“We went too far with the silliness”: Arrowhead discusses Magicka’s origins

By Dave Cook
31 January 2013 11:47 GMT

Magicka developer Arrowhead Game Studios has discussed the origins of its spell-casting adventure in a new interview. Currently working on movie-inspired brawler The Showdown Effect, design director Emil Englund has gone right back to the start, to tell VG247 about the studio’s birth and reflect upon its continuing success.

As part of a Showdown Effect interview heading to VG247 soon, I asked Englund to reflect on Magicka’s popularity. It’s a game that has grown immensely popular across the globe, thanks in small part to its occasional comedic slant and a campaign that saw the studio lampooning Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam. The studio’s origins are humble, but it’s a trait that has stayed with them to this day, despite their success.

Englund recalled, “Magicka was started as a student project, by me and Johan Pilestedt – Now CEO and Game Director – for participation in the Swedish Game Awards in 2008. The vision was to create spell-casting in a game that felt more like conjuring and controlling the different elements, rather than just pressing a button. At that time it was in 2D and the spell system was a bit more complex.

“When we play-tested the game, the humor came naturally and we started dreaming up different scenarios with adventure, accidental friendly fire and grumpy villagers. We happened to win the Game of the Year title that year and that’s when we realized that we had something good on our hands, and the fact that others found it fun as well.”

There came a tipping point for Englund and the team that saw them ditching university in order to make a fully-fledged Magicka title a reality. As we now know, it was a wise decision for the group. “At the same time we decided to make the game in 3D and take the production value up from “student project” to “studio project”, Englund continued.

“For a year we worked without any pay but we always believed in the game and felt certain that we were doing the right thing. It was when we finally got a deal with Paradox we knew that the game was actually going to get released.

“We had low expectations but high hopes for the Magicka sales, but even our hopes were greatly exceeded by the actual sales. It was completely unreal – no pun intended -to see the game that we had been living and breathing for so long, being number one on Steam’s top sellers for several days after its release.

“Of course this was mixed with a lot of stress and angst over how broken the game was, we were determined to fix as much as we could as quickly as we possible.”

Being a game with the odd flash of humour here and there, I asked Englund if Arrowhead always meant for Magicka to be a comedic title, or if it was something that just happened naturally “I guess we’ve realised that humor is something that we can do, and we want to do it in our way even though others advise us to do it in a more conventionally. That said, we would also like to explore more serious elements in games and we see infinite potential in the medium as such.

“Playful pieces of entertainment really have their place but we would be sad to see every game turn into something humorous. Even in Magicka you can see that the universe is pretty grim and we’re trying to not joke everything away, but in many ways I personally would say we went too far with the silliness.

“It’s important for us to have a baseline that feels seriously good before adding humor and have a universe that feels believable in some sense. A game built on a foundation of jokes is, to us, not really a good game. In Magicka, spells should feel cool and powerful, and there should be tragedy as well as inspiration when looking at the world. The jokes become that much stronger when they have that serious baseline to divert from.

“So that’s Arrowhead’s stance on humor, but what really defines what kind of games we want to make are the memories they create when you play. What our games have in common is the goal of creating those moments of “remember that time when…” regardless of if it’s through co-op with friendly fire or deathmatch craziness. We do have a soft spot for co-op though, which I’m sure you’ll see in the future.”

Englund concluded, “If you would like to know more about what we learned from the project, I can recommend reading the post-mortem that Johan did on Magicka, which you can find on Gamasutra.”

If you’re a Magicka fan, I recommend that you do. It’s a cracking read. You can find Gamasutra’s piece here.

Stay tuned for our full Showdown Effect interview on VG247 soon.

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