A Game About Wizards: Magicka Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Magicka is considered to be one of the best co-op PC games released in 2011 and TPG caught up with the boys from Arrowhead Game Studios to discuss their smash hit.  You will read how Magicka got started, their take on the PC gaming industry and much more.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Magicka.

My name is Patrik Lasota and I am the PR and Community Manager for Arrowhead Game Studios. I manage the forums, talk to the community and answer interviews. I also script for Magicka when needed.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

I was officially asked by the CEO of Arrowhead Game Studios, Johan, if I wanted to come and work as a PR and community manager and was promptly hired. This is my first job in the computer games industry.

Where did the idea for Magicka come from?

The idea for Magicka was born when our lead artist, Emil and our CEO, Johan attended a lecture about the Swedish Game Awards competition. Johan turned to Emil and said, ”Lets make a game” and Emil responded ”A game about wizards”. They recruited a few people form the same university as they were attending and soon they had a team working on Magicka.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Magicka?

he greatest success was Magicka itself. It is a great game that is just as much fun as we wanted it to be, and gamers agree.

The biggest failure would be all the bugs. I think it will take a while before we ever try to write our own game engine again, or in C# for that matter.

In its current form, how close is Magicka to your initial vision?

Compared to the version that won SGA 2008, it has evolved its game mechanics a lot. But our initial vision was mostly about how fun the game would be, and in that regard I think we are very close to our initial vision.

Some indie devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Magicka and if you faced a similar challenge.

The biggest challenge when setting the difficulty for Magicka was that we wanted it to be playable with only one person, but still challenging with 4. We did some tests with scaling, and the game does have some very subtle scaling in it now, but in the end it showed that you just need different tactics from the player in order to achieve a good balance. Many complain that the game is too hard in single player, but this is because they won’t try all the different tactics that you can do.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Magicka would run on the various PC system configurations?

Well, at first it had trouble running on many setups, but with some patching we have managed to get it running fairly well on most setups. There isn’t really any way to ensure that your game runs well on every setup, but it was particularly bad for us considering that we didn’t really have that many different setups to test on.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

I would say money. All of those who were in the company before we teamed up with Paradox had problems with their personal economy because they still had to live, despite not having any money. While we can recommend everyone to follow their dream, make sure that you are prepared not to get paid for a while.

How did you create funding for the development of Magicka and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?

The initial funding and start-up costs for the company was funded by the founding members. As time went on and everyone had trouble with their economy, we decided to sign on with Paradox. They were more than happy to fund Magicka and we are very happy to have them as publishers as they gave us full creative control over the game itself.

Tell us about the process of submitting Magicka to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

Well, we had decided from the start that we wanted to use Steam, because it provides good benefits and it has very unintrusive DRM. The part about submitting it to other stores as well was never really something that we did, it was all handled by Paradox, our publisher.

Please explain the process of creating the multiplayer component for Magicka.

The original multiplayer component was planned and designed from the very beginning. That Magicka would be a co-op game was part of the original vision and we think that we succeeded fairly well in that regard. The net code itself was and still is the big trouble for Magicka, it is unfortunately poorly optimized and can bring some problems for people with low-end internet connections.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Magicka.

We took a lot of inspiration from older games like Zelda or Moonstone for example. We wanted the world to be nice and cozy, but with gritty details and effects, giving the game a contrast in style. The level design is pretty much as the graphics, creating that cozy feeling, but with a bit more real world details.

Regarding the audio we wanted to give a lot of detail, together with a lot of power in every sound effect. A bit like the Battlefield series, where every sound has power enough to really shake you. For example, when you explode an enemy you can even hear the sound of his bones breaking.

For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost every indie developer does.  Why do you think this trend is occurring?  Tell us why released a demo for Magicka and the difficulties in doing so.

I think many studios are afraid of how the game would be received if they put out a demo. Indie developers have no problem with that as they put down all of their soul into their game, and they know that their game, and demo, will be fun, because they think it is fun.

Releasing a demo for Magicka was a given, especially when we made a game that many people couldn’t quite define. We basically took the first chapter of the game and released as a demo.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Magicka from users through online message boards and other social networking sites? 

It is very important to us. We make sure to stay close to the community and always listen to what they say. A lot of the ideas we implemented in the PvP patch actually came from our community. The community has also been extremely helpful in supplying error reports and helping each other with any problems they may have.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Magicka professionally?

That depends entirely on the person reviewing. Some just don’t get Magicka, I think we had someone call the humor boring, and in that case you just can’t take them seriously. Those reviewers who really does a proper review, be it good or bad, it is always welcome to hear their opinions. And in some situations, that means taking on some
criticism.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

It is interesting as it really is a way to grow your market, and at the same time to help out various charities. We are definitively interested in doing something similar with Magicka in the future.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

Piracy is a big deal, as it does remove revenue from the developer, but intrusive DRM is not the answer. The only thing you achieve with intrusive DRM is to help pirates justify their piracy. We wish that the industry would instead be focusing their efforts on providing additional benefits for those that actually want to pay. That, and making a good game should really be all you need to reduce piracy.

Bill S.978 was introduced to the Untied States Senate earlier this year which could make it illegal to post unauthorized copyrighted content on YouTube and other video sharing sites.  How do you feel about individuals outside of Arrowhead posting gameplay videos of Magicka?

There is a saying that all publicity is good publicity. While this isn’t entirely true, I can’t think of any situation where we would want to forbid a fan posting videos of our game. Doesn’t matter if it is criticism, showing bugs or a tribute to how awesome Magicka is. If
you were to make money off your footage, you already have to ask, so I can’t really see the problem that the bill is supposed to address.

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

DLC is the future of games. It allows for smaller studios to keep supporting their games and keep the game fresh. It is also beneficial financially to smaller studios as you can put resources and people on making DLC and instead of costing money, they provide new content and revenue.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Magicka?

We love people who mod games! Many of us come from the modding community and we love that people care enough about our game to try to modify it. We cant officially support it because the game was originally not intended to be modded, but those that manage to mod it anyway have our blessings 🙂

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Don’t put yourself in a financial situation where you can’t support yourself. It adds a lot to the stress not to have any money what so ever. Also make sure that you have a good idea and don’t compromise on your vision of what the game should be. -End

TPG would like to thank everyone at Arrowhead Game Studios for providing us with some great answers.  You can pick up Magicka via Steam, Green Man Gaming and GamersGate. 

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6 thoughts on “A Game About Wizards: Magicka Interview

  1. Pingback: IndieGames.com - The Weblog Indie Game Links: To Enter or Not to Enter

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