The Gatling Engine
by Jens Kreutzer
Ever since Zvi Mowshowitz's laudable project to revive Netrunner was stopped dead in its tracks by
Wizards of the Coast chicanery, the Netrunner scene has been losing impetus and direction.
But now at last, a new Silver Lining Recovery Protocol has appeared on the horizon and is rekindling interest -
and is even getting players excited once more. I'm talking about the Gatling Engine project, of course, and
you might have read something about it on the Netrunner-L newsgroup. The idea of creating an online platform for CCG play isn't
exactly new; in fact, interfaces like Apprentice have been around for quite a while, and with
Wizard's expensive but very professional Magic Online up and running (and Decipher, Wizard's main contestant, poised to develop a platform of their own), it seems very mainstream nowadays. But the Gatling Engine is special.
Ed Mittelstedt (a. k. a. Bug Laden) is the mastermind behind his CCG Workshop site and the Gatling Engine it features. The idea was to create an interface that could support any trading card game for online play. Up till now,
the Engine is still in its experimental stage (though working fine), but the idea behind it is to eventually rent it out to game designers who can then develop (and sell) their own CCG creations for online play. To this end, Ed needed some games as examples to show off what his Gatling Engine could do. The logical target wasn't a hugely successful CCG hit such as Magic, because a commercial online project was already underway, and he'd never get the license to do his own thing with it, but rather some old favorites - CCGs that were long out of print.
The first candidate was Doomtrooper. Ed got into contact with Bryan Winter, the creator of Doomtrooper, and got the permission to adapt it for online play. Fans then provided spoiler lists and helped with the scanning of all card images, and by now, anybody can play Doomtrooper online 24 hours a day. Though preconstructed decks are available for download, a complete and searchable database makes deck construction easy and fun. All you have to do is register at the CCG Workshop, download and install the Gatling Engine software, plus the Doomtrooper module, and, if you like, all of the card images (which can take a couple of hours) for storage on your harddisk, so that they can be displayed immediately when they come up during play. Everything is absolutely free, at least for the time being. When
you are done with the preliminaries, you can log in to the Gatling Engine at any time and see who is online in the lobby. If you are lucky, you can find somebody to start a game with right away. Recently, the number of registered players exceeded 1000.
But Doomtrooper was just the beginning. Ed is adding more games to the list constantly. Magi-Nation Duel. Battletech. Wildstorms. Kult. These are all available now, with Gridiron, Doomtown, Ultimate Combat!, Aliens vs. Predator, Babylon 5, and Wheel of Time in the pipeline. All of this is perfectly legal and done in cooperation with the respective publishers.
As you might have guessed, Netrunner is also slated for conversion. In fact, Ed himself holds the game in high esteem, and since members of the CCG Workshop have been clamoring for their Netrunner fix for quite some time now, he is keen on getting the conversion done. The first step is to provide him with scans of all the Netrunner card images. Thanks to the efforts of Frenchman Eric Platel, who volunteered to coordinate the scanning, this is well underway already: As I'm typing this, there are only two or three dozen card images missing, and I expect the scanning to be finished by the time you read this. When the scanning is done, a group of programmers will adapt Netrunner for online play with the Gatling Engine. As with other games, numerous experimental beta versions of this adaptation will probably become available for testing with time. Since everybody can voice their comments, you can still become part of the revolution. Anyway, these are really exciting prospects: Imagine a website where you can find other players and play Netrunner anytime you like! Not being able to find other players has always been such a big problem for the Netrunner community. Combined with the lack of advertising and - by now - the lack of product available in shops, it comes as no surprise that the Netrunner player base is shrinking rather than growing. But with this new online platform, it is not only the problem of finding opponents that is solved; we might just get enough exposure for other people to try out Netrunner online and grow to like it. In fact, I tried out Magi-Nation Duel just to get a
feeling for the Gatling Engine - other players might try out Netrunner when it becomes available.
Still another plus is the following: No booster purchase necessary. All players have access to all the cards, all the time, for Constructed play. This means that the threshold for trying out a new game is extremely low: It is just a matter of downloading the interface module and a preconstructed deck and reading the rules (or, better still, getting another player to guide you through a first game).
If you are as excited about the CCG Workshop as Eric and I are, why not take a look at
www.ccg-workshop.com? You will find all the instructions you need there, and once you're done with the registration and installation process (which
really is worth the effort), you can take your pick of Doomtrooper, Magi-Nation Duel, Battletech, Wildstorms or Kult for a taste of the Gatling Engine. By the way, the CCG Workshop site was also featured in an Inquest Gamer article (#85, p. 25), which can be found online here.
I'll keep you updated on latest developments; until then, check out the CCG Workshop yourself. I expect it to be the next big thing, and that it will make IRC play obsolete in the end. With the 'spectator' function being developed right now, the Gatling Engine would even seem to be the ideal medium for the next World Domination championship.