The new edition of Discourses of Might and Magic is up. It is the first part of an email conversation Corribus had with Fabrice Cambounet, about Ubisoft recreating a fantasy franchise and how it will be expanded in the future. The second part will be available in a few days hopefully.

The other Discourses columns are On the Ethical Question of Cloning, The Doom of Might and Magic? and Heroes V is Almost Here! Or is it?. The Celestial Heavens interviews can be found here.

Part I

Hello, loyal readers. I have spent some considerable time so far on this column talking about game development, particularly as it relates to Heroes V. I had a couple of ideas for a topic for my next entry in these Discourses, but then I got to thinking that maybe I should go and get some information about game development straight from the horse's mouth. After all - you might not believe me, but the horse never lies! So I bring to you an exclusive email interview with Fabrice Cambounet, producer. In this interview I attempted to ask questions regarding the decisions that went into the development of Heroes V at all stages of development. As you will no doubt see, I met with various degrees of success. It appears that Fabrice wants to keep some of this information under wraps until the end of time, and even my charming self couldn't extract it from him! Nevertheless, I hope you will find the following to be an entertaining and at least partially enlightening read.

Before we get on with it, though, there is one unfortunate caveat, and that is that ony half of the interview will be posted at this time, as I am still waiting on the second half. I had hoped to post it all at one time, but on the other hand I don't want to sit on it forever, so the second (and in my opinion better) half will be posted when it is put in my hot little hands!

Could you explain what specifically about the Might and Magic brand name attracted Ubisoft? Was there ever a concern over the risk of taking on such a project? After all, we HoMM fans have high standards!

The ambition has always been higher than the concern. The M&M brand is a passport for Ubisoft to enter the fantasy market, with a renowned flag bearer. It is a demanding but also a helpful brand: people instantly know what you’re talking about when you say the words Might & Magic. Besides, there is already a strong fan-base that has high expectations, but is also ready to help.

Why did Ubisoft decide to make HoMM5 first rather than a Might and Magic role-playing game (MMX)? Was it felt that this was the stronger title?

If a Heroes game is complex to do well, it is even more complex to do a good RPG game in today’s standards. If we do one, we’ll want to have it compete with the best in the genre, and that means a lot of work. The first step, finding the perfect team with a track record, being already quite a high entry ticket. However, we are committed to reviving the brand as a whole, so there will be more news in the future…

What goals were originally set for HoMM5 in the earliest parts of development? What did you specifically want to accomplish with this game?

The initial goals were the ones I’ve laid out in most Q&As over the last year! The first one being: staying true to the series – looking at the existing game play and solutions. The other ones being: easy to access, faster to play – working on the tutorial, which is coming in nicely, and on the interfaces, which is a long and iterative process, finally coming together now. I usually add that `faster to play` does not mean `simpler`: the complexity of the game is still there, with many skills and combinations. Other underlying goals that are quite obvious: make the game more modern, more appealing. Other goals that were set during the early development phases were: enhance the multiplayer experience - which is done through the ghost and duel modes, build a new world…

From a game-designer’s perspective, what went wrong with HoMM4? What mistakes did you hope not to repeat when designing HoMM5?

I`m not sure that something was wrong with H4 in terms of game design. They had good innovations on the table. I think what went wrong is the business part. Producing a game is not only dealing with game design decisions, but also with business decisions. You have to `sell` the game internally so that it gets considered, and so that it is put in the `priority` list in terms of quality, and not in the `release` list. The H4 team certainly lacked a bit of time to complete their project.

From what we know, the story of HoMM5 is going to be independent from the previous HoMM games. This includes a completely new set of Heroes (i.e., old favorites will not be returning). Can you tell us why the decision was made to not bring back old Heroes and to not directly continue the HoMM1-4 storyline, yet other things such as spells and monsters have been brought back relatively intact?

This was explained quite in detail in Erwan`s Q&A I think. There are two things here: the world itself, with specific characters, places, events; and the flavor of the world, with the mix of creatures and types of events.

We want to keep the flavor: a somewhat light fantasy at heart, although it gets darker in the scenario treatment and in a few visuals. That means keeping a varied mix of creatures, keeping the factions idea (but making them more coherent), keeping a mix of spells and artifacts which basically takes ideas from most fantasy sources. As for the world itself, the decision was taken for several reasons. The first one is probably that we want to start anew and be able to control all of the details. We also want to be able to build on it freely with future titles. We also wanted to avoid pitfalls in making mistakes regarding the previous world(s), and being stoned to death for heresy by the fans. And finally, it’s darn too much fun not to do it!

Could you share anything more about the storyline for HoMM5? Will the storylines of HoMM and Might and Magic be intertwined, as they have been in the past? Will there be “good” and “evil” campaigns in HoMM5?

The storyline in all titles in the M&M brand will be linked somehow, of course: the story of Dark Messiah happens some twenty years right after the events of Heroes 5. That’s one of the points we want to achieve by building a new world. There wont be `good` and `evil` campaigns as such, rather conflicting characters and motivations – but still it should be easy to spot the bad boys!

As for the storyline itself, at this stage I can’t reveal much more than what has been already said. You will see quite a bit during the demo itself. We are finalizing the cut scenes and videos at this stage – which is logical as we are finalizing most of the game!

Can you give us a sense of how the town line-ups were determined? How did you decide which of the old factions to keep? Where did the ideas for the new dungeon town come from?

Deciding the line-ups has been a long process, riding up until about half of the development process. The initial idea though was nailed down quite fast: we would keep the principle of factions, grouping fantasy creatures into races of sorts. We also decided to make these factions as coherent as possible, while keeping a good variety of creatures. A `dominant race` would unify each faction: human for Haven, elves for Sylvan, or a strong theme would bond the creatures together: the persian influence for the Academy, for instance. This is how the idea of the Dungeon was formed: tying a bunch of mythological creatures with a strong idea, the dark elves. These would be the backbone of the faction, and the other creatures would be either be dominated (minotaurs), used (hydra) or revered (dragon) by the dark elves.

All of this has lead to some heartbreaking decisions, with some flagship creatures not making the cut… this time at least.

Note: The discourses with Fabrice continue here.

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