Something we rather want to do on Rock, Paper, Shotgun is write about Magicka. It's one of those games, not a giant AAA mainstream release, but a small project that captured our attention. We'd been watching it from the corner of our eyes during development, and then Quintin fell completely in love with it when he previewed it last week. Our looks were forward. And then it was released.
It's been a real shame to see what should have been one of those feel-good stories become something completely different. A tale of bugs and woe and disaster. One Paradox has responded to by offering all Magicka DLC as free until the end of the month. As they fight to patch it into something playable, we decided to take a look at the game in co-op between ourselves. Except for Quintin, who organised it then remembered he'd bought tickets for the opera or something. So Jim, Alec and John set forth to adventure.
Well, as you'll note this is a conversation between Alec and John, because despite many efforts Jim was unable to get the game to even launch on two different computers. Not a great start. So Alec and John persisted, whittled down to two already. Nothing lasted very long. Once when we managed to get into a game John's game just froze up. Another time in the middle of a Challenge John's screen went black, and never came back. And a lot of the time was spent signing in and out of each other's attempts to host games. But we got some glimpses. And shared some thoughts.
John: So, game of the year?
Alec: I'll get back to you on that once it actually works. It's aggravating - I can see the game underneath, this clever and cheerful thing, but I can't get to it in more than short doses.
John: What have you managed to achieve with the game before our attempt tonight?
Alec: I've played through the tutorial mission about four thousand and thirty-eight times and the second and third missions about three times each.
John: Why would you want to play the tutorial so many times?!
Alec: I love being told how to walk left. It's my favourite thing. This was a consequence of playing since beta, in fairness, and there were a couple of save-wipes as they pushed out new builds. I've played it enough to be starting to comprehend the magic a whole lot more than on initial forays - there's a hell of a lot of strategy hidden inside this very cheery, casual looking thing.
John: Yes - there's no question that somewhere, beneath the pain, there's a really damned smart idea for a game. My experience has been one of finding that the single player really isn't an option, as you get mobbed and then sent back to checkpoints many battles ago. And trying to get a game with Phill Cameron, but finding he was always stuck to the floor. But tonight. Tonight was going to be different. Tonight we... opened our ports.
Alec: a new level of intimacy. And lo, we did achieve about two-thirds of a level before you got nailed to the floor or the sky exploded or something.
John: Well, first of all we had to create three different servers. And try logging into each other's.
Alec: There's this issue we've had a few times, most recently with Elemental - how much do you forgive a severely broken game whose creators have pledged they'll dedicate themselves to patching it? They're doing it, and I believe they will, but they did put an unfinished game up for sale.
John: Which is particularly strange, since it was scheduled for March. No one was demanding it in January.
Alec: The critical thing is that it hasn't put me off wanting to try again. I will keep checking back until I can play the game properly, because I do really like the game.
John: I'm at the point where I'm wanting someone else to tell me that it's fixed before I'll bother. Right, so say what that is. What is it that makes you really like it?
Alec: It's about the organic learning. It requires you to pay attention and pick stuff up and be deeply tactical, but it isn't that machine precision of StarCraft II. It's a sort of mad science learning. What if I do this and this and ooh look what happened there. And it doesn't tell me much of it; it waits for me to find out, so I can delight/horrify myself. Often the latter, as there are at least as many ways to messily destroy yourself as combine spells to victorious effect.
John: That's what grabs me too. Stumbling upon a spell. Tonight was my first experience of co-op, eventually, and when we crossed the beams that was a similar moment of delight.
Alec: In my fond imaginings, we were all going to hop onto the server and share about half a dozen favourite spells each that the others didn't know.
John: We'd all tip our heads back and laugh.
Alec: I think that can happen. But a) Quinns and Jim need to not flake and b) the game needs to be fixed.
John: Jim didn't flake! QUINTIN, HOWEVER.
Alec: Let's agree to fire him right now, and he won't know until he reads this tomorrow.
John: We tried some of the challenge tonight, too. Now, while bugs still affected us, I think the problems were deeper there too.
Alec: Well, there were at least two things against us that weren't necessarily the game's fault
1) We're not very good at it/games
2) It's clearly designed for four players, not two
Alec: So we were overwhelmed and punished and got stroppy, as you would. But with a CRACK TEAM of area spells and ranged and heals and whatnot it could be great.
John: But that's a giant issue too. Be designed for two players!
Alec: Yes, but it is the bonus mode rather than the main mode.
John: I still think the endless mobbing would grow tedious, even if you were adept at shaking them off.
Alec: Maybe they'll patch in easier ones at some point. I do maintain we could be a lot better at it though. We're still flailing.
John: Absolutely. I'm rubbish at it. But sadly the SP won't let me practise to get better.
Alec: we'll have to try again as a foursome, with you healing. OH NO WAIT.
John: Haha! Well, we'll definitely come back to it. So, if you were to describe Magicka as a Magicka spell, what would it be a combination of?
Alec: It'd defintely be that one where you simultaneously heal and eletrocute yourself. And you?
John: It's bugs + bugs + great ideas + bugs + exploding heads.
Alec: It's unforgivable. But I'm prepared to forgive it later. Right, I must dash.
Alec: [explodes messily]