Johan talks about their game, Magicka
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Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Johan: Hello, I’m Johan Pilestedt and I’m Game Director of Magicka.
Interviewer: And what is Magicka exactly?
Johan: Magicka is an action adventure fantasy game set in a really classical fantasy world with a really unique and dynamic spell system.
Interviewer: What inspired the game?
Johan: There were many sources of inspirations for the game. For example, other games we played during our childhood like Gauntlet and Street Fighter and Diablo. Guitar Hero was also one of the sources for inspiration.
Interviewer: So, you decided to make this game. What’s the development process like, and what were some of the challenges you ran into as you were designing this game?
Johan: Since the main idea of the game is to have a really, really dynamic spell system which allows the player to not only explore the game world but also explore the spell casting system. We really wanted to focus on making this spell casting system as intuitive and as deep as possible. So, for a first time player it should be pretty logical. For example, combining fire and water should logically create steam.
Johan: But also on a deeper level, for example, combining an element, like a barrier or stone wall. If you add fire to that, you’ll get a magma instead, like a moat with lava. And if you cast water or cold on that one, it will freeze just solid rock again. So, there are many challenges designing a system that’s really intuitive and also deep, and especially like wrapping your head around all the eventualities that could occur which do. So, it has to be really, really believable. If you think of an effect, it should work. Otherwise, people will get disappointed.
Interviewer: You talk about making the spell system. Did you just have a basic rule set and just try to figure out emerging properties, or did you have to hard code all the different spell combinations?
Johan: There are lots of hard coding going on, but on top of that we have this really dynamic system. So, the spell system is like [?] to several different properties. For example, if it’s a projectile spell, that could have lots of different properties. And a blast effect has a – what do you call it – several different…
Interviewer: There’s several different dimensions that these spells can affect, and each of these items or spells have certain factors in those different dimensions.
Johan: Yeah, exactly. All the damage has to be calculated, depending on which kind of effect you are doing and, for example, splash effects and all that.
Interviewer: What were the challenges of balancing such a system and how did you do that?
Johan: That’s one of the key things. We’re not interested in really balancing it, making old spells super balanced. Instead, we want people to figure out that this spell should be really effective. For example, like water combined with one arcane it won’t do a lot of damage and it will push the enemies back. And if you still had lots of arcane and only a little bit of water, it will do pretty much damage and soak the enemies. So, that’s about it which is probably pretty much the effect you get from steam.
So, it’s just a preference which of the elements you want to use but, of course, we can’t have an island which is over powerful. So, it’s just a matter of shaking to see that there aren’t any spells that are totally useless and there aren’t any that are super powerful.
Interviewer: Were there any other challenges as you were developing this? This is a cooperative multiplayer. So, did you run into any issues with that?
Johan: Well, there are issues at all times when you create a cooperative gaming experience. For example, friendly fire is always on in the game. Game can be ruined by douche bags or whatever you like to call them. We’re still looking into that, but the best solution that we’re looking at now is just have the players in the game, in a democratic way, be able to kick and control the game that way.
Interviewer: Were there any other challenges? Do people have to be on the same computer to play cooperative multiplayer?
Johan: Oh no, you can do it online but the game is really designed for the couch experience. We still don’t want to eliminate those players that count that sit on the couch and play together. For example, me and my brother, we live 800 kilometers away and we still want to be able to play with each other.
Of course, we have to enable that, but that creates a lot of other problems, like communication is a really important part of the game. But the PC audience is really good at finding third party software that made voice communication a lot better than we could do ever in such a short time frame over this development period.
Interviewer: But some games are also using some kind of asynchronous communication where it’s kind of like these Facebook games or social games where one person does something like send an ingredient and another person can get it later. Is that something you guys considered, the asynchronous playing?
Johan: Not really. The game is really action intense and it’s really about what you’re going to do at this very moment. So, everything has to be really, really fluid in the communication between computers, and we were using a mix between USPM and it’s called UDB, another network program or so.
Interviewer: You talked about the tight dev cycle. How long did you have to develop this?
Johan: The game actually started out as a college project which we created in 2D. This was like a prototype. And we submitted that to Swedish Game Awards, kind of the Swedish equivalent of the Independent Games Festival, and we won that competition with the 2D prototype. And it was like a real boost for us, and we really wanted to take it a step further. So, we tried to keep the college status and the game development parallel, but eventually that didn’t work out. This game development was more than full-time work and also the college studies were the same.
So, we decided we would drop out of college and start a company, without any money, without anything and just roll with it. We started prototyping 3D which would be a little bit more accessible to casual and regular gamers, and that’s eventually we got new now.
Interviewer: What was the company you started?
Johan: The company is called Arrowhead Game Studios, and it’s based on the idea that gaming is a social experience, yeah.
Interviewer: So, the question is, you know, you want to hit casual gamers. Why try to develop a 3D game? It seems like these 2D games are working more for the casual gamers, and even too much fantasy seems to turn casual gamers off.
Johan: Well, we don’t really want to attract the real, real casual gaming crowd but instead the casual gaming crowd that is a potential hard core gamer but they don’t know about it. In the fantasy world it’s not – sure, it’s a fantasy world but we make a little fun with fantasy games, and we do references to all kind of pop culture. So, as you’re traveling through a lush, green environment you can still find references to that Star Trek and Star Wars and James Bond and all those different kind of movies that we loved during our childhood and still do.
Interviewer: What’s the user testing or user response now to the game?
Johan: The users really respond well to the game, and it works more or less as one had hoped. There are certain, really exciting side experiences that we had with the players, like forming, taking identity while playing. So, every player has the exact same spell and then also they can still adopt different healer. I want to be a fire mate even though they’re not limited. One player usually takes command of the group. He’s like, “Let’s cast a shield and let’s short shop these bells and you go right and I go left.”
Interviewer: Are you thinking of having distinct classes then in the future version of the game where people choose their role?
Johan: I don’t think so. It kind of misses the point of the game of just being able to explore the spell system and lets you play on equal grounds and thus being able to become better at it for as long as possible.
Interviewer: And then, what’s next in store, either a future game or next in store for this game that you can talk about?
Johan: Yeah. Well, we’re always looking at creating more unique experiences in the cooperative gaming area, and we really want to provide players with good value for as little money as possible because that’s what we want as gamers.
Interviewer: Where do you see cooperative gaming going? You have competitive gaming. Cooperative, it’s there. Some people are doing it. You see some of these casual games. Where do you feel it’s going?
Johan: Well, I think cooperative gaming is the future, at least, for casual games, and then the hard core crowd is usually more competitive oriented, but most players are actually casual gamers. So, I think cooperative gaming is an extension of watching a movie with a couple of friends, and that’s the same thing you’re going to get from games in a couple of years. Just having a couple of friends over playing a game instead of watching a movie.
Interviewer: Where can people find out more about this game?
Johan: It’s available on our website. It’s www.magicka.se for Sweden.
Interviewer: How do you spell Magicka?
Johan: It’s M-A-G-I-C-K-A.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.