Triple Triad Online: keeping the Final Fantasy minigame alive

Triple Triad 1

When Cyril Bondue first played Triple Triad, the peculiar card-collecting minigame from Final Fantasy VIII, he became slightly obsessed. For Bondue, like many other fans of Squaresoft’s (now Square Enix) enduring JRPG of the late ’90s, playing Triple Triad became more important than the main game itself.

Flipping packs on the 3x3 grid, matching elements and snatching high-ranking cards proved far more intriguing than steering the oft aloof Squall Leonhart around Balamb, Dollet or Deling City—locales Bondue only cared to visit in order to seek out new NPCs with untapped and inestimable decks.

“I remember winning cards but being unsure of how I triggered this or that effect,” explains Bondue, about first playing the game in 1999. He laughs. “I was very bad, especially before I understood the rules. But I was looking at magazines and speaking more with people about the cards than the actual game itself. It meant so much more to me.”

Ten years on, Bondue decided to take his love for Triple Triad a step further. While still attending school in his native Berlin, he tried his hand at programming. But with no experience, he decided to create a fan project based on an existing franchise. Naturally, Triple Triad was at the forefront of his mind and thus Triple Triad Flash Online was born. Today, TTFO has over 36,000 registered users and hosts approximately 140 games per day, not to mention fortnightly championships which see 150-200 players face off for coveted character cards. Back in 2009, however, TTFO wasn’t as well established as it is now.

Triple Triad 2

Version 1 was simple in its makeup: as a neophyte coder, Bondue struggled with sophisticated design but quickly noticed a distinct interest in his creation as the user base began to slowly multiply.

Like most card games, the speed in which any Triple Triad game plays out is variable, thus Version 1’s 30-second server requests meant bouts suffered tedious amounts of lag. Did the other player play their card? Which card? Where did they put it? This extended to the game’s chat function, meaning messages also took half a minute to deliver, and there was no way of inviting players to join games.

By 2011, Bondue realised the burgeoning community he had helped grow needed more from TTFO and decided to upgrade. Version 2 ushered in TTFO as it stands today, correcting all of the previous technical handicaps and punctuating the familiar interface with the equally familiar finger-clicking jingle which guarantees to set up camp in your head after first listen. Although keen at the time to overhaul its aesthetics, Bondue was clear to maintain the exact same ruleset.

“There’s the same rules, and I’ve chosen not to add any new cards,” explains Bondue. “I wanted to stick to the 110 original cards in order to keep the original balance of every original card. Adding cards can break this balance.”

Triple Triad 3

With the bimonthly championships, however—the site’s main attraction—Bondue can be creative in order to generate interest in both existing and prospective users. By battling through four stages of competition, players can capture spoils with little experience.

“Championships at TTFO are the only way to earn character cards,” says Bondue. “Character cards are level ten and therefore the most powerful in the game—they are very uncommon. Most players won’t have them but everyone wants them, and this encourages a lot of players to participate. Players don’t play with regular cards. You are given a set of cards [that] I choose and every new championship has its own set of rules.

“Whereas when you join the game at first you’ll only have level one cards, you can join a championship at any time and level. When you win a game you can take a card from your opponent. When it’s your regular cards, ones you’ve earned, you don’t really want to lose them—but here, the cards are given to you, they’re just there for the tournament. Championships make for more exciting games as you don’t have as much to lose.”

Recently, long-standing MMO Final Fantasy XIV introduced a reinterpretation of the Golden Saucer—a theme park-style area which featured in Final Fantasy VII—which boasts popular minigames from previous series instalments, including the revered Triple Triad. It’d be natural for Bondue to consider the impact this may have on TTFO. Yet he feels it could be good for the community by virtue of introducing a new generation to the game, thus potentially raising the profile of his fan site. Bear in mind Triple Triad is a game within a game from last century, where schoolyard card swapping was (presumably) far more commonplace in a world predating the digital age. The idea of getting younger players involved who can then migrate to a more focused arena can’t be a bad thing.

Triple Triad 4

Although not specifically tailored to suit anyone but the TTFO community, Bondue is in the process of upgrading again with plans to roll out Version 3 at some stage later this year. Having worked on the particulars alongside community members since mid- 2014, a 3D Garden-esque lobby is set to offer a far more contemporary Triple Triad experience—and Bondue notes future Twitch livestreams as a possible way of further enticing new faces.

But the old faces are the pillars of the community. Peter Spencer, a moderator from Sydney, has been an integral member of TTFO since 2011.

“We’ve got players from all over the world,” he says as he praises the figurative closeness of the far-reaching group. “The majority are Europeanbased but there’s a strong North and South American presence, and there’s quite a few players from the Philippines and South East Asia who play a fair bit.

“Some of these players have got some really different ways of approaching the game. [They] are always thinking outside the box, which is really interesting. There are so many facets to it, all the rules and the way people approach it—you’re always learning. I learned quickly that you can’t expect to win every game. If you do that, you can’t have fun.”