Cutthroat began like many games of three-handed spades; we were missing a fourth player. We were glaziers, and at the end of a hard day’s work we wanted to relax and play a game of cards. So we started playing cutthroat, and we had a lot of fun.
My opponents consisted of my good buddy Matt and his grandpa Everette. We started out with just the basic rules. We had already established the “victory token” from previous games of Spades and Hearts. If you won a game, you could pick out a smiley sticker and place it under your name on the tournament board. Which coined the phrase, “playing for smileys.”
The first one to get the required number of smileys was the tourney winner. There was something really special about getting up from your seat, picking out your smiley, and placing it on the board. All the while your opponents had to sit, watch, and think about the mistakes they made, or the lessons learned.
Matt took it "real serious" to win. Everette would have trouble sometimes planning his strategy and remembering what was played. So Matt would coach him with table talk on what to play. If it then came down to a close game between Matt and me, it would seem that Everette would always favor Matt to win.
I would sometimes accuse Everette of siding with Matt and he would deny it, saying he didn’t help anyone, he just played his cards. And I would respond by saying if he didn’t help me, he was helping Matt. But regardless, to start with, Matt took a grand lead on the smileys and tournaments won.
To counter the odds...
I felt it was always two against one. So I started encouraging Everette to help me take down Matt, and Everette and I started to win a few. Matt always held an edge, though, and I would study the end results of games and attempt to figure out how to counter his plays and his table talk. This started a grand, but friendly rivalry between him and me, with his grandpa in the middle.
Everette would many times take the heat on a loss, or would win because either Matt or I helped him to prevent our rival from winning. It was madness, but this made us think through our bids and plays, and it increased the strategy involved.
This continued for several years, and we went through dozens of smileys, cards, and tournament boards. We started coming up with new rules as well, tweaks to make it more interesting. Everette was such a comical player, and that alone added to the entertainment we got from playing. This, with the rivalry and the new rules—the game became more fun as time went on.
Then Everette got sick.
What inspired me to make this app…
Everette was having to travel to the hospital regularly to do dialysis. And I had started school, so the chances we had to play became less and less. At that time, I started learning to use Unity. After taking a few tutorials, I decided I had learned enough to start building an app we could use to play this game from a distance. This could keep the rivalry and madness going. Not only that, but we loved the game so much that I really wanted to share it with the world, and Unity was just the tool I needed to do that.
"But then I got hit by the scope creep."
After a few months, I had the basics of multiplayer working, but I wanted some good AI as well so that I could practice offline. But then I got hit by the scope creep. Before I realized what was happening, this monster had sent me down a long winding road—developing the computer opponents, giving them character, and even adding in a whole story to play through.
We never really called our games Cutthroat. We would just say, hey, let’s play a game. But I started calling my app Cutthroat Spades early on, and that gave me the idea to do a pirate theme. I wanted the characters to have an authentic feel, so I started doing research. I read books, listened to audio books, watched movies, and searched online, all the while taking notes. I could not get enough of pirates. Thus, Tumbles, the accident-prone, gun-powder-toting monkey; Hamish the backslidden monk; Jack Crow the egotistic Bos'n; Captain Anderson and his crazed parrot Crackers, and all the rest came to be.
One of the top complaints developers get about single player card games is the horrible AI. So I set out to make the best AI possible. Game after grueling game I played. When the AI didn’t play according to what I felt was the best play, I would add code that taught them how to play better.
But first I would have to reason out how to teach them what the best play would be. This was no easy task as I had done no AI work in this area before. However, using my firsthand knowledge of the game and a bit of mathematical magic, I taught them to think like a skilled player.
In the app, after the first level, there is no more randomness. The AI chooses cards to play based on the state of the game. They attempt to remember what cards are played, and using what strategies they understand, they will choose a card. The higher-level AI remembers more and understands better strategies.
"...what we had feared the most…"
Thus, Cutthroat Spades, as it is now, came to be. But before that, what we had feared the most…
It breaks my heart to say it, but in the time it took me to get to the point where I could refocus my attention on the multiplayer, back to the idea that started it all, Everette left us. In the months since, Matt and I have played only a couple games with other friends. It just isn’t the same any more. Everette added so much to the game with his whimsical ways. We just never knew what his play would be, or whose side he would take. So I dedicated this app to him, and even named one of the characters after him. I know he’d be proud of it. For Everette and the other card players of the world, this one’s for you.
What you can expect next…
The main goal is still to add multiplayer. But first, I want to add in four-player mode as this is the trendiest way to play spades. Cutthroat Spades offers a fresh take on this very popular card game. It has much character and a brilliant AI, which I keep making smarter with each update. There will be an easy mode coming soon for those wanting to get through the story parts faster, and many more new features. So keep your eyes on the horizon, mates!