Alchemist Interactive’s Roman Matuszczak talks making magic in Spells & Secrets, a wholesome wizard school roguelike…
Over 2500 people saw enough spark in Spells & Secrets to be willing to back it on Kickstarter. That was in April this year, where Alchemist Interactive’s enchanting-looking isometric roguelike set in a wizard school managed to achieve full funding in a mere 30 hours. The prospect of learning new powers and uncovering secrets as a fully customisable student – either alone or in local co-op – clearly charmed its intended audience. But now the pressure is on for the studio to achieve its ambition of creating the ultimate magical sandbox, one where players are encouraged to endlessly explore thanks to castle Greifenstein’s ever-changing rooms and a generous number of spells.
“We wanted to make a game where you can creatively solve your problems, whether that’s common encounters or puzzles,” game director Roman Matuszczak tells us. “And we found a magical setting to be the perfect fit for that. Because you can be very creative with all the different effects.” Alchemist intends to have a total of 21 different effects or “spells” in the game at launch, with abilities like levitate, freeze, and more all carrying over from run to run. “The more spells you learn over the course of a game, the more tools you have in your toolbox, and the more different approaches you can take to defeat enemies or solve puzzles.”
Not to be dissuaded by the Hogwarts Legacy-shaped behemoth also set to arrive next year, Spells & Secrets intends to offer a more bite-sized wizard experience by comparison, designed to be played in short bursts (as all good roguelikes arguably should). Better yet, it’s hoped that not having to start from scratch and relearn your abilities will make the game more approachable for a wide age range, especially compared to more recent roguelikes that tend to favour a hardcore player base.
A standard run through the central castle is estimated to take between 30 to 60 minutes, depending on skill. In that time, players will battle their way through three floors all based on a possible ten different things, but it’s the schoolyard starting area that serves as the main hub. It’s here you’ll be able to upgrade old spells and purchase new ones, both of which will open up ways to navigate areas that might otherwise feel too familiar after a couple of playthroughs. Selecting the Mouseform spell early on, for instance, will let you access shortcuts between rooms that are unavailable to someone who’d rather, say, fly over obstacles.
Spells, in case you hadn’t already guessed, are at the centre of everything, including how you choose to dispatch each floor’s unique enemies. “Each enemy has a weakness, which you can exploit if you wish,” Matuszczak explains. “You can exploit it by different means, depending on which ones you have learned, and then you can use that to your advantage. You can also use the environment or other enemies to your advantage. So enemies may [also] call some effects. For example, when they hit an area with an attack, you can use that to your advantage by moving a different enemy into that location with your telekinesis.”
Perhaps the best magic trick Spells & Secrets pulls off is to let players adventure out with a fellow student by their side. Local co-op might be a rarity these days, especially in the roguelike genre, but having the spell-casting action play out on the same screen simply made too much sense for Matuszczak. “You can play with two players, and then the game changes quite a lot,” he says. “Because when you play alone, you only have yourself to trade combos and stuff. But when you play with two people, then the different synergy between styles come together.”
Exactly what the effects of combining any two of the 21 spells will be is something Alchemist Interactive wants co-op pairs to discover naturally for themselves. “If you communicate well with your partner, you can do some very, very powerful things.”
Just as a witch or wizard might throw different cauldron ingredients together to make the perfect potion, Spells & Secrets features a varied concoction of simple yet effective elements that Matuszczak hopes will come together to create something magical. The 21 core spells available to collect during your goal to reach the castle’s final floor are paramount to this idea of a replayable creative sandbox, yes, but equally so is the sheer amount of variety Alchemist Interactive hopes to instil using different level layouts, randomised artefacts, and multiple puzzle solutions. As Matuszczak himself says: “Every element of the game is connected to everything else.”