Bewildered gamers were not the only people who thought that setting the first expansion to the satirical sorcery game Magicka in the Vietnam War was crazy.
So did Mattias Lilja, a top man at game publisher Paradox Interactive who is in charge of working with Arrowhead Game Studios, creators of this spring's Magicka Vietnam.
"That's the way these guys think," Lilja told me on Friday with a chuckle and a sigh as we sat on a roof-deck in San Francisco outside a showcase for Paradox's games. "They should not be left alone. They need supervision."
Magicka Vietnam spins off from Magicka, the surprise four-player co-op PC gaming hit that came out several weeks ago and was most definitely set in the expected realm of orc-filled forests, rolling green countrysides, and grand halls illuminated by candles. You know, the kind of place that wasn't in Apocalypse Now or Battlefield: Vietnam.
Lilja thinks the Aarowhead guys wanted to pay homage to a classic game called Cannon Fodder, a satirical top-down war game of an earlier PC gaming era.
He also thinks they like being funny.
The happy surprise, he told me, is that Magicka Vietnam isn't a joke. It plays well. I couldn't see that, because the people who brought the game to San Francisco's Game Developers Conference had to leave before I arrived to chat with them. So Lilja described a Magicka Vietnam mission to me:
"You would have to be dropped off from the Huey, find the POW camp, get prisoners out, take out a communications tower, fall back to the chopper and get out before the Goblin Cong get in."
That's Goblin Cong... as in, goblin Viet Cong, who wear straw hats and wield Kalashnikov machine guns. You wouldn't mistake them for Magicka Vietnam's Orcs. Those brutes carry M60s.
Magicka Vietnam's wizard heroes, controlled by one to four players, get 10 new weapons, M16 included, and a new magic spell that lets them summon a plane that drops napalm across the game's jungle. They're gaining the ability to crouch, which Lilja said takes the place of the base game's blocking move, a technique "that nobody ever uses." A Vietnam player's wizard hero also can carry what Lilja thinks they're calling the Freedom Staff. "That's basically an American flag. It lets you throw Liberty Grenades." Liberty Grenades, I'm told, are just standard grenades. Standard American grenades.
Lilja said there will be a lot of expansions and downloadble content for Magicka, though he wouldn't say where future ones might take place, even after I suggested the moon.
"They have a lot of crazy ideas," Lilja said of the game's developers, "and I hope to see some of those come to life as well."
The Paradox producer also hopes that Magicka will no longer be a PC exclusive. "We are developing it for console, but we can't commit to any," he said, deferring any news of a downloadable Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version to Microsoft or Sony. The game was made with Microsoft's XNA programming tools, so it should be a cinch to bring to 360, but no news there. It wouldn't be so weird, though. If Magicka can go to Vietnam, surely it can go anywhere.
Magicka Vietnam, an expansion to the PC-only (for now) Magicka, is slated for a late March or early April release.