I Hate Magic

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I Hate Magic

Magic should be more than just power from a potion.

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If i might comment, could game companies turn to anime for ideas how to use magic better?

Toaru Majutsu no Index, for example, uses a collection of different Christian, Shinto, Norse and even Hindu mythology for the use of symbolistic magic. They use the theory that an item that copies an original magic item gains some of its power; this can be weapons, idols, even people.

Just something I wanted to comment on

(P.S. this is my first post so if the format does not work, tell me why)

I love you, man. You have just put out basically my opinion on how magic is handled and how it should be.

Izanagi009:
If i might comment, could game companies turn to anime for ideas how to use magic better?

Toaru Majutsu no Index, for example, uses a collection of different Christian, Shinto, Norse and even Hindu mythology for the use of symbolistic magic. They use the theory that an item that copies an original magic item gains some of its power; this can be weapons, idols, even people.

Just something I wanted to comment on

(P.S. this is my first post so if the format does not work, tell me why)

To Aru Majutsu no Index handles it very strangely. The Espers are powered by 'technology' while the Mages work with magic. If an Esper attempts to use a spell, it kills them (Unless you're Accelerator). The main character is granted a power that seems fairly useless at first, but can be used to kill God himself. The main character also loses his memory due to a spell early in the series, but it's permanent and he never regains them (nor shows any interest in regaining them). Among other things.

But even so, I don't think the author would like Index. It has exactly what he said, people shooting fireballs and summoning golems.

I understand the drive to make Magic deep and meaningful, but it's not always worth the trouble. In a wide, expansive game like Skyrim you have room to hide all that depth, but that isn't always the case. In a game with a smaller focus on narrative such as Torchlight it would hurt the game to pull too much focus towards why the magic works. It's a gameplay feature, not a story focus, so it's not treated like one. There are definitely times where putting all this effort in is worth it, but it's far from every game.

Hm... when he talked about hand gestures what came to mind was Arx Fatalis - you have to draw different magic symbols with your mouse and combine them to create spells. And if you mess up you can accidentally summon hostile monsters and similar things. The symbols have to be unlocked too by finding the matching rune stones, some of which are stupidly difficult to acquire.

Well said!
I'd play the crap out of any game with that level of depth to it's magic. Dragon Age: Origins is the closest I can think of. It had some really fantastic lore surrounding magic and mages but it's gameplay implementation wasn't terribly great, still better than most games though, Especially when it came to how you dealt with demons and blood magic.

OBJECTION! Have you even bothered to play both the DA games? They give us a broader definition of magic,and the way they restore their mana is either regeneritive,spells to a lesser degree, or a coold liquid version of a mineral mined by dwarves.Also,BURN THE HERETIC! He's a arcanaphobe! Seize him!

Kopikatsu:

Izanagi009:
If i might comment, could game companies turn to anime for ideas how to use magic better?

Toaru Majutsu no Index, for example, uses a collection of different Christian, Shinto, Norse and even Hindu mythology for the use of symbolistic magic. They use the theory that an item that copies an original magic item gains some of its power; this can be weapons, idols, even people.

Just something I wanted to comment on

(P.S. this is my first post so if the format does not work, tell me why)

To Aru Majutsu no Index handles it very strangely. The Espers are powered by 'technology' while the Mages work with magic. If an Esper attempts to use a spell, it kills them (Unless you're Accelerator). The main character is granted a power that seems fairly useless at first, but can be used to kill God himself. The main character also loses his memory due to a spell early in the series, but it's permanent and he never regains them (nor shows any interest in regaining them). Among other things.

But even so, I don't think the author would like Index. It has exactly what he said, people shooting fireballs and summoning golems.

These are the early spells, later we have the sweep spell which was said to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, spells that are based around the angels and their elements and directions. Finally is the slight integration of Aleister Crowley's religion in the text

I could go on but the final point is the attempt to make Grugnir which utilizes the direct powers of Oden's weapon

It is not so much the spells themselves he has an issue with but the fact they are not normally connected to a religion or appear simply as an attack without much impact.

Gee Final Fantasy IV comes to mind and the trials you have to go through to learn spells/summons.

You bring up tabletop RPGS, but I'd argue they're part of the problem. Especially starting with 3rd edition D&D, where magic was codified into a reliable science and technology with clear-cut rules. There wasn't really a sense that magic was some esoteric, forbidden lore known only to a select few, and often at great price. Rather, it's something you can buy on a street corner for a few hundred gold pieces.

There's also never been a good distinction between arcane and divine magic in D&D. Yeah, wizards can't wear armour or heal people, and clerics generally lack attack spells. But mechanically, their spells work almost exactly the same, right to having priests and clerics casting "spells". They don't feel different enough.

Plus D&D magic is so broken. 4th edition did a much better job at balancing magic, but at the cost of robbing it of whatever soul it had left.

I know there are tabletop games out there that do magic much better--I've played them. But for so many video game RPGs, D&D/d20 is the only template they seem to ever acknowledge.

Izanagi009:
If i might comment, could game companies turn to anime for ideas how to use magic better?

Toaru Majutsu no Index, for example, uses a collection of different Christian, Shinto, Norse and even Hindu mythology for the use of symbolistic magic. They use the theory that an item that copies an original magic item gains some of its power; this can be weapons, idols, even people.

Just something I wanted to comment on

(P.S. this is my first post so if the format does not work, tell me why)

I'd really love to see a game use the principles of Alchemy from Fullmetal Alchemist. Mainly the "you can't create something out of nothing. Everything requires something of equal value" part. I think that could make things pretty interesting.

Great article. It made me think of the way in which magic is treated in the A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

Irridium:

Izanagi009:
If i might comment, could game companies turn to anime for ideas how to use magic better?

Toaru Majutsu no Index, for example, uses a collection of different Christian, Shinto, Norse and even Hindu mythology for the use of symbolistic magic. They use the theory that an item that copies an original magic item gains some of its power; this can be weapons, idols, even people.

Just something I wanted to comment on

(P.S. this is my first post so if the format does not work, tell me why)

I'd really love to see a game use the principles of Alchemy from Fullmetal Alchemist. Mainly the "you can't create something out of nothing. Everything requires something of equal value" part. I think that could make things pretty interesting.

That sounds intriguing, the use of differing elements and circles to produce effects with potentially your sanity, reputation, or body in exchange the use of truly powerful spells and summons, as in the case of the philosopher stone and homunculi.

There is even an intrinsic game mechanic of creating optimized magic circles.

Let's see that

I think there is one problem with this and that is in game balance. You can have this kind of deep lore with magic, if your whole game is about magic, than it would be great. Because otherwise you have to balance out mage, warrior, archer and others, so they can have the same experience from the game.

And making mages inherently evil? No, just no. That's like making superheroes evil, because they have powers, it's just prejudice, you can't take that as a history think, well you can, but that's all kinds of wrong.

I don't even play DOTA, and I saw this joke coming a mile off.

OT: Nice article. But I somehow think it would just be a little impractical. Just as you can never create a truly realistic fighting game (at least, not until we re-create the Matrix, anyway), I find it hard to see how you could truly earn the skill of "magic" with just standard game interactions.

I agree, but I think this mostly comes down to convenience. There's no room in Diablo III for this sort of subtlety, and even in games like BioShock and Dishonored the /mechanism/ is still magic as completely reliable and consequence free science. Even though BioShock tut tuts about using plasmids, it's a story consequence, with no impact on the game. In Dishonored, well, you may get more rats but when you try to use blink it will work as long as your mana pool is full enough. Basically, there's just no room for 'realistic' magic getting in the way of gameplay.

With an RPG or adventure you have much more room to play around and more time to explore this sort of thing.

Possibly the game which did this best was Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter. You have a completely fixed amount of 'magic' for the entire game. It's your life force. It will let you make incredibly powerful attacks. If you use it all up you die. Game over! So on your first playthrough you are almost guaranteed to run out. Then your real playthrough becomes a very tense rationing exercise, because you know those end bosses are coming...

Hmmm I think those kinds of things are just other forms of narrowing. The idea of using "real world" magic is cool and good but personally how a fantasy world handles magic is good to give the world its tone. For dark fantasy you want magic to have dark roots. Dragon Age is a good example of this. Mages are born and not made. They are open to demonic possession and to get as powerful as you can you have to use a branch of magic that has you draw your own blood or that of others to fuel the magic. Another cost of this branch is that you are also more susceptible to demonic possession. In games like Torchlight magic is a lot like science. You either use ember or mechanics to harness the ethereal forces. I also once played a game where magic and technology where abhorrent to one another so if you used a lot of technology you would become more resistant to magic and also magic you used would become less effective. It is also interesting to see worlds that were built on magic. Street lamps with eternal flames in them, railways powered by caged elementals and where your local smith uses everyday magic for this and that.

The fantastic thing about magic is that it is so fantastic. It lets you do anything. Break the bonds of what is possible and let the imagination run wild with no restraint.

Now I do agree however that it would be nice if that would translate into more interesting magic to play with in games.

One of the (in my opinion) best magic systems in gaming right now is a little minecraft mod called Thaumcraft. You have to work for each magical discovery, and every spell has to be "assembled" from core elements in the world. Not just by tossing them in a simple minecraft crafting table, but by finding materials in the world with the right aspects and fusing them in an arcane cauldron. Moreover, unless you're very careful and prepared, "extra" aspects in the items being broken down are released into the environment as free magic, or "flux" which can cause all sorts of weird negative effects, from random hostile wisps to lightning from a clear sky. Magic with weight and consequences; gotta love it.

I feel like a complex and robust magic system like the one described in the article would be hard to implement unless it was the core focus of the game. Multiple non-mage classes sort of make this idea an unwise way to spend development time. However I think it would be amazing to play a game with magic and its interactions tied into the very core and foundations of gameplay.

This has been my issue with LARPs as well. Many LARPs involve magic that's nothing more than announcing an attack and throwing a packet of birdseed at a person. It's so lame. Magic should be otherworldly stygian powers, not 'lightning bolt, lightning bolt'.

Falterfire:
I understand the drive to make Magic deep and meaningful, but it's not always worth the trouble. In a wide, expansive game like Skyrim you have room to hide all that depth, but that isn't always the case. In a game with a smaller focus on narrative such as Torchlight it would hurt the game to pull too much focus towards why the magic works. It's a gameplay feature, not a story focus, so it's not treated like one. There are definitely times where putting all this effort in is worth it, but it's far from every game.

I think that treating it as a mechanic is precisely the issue he sees; people expect supernatural abilities without cost. And Torchlight would be a perfect sort of game to build a different understanding of magic in; when you delve into the randomized dungeons, you have the possibility of finding magical artefacts and weapons, but they might only work if you do certain things (spend a bunch of money at the altar as a sacrifice to the gods, only wield that sword because it's jealous, etc.)

OT: I am a tabletop RPG player, and I love magic that comes at true cost. Like Falseprophet said, there's been a shift into making it a mechanical system where you just plug in the correct amount of gold and time to cast it. I prefer games like Dungeon World, where messing with magic is serious business; you can do great things, but you also might rip a hole in reality, draw attention to yourself from extraplanar forces, or have to sacrifice something of real value to do it.

And for the people saying Dragon Age is good magic, it really isn't. The WORLD has a good magical system, the PLAYER is home free. There is no cost to being a full-on blood mage as opposed to a regular mage, not mechanically and not narratively. Sure, other people (including members of the party) might be in danger of demonic possession, but you know that you are not, and it robs the game of a lot of the weight of that decision.

Along those ideas, consider something like the magic in Arx Fatalis -- which while generally used for throwing fireballs and such had some interesting implications if it were to be expanded on.

It had a series of runes the player learned, along with being given certain combinations of runes as formula to produce certain spell effects. That was all it had to be if you didn't try to understand it. The thing was that each rune had a meaning, and with a bit of experimentation and logic you could create spells you'd never seen a formula for by simply writing what you wanted in the runes -- a good example is in the first three runes you got.

They teach you that two in a certain order is a spell that will let you light torches, and tacking the third on the end will let you throw a fireball. Clearly, one of the two in the torch-lighting spell must mean "fire". What happens if you leave "fire" out of the fireball spell? You get a magical projectile. By the time you've got a dozen runes and a few minutes to experiment, you can pull off a bunch of spells for which you will never be directly given a formula -- you just have to grasp the underlying theory.

For another example, there's a TCG coming out soon called Serpent's Tongue. It releases in June, and is doing preorders right now (it also had a Kickstarter about a year ago). It features the rather standard motif of dueling wizards. However, instead of a deck, each player has a spell book which houses their cards (no more than 33 spells for both balance and numerological reasons), and successfully playing a card requires an according incantation in a constructed language created for the game, with some cards having multiple versions of differing power and complexity. At least one playtest version of the rules also mandated somatic components (ranging from single hand seals to gestures) for certain cards, but I don't know the status of those in the final incarnation of the game. It also includes ARG and community building elements where the standard spellbook itself contains ARG clues for those who choose to actually study it and player cabals and master-apprentice relationships on their website provide benefits for all involved based on the accomplishments of any involved. There's also a PnP style cooperative campaign included with the KS sets that will allegedly be made available in general later on but isn't part of preorder or retail kits to reduce cost.

Now that was a damn fine article that touched on every issue I have with magic as a gameplay mechanic.

The biggest of which being the mana bar. Being a sorcerer should make you feel like you have unlimited power, since you are afterall drawing your power from the universe. And giving me an energy bar doesn't really help with that. Instead of feeling like I'm envoking a divine or cursed force from beyond, it feels like I simply have a magic filled jerrycan strapped to my back.

I know there needs to be something in place to draw in the players strength though. And the way to do that would be to tie magic use to your health. The more powerful or more magic you use at a time, the more you risk killing or cursing yourself. And the stronger you become or more experience you have with magic, the more magic use your body will be able to withstand.
Create somekind of drowning mechanic, but for the mind. Let it be like a drug that alters your body and mind the more you use it. This not only draws in the players strength, but also presents magic as something forbidden and greater than you.

Falseprophet:

I know there are tabletop games out there that do magic much better--I've played them. But for so many video game RPGs, D&D/d20 is the only template they seem to ever acknowledge.

Like Ars Magica?

Always remember that irritatingly limiting restriction -- the Limit of the Lunar Sphere. If you can't see why "Magic can effect nothing farther away than the moon" is terribly restrictive then you aren't trying hard enough.

Mage also did it pretty well, and even Shadowrun I think did a better job than D&D at keeping magic feeling mysterious and occult.

Thunderous Cacophony:
I think that treating it as a mechanic is precisely the issue he sees;

Oh, I definitely understand what he's suggesting, I'm saying that not all games need it. You have a limited amount of space in a game to deliver exposition, worldbuilding, character development, and so on. In most games it's not going to be worth using a sizeable chunk of that on the Magic system. In most games, the specifics of why the Magic works are as unimportant as knowing how the tech behind the laser guns works is in SciFi games.

Magic isn't real. It doesn't 'work' at all, so saying that it should conform to some sort of requirement (Being rare, requiring hand gestures, etc) seems silly. You can do all that if you want, and it would be interesting to build a game around a complex magic system and deal with its origins and whatnot, but I don't see a reason to expect that to be the norm.

I would love that man. I don't dislike magic how it is handled, but I realize now that I always played with the sacrifice in mind. In D&D I play the warlock that loses his mind to the stars, in dragon age I steered clear of the blood magic because of the terrible risk it was, despite there being no chance of a demon invading the player character and making an early game over scene (which would have been cool as fuck, by the way).

I liked the article, I too have wanted to see more magic done this way. The only game I've ever played where magic was arcane and obscure like that was Ultima VIII: Pagan and I loved it.

The quest in Pagan was entirely about learning the four schools of elemental magic, and they each had distinct casting methods. It's been a long time since I played it, but I remember earth magic was cast by putting components into a bag, closing it, maybe saying some magic words, and when you opened the bag you'd have a token that could be used to do something like summon a zombie (earth school was necromancy).

The fire magic was especially complex, you'd place components like sulfur and candles at specific locations around the points of a pentagram on the floor and an item to be enchanted in the center. When it was all done you'd have charged up a wand to cast fireballs, or a medallion to summon demons (who if I'm remembering correctly were just as likely to kill you as your enemies).

Great article! On the RPG front I have to throw my two cents in for White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension*. It reached for - though I don't think necessarily attained - a lot of the things you identify. I remember it fondly because instead of D&D's rigid spells Mage set various vague limits on what could be done within a school and let players have at it. When checks botched, it was the GM's chance to describe the repercussions. There was a lower risk if you could describe the magic as manifesting through a coincidence.

* Um. The first edition. Because I'm old and have no idea what you whippersnappers are playing these days.

Well, that title is severely misleading. I mean, sure, it's effective at drawing people in, but it's a cheap ploy. On the other hand, what I did like about this article is that it's just another confirmation that Piranha Bytes makes better games than Bethesda. I think Gothic 2 and Risen are the best examples. They've really got that whole: fighting-tooth-and-nail-to-use-magic thing locked down (then again, you need to fight tooth and nail for anything in those games).
Also, they do a good job of connecting it to spirituality/religion. In both games you actually need to go into the monastery and serve the [insert god of light] and study scripture before you're able to use anything really powerful. Come to think of it, Risen 2 has pretty good magic as well. At least the voodoo angle fits in very well with the pirate theme and it's something original to games.

Ilikemilkshake:
Well said!
I'd play the crap out of any game with that level of depth to it's magic. Dragon Age: Origins is the closest I can think of. It had some really fantastic lore surrounding magic and mages but it's gameplay implementation wasn't terribly great, still better than most games though, Especially when it came to how you dealt with demons and blood magic.

See above.

Magic coming at a cost is a great idea but this should be something that's done more in lore and less in mechanics. My big problem with magic is using it not feeling special, if anyone remembers NOX, the game would show hand signs and you would hear a character mumble magic words when casting a spell, that was awesome and practical since there were only a couple of each that were combined in different ways. Which is also an idea I like, not learning spells but gestures and words that you combine to spells (by experimenting) and the effects differ based on which god you pray to and that kinda thing.
And yes, hearing your mage say the same spells over and over is annoying BUT you could just have him mumble the magic words under his breath and only say the really powerful spells out loud, the ones you rarely get to use.

But magic being inherently evil is stupid, both in a gameplay kind of sense and overall.
And skyrim really has a bad system, both mechanically in terms of being awesome and rare

Sacrificing?
Well, I think you'd like Overlord's magic system then.

You slowly regenerate the amount of magic you're holding, but you can sacrifice the lives of your minions to get it more quickly.
The enchanting of weapons and armour also requires you to sacrifice the lives of your minions.
And that could go up to the thousands for the better pieces.

Still, I often enjoy just burning someone's face off with a fireball.

I have to agree. It is kinda boring when magic just gets reduced to a series of attacks or buffs to use in combat. Trouble is, when it comes to video games, the limitations of programing mean that if you're going to make really unique magic systems, you've got to base the entire game around it, because the spells become extremely complex in their execution and sometimes pretty limited in their usage. Not that this is a bad thing; you could make some really fun games based entirely on how you manipulate a magic system, but it takes a lot of time and effort and it would be specialized to the point that it would scare away most publishers from spending money on making such a game.

Any independent game makers want to try and take up the call?

This is some great timing on my part. I'm planing to write my first short story in a fantasy universe with similar aspect as you would like to see in more games. It's all still in pre-production mode, but the mages in this universes are a "host" to a demon or spirit, which are the source of their powers. Plus, the magic spells they cast are untraditional, like changing the density of objects, and...that's all i've thought up so far. But i must say, this article has the potential to inspire me to flesh out my ideas.

I am trying to think of any game I have played where magic was.. deep, meaningful, impacting.. and I am drawing a complete blank. Magic is just another weapon, your mana bar an ammunition meter, spells just a more colourful form of explosives and bullets.

I would almost say in most fantasy novels as well, magic is too convenient. Exceptions that come to mind are The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory.

In truth, I havn't given this topic much consideration. However, my reaction to the thought of a system more immersive, significant, and indepth is quite positively powerful.

Picture this if you will: instead of storming a castle courtyard filled with guards, flinging fireballs and draining mana, one could find a dark corner and make a small fire, sacrifice some blood to turn the flames a deep vengeful red, mutter an incantation to cause it to become a wall of fire, then roll it across the courtyard, engulfing guards as it went. Of course, such a spell would be incredibly powerful. What is its power source? What did you do acheive it? What level of mastery does it signify? The world building, character development, game play interaction opportunities are staggering.

I want this in a game now.

Edit for spelling. Also, on a personal level, this is the most interesting and thought out article you have written yet. All have them have been stellar, but this touched something..

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