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Magicka 2 Hands On: How To Refine Slapstick Co-Op

Wizarding Again

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I have accidentally killed Peter Cornelius. I have accidentally killed him several times and this has included (but is not limited to) the time that I launched a rock at his head, the time that I electrocuted him and the time that I pushed him off a cliff. On each and every occasion it was an accident and I don’t think I was entirely in control of either my actions or my powers. I am sorry, Peter Cornelius, associate producer on Magicka 2.

In my defence, I have also brought Peter Cornelius back from the dead several times, much as he has also done for me. One time, Peter Cornelius brought me back almost right in front of a giant enemy crab. I don’t think that this was so that the crab would kill me again, but that’s what it did, with its giant enemy claws. I don’t believe that Peter Cornelius is an accessory to wizard murder, but I do believe he likes to bring me back to suffer again. “It’s passive aggressive healing, I guess,” he says.

Within ten minutes, I have died more often and in more ways than Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, but I’ve at least enjoyed myself. Magicka 2 feels like Magicka 1, which means I’m both pleased but also utterly incompetent. We play through a demonstration level together and reach a set piece that we can’t pass because I’m terrible. The challenge is to simply turn a giant water wheel to progress further, but dozens of those giant enemy crabs are surging out of the river that the wheel dips into and, much as they are in the real world, I find that Magicka 2’s crabs are my natural enemy and belligerent antagonists.

So I decide to tank the crabs, a method that involves my repeatedly kiting them around and then dying. It doesn’t give my fellow wizard the time he needs to blast enough water at the wheel. I’m such a bad wizard that I could probably be beaten by that rubbish kid from Harry Potter. You know, the one with the jumper.

In my defence, I also have a Playstation 4 controller in my hand and I’m still not sure which spell elements go where. Just as I was in the first Magicka, I’m frantically assembling spells on the fly, combining any of eight different spell elements and then trying to cast them in different ways, such as on myself, as a barrier or as a ray of energy. Naturally, I end up setting myself on fire, gushing water everywhere or healing nearby monsters. I’m also constantly assembling spells from the wrong elements, repeatedly performing the wizardly equivalent of a typo.

But really, I am having fun. I’m reviving my fellow thaumaturge with a single gesture, because the game’s Magicks, certain very specific spell combinations with very special powers, are no longer fiddly to cast and are bound to particular buttons. Certain special powers are also mapped to the d-pad, such as teleportation, sudden quite dangerous wind blasts and the ability to summon a tiny storm cloud.

I’m casting some of the spells I remember from the good old days. I’m even running while I cast, which has never been possible before. It makes the game more fluid and a whole lot more exciting. It also probably explains why everything is much more inclined to chase me.

The co-operative task we’ve so disastrously failed at is typical of a greater focus on team-based challenges, Cornelius tells me, and between finding safe safe places to revive him, I’m able to ask a few questions about making a bigger, more polished sequel to one of gaming’s biggest student successes.

RPS: Surely making a sequel is a difficult thing. You don’t want to alienate your original fans and you want to repeat what made the first game a success, but at the same time you can’t simply copy it. You have to make changes or add new elements. Is that about finding a balance or is it about making compromises?

Cornelius: Yes, it’s difficult. We were on the fence for a very long time about changing the the magic system and also about the Magicks. Then we realised that most players really didn’t use the Magicks all that much, because they were so complicated, even if they were good. What’s fun in Magicka is bringing in chaos at any point. We want people to irresponsibly, overpowerd-ly bring in that chaos with the simple tap of a button.

The controls now mean you can run and cast magic at the same time, but you’re still in full control of everything and can still mix all the elements from the get go. The speed just adds to it, it adds to the challenge. We’ve been able to make things more fast-paced.

And also, there’s so many ways to play Magicka and we’re still seeing that as we show it to new people. For example, the game’s Fire Demons are immune to fire, of course, and healed by death magic, but they’re weak against life and frost magic. We had one player recently make lightning bolts out of frost and life energy, which was another new way to tackle the same old enemies, but we think that getting more people playing online will diversify this even more. You’ll play a level, with new players, spot strategies you’ve never seen before and say “Oh that’s very cool, I’m going to try that myself.”

RPS: And then direct it at their friends?

We’re really excited about it as a local co-op game. You should be able to have fun with a party of one, or any party of four, but it’s best in multiplayer with your friends. It’s ten times as fun when you’re within punching distance of said friends.

We’re also looking to find a way to make multiplayer more available. Normally, what you have to do is set up your game, invite your friends, but we’re looking for ways to make multiplayer the default, even if you play with strange people from around the internet. Several games have done this well now, such as Journey.

RPS: Moving while casting very much makes sense. I think that was something that was missing from the original. You had those moments where you just halted. You prepared powerful spells, but it was very stop-start.

Cornelius: Yes, it makes things much more dynamic. It’s about adding time control. You take something simple and add time to it, or a time limit, which is what happens when you have a window to hit a now moving target, and you get a more interesting challenge.

Also, we’ve worked really hard on the spell system, to make sure there’s no one go-to spell that just does the job for you every time, and we tackled this very carefully.

For example, those ice queens down there [he points at an enemy] are immune to frost and water, so you’ll never be able to freeze them. The giant enemy crabs are almost immune to damage from the front, because of their shell plating, but they have weak spots. The new fireflies drain your focus, meaning you can’t queue up powerful magic, though they don’t do a lot of damage. The idea is that different enemies will now force you into new tactics and new strategies. You won’t be able to play the game the same way any more. We’ll keep you on your toes. We’ll keep forcing you to find and try new spells.

RPS: Am I right that there’s much more in the environment that you can destroy now, too?

Cornelius: Yes! A lot of things can be destroyed. A lot of things can be moved around, can be set on fire. We don’t have complete environmental destructibility, that’d obviously be the dream. You can’t destroy every wall and tree, but you can also still do things like freeze rivers, set patches of oil on fire.

The feeling we still want players to have when they play Magicka is that they’re super-powerful, that they can try just about anything and yet they have no idea quite what to do. You’re obviously in full control, but it’s not like you’ve had your full wizard training. It’s more like “Here are all these powers, now go bananas.”

RPS: Yes, like it’s almost too much power?

We like to think of our wizards as the most overpowered and most irresponsible people.

RPS: That seems to fit pretty well with the game’s philosophy.

Cornelius: Well, the game takes place after both the first Magicka and after Wizard Wars, which ended with almost all the world’s wizards either dying or losing. You play between one and four of the world’s last sane wizards. Vlad is back and he still has a few favours to ask of you, including the saving of the world.

RPS: He’s still not a vampire, though.

Cornelius: He’s still not a vampire, no.

This time, we want to make sure there’s lots of replayability, so as well as a long campaign, challenge modes, leaderboards if you play online, we’ve included the artefacts, which are super-powerful magical items which you can find and they let you shape the game into the kind of Magicka that you want to play. Say, perhaps you’ve played all of Magicka before and you’d like the game to be a bit harder. You activate the artefact that gives all your enemies more hit points. You can nerf some of your elements, so certain elements don’t do so much damage, perhaps nerf life so that you can’t heal yourself so well. There are a lot of ways to make the game more interesting.

There’s a few silly ones, too. I like the laugh track. You hear an audience in the background, cheering you on.

RPS: Is that something that also responds to things that happen in the game?

Cornelius: Yep! It’s actually one of the most complicated things to program. It’s not just laughing, it’s booing, cheering, applause, and they’re not always on your side. But the artefact that’s my favourite is the one that ups friendly fire, so when I play, just for fun, I like to add the laugh track and up friendly fire to a thousand percent. You touch a friend, just by mistake and… they’re gone.

There’s so many artefacts and you can combine them in so many different ways that we’re probably just going to put in a disclaimer that says that we seriously don’t know what happens with some of these combinations because, just like with the spell system, there are so many possible arrangements that we just… don’t. Some of it might be crazy.

And at random spots in the game you’ll find dark altars. When you do, they’ll give you a hint about certain spells you should try casting. If you manage to, the whole world darkens and something from the nether regions will appear and attack you. These sections are all /really/ hard and they’re not meat for everyone to play, but if you want an extra challenge, you play with these dark altars. Maybe you shouldn’t do that the first time around, but defeating these creatures will get you something nice.

RPS: A problem a lot of people had with the first Magicka, certainly a problem I had sometimes, was that it was a game that you really did want to play online but sometimes it didn’t want you to.

Cornelius: We’ll have working netcode this time. Remember that the first game was a student project that got published at short notice, really. This time we have very different resources, lots of very competent people testing it, and we know it’s a game everyone wants to play with friends. Already, even though it’s only a beta, it’s much, much more stable than the first Magicka ever was.

You can also now hotjoin and leave the game at any time. Maybe you’re playing alone, but look who just signed in. They can join in at any point and the game will realise that there’s two players and that it has to crank out some extra enemies. Then, if they have to go, the game will note this and adjust to the new number of players.

RPS: Thank you very much, wizard Peter Cornelius.

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