Speak & Spell: Warlock – Master Of The Arcane Interview

By Adam Smith on May 4th, 2012 at 6:30 pm.

A tale of two cities, three pigs and a fire mage's quest for the perfect bacon butty.

With only a few days until release, we asked some of the questions raised by beta experiences in Warlock: Master of the Arcane, and also found out how much of an influence Master of Magic really was and why. Plans for multiplayer are discussed, as is the reasoning for avoiding tactical battle screens and sticking to the strategic map.

RPS: Hello! Before we move onto the game, could you tell us a little about your role on this title and your history in the industry?

Lilja: My name is Mattias Lilja, I am Executive Producer at Paradox Interactive and have worked at the company for approximately four years. My background before that is very varied; it includes being a lifelong gamer as well as being a published role-playing game author.

RPS: The word ‘Master’ is in the game’s title and Master of Magic has been explicitly mentioned as an influence? How much so?

Lilja: Most of us are gamers and heavily influenced by our own gaming experiences. The name was chosen by Paradox and the devs because our vision from the start was to create a “Master of Magic” style game. This is not saying that people should see it as we are trying to create a Master of Magic sequel, but that we had it as a major influence when we started working on Warlock.

RPS: Why do you think people still look back on Master of Magic so fondly?

Lilja: Master of Magic added new interesting content to the popular 4X game formula. What was made popular by games like Civilization and Master of Orion was brought into a magic world by Master of Magic. And who hasn’t dreamt of casting a Greater Fireball on your enemies; I know I have! In brief, it combined two popular things – the fantasy setting and 4X gaming.

RPS: Do you feel that having a great variety of unit types, spells and possible types of mage is an important part of the design philosophy? From what I’ve played, Warlock seems like it wants to offer a great deal of choice.

Lilja: Absolutely, great variety of spells and units and good randomness of maps plus different Great Mage settings are the basis for replayability and a unique experience in every new campaign. We want Warlock to be played and enjoyed by players again and again. We will also continue to update the game with new content going forward.

RPS: How important is Ardania, the world, to Warlock? When and why was the decision made to use the world of Majesty for a 4X strategy game?

Lilja: We grew very fond of the Ardania setting during development of the Majesty 2 games. Since it’s close and familiar to both the development team and Paradox, we decided to use it for Warlock This decision was made at the earliest stage of development, when we were working on the game design document. The world of Ardania has everything you can wish for: good guys, bad guys – elves, dwarves, gnomes, gods, elementals and vampires. It combines fantasy clichés with serious gameplay in a great way and makes it the perfect choice for a 4X game.

RPS: In general, what is exciting about developing a fantasy strategy game, in comparison to sci-fi and historical games? What does it allow the team to do that is fun and unique?

Lilja: Exciting, but also challenging, is that there is feature creep lurking around every corner. We rarely have a meeting without new and fun ideas being thrown around and someone pleading passionately about getting it into the game. The fantasy setting gives great freedom to push the boundaries and invent something new. Not all of our good ideas were implemented, and given the opportunity, we still have lots that we’d like to add to the game.

In addition, all this magic has a great look and feel to it, and is fun to design; I know this is something the development team has enjoyed tremendously. From that aspect sci-fi and in particular historical settings are a bit more constrained. Our internal development studio has a lot of experience from the historical side and knows just how tricky it can be to walk that fine line between historical accuracy and creative freedom.

RPS: Religion confuses me. How does the relationship between mages and gods work in the game?

Lilja: In short, mages can improve relations with gods by fulfilling their quests and by building temples to them. Also it affects relations between mages. For example if we have two mages
that worship the same gods, those mages will share a better relationship, and vice versa. It will also affect what type of spells you can cast and the effect those spells will have.

RPS: Combat takes place on the strategic map, with non-stacked units, rather than being a tactical offshoot as in Master of Magic and Age of Wonders. What drove that design choice?

Lilja: We have seen many games with stacks and tactical battles lately and, in our opinion, they all share one big flaw, and that is that tactical battles very soon become repetitive. Even if an enemy stack is different, the best tactics are mostly the same every time as well as the player’s best battle stack, which only changes slowly. These tactical battles make turns longer and the game less multiplayer friendly.

The developers also had a very good and positive experience with big battles in their previous games (Fantasy wars, Elven Legacy). The tactical situations in those games were different at every turn, and there were multiple smart choices and strategies to win. Every turn was unique and interesting, so it was a natural choice to go for the same in Warlock.

RPS: How strong are the RPG aspects? Units can level up as well as the mage if I understand correctly. Is that to make them valuable and add personality as well as a tactical feature?

Lilja: The RPG aspect is pretty strong. Units can level up, but mages themselves just do research, cast magic spells and rule. But since they use the magic power gathered from their entire empire – they become much stronger over time. Experienced units become very strong and important.

The units can also get different kinds of perks apart from the leveling system. As a mage you can of course influence your relationship to different gods which gives different effects in the game, depending on what faction you play you will also get different options to use natural resources that occupy some of the hexes in the game. Depending on your play style, your game will look very different between different sessions.

RPS: Maybe it’s my imagination, but turn-based strategy appears to be enjoying something of a renaissance. This is a good thing. Why do you think it might be?

Lilja: It’s been a pretty constant fixture in the Paradox portfolio but I guess turn-based strategy isn’t perceived by the big companies as very commercially viable since they seem to have abandoned the genre. Meanwhile there are still a lot of players out there who can’t get their gaming needs fulfilled and perhaps that’s started to reach through to more studios out there.

Depending on how you define turn-based games you could count games such as Words-With Friends (or Wordfeud) and Draw Something as being turn-based and I think mobile gaming platforms are partly helping the renaissance of the TBS genre. What we currently see is a wave of nostalgia in combination with new ways to reach customers and more multiplayer focus and we see it as a really good trend.

RPS: Will the game be mod friendly?

Lilja: No, unfortunately the technical solution we have chosen for Warlock is not very mod friendly.

RPS: What are the plans for multiplayer?

Lilja: Warlock will be a single player game on release, but we are not deaf to the amount of voices crying for multiplayer. So we are looking at it. It’s always a bit tricky to make a good single player design into a tight multiplayer experience, but we think we have an exciting take on it.

As for a release of multiplayer we are working on a multiplayer update that will be free for everyone who bought the original game. Multiplayer will be a great addition to Warlock and we think it will greatly improve the replayability of the game.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Warlock: Master of the Arcane is out on May 8th. The demo is available now.

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65 Comments »

  1. Sergey Galyonkin says:

    Played the hell out of beta. It is great, Civilization with magic, like I always wanted.

  2. mckertis says:

    “My name is Mattias Lilja, I am Executive Producer at Paradox Interactive and have worked at the company for approximately four years.”

    Well, isnt it nice that they are not afraid to let developers speak for themselves. Oh wait…

    • Donkeyfumbler says:

      That was my thought too. The way this interview read, the bloke answering the questions came across as being pretty far removed from anything to do with the creation or development of the game.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s also perfectly sensible if the developers don’t happen to speak English.

      • mckertis says:

        Come now. Game developers not speaking english ? That is an indefensible position to take.

        • kibertoad says:

          They are Russian. One thing Space Wolves should have taught us – Russian are terrible at English.

          • bill says:

            How’s your Russian?

          • Malk_Content says:

            @Bill, probably bad enough that if he made a game and wanted to promote in Russia he at the least would find someone to translate the PR material.

          • Caleb367 says:

            Well, as far as the average forum / facebook / twitter goes, I’d say Americans are not much better at english.
            /sarcasm

    • pipman3000 says:

      trust me you don’t want the developers at paradox to speak for themselves. every time one of them tries to speak without an adult a pr guy around they end up saying something really racist

  3. caddyB says:

    CAN’T WAIT IN CAPS

  4. Zeewolf says:

    Hotseat!

  5. FriendlyFire says:

    Sad about the lack of modding support, but the game looks fairly neat despite this. I already have it preordered, been a while since I played a turn-based Civ-alike.

  6. Gothnak says:

    Can you ask them one more question?

    When playing the demo (Which was awesome and i preordered!) it seemed there wasn’t much of a penalty for churning out settlers like there is in Civ (They cost food), could you find out why this isn’t a viable tactic?

    • Hug_dealer says:

      I would say wait until you see the full game. Different maps could change things tremendously and having an improved enemy ai could cause it to be a problem.

      Though, I see an easy fix is not churning out massive amounts of peasants. Just like many other games, its not hard to find a system that you cant exploit, and rather than crying to the developer to fix it, the player can simply use self control and limit themselves. I gotta do that in basically everything i play. Self enforced rules to make sure i have a challenge.

      • Coriolis says:

        Having the player deliberate choose ineffective tactics just so as to make the game interesting is not a sign of good design. Sure, eventually, once you master a game, it can be fun to deliberatly set up challenge games (like say a one city game in civ). But if the game is trivialized by making good decisions, that’s a problem. Not to say that Warlock is like that, I haven’t played it and don’t know, but far too many strategy games have such crappy balancing that it destroys my interest in the game in the hour or so it takes me to find some trivial yet ridiculously effective tactic.

        • mmalove says:

          This is an interesting point. On the one hand many for its many fans, critics of Master of Magic readily pointed out that the AI was crap, and that it was far too easy (or necessary, when the AI was toned up to cheat like a mafia boss) to create early game units completely out of balance with the power curve of the game.

          On the other, its fans would suggest this wild imbalance was just part of the sandbox nature of the game. If you wanted to min-max you could start with invincible guardian spirits tricked out with double movement and go rampage cities whose non-magical troops had 0 chance to stop them. If you wanted to go warlord and build skilled armies of paladins that would do about the same thing just later, that was also an option. Deep strategy was never really the point of the game, so much as handing you a toybox full of awesome in a randomized world and saying “have fun”.

          One big change though, entering into 2012, is that every game is expected to have multiplayer (the original MOM did not), and with multiplayer comes the bear of needing balance, because in competitive multiplayer wildly imbalanced options produce the exact opposite effect they might have in single player, of pigeon holing you into a small handful of “broken” builds attempting to out-cheese your opponents.

          For this, and because Paradox has a nasty habit of releasing buggy games, I’m holding off for the release of this one. I loved MOM back in the day, but simply labelling this as a successor of MOM and civ still leaves me skeptical.

          • b0rsuk says:

            About Guardian Spirits with Invulnerability – Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, dude. They haven’t been designed to work this way. There is a bug that makes Invulnerability simply impossible to dispel. I know because I’ve been testing this spell with Dispel Magic True. The bug has been reported and fixed by kyrub in his Insecticide patch (Full list of changes here, includes AI IMPROVEMENTS ! http://www.realmsbeyond.net/forums/showthread.php?t=4211 )
            All these people using Guardian Spirit + Invulnerability have been exploiting a bug.

        • Hug_dealer says:

          i agree, but the fact remains that there is no such thing as a good AI, the best AIs only seem good because they are allowed to cheat and programed to use the best and most overpower tactics.

          Once you figure out the weakness of an AI in a game(any game), it all falls down from there, and it happens in every game. Then it becomes either refuse to use those tactics, or ramp up the difficulty and amount the AI gets to cheat or make it 2vs1 or higher to even the odds.

          • Archonsod says:

            I don’t see it as a design flaw. If the game is only winnable by taking good decisions it’s a design flaw – I’d rather be making interesting decisions. It’s why I’m playing in the first place.

          • Kent says:

            Galactic Civilization II?

      • Gothnak says:

        Oh, i used to do that kind of thing in Master Of Magic, but with a new game in 2012, i tend to expect people to develop a game without me needing to self balance the game!

        Hopefully that problem isn’t really there, but thought i’d ask :)…

      • b0rsuk says:

        “Player can limit himself”

        No, he can’t if AI doesn’t have such reservations, and why should it ? Squirrels report AI is quite good at sending out settlers. Late game in Demo looks like some kind of gang warfare – where one city ends, another starts. Don’t spam cities and AI will outplay you.

        And if AI is given artificial restrictions on building new cities, it will be trivial to defeat it – just build more cities.

        Paradox/1C has been saying they’ll be working on balance on AI so this doesn’t have to be permanent.

        • Hug_dealer says:

          thats not what i am saying at all.

          What i am saying is an AI is not an artificial intelligence, in fact it has no intelligence, it is programed to do things based on certain actions. Because of that, it can always be exploited, there is no AI out there other than a chess AI that is capable of handling a complex strategy game well.

          Once you figure out the AI weakness in a game, the AI will never ever be able to deal with that.

          No one has to limit themselves, but on the other side, people need to know that AI is a generic term, as they have no real intellingence and are only programs to react to situations, and not always do they react properly, nor will they ever do that.

          You can never balance an AI against a player legit. THey either have to cheat, or lose if the player is good enough, because he will find the weaknesses in the AI reactions and be able to exploit them.

          • Hematite says:

            The ‘AI’ in Warlock seems to be comparatively decent though – the game rules are set up so that the only objective is to build a monstrous borg behemoth of an empire and destroy everything you meet. This is a task that game AI is actually very good at, and I think it was a smart design choice.

            The AI in Civ is always crippled by having a huge variety of choices which are only situationally appropriate, and often come with penalties which must be taken into account. For example, Civ buildings provide some benefit but also have fairly high cost in building time and maintenance, and advanced strategies involve actively avoiding building specific things.

            In Warlock the buildings are all either resource producing (so obviously build ones for resources you’re short on) or provide an empire-wide unit upgrade option (build once, but try to make it in a city which trains relevant units because the upgrade is free for units trained in the same city as the building). Also, building and recruiting are on separate queues so you don’t have to trade off between econ and military which is a classic trap for the Civ AI.

            In Warlock there’s no way to lose ground by choosing to build something – the only difference is between building something good and building something better. The AI actually can’t tie itself in knots, and improving the AI script just means improving the analysis of which building option is going to lead most quickly to a mailed boot stomping on the face of your enemy.

          • Hug_dealer says:

            you make it sound so simple. But the question is why no other game has ever had an AI capable of handling every situation well. Its only a matter of time before people figure out what the AI weaknesses are. Whether its this game, starcraft, homm, call of duty, everything game ever.

          • Hematite says:

            Ok, granted. I think we’re talking at slightly different points. I know a bit about ‘real’ game AI and I agree that we’re not likely to see an AI for this playing at a tournament level, or inevitably crushing human grandmasters. But because of certain design choices I think we’re much more likely to get an AI which can provide a fun challenge for normal players and won’t be as obviously exploitable as in Civ.

            For example, in Civ 5 at release the AI wouldn’t invade across water, among other problems. This was very easily exploitable, and obvious to any interested player after a couple of games. I imagine part of the difficulty was that planning an invasion across an ocean is tricky due to the distance and number of available targets (and the developers didn’t even bother doing it badly, but I digress). The map in the demo of Warlock doesn’t have any water wider than about six tiles though, and leans toward snaky lakes. This means the AI doesn’t even have to worry about planning an endpoint for its invasion it can just use the normal movement and target selection rules over slightly unusual terrain. Warlock doesn’t really lose anything from not having oceans, but it makes it much easier to have a competent AI.

            Also, I can’t guarantee that the AI WILL be any good, just that it’s well set up to enable it ;)

            One thing I noticed from the demo was that during a big ‘trench warfare’ battle the AI would rotate out units which got damaged even if they weren’t in much danger, and I successfully broke its line after poking some of the most dangerous units so it switched them out for lower level ones to give me a breather from constant heavy attacks. When the units were on full health it would bring them back to the front line correctly, but it would have been much worse for me if the AI had pressed the attack.

            That’s something that could be easily fixed by patch balancing or having different AI personalities, and if that’s the AI is at that level fairly consistently it will be a much more interesting game than Civ 5.

    • Malk_Content says:

      I think rapid expansion is definitely a viable tactic, but land mass per city is far more important than it is in civ due to the fact that city upgrades actually take up hex space. I imagine building a load of cities early on will give you a nice boost but you’ll start to suffer as none of your cities will have the room to expand and specialize.

      I also like that unlike in CiV much of the land mass is taken up by neutral cities and thus you’ll have to both conquer and settle in roughly equal measure.

    • Hematite says:

      Having played the fuck out of the demo it seems to me that settler spam IS a correct tactic, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with that in this game.

      Undeniably, more cities = better, but it looks like the maps are built so that you’ll have initial space to cram in half a dozen cities, then you’ll have to capture half a dozen neutrals, then you can either hit the outer planes with the high level creeps for more lebensraum or take out an AI player.

      Obviously it makes sense to expand as fast as possible since there are no city penalties, but unlike in Civ 5 you’ll need to have some actual protection rather than just chucking out settlers and letting the baby cities protect themselves. The monster lairs spawn new creeps fairly regularly, and if there are two low level lairs near one city it won’t be able to fight them off without a military unit for support, let alone the high level creeps which sometimes wander through from planar gates if you wake them up.

      Also the AI players seem to be merciless about stomping you if start settling near them without enough troops. The available diplomatic states are “war now” and “war later”, and the AI always wants to be killing someone – the only time it didn’t immediately declare war on me was when it got into a war with the other AI first and was rather too busy. So I took the initiative and seized its capital ;)

    • MaXimillion says:

      The maps are generally so packed with neutral cities that you don’t need to pump out a large number of settlers.

  7. Donkeyfumbler says:

    Torn on this one. I’ve played just about all of the fantasy TBS including Elven Legacy, have paid for the Fallen Enchantress beta access and am currently re-playing Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic. I played the demo, and while I enjoyed it I’m not sure about the games longevity. No tactical combat, no spell/research tree, only three races. Then again, it’s only £14.99 so at that price I can take a punt and will almost certainly buy it anyway – a vindication of Paradox’s new pricing policy, I suppose.

    • caddyB says:

      In my opinion, Age of Wonders is all I need but I like to taste some different flavors every once in a while.

      • b0rsuk says:

        Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic is really my favorite fantasy TBS so far. But it has two big problems:
        - boring AI. Scenarios against AI are nowhere as interesting as in HOMM.
        - it’s an old game and few people play it.

        I love the *breadth* AoW: SM has. It doesn’t have that much depth in the sense it doesn’t take very long to build everything, but you get a lot of choices early on and they’re designed to matter. And 12 races ? Yes please !

    • Hematite says:

      I wouldn’t recommend buying this (or anything) sight-unseen, but I’m getting a good feeling about it. Every time I stop to think about one of the design decisions they’ve made I realise it’s actually really smart and actually seems to streamline gameplay without dumbing it down (like every developer claims to do but never succeeds at). Definitely keep an eye on the post-release reviews.

      For example, as I posted about above settler spam seems to be rewarded. Also, you can’t build roads. Sounds like a horrible design choice but actually it works brilliantly because the game expects you to fill every available city space as fast as possible. When you build buildings they take up one hex on the world map and automatically change it to an ‘open’ terrain type which only costs one movement point (units naturally have 2-5 movement, so they’re a bit quicker than in Civ anyway). So the way to build ‘roads’ is actually just jam your cities next to each other and make sure that you build your buildings on tiles you want faster access through. Also, some buildings can only be built on special resources (e.g. silver smith on a silver mine tile) so there is a small tension between making an efficient highway from your capital to the front lines, or building up the special resources first and leaving a couple of extra tiles of swamp around. Eventually you’ll build it all up anyway, so your core city area becomes easily passable after the early game even without putting any planning into road building.

    • Ashnal says:

      Why does everyone seem to think the game has no tactical combat? The tactical combat takes place on the same map you build cities on, that is all.

    • Bhazor says:

      Their team made Elven Legacy.
      Fuckin’ sold.

  8. sokkur says:

    “Lilja: The RPG aspect is pretty strong”
    I disagree, the RPG aspect is moderate at most. I played the beta. A fully decked out unit with lots of perks and at high level looks the same as a raw recruit of the same type, however they did some love for ships.

    • Malk_Content says:

      I think this is hillarious, first the article takes RPG aspects to means “stat upgrades!” and you take it as “what my toys look like” none of which has anything to do with roleplaying.

      Although I know RPG aspects means exactly those two things so feel free to ignore my angry little comment. Just wish RPG aspects meant roleplaying.

  9. prowlinger says:

    I have yet had time to play the demo… but I have a few questions.

    Coming from Age of Wonders and Master of Magic and even Warlords (classic!) …. does Warlock have random events that could happen? Are there game changing global spells (forest fire… raise water… pollute area…. spells like that) ??

    Also does the game allow for multi level play? (subterranean level under main level etc)?

    No spell research tree kinda concerns me tho…

    • frightlever says:

      I only played the demo a few times but I’ll try to answer some of your questions.

      There were no random events in the demo that I saw. The spells were fairly localized – perhaps this is more expansive in the full game..

      There are different levels but you’ll need to fight your way past a gate’s guardians, and probably some stiff opposition once you go through the gate.

      I wasn’t crazy about the spell research. eg I research greater fireball but lesser fireball just sits there redundantly (it’s random what spell turns up next AFAIK).

      • Malk_Content says:

        Going by various videos of people playing (like TB I think) there are random events, but I believe they are spawned depending on your favour with the gods so don’t really happen in the limited time frame of the demo.

      • Hematite says:

        There are portals to other themed planes which act a lot like the underground map, although from what I could see in the demo it looked like there was only a single portal to each plane which would be a shame. They’re full of high level neutrals so I didn’t get to explore thoroughly.

        The spell research system seemed a bit flat, although two things: the demo player is always the high wizard character, and I suspect other characters might have a limited spell selection based on their theme. Also, it looks like the best toys are unlocked by accruing favour with particular gods (and must still be researched after that) so there is tech progression, just not in the same way as the Civ research tree.

        re: greater and lesser fireball, I agree that advanced spells are generally more effective and mana efficient than basic spells, but if you only need a lesser fireball to finish a dude off it’s ok, and also the spells have a casting time as well as a cost. Most spells are cast in less than one turn, but I think you can squeeze in more than one fast spell per turn which gives more tactical flexibility.

    • NathanH says:

      The world totally needs another Warlords game that isn’t match-3.

  10. Vorphalack says:

    Holding out on buying this until we know more about how they intend to handle the inevitable DLC. Otherwise it looks quite promising, I can see a lot of Age of Wonders 2 in this one.

  11. MythArcana says:

    My new official term:

    “Steamlined”.

  12. Chizu says:

    I really want this. But I am too poor :’(
    Been trying to find someone willing to trade a copy for my spare Serious Sam 3 BFE, but alas, no luck. I shall have to miss out on this till I am better off moneywise.

  13. wu wei says:

    The real question is why the hell wasn’t it released before the Labour Day long weekend in Aus. rather than the very day after :(

  14. Caleb367 says:

    Damn it, RPS, that’s the second time this week you made me preorder something. My wallet’s slow death by starvation will be on your head!

  15. Chubzdoomer says:

    After playing the demo, I can safely say that this game is going to be criminally underrated. Here we are about a day away from release and it isn’t even on the Steam Store’s main slider, for example. I think it’s pathetic that Paradox hasn’t done a better job getting this out there because it’s really a great product and seems to be pretty polished compared to, say, Elemental: War of Magic.

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  17. rocketman71 says:

    PBEM, please. 6 guaranteed sales.

  18. ashario says:

    Loving this game. Really reminds me of Master of Magic (one of my all time favourites), but without the sometimes annoying/tedious tactical combat screen.

    Plays a lot like Civ 5 in a fantasy environment.

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