Ghost Galaxy Spotlight: Michael Hurley
Christian T. Petersen, the CEO of Strange Stars and Ghost Galaxy, has been very generous with his time, doing interviews with Team Covenant, Help from Future Self, and L’Arconte del Crogiolo, among others. However, we haven’t gotten to know the other members of the Ghost Galaxy team very well. We got in touch with Ghost Galaxy and asked if Michael Hurley, the Director of Operations for Ghost Galaxy, would be willing to do an interview with us, and to our delight he agreed. We both hope that this interview will serve as a way for the Keyforge community to get to know Michael.
What’s your gaming history? How did you first come to work with Christian T. Petersen?
I grew up in a house that had a closet full of board games, and it had a box that looked like this:
I was about 12 when I asked my dad what Dungeons & Dragons was, and he happily DMed my first RPG experience. Back then, this sort of thing was definitely not cool, but I had a younger brother and several friends who got really into it with me. In addition to D&D, we played Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun. I also played a lot of BattleTech. Then, Magic: The Gathering came to my small town in 1994 (showing my age, I know), and my friends, my brother, and I went absolutely bonkers. We bought up everything we could find from every store that brought it in, which really wasn’t much at the time. I still have most of those cards, including a couple of Unlimited Wheel of Fortune and a Sol Ring, which are worth a little.
In 2006, my brother Keith, who was a film school graduate, started working on this low budget independent fantasy movie called Midnight Chronicles. It was mostly shot in a couple of warehouses in Minneapolis. At the time, I was working at as marketing copywriter at a company based in a Minneapolis suburb. Keith would tell me these stories about the writer/director of the movie, Christian Petersen, who also owned a game publishing company called Fantasy Flight Games. I’d owned one of FFG’s board games for a while (Arkham Horror 2nd Edition) without realizing it had come from a local company. I looked up the company and saw they had a job opening for an Editor on their product development team. I applied and got the job.
I started at FFG in July 2007, and within a few weeks, I was at my first Gen Con working in FFG’s booth demoing games. Back then, the entire company went to Gen Con every year to work the show. I continued at FFG until 2016, when I moved across the parking lot to Asmodee North America to a senior executive role.
Can you tell us about some of the previous games you have worked on?
During my first couple of years at FFG, I was the editor, which meant I touched pretty much everything the company published. When FFG formed its long-term licensing relationship with Games Workshop, I was put in charge of roleplaying games and oversaw the development of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition, Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch.
After that, I was put in charge of the card game team, which until then wasn’t a separate team at all, it had just been part of everything that wasn’t roleplaying games. I worked on A Game of Thrones LCG, Warhammer: Invasion, Android: Netrunner, and the Star Wars LCG.
After that, I became VP of Product Development and pretty much oversaw all game categories. By this time, I was mostly just managing people. I was responsible for helping Christian create, maintain, and execute the product release schedule every year (which consisted of hundreds of individual SKUs).
KeyForge presented a lot of new challenges. We had never before had a game that was so dependent on new technology. It was the first time FFG ever used digital printing for mass production, and we had to build a whole new set of processes to efficiently transfer massive amounts of data to our printing partners in Germany and China. Also, because of the nature of KeyForge cards and how they come together in a deck, we had to reinvent many of our internal design processes. For example, in most “normal” card games, once we had the art and the final text for a set of cards, we’d just assemble them in InDesign and send them to a printer. KeyForge cards don’t work like that; any card can be a maverick, and any card can get enhancement icons, so we can’t just lay out the cards like we would the pages of a book. Instead, everything is built on separate layers and assembled like a sandwich during the deck rendering process. Building the framework for all of that was a colossal mountain to climb.
What is your official position at Ghost Galaxy? What is your role as far as Keyforge is concerned?
My job title is Director of Operations, but we’re still a very small company, so my job is to do all the things Christian, Wil, and Jeremy can’t do, or don’t have the time to do. Christian is obviously the CEO, and he does a ton of hands on work, not just for Ghost Galaxy, but for all of his other companies. Wil is our graphic designer (also a FFG veteran). Jeremy is our newest addition and is our Marketing Coordinator. There is a separate software development team at Strange Stars Entertainment (the parent company of Ghost Galaxy) that is doing all the work on the new deck builder, name generator, and rendering engine.
More specifically, on KeyForge I do most of the game development work, rules writing, and project management tasks.
What do you want the Keyforge community to know about you?
I’ve loved KeyForge since it was a prototype, but I’m not a tournament player. We’ve had a long-standing tradition that employees don’t participate in tournaments for their own games. I enjoy it very much at a casual level, and my 9-year-old son is getting interested in it, which is fun. I do play KeyForge a lot, but it’s usually in the context of testing new things.
Did you play Keyforge back before the hiatus? If so, did you have a favorite deck? Why was it your favorite?
I have a lot of decks I like, but none that I consider my absolute favorite. I like Dis, but only when I’m not playing against my son. When I play with him, I usually avoid disrupting his stuff and instead try to get him to disrupt or stop me. Of course, when I play against Christian, I have no mercy.
Where do you envision Keyforge going as we move beyond Winds of Exchange? In other words, what’s your vision for the next few sets?
FFG made significant progress on the set after Winds of Exchange, which is called Grim Reminders. We plan to take advantage of that work and finish what FFG started. Beyond that, we have a lot of ideas, but nothing specific we’re ready to announce.
Who will be primarily responsible for designing sets after Winds of Exchange?
The Ghost Galaxy team is still very small. There is Christian the CEO, our graphic designer Wil, Jeremy our newly-hired Marketing Coordinator, and me. We will be adding more people to the team over time, but for the moment, I am the one primarily responsible for developing new KeyForge sets.
Fortunately, FFG had done a lot of work on the next set, Grim Reminders, so we have a foundation to build upon. That set is less refined than Winds of Exchange was when we took over the game, so there is still plenty of work to do, but it won’t be nearly as much work as starting an entire new set from scratch.
Will there be any new Keyforge products produced that we haven’t yet seen?
We’re working on a new two-player starter that will be similar to, but not exactly like, the Call of the Archons starter. It will have punchboard tokens, quick-start rules, two sealed Archons decks, and two sets of learning cards. The learning cards are not full decks; they are more like half decks. They give two people enough cards to play through a few turns and learn the fundamentals of the game. All those cards will include parenthetic text that will explain something about the game. The cards will also have a special number system so players can follow along with a learn to play tutorial, step by step.
Will there be any current Keyforge products that will no longer be produced?
We have no plans to reprint old KeyForge sets. I think it’s unlikely we’ll make new deluxe Archon decks, also known as one-player starters. They’re expensive to produce, and historically they were not hot sellers compared to Archon decks.
Unchained decks are marketed as 2022 Season. Does that mean that they are going to be based primarily on Winds of Exchange, or will we see a mix of all Keyforge sets in them?
I first suggested the idea of Unchained decks during a brainstorming session about stretch goals for our Gamefound campaign. I thought it would be fun to really mess with the settings in the deck builder: really crank up the maverick and anomaly changes, remove all minimum and maximum limits (of which there are many), that sort of thing. We didn’t know how people would react; there was genuine concern people wouldn’t like the idea at all because the decks wouldn’t be allowed in sanctioned tournaments. What good is a deck you can’t even use? Of course, Unchained decks can be used, they just have to be used differently, so explaining that to players became part of the challenge.
We were all surprised by how positively players reacted to that stretch goal, which was really cool! So, we thought we’d better make sure we presented these Unchained decks in a way that left the door open to do it again in the future, hence the “2022” label. This first run of Unchained decks will feature a huge card pool, going all the way back to Call of the Archons, but it will also have Winds of Exchange cards, which of course are the newest KeyForge cards in the pool.
Do you have a favorite Mountain Dew flavor? The Archon’s Corner guys will want to know this.
I’m a coffee drinker. I take it black as an overcast sky on a moonless prairie night. I don’t really like soda.
We want to thank Michael Hurley for his time and insights. We really enjoyed getting to know him, and we hope that you will, too. We came away from this interview feeling like Keyforge is in good hands with Christian, Michael, and the rest of the Ghost Galaxy team. If you want to ask us any questions, or just talk Keyforge with us, we can be found on most Keyforge Discords as SecondAct and Arly. Thanks for reading!