chris

Chris Hutchinson, Lead Programmer and Artist of Tasty Stewdios

 

Playing Magicmaker took me back to a simpler time in gaming. Going straight into the action and easily discovering everything about how the game works before delving into a deep and complex customization system. The up-and-coming 2D platformer was designed by Tasty Stewdios, a team of four lead by Chris Hutchinson

In Magicmaker, you control a player-character who just got a job as a security guard for Dorwall Community College. As Hutchinson put it, “A wizard school has wizard-sized problems so somebody’s gotta keep it safe.” You explore the world around Dorwall through means of portals that lead to randomly-generated levels; going through a portal the second time will never lead you to the same forest, ice cavern, or desert that you visited previously.

I spent hours customizing the effects and elements of my spells, attaching protective and destructive qualities to my robe, and beefing up my wand with projectiles of enemy-melting eye candy. Not to mention you can assign a name to your character (who is also subject to visual customizations) and wand. The combinations of spells and abilities are endless (Tasty Stewdios boasts there are over 2 million different combinations to discover), providing a level of longevity and replayability that will keep players coming back to experiment with different strategies and playstyles.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to Chris Hutchinson and discussed the game’s origins, some of the things we love about the game, and the struggles involved in making it.

What was the first game that got you into games?

I actually got into games slightly later in life, compared to a lot of people who have memories of playing like . . . Atari or NES. I didn’t get into games until I think I was . . . ten? My dad, just totally out of the blue, bought an N64 and I was just obsessed with it. I played a lot of Star Fox 64. I think that was the first game I was truly obsessed with. And that’s kind of when I automatically made the decision like . . . Oh, I gotta figure out how to make these! And make them for the rest of my life! Which is silly because at the time I just had no idea at all what I was undertaking. I don’t know what it is about Star Fox 64, that game is just etched onto my soul.

Tell me about Tasty Stewdios. How did you guys meet?

Tasty Stewdios was founded in such a circuitous . . . haphazard way. In 2011, I had just graduated from DigiPen Institute of Technology and my Grandpa died. So my Mom had to go and handle the funeral and all the . . . you know, there’s just so many details to go over when someone dies. My Dad and Sister couldn’t maintain the household and fill my Mom’s shoes with the chores so I moved back for a month to help out. I suspended my job search because there was no way I was going to get a job out in the middle of nowhere where my parents lived. So I would help out but I also thought “If I’m really going to be serious about this, I should have some side-projects.” So, I made a game called Generator Quest. 

I was really obsessed with procedural generation, the idea was it was going to procedurally generation everything: the levels, the world maps, and the skills and spells that you use. And at the time I was playing a lot of Borderlands and Torchlight so I wanted to sort of add the loot element of Borderlands to the magical setting of say, Diablo or Torchlight. So instead of enemies dropping weapons, they’re dropping skills and abilities. It wasn’t until I needed to build an editor to test all these spell combinations I had already written into the game that I realized the game is way more interesting if you could just build the spells yourself. So I started focusing on that.

About a month passes, my Mom comes back allowing me to go back home and start looking for a job. At that point, the game was sort of top-down 3D like Diablo or Torchlight. And it was a lot of very primitive graphics, everything was made out of spheres and cylinders. At one point, my roommate said “You work on this a lot and it’s really interesting and I think we could make this game even better,” and I said “Yeah, I think you’re right, I think we could do something really cool with this.” So, I teamed up with him, our other roommate, and a friend of ours and we said “Let’s make this game.” None of us knew how to do 3D graphics and we didn’t think it fit with the new commercial project we were taking on so we re-invented all of that. And we changed the name to Magicmaker. So, that’s more or less how it ended up as the design it is today.

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What inspired the aesthetic of the game?

At the time, I had like . . . no artistic skills. So, I practiced a lot because I really wanted this game to look good. During that time, the game had a completely different artistic style than it has now and it looked like complete garbage. But I kept practicing and by . . . I think it was March 2013, I felt like “Okay, I can do way better than this now,” and gave it a sort of paper cutout look.

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So, now that there’s only what, one? Two weeks until it’s release?

Yeah, I think it’s something like one week and four days.

How are you feeling? Are you worried about anything?

Oh, yeah, I am just hella-scared. Because in the span of a single day you find out if you wasted the past three years of your life. Which is . . . super exciting!

(laughs) Yeah, I can only imagine how daunting that is.

Yeah. It’s either going to be the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, really. All depending on numbers.

I love the games light-hearted and witty sense of humor. Where did you draw your inspirations for that?

One of the things we realized that comes with making a commercial product was “Oh, it can’t just be a bunch of boxes shooting spheres at each other? It has to have a good story too?” And none of us are skilled enough writers to do like . . . a serious story. So, we figured “let’s just make a story that’s made out of jokes.” So, pretty much everything in the story exists for the purpose of a joke. The whole Magicmaker lore is built off of combining the magical with the mundane so you have stuff like The Magical Tax Accountant. That’s why the main character is a security guard. We just wanted to give him the most mundane, non-glamorous job you could think of. A wizard school has wizard-sized problems so somebody’s gotta keep it safe.

I imagine one of the hardest things was coming up with different magical properties and skills.

You’d think that but we actually came up with a huge number of them very quickly! Like, in a matter of three months we had everything we needed. The biggest issue was, once we put them in the game, we realize certain spells didn’t have as many applications or it wouldn’t jive with as many things as we’d like. We had the working materials very quickly, but most of the three years we spent creating the game went into refining each and every one of them to be the most useful applications and combinations.

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What were some reject spells that you really wish you didn’t have to get rid of?

Let’s see . . . At one point there was a sort of wall material created a field that enemies would kind of pass through and it would cause damage to them. But there weren’t a whole lot of interesting ways we could make that interact well with other materials so we cut that. I think that’s the only one we really cut out. A lot of them we just drastically changed their original behavior. Like, the boomerang was originally casting your spell outward and then it would fly back toward you. There really weren’t many useful applications for that, you know, like who cares if it comes back? Why not just have it keep going so you can hit stuff farther away from you? So we changed it so that the boomerang spell is cast from the location of your cursor rather than the player character and that opened up it’s usefulness a lot more. Like, now you can hit stuff behind walls your character is on the other side of which helps you hit switches for puzzles. If you’re terrible at aiming, you can just move the cursor right next to the enemy and just murder him from there.

I loved discovering I could dash through enemies to damage them and then I kind of went nuts when I realized I could leave a trail of fire where ever I go at the same time. What are some of your favorite spell or robe customizations?

The cool thing about spell casting is everybody find something like on their own. Like they find their favorite material to work from and add things to it from there. I personally love spells that deal with resource management. Like the Soul Contract material which makes it so that the cost of casting a spell is your health instead of your mana. And then there’s the Philo Stone which increases your mana cost but your spells more powerful. And then there’s a rune that makes enemies drop mana pickups when they die that restore your mana. So my playstyle is to use Soul Contract on my spells for the health cost, I use the Philo Stone on my robe which makes it so that a fraction of the cost is taken from my mana. So I pretty much rewire my whole resource pool and it makes it so that if I’m not overwhelmed I’m pretty much invincible. But if I get into some real trouble I could die very quickly. I have to stay vigilant.

I love how you can’t really make any mistakes when customizing your gear.

Yeah, that was something we put a ton of effort and time into. We wanted to make sure there were no useless combinations.

Yeah, anything you didn’t mean to do just ends up being a really cool accident.

Yeah, there are some sort of sub-optimal combinations, but there’s always a baseline of usefulness. No combination is less useful than another.

Do you guys plan on adding any new content to Magicmaker in the future such as DLC?

That really depends on sales. But I’d really like to do just content updates like a lava level or a space level or something. I would definitely do that for free because I think the payoff you get from releasing free DLC outweighs any reward you’d get for paid DLC.

What would you say is the most important aspect of Magicmaker to you?

Definitely spell-crafting. Creating and customizing your spells and abilities. That’s our thing that sets us apart. It’s the thing I’m most proud of because it’s just so flexible. Even though we’ve been working on the game for three years, every now and then someone comes up with some amazing combination we haven’t thought of before. It just adds so much longevity to the experience! I’m really excited to see what people come up with when it’s out.

What’s next for Tasty Stewdios?

Oh, we have no idea what our next game is going to be. We’re still 100% on Magicmaker. But we definitely want to make more games.

Magicmaker releases on Steam September 22nd. Check out the launch trailer!

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