“Every great company has a studio called ‘North’,” is what CEO Fredrick Wester said at the announcement of the brand new Paradox North studio over a year ago. Since then, not a lot has been heard from them, but it’s fitting that their debut title is a spin-off of one of Paradox’s most successful franchise. Magicka: Wizard Wars takes the emergent gameplay from the first game (that is, killing your friends), and creates a fast-paced, frantic PvP experience. We spoke to the studio’s Executive Vice-President, John Hargelid, to find out more.
Strategy Informer: Taking an initial glance at Wizard Wars, it seems very MOBA-like. Was that a deliberate design choice?
John Hargelid: Obviously we look at what other PvP titles are out there, but we were definitely not trying to be a MOBA-clone. We want to distance ourselves form that label... we consider ourselves a fast-paced action PvP title, that’s a lot more skill-based, and to basically take Magicka PvP to the next level.
Strategy Informer: There was talk of the original Magicka being release on the home consoles at one point, but for various reasons that didn’t happen. Being a new studio though with this new project, is that something that you’d like to try and pursue yourselves?
John Hargelid: Not primarily. If you look at the Magicka control system, basically what you need is eight buttons for the eight elements. So primarily it’s made for keyboard and a mouse... but we’ve been playing around with the console control scheme in the office. I would not promise anything for the console at this point in time though.
Strategy Informer: You’ve reduced the maximum number of elements in a spell from five down to three. Could you go into the thinking behind that a little?
John Hargelid: So me and the lead designer on team sat down in May last year, before anyone else had joined the team, and we discussed what worked and what didn’t work in the original PvP experience. One of the things we thought was that it was completely unbalanced. Another thing I requested is that anyone can pick up this game and play it in ten seconds. You can imagine the looks I got “What do you mean, ten seconds?” But if you pick one, two, three, four etc… fire elements in your spell, it obviously affects damage. But you could quite easily reduce that to three. We also wanted to make it more focused in what elements you pick. If you have five elements in a queue, not all of them are really going to make a difference. I know some members of the community are probably wondering what I’m talking about, but if you want a fast-paced PvP game ,you can’t stop and think “Oh, what was that combination again?”. You need to act on instinct.
Strategy Informer: Since the focus of Wizard Wars is more PvP, I often found myself sticking to the same small group of quick-fire spells that I could use, instead of really experimenting with the 100+ combinations that you have. Do you think the competitive nature of the game will erode the need for experimentation?
Jon Hargelid: At first glance, it may look that simple to you. But the fact is that... I’m better talking in examples. Using Lightning – yes, that’s one of eight elements. But if you mix that with arcane, as the attacking player, it makes sense as you’re getting the damage from two elements. As the defending player, you can shield yourself, and you can choose whether you fully shield yourself against one of the two elements involved, or just half shield against both. I would say the complexity and combining elements in each spell still makes a lot of sense. As you get better and start facing off against better players, you’re forced to delve deeper into the chemical complexity of the game.
Strategy Informer: You’ve removed the fancier spells – the Magicks – off of the spell system and into their own power-metre. Are there no fancy spells left to do ‘normally’?
John Hargelid: That was a deliberate decision – we wanted everyone to play on an equal playing field. Anyone can do anything – you don’t have to learn a specific combo to trigger a meteor shower. That’s why we pulled out the Magicks and put them in a different bit of your ‘armoury’. Right now we’re just starting with four specific Magicks, but we could introduce more further down the line – you’ll have to choose which four to take into a fight.
Strategy Informer: You’ve said you only want to launch with one map, one game mode, a handful of customization options... do you not worry that this is too little? Getting the core systems down is all well and good, but you still need a game.
John Hargelid: I worry every day! In a sense I think it IS too light, but it’s the only way to give the community the opportunity to voice their thoughts. What’s the point of having a Founders program if everything is already there. If I gave me feedback there, would it really count? The developers have already made up their mind. I mean we made our decision in making a Magicka PvP game, with the basic mechanics etc... but that’s it. What’s the point in creating 12 levels if the game mode itself isn’t good? I’d rather start small, listen to what players have to say, and take it from there. Do understand me though, the team is play testing the game every day in the office at the moment, we’re aiming at releasing a new version of the game every other week, with new content. I mean a new level probably takes a bit longer, but you know.
Strategy Informer: Wizard Wars is going to be free-to-play, talk to us about some of the monetisation ideas you have?
John Hargelid: I think one of the lessons we learned from the original Magicka game, was that the network code was poor. We’re going to have to limit access initially – we’re going to probably have a founders program at launch, and we’re probably going to have to ask for a small fee. But this means that those who do pay are willing to give feedback. They are financially invested in building this game together with us. I think this makes more sense than giving the game away for free to everyone, when most of them aren’t interested in giving their feedback.
Strategy Informer: With the customization system, different items you equip make certain elements stronger or weaker for your avatar. Is this an attempt to emulate class archetypes? Like Tank, DPS, Healer etc…
John Hargelid: Not necessarily to go with classic roles or anything, but it is to add an additional layer to the game, which requires more skill. As you progress through the game, at the beginning they may not change things that much, but as you get better items then you’ll see certain elements improved a lot. What this gives you is... because everyone will see at the start of a match what the other side is strong and weak against. So I can basically look at the enemy team, and if I’ve improved, say, my fire-element, I can look to see if there’s any specific opponents who are weak against fire, and then in theory I could follow them around for the whole round. In return, they could then just shield fire to counter that, and then I have to think of another counter. It’s like a game of Rock,Paper,Scissors just with 107 odd combinations.
Strategy Informer: Wizard Wars is your first title, but what’s Paradox North’s ‘thing’? What is it you guys are going to be doing in general?
John Hargelid: To me, we’ve only been around for about a year, so as a team we’re still just working things out. But when I sat down with Fred and talked about the studio’s focused, we agreed that it was going to be online, that it was going to be action gaming... comparing to our sister studio that focuses solely on grand-strategy games. IP-wise, it just made sense to start out with Magicka, it’s a very strong IP for Paradox. Who knows what game No. 2 for Paradox North will be. I don’t expect it to be one of our existing IP’s necessarily.
Strategy Informer: You’ve talked about wanting to create a lot of online experiences, and Paradox has already come out with a few other good ones over the past year. A few years ago the company experimented with their own platform – Paradox Connect. Would you want to revisit that?
John Hargelid: Part of our philosophy is to develop our games with the community. If we want to revisit Paradox Connect, I mean there are a lot of other publishers, it takes time to build something called a ‘Platform’. We’re not out to build a prestige project just for the sake of it. We’ve learned from that experience, and we’ve tried to build whatever online things make sense to create a better gaming experience. In one sense we’ve already taken the first step with the Magicka Tablet experience. When you go online with that, you use our matchmaking as there wasn’t anything else at the time to use... what that means though is that you had to create a Paradox Account. With Wizard Wars, you’ll be able to log-in with that same account. It’s not a platform, it’s just an email and a password.
Strategy Informer: Your own personal background; you used to work at DICE, right? With Gordon? What was the one lesson or philosophy that you learned at DICE that you’ve carried with you.
John Hargelid: I think the number one thing that I always think about from my time at DICE is to create a team spirit. You’re there to help each other out, you’re there to obviously learn from mistakes. You don’t let your pride go before the team. If you do something great then you deserve all the credit, but it can’t be the most important thing. The game has to be the most important thing. Team Spirit and encourage each other, even encourage them to make mistakes, so long as you learn from them.
Strategy Informer: It’s amusing that you talk about team work and encouragement, when your debut title emerged from the idea of deliberately stabbing your teammates in the back by blowing them up in amusing/creative ways.
John Hargelid: Well you know, you’ve got to let your frustrations out somewhere!
Thanks to Jon for taking the time to talk to us. Magicka: Wizard Wars will be reigning down on PC’s everywhere sometime this Winter.