reetings, digital Planeswalkers! After today's downtime, Magic Online will come up with a new build of the beta client available, and I'm back once again to walk through some of the latest changes. (For a complete changelist, see this forum thread.)
Before we jump in, though, I want to make sure you saw Chris Kiritz's article yesterday announcing the Wide Beta Spotlight! After downtime on Wednesday, May 8, we will have two days during which the beta client will be the only Magic Online client available. The first day will be our normal tournament offerings, but on Thursday, May 9, starting at 10:00 a.m. Pacific, players participating in the Wide Beta Spotlight will be able to play in Dragon's Maze Prereleases a day early!
In addition to early Prerelease queues, qualified players participating in the Wide Beta Spotlight can enter the code "WBSpotlight" in the bottom left corner of the Magic Online store and get a full-art Dryad Militant! This code is only good during the Wide Beta Spotlight, ending at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, May 10. Please see the full details of the promotion below to see if you qualify.
For many players, the Wide Beta Spotlight will be the first time they have played on the beta client. Let's take a look at some of the features and improvements that await them!
Building a Better Battlefield
I'm going to start with the most significant change to the beta client since the last update: the duel scene user interface (UI). As I've discussed in previous articles, card size on the battlefield is a high priority for the play experience. We want to maximize the card size, and this is accomplished most directly by increasing vertical space on the battlefield.
On most monitors, the battlefield has to be pretty full of cards before a lack of horizontal space will reduce the size of cards. Lack of vertical space, however, takes a toll on card size immediately—every pixel of available vertical space affects the size of the cards on the battlefield from turn one. To see what I mean, look at this video.
Shrinking the battlefield horizontally did not affect card size at all (although it would if the battlefield were crowded), but shrinking the battlefield vertically caused card size to shrink immediately.
Allowing players to lower their hands below the size of a card was the first step toward increasing vertical battlefield space, and that has been an option for as long as the beta client has been available to play. However, the location of the prompt box in the lower left and the options on the lower right—both attached to the hand—put limits on how far down the hand could go. We really wanted more vertical space via hand size, though, and in order to do that, we needed to detach the hand from the prompt box and the options.
By attaching the prompt box to the left pane of the battlefield and attaching the options to the right pane, the hand became free to drop all the way down to the point that only the card titles are showing. I've used before-and-after shots in previous articles, but to show the space captured with this change, I'm going to compare V3, beta client before, and beta client after. If big battlefield is your priority or your hand is empty, you can adjust your hand size to achieve this card size on the battlefield:
Beta Client Before
New Beta Client Battlefield
We are taking this a step further in an upcoming update for the Wide Beta Spotlight, in which the phase bar can be collapsed out of view to reclaim more vertical space. Finally, we are also going to remove the "footer" contents from the game window (the clock and the copyright stamp), further increasing vertical height. Once all of these changes are in, you can play with the red zone always open and still have larger cards on the battlefield than you can get in V3 at the same screen resolution.
We've been making steady progress with each build on improving the chat experience. The latest build is no exception, bringing with it functionality that enables players to notice, read, and respond to chats they may have missed when first sent. We've been alerting players about incoming messages for a while now via the new "toast" system (the temporary messages that appear in the lower-right corner of your screen when certain things happen on Magic Online), but it was problematic when players didn't notice the toasts. There was no way to know that you had missed a chat, and no way to find and catch up with a missed conversation. We didn't want to resort to the V3 method of "pop up a chat over the middle of your battlefield while doing alpha-strike combat math" though, so we needed an alert system.
As of this build, if you have an unseen chat, the "Chat" option in the navigation bar of the main client window will pulse. Clicking on the Chat option will show you a list of all the chats you have missed, and you can click on them to pick up the conversation.
Lobbying for Change
There are several improvements and fixes to the play lobby in this build. Much of the changes have to do with searching and filtering, fixing how the text search works, and how results update after a filter or search change, but there are some additional Play Lobby features as well.
Time and Wins: There is now a panel of options in the Open Constructed area of the play lobby that allows players to set the amount of time each player has in a match, and the number of game wins required to win a match.
Hidden Defaults: We want players to be able to get into a game by only selecting a deck and clicking the "Next Game" button. This was technically working, but too often it would put a player into an available multiplayer game when the player intended a one-on-one duel. Now, clicking "Next Game" will only put you into a multiplayer game if you have opted into it, or have selected a Commander deck.
Joined Games: In the results pane to the right that shows all of the matches and events that fit the filters you have selected, we have added a top section called "Games You've Joined." We felt it was safe to assume the matches and events players care about the most are the ones they are in, so this added section puts those games separate from and above everything else for quick and easy access.
A major overhaul of the Magic Online trade system was not in the scope of this client project, but we wanted to include some features in the new client that improved trade experience, even if at its core it is a port of the V3 classified-style trading system. Besides some improvements to the flow that reduce the number of clicks to complete a trade, we have added a couple of search features that make it much easier to search the classified system.
First, we have added the advanced search features to the text search. In V3, the classifieds text search looks for exactly the string you type in. Now, if you type in multiple words into the search field, the client will display all classifieds containing those words, regardless of whether or not the words appear consecutively in a listing. If you want to search for a single string containing multiple words, putting quotes around your text string will search for that exact string.
Once you have filtered the many traders down to the ones with classifieds listings containing your search words, you browse through each listing, looking for what that trader has to offer for the thing you are searching for. To make this easier, the trade search now highlights the instances of words in your search. This makes is much easier to pick out what each trader has to say about the words you've searched for.
Once you have found the trade partner you are looking for, the flow of the trade itself is much easier to follow and takes fewer clicks from start to finish.
We understand there is a strong desire in the Magic Online community for a fully redesigned trade system. While it wasn't in the scope of this project to overhaul trading, we believe the improvements to the existing trade system in the beta client represent a true upgrade to that experience over V3.
At a Premium
The treatment on premium cards to this point in the beta client has looked pretty cool while animated, but frankly unacceptable while static. The static version of the premium card treatment left the card name difficult to read and its color sometimes hard to discern at a glance.
While it can be tricky to apply a static treatment that makes the card look different and shiny without detracting from its readability, we knew we could do better than what we had. We are continuing to tweak this treatment, and the newest build has a big step in the right direction, providing something far more readable in a static state while still looking cool in an animated state. Here's a before and after:
Here's what a battlefield looks like with some animated premium cards:
But Wait, There's More!
We make a lot of smaller improvements each build that don't always warrant a major callout in my articles, but here's a roundup of some of the more significant features.
Disconnect Notification: One the most-frequently-cited issues with V3 is the lack of a clear indication when you have disconnected. Many longtime players have used tricks like checking your player info in an attempt to verify connectivity, sometimes resorting to a restart "just to be sure." This is not an issue in the beta client. When you disconnect on the beta, a "toast" message appears in the lower-right corner of your screen, and the client switches to the login screen.
Collapsible Draft Table: While it can be useful to see the order of players around the draft table, it can be even more useful to reclaim that space and have more room to display the picks you are making during draft. Now you can drag the draft table closed during a draft and use all the space for picks.
Auto-Submit Limited Decks: Sometimes, a player builds a Limited deck but fails to submit it. In this unfortunate case, the player ends up with a gigantic deck containing all his or her cards plus some added basic lands. Now, if there is a legal 40-card deck in the main deck, the player hasn't interacted with deck editor in the last thirty seconds of deck building, and hasn't submitted a deck, the deck is automatically submitted.
Draft Recorder: The draft recorder is back! You may now opt into the creation of a text file of every draft you play by checking the option in the Game History section of the Account tab. Now you can also change the save location for these files as well.
Prize Structure Info: This is one of those issues that turns out to be more complicated to address at first glance. There hasn't been prize information in the beta client event windows to this point, because the information in that panel is all drawn from existing server-side data, and prize information isn't currently stored server-side to be drawn upon. It's going to require some additional work to get prize info listed within the client, but in the meantime we have added a link in each event window to a webpage with the prize details for that event.
Free Trial Server: If you are reading this far into an article on the Magic Online beta, this probably doesn't directly impact you, but it was important that we get our "free trial" system working with the new client before switching over to it.
Launching Improvements: It was a little disconcerting to launch the beta client and not have any feedback that something was happening until the login screen appeared. Adding a splash screen has been on our list, and we got to it in the latest build. We have also made the client non-interactive during the initial login, when it is loading various assets. Quick-clicking players could create crashes and other unpleasantness by navigating through the client before everything was ready, so now we put up a "loading" notification while the client gets its ducks in a row after login.
So Many Changes, So Little Time
As usual, the quantity of great improvements to the beta client exceeds my time and space available to discuss them. I hope you check out the full changelist and then join us for the Wide Beta Spotlight and some Dragon's Maze Prerelease fun!
If you do check out the beta client, please fill out this feedback form and tell us how we are doing. Your input is immensely important to us. After you fill out the feedback form, you can also share your thoughts in the forums, or contact me on Twitter.
Until the next new build, good luck and have fun!
Redemption Code Promotion Terms
Offer is good for a license to use one digital promotional version of the Dryad Militant card. Offer expires at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time on May 10, 2013. Offer is not valid for cash or cash equivalent. Offer is valid for redemption by account holders whose billing address is located in the United States only. Only accounts in good standing may take part in this offer, and each such account may redeem the code only one time. Offer is non-transferable and use of the code in unauthorized advertising, marketing, sweepstakes, or for other promotional purposes is strictly prohibited. (return)
Ryan Spain has been a digital designer in R&D since 2011. He is involved in all things Magic Online, from new card sets to the new client and everything in between. He likely has more lifetime hours played on Magic Online than anyone at Wizards.