Magiko Gaming is one of the leading lights of the Xbox Live Indie scene; topping their seminal PLATFORMANCE series with Bunker Buster and Who Is God? on both the Xbox 360, Windows 7 Phones and PC. This two man-team have logged over two dozen years of games industry experience, working on AAA games blockbusters like Test Drive Unlimited, Metroid Prime, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood and (sadly) John Romero's Daikatana.
However, their current project is set to be their biggest undertaking to date: a procedurally-generated platform/shooter hybrid with huge guns, massive customisation and infinite potential. Platformines is shaping up to be brilliant, and I sat down with Magiko to learn more.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us. First things first, could you introduce yourselves and your role at Magiko?
Bidus: I'm Bidus, Magiko's programmer. My aim is to build a generic engine and features that can be reused from one of our games to another one. I am also involved in half of Magiko games designs. I love to test and tweak gameplay features while developing them. I have been working in the game industry for 13 years. I notably worked (as Tool programmer, then Tool lead programmer) for Need for Speed: Porsche, the V-Rally series, Alone in the dark 5 and Test Drive Unlimited.
Ludo: I'm Ludo Tex (@ludotex), I do the graphics, sound, music, small coding tasks, and the other half of design. I have been working in the entertainment industry for 18 years now on games like John Romero's Daikatana, Metroid Prime and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.
Dealspwn: First of all, let's discuss your history. How did you get into independent development in the first place - and why choose XBLIG as a lead platform?
Bidus: At first it was for fun. Then I wanted to test our ability to release a solid platformer with a team of only two. We chose XBLIG because XNA is useful and allows to test the quality of our games close to real customers.
Ludo: Bidus got me into the whole adventure. He came with the idea of doing a small platformer as a hobby just for fun... a year and half later we've done 4 games together and now we are into making our biggest one yet!
Dealspwn: PLATFORMANCE is widely regarded as one of XBLIG's biggest hitters. What influences helped to shape the seminal series?
Bidus: I have a passion for old school platformers like Cauldron II, Metal Slug, Mario... one of the games I played once and that gave us the whole giant screen idea is "Flood the chamber". There are even gameplay mechanics from Nintendo's 'Game and Watch' games. The "bird shit" sequence from Castle Pain is inspired by the "Helmet" Game and Watch.
Ludo: Other influences are the games from the mid 80s computer like the Atari and Amiga: "Gods" from the bitmap brothers is a good example.
Dealspwn: The controversy over Microsoft's treatment of Indie developers and XBLIG as a whole has been a controversial subject over the last few years, compounded recently by the Metro dashboard sidelining the Indie marketplace. How could Microsoft improve the service? What trials and tribulations have you faced?
Bidus: Awaited improvements from Microsoft: an easier and shorter way to find Indies, a separate games tab from trivial applications, adverts for games considered as the best ones - like Kotaku's favorites, but more than 6 games and persistently - and lastly, stop freezing Marketplace so often!
Ludo: Metro is made for touch based input and so is great on a smartphone, but its pretty bad as controller input based interface. And I hate to see so many commercials on the dashboard while I am paying for Xbox Live (but that's another story...).
Dealspwn: Right, on to Platformines, which is your incredibly ambitious new title currently in development. We've been covering it with drooling, slack-jawed excitement, but could you give us the elevator pitch for new readers? What's it all about?
Ludo: Platformines is a platformer set in a giant maze-like mine where you jump around, avoid traps, shoot stuff and hunt for treasures. The game is generated in a huge world that you explore and which acts as a sand box in some parts so that you can build your own structures. Also you can craft some of the objects that you use like weapons with elements you find in the mines. It is safe to say that games that have inspired Platformines are directly or indirectly: Minecraft, Terraria, Metal Slug, Borderlands, Mario, Miner Dig Deep and the Platformance series of course!
Bidus: There are no distincts levels in this platformer. It's a single seamless huge world. Game rhythm is given by the cycle "Base-Exploration-Base": the gamer must collect items (in the world), then sell them (in its base). To make the returning part easy we have developed portals that allow the gamer to reach an already visited area instantaneously.
Dealspwn: Creating a seed-generated game must be rife with potential balance issues and problems - not to mention that Platformines will be much less linear than the PLATFORMANCE games or platformers in general. What degree of randomization can we expect, and how difficult has it been to strike a balance between balance and freedom?
Ludo: The world is divided into stratums that have increasing difficulty. As you progress you will find better equipment that let you go further into the stratums. That's our approach to difficulty. If it's too hard, it means you probably should stay in the previous stratum to explore a little more and get better equipment. If it's too easy then go further and find the harder monsters to fight and more rewarding treasures. So the content of each stratum is random but always tuned to its own specific difficulty. We playtested it and it works pretty well, so we think we got it right. On top of the random generation of the world, there are 'rooms' with specific gameplays that are randomly placed in the world. Once you find a room and defeat it you usually find a chest at the end with decent loot in it.
Bidus: Rooms are made to bring surprises and specific challenges in your adventure. Some rooms are directly inspired from the Platformance challenges. For instance, you will come across rooms with the bird shit challenge from CastlePain, or the fire circles challenge from TempleDeath; except that since the world surface consists of thousands of screens, these challenges are much longer than the Platformance ones.
Dealspwn: Great big guns are going to be an important part of Platformines. We like this. Immensely. Tell us about the boomsticks!
Ludo: Since Platformance: Castle Pain people have been asking for a way to fight. The scope of Platformance games has always been to stay minimal though and so there is only run and jump controls. Then we thought that if we were to put weapons we might as well see big and put a nice range of guns (instead of say tiny swords and bows) because it makes for a fast and dynamic game like a FPS or a SHMUP. So there is a 6 shooter revolver that has medium damage and medium range. It's the basic all around good gun, good for any kind of situation. Then there is the shotgun which shoots many bullets at once in a spread cone, but with very short range, good to use in small corridors. Then we have a machine gun, basically fast burst of low damage bullets. And finally a bazooka which shoots one rocket at a time that explodes on the first impact and deals damage inside a radius. The stats of the guns depends on the metals quality it is made of. Also a gem on a gun adds a bonus to a specific stat of the gun. This way you can get very different weapons, and if you kill a NPC monster with a good weapon and he drops it, that's the exact same one you'll get to use if you want to.
Dealspwn: Shopping and crafting seems to be a major feature. Can you explain how the economy and crafting systems will work?
Ludo: You go and explore the world to gather minerals like metals and gems then you bring them back home. Firstly you can sell to the pretty face in the shop and then buy new equipment that help your progression (an energy belt that give you more HP for example). Or you can use the minerals to craft weapons if you have the specific blueprint for it. The crafting part is designed but not implemented in the game yet, so dont take our word for it, it might be a bit different when it's done after we playtest it and realise there may be different ways to do it. Another feature related to crafting is the possibility to destroy the blocks from the world and building new blocks so that you can make your own base, castle, lair or whatever. This won't be done with a slow pick axe though, it will be done with weapons of devastating power (like your bazooka, or dynamite though it's not ingame yet). There will also be some rare blocks that can only be found deep in the cave, so you will have to explore to get that good stuff. Note that in the first version of the game you won't be able to place anyting special like traps or doors for example, just construction blocks. But there will be enough to make original constructions.
Dealspwn: One of your most interesting decisions, in my view, is to launch on PC as well as XBLIG. Are you looking to expand onto new platforms beside XBLIG and WP7 in the long-term? What new opportunities and challenges will you face in the PC market?
Ludo: It seems like PC games are getting back some attention in the past years with: Downloading platforms like Steam, Desura, G.O.G, then there is Indie Bundles offers, games runnning inside browsers. Lots of interesting offering for players and developpers. Of course there is piracy which kills many developpers. But at the same time there is more way for people to support their favorite developper through honest buying and project funding which is really interesting.
Dealspwn: Can you give us anything more specific than a Q2 2012 release date?
Ludo: It's hard to give you a release date, as there is a lot left to be done: some big features, but mostly testing and balancing, polishing. We don't want to rush the game, and at the same time we don't want to release it next year so if you think there is some feature missing, you can always expect it in future update.
Dealspwn: What's next for Magiko? Where do you see yourself in a year's time, and what sort of projects can we expect?
Ludo: Hopefully Platformines will be a success and we will have enough funds to keep going and update it with great content that players want us to add to the game.
Bidus: If we have funds, we have already design ideas for Platformance 3. Then, why not develop a 2D game based on a physics engine, or start developing stuff for 3D games?
Platformines is set to release in Q2 2012. You can follow constant developer updates over at the Magiko Devblog.