, movies or books—the value of a well-designed game increases with repetition. Apropos, I’m off to play again. Look for me there, I'm “spiro_agnew,” and with a little luck, I’ll kick your ass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimmih Jimmi Heiserman

    Hello Kevin,

    A mutant you say? It is definitely
    outcast into a category with few other deranged games as itself. I
    think the hybrid is one of its stronger points, and that is what
    brings in a certain type of player (and hopefully keeps them around).
    I have describe it to some as a board game… that could never be
    played as a board game. Some have suggested that it would be great to
    play it in real life, but there are aspects that keep it from being a
    true table top. Likewise, some have said they game could use a few
    real-time battle tweaks, such as lasers and guns and reflexes.

    But now I hear you don’t like the
    aesthetics? Blasphemy. What better way to show Bankrupt then a few
    brightly colored vertical lines on a tile, or a hotspot by laying
    down a nice rectangle of solid color, or perhaps everyone’s favorite,
    some arrows that suggest do not enter when a bunker is laid down. Ok,
    please no comments about bunker, I apologize for that one.

    There are a few reasons why the art
    looks the way it does. The cop out reason is, some art was designed
    by me, and I have no eye for design or art. But when it came time to
    keep up with new power deadlines, I threw art in place holder art,
    and me and the artist never revisited it. Players got used to it, and
    it kind of worked.

    The valid reason is that a single piece
    must be able to communicate all of the mods it has on it, at first
    glance, in one moment of time. We considered having animations that
    fade in and out, or cycle through visual identifiers of mods, but
    then people couldn’t tell a game state by looking at screen grabs.
    Also, the tile mods have to be able to poke through, even if a piece
    is sitting on top of it, which leaves very little room around the
    edge of a piece to show its mod contents. Then, to throw a whole
    wrench into the design process, every mod has to in some way or
    another, occupy the upper left corner of a piece or tile. Otherwise,
    when a piece is sunken on a lower tile and obscured by surrounding
    higher tiles to its east and south, you would not be able to see what
    a piece (or tile) contains. This forces all the mods to use some
    portion of the north west side of a piece for art; a very small real

    But yes, what about all the other art
    in the game? Does it need to look so shoddy? No, I say. I have a
    friend who agrees with you about the look of Quadradius. He read your
    article, and sent me an email with a response to you (accurately and
    hilariously) calling the art “half-painted
    cardboard set for a high school sci-fi musical”.
    His response to me was, “And
    THIS is why it needs to be redone…
    “. This person is Brad Kayal, the art director on quadradius. He
    too, probably more so, despises the art. Of your whole article, the
    one line about the art is all he was concerned about, understandably

    Also, we debate over art and
    functionality, often having to come to compromises. An insight to a
    new look we might go for, can be seen in the profile picture of the
    facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Quadradius
    . We want a cleaner look. Also, the whole game is built using vector
    art instead of bitmap art. We are highly considering using bitmap art
    instead for a follow up version. Let us know what you think. I hope
    to begin sharing some of his ideas and art publicly. Thanks for the
    article, Kevin. It’s a great kick in the pants, right Brad?


  • Rys4k

    I just wanted to thank you for selecting a video in which I’d won, even if by late round Smart Bombs.


  • driven2sin

    A lot of the early art for Magic the Gathering was total crap (anyone every use alpha Animate Wall as their desktop background?  anyone??)  but the world shook as everyone was sucked into its intricately delicate labyrinth gameplay..  all searching for wonderful tactics and combos.. sound familiar?  except the everyone part… the game of QR is near perfect as is; sure, improvements with the lobby and non-game items would be a hugh benefit (record/save games, tournament structure, small board A.I. opponent, endgame boxscore stats[remember my mockup?]) but the plague of quadradius is its pathetic marketing and forever self-loathing.   It has dredged itself.


  • Daya

    The art isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. It’s clean, functional (if a little too dark), not garish, and most importantly, does not detract from the gameplay.

    Personally I’m a fan of the vector art, though I would ditch it in a heartbeat to be able to play QR on ios devices. Whatever you do, don’t get people into a situation where they have to play at some tiny fixed resolution like so many other flash games. I play QR on a 40″ tv. 

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