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Postmortem: Arrowhead Game Studios' Magicka
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Postmortem: Arrowhead Game Studios' Magicka

August 30, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

4. No Need to Ask Obi-Wan

When Arrowhead was founded, we had a lot of good will from experienced developers throughout the Swedish game development industry who wanted to spill the beans on how to make the best game possible, and save us from the biggest pitfalls a new studio can fall into.

We failed miserably at heeding their advice. It was almost as if we were told about the exact position of all the mines in a minefield and we still, like some sort of imbeciles, were compelled to step on them.

The first and most memorable advice that was given to us right after our Swedish Game Awards '08 victory was that we had to act on the hype and ride the wave as far as possible. We didn't.

Instead, we kept attending our college courses, developed the game on the side, and sort of let it slip through our hands -- until after about six months we realized what was about to happen and made up our minds: we would drop out of college and found a studio to develop Magicka.

This tendency of having to experience mistakes before learning from them kept haunting us throughout the entire development process. When we were in doubt we just went headfirst, instead of asking for advice. When we got advice we heard, but never listened. In a way I believe much of this was tied to our being overambitious and in a way, arrogant.

To this day, we still often fail to recognize when we could really use some assistance, but we're working on it. In a way, as with so many problems, half the battle is admitting you need help.

5. Social Safety at Risk

As we started the studio, we didn't have any capital that could set us up with the necessary software. As luck would have it, Microsoft provides newly founded companies with a cheap BizSpark membership that grants you access to pretty much all of their products.

The big ones, Maya and Photoshop, were something the studio couldn't afford, and because of the lack of a financial history, the banks wouldn't grant loans without a guarantee -- something that we as founders took upon ourselves. Not only were we in debt because of the guarantee, we used our savings and borrowed from our near and dear to finance the share capital, rent and general living costs -- which massed up to quite a bit.

This was fine in the beginning, but as we started to doubt that we'd ever finish the game or that the game would ever make any profit, many of us had a hard time sleeping. This was perpetuated by the fact that every one of us had so many shoes to fill in the project development that fear, stress, frustration, and despair became our constant companions.

In hindsight, spending all our savings, borrowing money and becoming financially liable all for one big gamble is something to be avoided at all costs; it was like a little monster multiplying the stress of an already demanding trade.


Seven months later, Magicka is considered a smashing success and has sold nearly 800,000 copies -- something that we never, in our wildest college dreams, thought possible. Not only does Magicka have a lot of fans, it has a great community that constantly comes up with wonderful ideas/feedback and are really involved in the evolution of the game.

Other than that, we have established a functional pipeline for creating new content for Magicka, even though the game engine isn't really crafted to handle it. We've released a couple of DLCs, patched the game countless times and added the missing versus mode -- yet even this is just the beginning. We really want to support all Magicka fans for as long as they play, by releasing a lot of DLCs -- both free and paid.

During the development of Magicka, the studio has grown tremendously both in experience and in creative vision. Our goal is no longer to get our first game out on the market, but to create clever niche games for creative gamers. As is so apparent when you look at Magicka -- we're all die hard sci-fi fans that really long to get our hands on something... spaced out!

Data Box: Magicka

Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios

Publisher: Paradox Interactive

Release Date: January 25, 2011

Platforms: PC

Number of developers: 8 full-time and 4 contractors

Length of development: 24 Months

Budget: ~$400.000

Development Tools: Maya 2010, Photoshop CS4 / CS5, Visual Studio Team System Ed.

Most played songs: Barracuda - "Ass up," Lonely Island - "I'm on a boat," Mastgrr - "Cooking by the book - A Lil Bigger mix," "They're taking the hobbits to Isengard."

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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Andrew Grapsas
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Awesome post mortem!

I can say, many experienced developers constantly are hobbled by the same pitfalls. Bravo! I'd love to hear a post mortem on your DLC and see how your process is evolving.

Great work guys. Also, as a former tools programmer, never forget the tools! From a programming perspective, I'd rather make content creation & iteration faster than have to constantly flip switches, debug segments of code "broken by content", etc.

Enrique Hernandez
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“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my ax”

- Abraham Lincoln

pretty smart guy

Chris Remo
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Great postmortem, very informative. It's also really encouraging to see how well Magicka has done for itself.

Ted Spence
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I appreciate this postmortem. Too many commercial products have postmortems with bland "what-went-wrong" sections written carefully to avoid offending anyone; this kind of brutal honesty shows that the developer has a clear handle on what they need to do.

I look forward to steady improvement from this team as a result ;)

Joe Program
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A "what-went-wrong" Magicka postmortem is so meta, as making horrible mistakes is the game's main feature.

Mark Venturelli
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"At what was supposed to be our beta milestone, after submitting the build, we did a play test of the final boss: Assatur. Instead of descending from the top of the screen to do battle with the wizards, he for some reason turned around and ascended back to where he came from, never to be seen again. At this point, 6 am -- after a long crunch -- the entire team cracked up, went to bed and took a couple of days off."

Now this I can relate to! =) Thank you for sharing these, it`s always so good to read such an honest and open piece like that. I`m sure that a lot of small start-up guys around the globe are inspired by your postmortem and by Magicka`s history.

Courtland Brower
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I agree, I was gonna post the same copy/paste, I laughed with them after reading that. As a startup guy who I know this Post Mortem does raise my spirits and makes me want to keep digging.

Thomas Engelbert
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I'm still fascinated by your success and your story. This, and what you write in your postmorten, really encourages me in my decision to get into the industry. I wish you the best of luck.

Jheng Wei Ciao
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A really touching and encouraging postmortem. In spite of all obstacles and despair, you persevered. Hard-working eventually pays off.

Congratulation to your success!

Andrew Williams
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Thanks very much for this postmortem. It was most informative and very entertaining.