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Camelot Unchained isn't 'recreating WoW' with its magic system

Welcome back to our coverage of City State Entertainment's batshit-crazy days for Camelot Unchained! A few weeks ago, we spoke with CSE co-founder Mark Jacobs about each of the topics being revealed this week on the game's livestreams; today, let's talk about making magic.
Massively: When developers use the word "spellbook," visions of meditating into an EverQuest-style spellbook and repeatedly switching commonly used spells come to mind. Far from creating welcome immersion, that spellbook created headaches for casters [enough that SOE changed it]. But CU's spellbook seems more like a cross between an achievement panel and a spell design tool. How else will CU's spellbook improve on the concept?

CSE's Mark Jacobs: First, I think the characterization of the EQ spellbook as a headache for casters is a very personal one. Let's keep in mind that EQ was the most successful MMORPG prior to the coming of WoW [We presume he means in the West -ed], so not everybody could have hated it. In our game, being a caster will come with some disadvantages, and having to deal with a spellbook is one of them. However, it will also come with advantages. Like so many other things in Camelot Unchained, we're not afraid to say players won't love everything. Indeed, as I've said all along, I know that certain things we are going to do will piss off some people.

We are not trying to recreate WoW, take all the less-than-fun things out, or make Camelot Unchained the RvR-lite game of the decade. Each class, race, and Realm will have pluses and minuses, and that is fine with us. There are no homogenous classes, races, etc. here, and while we are not trying to add new things (while simultaneously throwing out older concepts) just for their own sake, we are trying to do so because they will work well and make the game better.

Second, as to how we will improve on the concept of a spellbook, it starts with basic use. If the player has to sit down every 30 seconds to memorize spells, that would indeed be a headache. So, what we will be looking to do is balance pain and gain, just as we will with archers and their arrows, for example. In terms of other improvements, well, the idea of a spellbook being more than just a book, perhaps eventually obtaining some degree of sentience and being shareable are nice improvements for starters, and if all goes well, we will expand that concept over time.

FYI, there are other ideas we have in mind for the spellbook and the magic system, but as I've also said all along, I'm not buying a first-class ticket for the hype train and shouting "all aboard!" As you know, we've been very cautious in terms of the statements we, as a studio, have been making about this game, and even with the BSC Days, we've toned down some of our even crazier ideas. We believe we can pull off everything we're presenting without additional stretch goals, miracles or divine intervention. However, we are also not afraid to say everything from "This didn't work as well as we hoped" to "You know, that was a dumb idea" during the development of the game. That is one of the reasons we are presenting these ideas to our Backers now, rather than later.

Magic reagents consumed on use were a huge part of early MMOs like Ultima Online and Asheron's Call, but they created cost imbalances between characters. How will CU avoid the age-old MMO problem of magic being the domain of the wealthy?

I've said all along that everything in Camelot Unchained will decay over time. Each class will have costs associated with its game play (items decay, arrows break/disappear, etc.), so each one will require spending in-game currency. Magic will no more be the domain of the wealthy than archers or any other class.

Similarly, how will CU ensure that mages, saddled with spell cast charges, aren't unwelcome or burdensome on the battlefield when compared to fighters whose sword swings lack charges?

It's funny; in another interview, I was asked this question from the completely opposite viewpoint. The answer is as simple as that we have to make all of our classes useful on the battlefield or we'll have screwed up. Mages will wield great power, but they will have disadvantages too. Fighters will be great to have at times, and a group may find that its playstyle means a mage isn't as useful as an additional fighter. But you could make the same argument about archers, healers, etc. The spell charges will no more cripple mages than arrows restrict archers or item decay punishes tanks.

How, specifically, will weather, seasons, and diurnal cycles affect spellcasting?

Unknown as of yet. We have to design the full magic system first. :)

The AIR system for spell design is almost certainly a first in the [MMO] genre. But isn't the team worried players will settle on just a few spell combinations proven to work and work well?

Thanks! I think AIR is pretty cool too, for obvious reasons. In terms of just using a few combinations, if anything, our #1 concern is trying to balance all the combinations that are possible within the system, especially in the "R" part. However, as the history of MMORPGs does demonstrate, developers have to constantly monitor the use of spells, abilities, etc., both for balance reasons but also for general usage. If we find that certain combinations are not as popular, we'll need to try to find out why and make adjustments as needed.

Thanks for your time! Readers, don't forget to check out the stats interview we did yesterday. We'll be back tomorrow with more interviews from the game's BSC week.

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!