Magicka is a light hearted four player co-op game about casting spells and working together for the PC. It's being developed by Arrowhead Game Studios and Published by Paradox Interactive. We sat down with the game's producer, Shams Jorjani to talk about the title - which is coming out next year.
Co-Optimus: Tell us a little bit about Magicka and what you think makes it so unique.
Shams Jorjani: Magicka is co-op (or single) fantasy action/adventure game set in world based on Norse mythology. The player assumes the role of a wizard from a sacred order tasked with the ultimate goal of stopping an evil sorcerer who has thrown the world into turmoil, his evil creations besieging the forces of good.
Sound familiar? It should. Because that's one of three things that makes Magicka unique - it's a humorous game that (frequently) pokes fun at the fantasy genre, video games and itself at every turn and bend. The Joker said - Why so serious? Magicka couldn't agree more.
Secondly Magicka is built from the ground up as a co-op game. The designers wanted to make a really fun "sit-in-the-couch-with-your-friends-and-play"-game. Whether you are healing your friends or zapping, flaming, freezing or throwing your enemies to their deaths you can be sure that the more you are, the more it's going to be.
Third and finally, Magicka sports a unique spellcasting system which presents some really cool gameplay scenarios. You basically have access to a bunch of elements, earth, fire, water, cold, arcane, lightning and a few more which can be combined into lots of crazy stuff. Cast flame as a flamethrower or combine with water to shoot steam. Combine fire, earth with a shield to create a fiery lavafilled moat. The spellcasting is brought to even a higher level when you have 3 friends blasting away. Be sure not to cross those streams though.
Co-Optimus: Ok, you win the Ghostbusters reference. So how did the idea for Magicka come about? Were there any games that served as an influenced for its design?
Shams:We were influnced by a lot of games, there are so many great dungeon crawlers out there. Diablo is of course one of the best ones.
Co-Optimus: Agreed, it seems like Magicka has a very Diablo-type feel, yet it seems like the focus is less on "who can collect the best/most loot", and more on the magic itself. What lead to the decision to shift away from a feature that is so often associated with this particular game genre?
Shams: Ultimately we decided to focus on the spellcasting instead of getting bogged down with inventories and rpg stats. That's fine and we love that as well, but we wanted players to get right into the action. That doesn't mean that the spellcasting is simple. In fact it can be really challenging. It's been really interesting to see how our testers play style changes as they get better.
Co-Optimus: In an interview with the game's director, and Arrowhead Game Studios CEO, Johan Pilestedt, he mentioned that each player can choose to play and focus on whatever group of magic or spells they choose, but that players seem to be gravitating towards specific roles regardless. Why not provide these roles in the first place? Why provide players this level of freedom to choose what role they play?
Shams: The benefit of having an open system is that a healer can go offensive if the need suddenly arises. Say that the wizards are fighting a troll, and the healer is running around casting defensive shields or healing his friends. One of his friends casts water on the troll and someone else casts a cold spray freezing it in place. Suddenly the players have a short window where they all want to deal lots of damage to the immobile troll. The healer charges up a giant stone projectile and hurls it at the troll. This also allows the offensive player to quickly heal a friend near death.
Moreover the system lets the "healer" be creative in how he supports his friends. Say his friend is on fire, to help him out he can combine healing with water, taking care of 2 birds with one watery healing beam.
All in all we end up with really dynamic gameplay where people have the ability to adjust their gameplay to different and fun situations that arise.
Co-Optimus: Will the dynamic spellcasting work between co-op players, as in blending elements to cause a slightly different effect when two spells interact, e.g., a bonus to power, an added status effect, or something likewise beneficial to attacking the same enemy?
Shams: Absolutely, besides what I mentioned before players will quickly see the benefits of one player hosing down enemies with fire and having his other friends chain-lightning their foes.
Co-Optimus: With a game that's so focused on cooperative play, why allow friendly fire? Will there be an option to turn it off?
Shams: Important question. FF can be a real source of irritation in games. We've tried different solutions but honestly in the end we ended keeping it because we just got so much positive feedback. Since healing/reviving is easy in the game FF never really acts to the games detriment. It's just a natural fun way of playing. Not once during the hundreds of hours of gameplay did someone really want the option to turn it off. Accidentally blowing up your friend just results in a sheepish "sorry" followed by an immediate revive spell. We've gotten the same results when having gamers try out the game at trade shows and public game test sessions.
Co-Optimus: Once players run through the campaign together, what kind of re-playability will there be? Will there be other cooperative game modes?
Shams: Besides the regular stuff (discovering new stuff, trying new spells/tactics) the game will have harder difficulty levels which mixes up the gameplay a lot. It makes the game much more tactical. You can't run&cast anymore, you'll have to plan a bit ahead and have a game plan. If the regular campaign is great with a beer, the higher difficulty is great with a cup of mind sharpening coffee. We also have a challenge mode (survive wave after wave of enemies) and versus (free4all deathmatch) that'll increase the replayability more. Finally we have a long and nice roadmap ahead of us with fun stuff we're doing post release. We're really interested in hearing the players feedback and adding new stuff they'd really like to see.
Co-Optimus: Currently Magicka is due to be released for PC. Are there any plans to bring Magicka to the XBox 360 and/or the Playstation 3?
Shams: There are always plans. We're aiming for a PC release early 2011 and by then we'll have additional info about other...stuff.
Co-Optimus: Ahh..."stuff". That sounds..."exciting." One thing we've noticed from the trailers for the game is the humor. Were there any influences or inspirations for this particular brand of tongue-in-cheek satire of the fantasy genre?
Shams: Monty Python is a great source of inspiration. The intro to the Search for Holy Grail for instance, absolutely hilarious. Similarly the boardgame/cardgame Munchkin by Steve Jackson is great. The challenge with humour is that it often is very reliant on timing, and as you know games are a interactive medium, meaning that "timing" is often dictated by the player. It's a tricky path, reference jokes are great, but you don't want to become too lame either. I think we've found a great path for the game. Everyone who plays has a good time. Paradox CEO cracks up all the time while playing Magicka, so we can't be entirely wrong.
Co-Optimus: What have been some of your favorite co-op moments during the playtesting sessions of the game?
Shams: I was playing the challenge mode with a friend on a hard difficulty. We're fairly good but we were absolutely getting overwhelmed by all the monster. We ended up having to cast invisibility on ourselves and sneak around on the map trying to stay clear of the hordes. Finally we had to "de-cloak" and fire off some spells. We counted down to one when we were supposed to unleash a lightning / water combo. It was a really tense situation and in the final moment my friend chickened out and stayed invisible. There I was surrounded by trolls and monsters. I was totally taken by surprise. I looked at my friend and he just shrugged and said "I'm sorry, they were so scary". We finally ended up beating all the waves, but it took us 20 minutes of sneaking, reviving, blasting, reviving, healing, dying before we made it. Great fun.