- by Kalah
And now for something slightly different. For the past several weeks, the news we have had to report have been all about Heroes VII. Now, though, we present something a bit more general, and you certainly won't find it anwhere else.
We're big fans of the music in the Heroes games, mostly because it's great music, but also because it never disappoints. A game could turn out to be mediocre or even worse, but the music of Rob King and Paul Romero is always a highlight. Well-composed and well-suited to the various scenes, the music lifts the gaming experience and adds a certain degree of class.
Even more so because of the vocals of Karin Mushegain.
We sent her a batch of questions a while ago and hoped she could find time in her busy schedule to talk to her gaming fans. Without further ado, then, have a read.
This splendid mezzo-soprano usually makes her living in grand opera houses, but once in a while, she lends her talent to our dynamic duo King and Romero, and gives their Heroes music that extra bit of class that you just can't get with a synth or an autotuned pop-artist.
1. For our new readers, can you tell us a bit about how you were recruited in to work with "Heroes" games?
About 20 years ago, composer Paul Romero and I met through my aunt and uncle, who had asked us both to perform at their anniversary party. It wasn't long after this introduction, that Paul invited me to sing on the Heroes soundtrack. I think I was 16 or 17 years old.
2. It has been a while since last time - what made you come back and do some more, with Heroes VII?
Anytime Paul and Rob asked me to sing on a project, I'm there! I love working with them. And I'm always excited to see what new and interesting music they've created for me.
3. As far as we can determine, the "Heroes" games were the very first PC games using opera music. When you worked on your very first projects with Rob and Paul, were you aware that this was something out of the ordinary? Was it very different from other studio jobs?
Heroes is the first and only video game I've ever sung on, so I had no idea how unique it was for there to be opera in a video game...but I assumed it was pretty rare!
4. Of all the music you've done for the "Heroes" games, do you have any favourites?
I think the new Heroes VII is by far my favorite!!! Paul and Rob hit it out of the park with this soundtrack! "Hope for Green Falls" is one of the most beautiful pieces Paul has composed, in my opinion of course!
5. What do you enjoy more: studio work or the stage? What would you say are the major differences between the two? How does the workload compare?
Stage and studio work could not be more different! Performing on stage is 99% of what I do, and I love the "live" aspect of it. Performing in the moment, a beautiful ebb and flow of sharing your energy with the audience and in turn, receiving it from them...that doesn't happen in the studio. You can't take back mistakes, you can't stop and start, you can't worry about it being perfect...and I love that. I'll prepare for months for a live performance, but Paul literally hands me the music when I walk into the studio to record it. He teaches me the piece really quickly. I ask what mood they want for the piece, and then I adjust my tone accordingly.
I think that's a perk of being a professional, trained singer...I have so much versatility with my sound. It doesn't all just sound like an "opera singer" or a "pop singer." I adjust for the mood of the piece. You don't get to do this kind of playing and exploring in live opera...so that's a studio perk! And since we're all such pros, and they don't have to auto-tune or adjust my sound, it only took us a few hours to record the three tracks I perform on. I'll rehearse 3-4 weeks for an opera before we ever have an audience...so you can see the time commitment difference there!
6. Who has influenced you as a singer?
This is a question that I'm always asked, and I feel I never know how to answer. I have singers who I love, and singers who I admire, but there was never one person whom I was like..."yes, that's who I want to be like!" and I guess that's a good thing! I love the uniqueness and style of Elle Fitzgerald. I am in awe of the pure natural talent that Whitney Houston possessed...probably one of the best pop singers the world will ever know. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of Pavarotti's voice. It literally takes me breath away and stops me in my tracks. But I think my fellow colleagues influence me most as singers...I can see their technique and musicality up close, and there is no better way to learn, than by watching your peers do what they do best right beside you.
7. We've seen extracts (videos) of your work with the Rob/Paul duo in the studio, of course. Do you bring ideas to the table about what kind of music to use in the games, or is that more their kind of thing? How do you contribute to the creative process?
Paul writes the music, Rob creates the music, and I bring my part to life. But I don't just get the music and sing it. We explore the music together. I play with different sounds and tones and moods. I suggest vocal ideas, but I never alter what Paul has written...at least, not on purpose! It's definitely collaborative. We've improvised in the past...they wanted a certain ethereal, middle-eastern sound as background noise in one of the scenes. So I just played around with some Armenian vocalizes. It's always fun creating with these guys!
King and Romero recording with Karin Mushegain
8. You'll be available for "Heroes VIII" when announced in the future? Yes? Yes? Of course yes, don't be silly. Yes?
Seriously, though: the fans of the series are very passionate about the music in the "Heroes" game series, effectively insisting that without Rob & Paul, it "wouldn't be a proper "Heroes" game". The opera sounds you bring in are also seen as an important part of that; it has become an integral part of the series. How does it make you feel that you have fans not just in opera circles, but also among the geeks and kids playing games?
I love my Heroes fans! Especially when my opera colleagues find out I sing on the games, and they've been playing them their whole lives...that's so fun! I often get sweet emails from fans sharing their love and appreciation of the music; I love this!
9. The recordings for "Heroes VII" are done, I take it. What sort of projects are you working on now? You're mostly doing operas, I believe; are you doing any studio projects, like making a music album?
I'm off to the Philippines in about two weeks to sing the title role in Rossini's La Cenerentola. This is one of the roles I sing the most, and I absolutely adore this opera. I've never been to the Philippines, so I'm a bit nervous! But I'll be performing with a dear friend who is from Manila, so that'll make things easier. And no plans to be in the studio right now, but I do love it, so I hope I find myself there again in the not too distant future.
A big thanks to Karin for her time - we wish you all good things for the future.
You can follow Karin Mushegain and read more about her bio on karinmushegain.com.
- by Staff
Q&A with the Masters of Sighisoara
Back in 2009, CH member HeroofPunk announced his intention to create a whole new continent called Sighisoara. Joined by fellow map makers Maygwan and Yurian Stonebow, the team have since created a whole series of maps for Heroes III. What follows is a Q&A about how it all began, where the project is now and where it is going next ...
Tell us a little about Masters of Sighisoara, how did it all start?
"Well, for me it started with a fantasy map being painted in school. After that, I got home and realised that I wanted to create my own fantasy world, and since I had some earlier experience of map creating in the Heroes 3 Map Editor, I decided to go with that.
I also knew that I would need some expert guiding, that was why I contacted Yurian and Maygwan. It really just developed from there and I got more and more into the world that we have built up around the campaigns and scenarios."
You mentioned earlier in the thread that some custom music could be made for the campaigns, what is the current status of that?
Well, as you may know I posted a clue (I only left you with the letters PAR) in the Masters of Sighisoara main thread. Well, it actually has to do with the custom music being made.
And it is my honor to tell you that we will be getting a custom made campaign song for our third campaign (yes, there will be another one!), composed by none other than Paul Anthony Romero! So that feels very huge for us. Both Yurian and I are finding his work inspirational and I practically grew up with some of his tunes (my favorite being Necropolis town and Evil theme from HoMM3).
I have also been in touch with a friend of mine and we have together created some more customs songs to be released with Masters of Sighisoara III.
Your team just released the second campaign in the series, what do you have in the works now?
We have been working closer together and more effective then ever the latest month now and we currently are working on Masters of Sighisoara III. Map 1 is a 0.95 version for now and Map 2 is something along the lines of 0.75, map 3 is currently in a 0.25 state. I myself are in good contact with Paul Anthony Romero and have received the recording of our very own song composed by him.
We are also working on a wiki for MoS and it can be found here. It is not fully finished yet, but you can read up on storylines, quests from the first campaign, see pictures, read about certain artifacts and relics, heroes, campaigns, releases, everything will be posted and updated on there, so keep checking it out and feel free to contribute to the wikia as well!
I can already in this early state of campaign 3 tell you that we have been putting a LOT of focus on fine-tuning story lines, checking up on dates etc. And what I can tell you now is that you will be exploring 4 different islands, you will be able to search through historical documents about the entire continent and the story line will be deeper than ever before! Really looking forward to it!
Yes, we are also holding a little competition and handing out some prizes to the person who can finish MoSII - The Undead of Xerphef with the highest score. To enter the contest simply link us a screenshot of your high score in the main thread in the Round Table forum and we will contact the winner!
- by Kalah
Julien "Marzhin" Pirou Q&A
August 27th, 2012.
Might & Magic: Heroes VI Lead Level Designer Julien Pirou
Julien Pirou, lead lever designer on Might and Magic: Heroes VI, known to us fellow fans as "Marzhin", answers questions about how it's been like to work on the game this past year.
CH: 1. Before we start properly, I've been meaning to ask you about your title – "Lead level designer". This isn’t just a fancy name for "map maker", is it ... what is it, exactly, that you do? What’s a normal day like for you?
Marzhin: "My job as Lead Level Designer is a bit similar to what an Art Director is for graphic designers. So I’m supervising a team of designers and working on the “high-level” conception of the maps, but not (much) taking part on the actual map making (except when extra hands are needed to survive crunch time ). I am also a sort of “interface” between the level designers and the writers.
So basically my job begins by meetings with the writing and creative team, discussing the kind of story they want to tell and how it could be translated into gameplay objectives. Once that’s done, I start briefings describing where the map takes place, the kind of geography, terrains, where the towns are, and outlining the main objectives of the map as discussed with the writers.
With this briefing document, the level designers can start working on the map itself. While they do, I’m starting to draft a document called the Sequentials, which is basically a table listing all the narrative events of the map, and where they are triggered. This first draft will then allow the level designers to put “placeholder” events in the map, and the writers to start working on the dialogs. The Sequential also includes a list of all quests.
Obviously there’s also some back-and-forth with the level designers, who will get back to me with suggestions to improve the flow of the map, ideas for secondary quests, etc. So I integrate these changes and additions to the rest of the documents.
When the maps start to be playable, I’ll also play them and give feedback and suggestions to improve them. After that, the map is pretty much in the hands of its level-designer(s), but I continue to play the new versions of the maps as they come out and give feedback if needed.
Aside from that “main job”, I also did some writing for Heroes VI (some artifact bios, a couple of signposts and lore texts), and I’m also involved in the reviewing process for all graphic assets."
CH: 2. It has been some time since we last talked, but since then, a lot has happened. This last year, what has been the high point for you?
Marzhin: "This last year has pretty much been a roller-coaster. I think the high point was being trusted with the writing of the Adventure Packs. Writing is something I enjoy as much as designing a map, so I was immensely happy when Erwan Le Breton offered me to write Crag Hack and Sandro’s return."
CH: 3. What has been the low point?
Marzhin: "No surprise there, I’d say the months that immediately followed the release of Heroes VI. As you probably remember, there were many issues to tackle. So the end of the year was pretty gloomy, and while we were determined to find a way to continue working on H6 no matter what, the future seemed uncertain at best. Fortunately the guys at Limbic rose up to the challenge."
CH: 4. The DLC has been worked on by a lot of people, but you were at the core, pouring your heart and soul into it; would it be fair to say it is your "baby"?
Marzhin: "In a way, the Adventure Pack was the culmination of my own campaign to bring some of the Ancient universe (as I call it) back into Might & Magic. I was already happy to have managed to bring back some familiar faces in H6, like Kilburn, Shiva, Maximus, etc.
So to have the opportunity to make a “legacy character” (as we nicknamed the characters showing up in several Might & Magic worlds/games) the centerpiece of its very own product, that was a blast. And as I said before, it was an honor to be able to actually write their adventures myself.
So yes, you could say it was my baby. However I wasn’t the only parent – the Limbic team gave an equal part of their hearts and souls to make this possible. Special kudos to Anselm, Karsten, Alexander and the rest of the team for their hard work."
CH: 5. So far, Ubi have been adamant in their decision to leave the old worlds behind and set up their own universe of Ashan. What was the motivation for returning to an old world?
Marzhin: "Ubisoft wants to keep Ashan as the main world for their Might & Magic games, but they weren’t automatically opposed to bringing back the Ancient worlds as bonus “legacy” maps. One of the reasons they didn’t do it earlier was that they didn’t want to do it wrong and attract the ire of the fans (which was one of the main reasons for creating Ashan in the first place).
The catalyst for bringing back VARN (and soon XEEN and Enroth) was the 25th Anniversary of Might & Magic. It was giving Ubisoft a good opportunity to pay tribute to the history of the brand."
CH: 6. So, you have taken us away from Ashan to revisit the old world of Varn. What's next?
Marzhin: "The next Adventure Pack, Danse Macabre, will be released in late September, and it includes a Legacy map set on the world of XEEN. World of Xeen is one of my favorite Might & Magic games (along with The Mandate of Heaven).
While the “Princess of VARN” was about imagining a possible future for VARN, the XEEN map (“A Tale of Two Guardians”) is an (almost) straight retelling of World of Xeen.
Basically after doing the VARN map, I wanted to do a map with Corak and Sheltem, who are to me the two most iconic characters of the early Might & Magic games. If you’re going to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the series, you have to include them. Also, XEEN felt like the natural choice for a Heroes map because its epic conflict translates easily into a "capture towns/defeat heroes" game mechanic, and the two-sided nature of the world is pretty cool (although it gave the level designers some headaches )
I preferred to tell the story of Corak and Sheltem rather than going into the future of XEEN since as you might remember after WoX it turns into something very different and I didn’t feel it was right to infringe into that unexplored territory.
There will also be a Gold edition of the game that includes H6 and both Adventure Packs, and a bonus legacy map that is a retelling of the Succession Wars of Enroth, opposing Roland to Archibald."
CH: 7. Fans were quick to spot the connection between the presence of Crag Hack’s helm in the game and his appearance in Pirates… There is a similar presence of an artefact set belonging to a "Great Lich". What can you tell us about this? (editorial note: these questions were submitted the day before the answer was revealed).
Marzhin: "Well now that the Danse Macabre Adventure Pack has been announced, you know the answer. There are several hints about Crag Hack and Sandro in Heroes VI, actually. Crag Hack’s helmet, the Staff of Sandro, and some texts found on signposts foreshadow the Adventure Packs. Although at the time I included those “easter eggs” I didn’t know if Crag Hack and Sandro would officially return! But I wanted to include those hints to show these characters were alive (well for Sandro that’s debatable ) and active in the world of Ashan, hoping that maybe, one day, I would have the opportunity to tell their stories."
CH: 8. Can you tell us what you're doing – are you working on more DLCs?
Marzhin: "If that ever happens, there are many classic characters I would like to bring back under the spotlight... Yog, Ignatius, Sir Christian... But for the moment I can only say that we have some more surprises for you in the future."
CH: 9. More content for the existing game is well and good, but our members seem to have a great desire for an expansion. Can you tell us if there are any plans for an expansion in the future and, if possible, how far along those plans are?
Marzhin: "You know that’s not my place to say anything about that. Let’s just put it this way: Heroes VI does not end with Danse Macabre."
CH: 10. What do you think you will do when the adventure of Heroes VI comes to an end?
Marzhin: "I still have a lot of work on my plate before that day comes, but there’s a pet project of mine I hope will become a reality somewhere in the near future. And that’s all I can say for now."
Big thanks to Marzhin for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Heroes live forever!
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- by Znork & Kalah
Znork was one of the people who recently visited Paris for a fan day with the dev team. With him, he brought 10 questions asked frequently by the fans. Here are the answers - which will also be made into a video soon. I have translated the answers for your convenience - if you wish to read the Q&A in original Znorkish, visit the forum.
A video of the interview is available here.
Question 1: (by znork)
When are you going to understand that the "always online" feature is a sure way to piss off your customers?
We were trying to make more than an offline game - we would have liked the user to be online when they played the game but there were some shortcomings. We were working for the offline game to have classic play like Heroes of Might and Magic V and we wanted the Conflux to be a new Heroes experience online. The incentive would be that the online part would add more fun gameplay like ladder and achievements. The quality of the online server was not up to what we were hoping for, but we are working on making them better. We do want to keep the online part of the game and make it better - and as a part of this we are are fixing the online/offline save games so that the online experience will be better even when the server is down.
Question 2: (by znork)
Do you realize that the game's being poorly balanced and having lots of bugs, and your being slow to patch it after release, have made the fans even more angry?
Yes, we understand! There have been lots of problems with the game and there have been lots of problems with patching due to the transition from Black Hole to Limbic. We really understand that this angered the fans, but we still believe the game has potential. We are now starting to improve what needs to be improved in the game. We had some problems at the end of the production because of the budget, but in the end we released the game as good as we could with the resources we had. It's really good that we can release patch 1.5 with balancing, online-offline save compatibility and much much more.
We understand that fans were angry. We now have one person dedicated to balancing the game, reading the forums and just changing the numbers. He has also been working with the VIPs to improve the balance. There are lots of things we would like to improve; we have over 100 issues we would like address. We are not going to do them all, but we are really now working on doing as many of them as possible. We have improved the patching process and we now feel that this is going a lot smother. We are no longer in crunch mode, but are now looking at what important stuff can we do to improve the game.
Question 3: (by kingimp)
Do you not realize how badly you have turned off the majority of long-time Heroes fans by charging an exorbitant amount for this DLC when you haven't even proved you can properly fix this broken game first?
We really wanted to some support and patching before we released content people would have to pay for. Fixing the game is our number 1 priority. We believe the adventure pack is reasonably priced by how much gameplay the customers are getting and we have kept to the industry standard on the pricing. We believe you really get a lot form the adventure pack. The prices will of course drop as times goes.
Question 4: (by kingimp)
How about giving us this DLC for free as a sign of goodwill for releasing a product that in essence was no better than a Beta?
There are 15 people working on supporting and improving the game, and they need to get paid. But we believe the adventure pack is good and people should give it a chance. We would also add that patch 1.5 adds a multiplayer map from the adventure pack for free.
Question 5: (by kingimp)
Are there any plans of simplifying the map editor at all?
Yes, there are! When we were working on Heroes VI, there were a lot of things we would like to improve; the map editor was one of these, but since the end of development was as it was, we sadly did not have the time. One thing to know about the map editor is that it is a very powerful tool. The main issue is a huge gap between the hardcore map makers and the casual map makers. We are now trying to make the map editor more rewarding and pleasing to use. We are no really working on this, but it will still be a complex tool. This will be on the main topics we will be working on the next 3-4 months.
Question 6: (by Fyrestorme)
What was the primary motivator for making weapon artifacts tied directly into the dynasty system?
There were two obvious reasons for that: we wanted something that was powerful and part of the game. We also wanted something to be highly visual in the 3D models. That was why we also added dynasty pets for Heroes VI.
Question 7: (by Fyrestorme)
If you were to make another Heroes game in the future, what types of things did you learn from H6 that you would apply to it?
Try not to release an unfinished game! We could have long list, but we will try to get a more global answer. Area of control worked very well. The reputation system did not work so well. The skill sytem was not good enough and we would like to improve that. We are very concerned about the quality of the Conflux and want the service to be improved but not removed. The story part the game was not very good, but we believe the adventure pack will show how much we have improved the story telling. We are talking about resources, spell books and things like that and we are listening to what the Community is saying. We believe we lost something making the game too rational. And we would be having town screen right from the start!
Question 8: (by Gabryelxxx)
Are we ever going to get the free DLC with the Academy faction that Black Hole promised back during the beta?
We do remember this, and we know this is based on miscommunication. But there is a lot of things going to happen, and we have plans.
Question 9: (by broui)
Used to be that when we clicked on a destination point for our hero to travel, you'd know how many turns it would take to get there. Got plans to put that back in?
We've actually been asked this question twice. I'll have to take it back to the team, see what's possible and get back to you on this topic.
Question 10: (by broui)
Is Crag hack the only classic hero on tap for a return?
There is a lot of other heroes we would like to return to Ashan. But only time will tell. You'll have to buy the adventure pack.
To read Znork's early H6 preview, posted after the Budapest fan day in January, go here.
For more Q&As, see this page.
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- by Staff
A month ago, we submitted a list of questions for the Ubisoft representative responsible for communication on Might & Magic, Irina Kassina. Since then, a few things have happened, but there is still a need to get something cleared up. So, without further ado, here is our Q&A with the M&M production team:
Might & Magic Community Developer Irina Kassina
There has been near-total silence on the game from producers and developers alike for the past five or six months, a mysterious and worrying phenomenon unprecedented of post-launch periods in the Heroes series. This has caused the Community of fans, who consider the game to be a failure, to become absolutely furious and now something even worse has happened: they have given up. Most of the forums are in fact quiet because the fans have abandoned the game. Also, hardly any fan made maps are being produced, unlike the situation after the release of Heroes V.
Taking even a cursory glance at the rage evident at the game's official forums, we observe a considerable disconnect between the game's developers and its customers. Very few posts are made by the producers and/or the Community Developer, nor can we trace any activity worth mentioning on the fan sites. This is very different from the situation of Heroes V, during the production of which the producers frequently volunteered their opinions. We therefore feel that harsh criticism is warranted and well deserved, and that the Community has need for answers to the following questions:
CH: 1. What is your reaction to the knowledge that most of the fans have already abandoned the game and will you do anything to rectify this situation?
Answer: "The opinion of the members of the various communities is very important to us, but they represent only a part of the whole of Heroes players. We gathered a lot of feedback on the game after the release on the forums, websites, the Facebook page and also through the post-launch survey that was answered by more than 20.000 players. One thing that really comes across is the fact that not everyone plays Heroes the same way or for the same reasons. A vast majority of players completed the single player campaign, played some skirmish maps and moved on to other games, just as they did on the previous instalments of the series.
That being said, we agree that the post-launch support for Heroes VI has been disappointing so far. We had to look for a new developer to take over the patching duties, and that made things more complicated (and slower) than expected. But this period of uncertainty is now over and we are back in the saddle, working to improve things.
In any case, we consider Heroes VI to be our baby. Sure, it was born with flaws, but we'll use any opportunity to make sure he eventually turns into a fine, healthy young game."
CH: 2. As the current M&M Community Developer, can you tell us the reason for the lack of Community activity from the producers and yourself? What is the cause of this silence and will it be improved upon?
Answer: "Over the last 6 months Community activity was not as high as we'd like to see it. While we've organized some events after the launch of the game, shared with the Community some interesting news, communicated about patches, our planning, a few Q&As have been made by the team and so on, I would agree with you that Community experience could be still more exciting. For instance we'd like to see more maps created by the Community and it is something we are currently working on (Map Editor will be improved along with the patches' releases). It is only one part of our plans, more will be revealed pretty soon.
It is important to notice as well that communication channels change all the time, but our engagement to take into account fans' feedback remains the same. The forum VIP was created exactly for this purpose and it is of a great value for us as opinions explained there are really representative of what the whole Community would think about different matters.
There is a team dedicated to the Community as well (Community managers, forum managers, moderators, customer support and Community developers) which is striving to create a solid link between players and developers. As I'm working with the production team, it is easy for me to get the information you are looking for (when there is an answer ready to be revealed of course). So, feel free to challenge me about anything related to Might & Magic.
The M&M production team is always eager to know what's your opinion about different stuff and to give you a better insight into what's going on in here, we are working on devs' diaries, Q&As (like this one), gameplay videos. Basically all of this is done in order to keep in touch with you."
CH: 3. You have made several design decisions intended to streamline the game and attract a wider audience, but despite Community managers trying hard to maintain activity, we see no evidence of such an audience. In light of that, can you tell us in general terms how well the game has sold? Has it exceeded your expectations, done "OK" so far or proven a flop?
Answer: "Despite a changing PC market, Heroes VI performed well, and even exceeded our expectations in some areas. Without delving into specific figures, it was the strongest launch of any Heroes or Might & Magic game, but has not yet reached our original expectations."
CH: 4. According to the Amplitude Studios website and apparently-former H5 and H6 writer Jeff Spock's Twitter comments, several fairly notable members of Ubisoft's production team left the company midway through Heroes VI's development to start up their own independent studio. What was the reason for their departure? Do you think it has harmed Heroes VI?
Answer: "Production on Heroes VI spanned 4 years and in such a long period there will always be some turnover and internal changes. That doesn't mean these seats remained empty – Ubisoft being a big company, one person leaving does not have the same impact as it would have in a small development studio. It's always sad to see talented and energetic people leave, but sometimes in life you meet opportunities (in that case, creating your own company) you just have to pursue.
In any case we wish them the best and their project looks very exciting. As for Jeff, he's an independent writer, so while he's indeed not the lead writer on Might & Magic anymore, he's still working with us on some unannounced projects."
CH: 5. Given the previous question, we are wondering what it is like to work with a Might and Magic brand under Ubisoft. What are the guidelines dev teams are instructed to adhere to and how free are they to follow their own ideas and communicate them to the world?
Answer: "As you know, the Might & Magic IP spreads to several games, which can be developed by different companies. That’s Nival on Heroes V, Arkane on Dark Messiah, Capybara on Clash of Heroes, Black Hole and now Limbic on Heroes VI, etc. All these games were developed in close partnership with Ubisoft producers and experts who work within the (appropriately called) Ubisoft Partners studio.
We soon realized we had to really give a "framework" to the studios and precise guidelines about the world of Ashan and its denizens, and validate the designs they create. This approval mainly touches upon art direction, but game design as well. For instance, a Vampire creature shouldn't attack with Fireballs, even if a game designer suddenly feels this would be awesome. That being said, we're always open to new ideas brought by developers as long as they are consistent with the IP. And while we have documents describing what the "high-level" game design of this or that Faction should be, they are just guidelines and we've always welcomed discussion with the developers if they are against a feature or want to bring something new to the table. And they are free to discuss these ideas with the Communities if they wish to do so, as long as it doesn't clash with the established PR plan."
CH: 6. There were a lot of rumours about Black Hole before you announced their substitution with Limbic Entertainment. Now, it seems to spread to other media. We wish to give you a chance to comment, but mostly we want your assurance that you will continue to improve the game: what are the plans for future support for Heroes VI?
Answer: "We cannot make any official comment about Black Hole. What is important is the fact the patching plan is underway with Limbic, and we haven't forgotten the promised towns creens as well, which will of course be released in a free patch. We have plans beyond that but it's too early to give the specifics."
CH: 7. The fan sites have a fairly general consensus as to what can be done to salvage Heroes VI. What do you think are the most important new/changed features needed for the game to evolve and survive?
Answer: "From what we've read, there are actually a lot of different opinions as to what could improve Heroes VI, so it's far from a "general consensus".
On the low-level changes, our plan is firstly to work on balance itself: make the abilities more relevant, reduce the power of Healing/resurrection spells, make the Core units more vulnerable, increase the damage of the spells. This should be seen in the future patches. In the long run, we also want to promote the differences between the Might and the Magic heroes, and between the Factions themselves. We know a revamp of the Skill System, Sim Turns and RMG are important features for the Community, so they are high on our "backlog" of features to add in the future."
CH: 8. The Map Editor is being worked on. That's good. But fans also want a Campaign Editor in order to make bigger and story-based sequence maps with carryover heroes/artifacts. Given that Heroes VI is based heavily on campaigns, is there any chance of ever getting a Campaign Editor released?
Answer: "We cannot promise anything but the Campaign Editor is one of the features we'd like to add to the editor somewhere along the road. You can bet Julien is bringing this subject back to the table at every meeting."
CH: 9. Given the mediocre success of Heroes V and the thoroughly unimpressive release and post-release stages of Heroes VI, the Community strongly questions Ubisoft’s commitment to the Heroes series – it looks like you want to move on to something else already. To what extent are you focused on Heroes VI and shepherding the game to a more satisfactory state?
Answer: "Heroes V has actually been the most successful Heroes game of all times in terms of sales, and proved to be a very popular game. It sold more than Heroes III for instance. Might & Magic is an important brand for Ubisoft, and we have no plan to abandon it. That includes Heroes VI and the Heroes series as a whole. H6 was meant to be the flagship of the Might & Magic brand for 2012 and beyond, and while it was not the game we dreamt it to be (not yet, anyway), it still paved the way for more Might & Magic in the very near future."
CH: 10. Do you have any plans, vague and unofficial or otherwise, for direct sequels to the Heroes series beyond Heroes VI, or other games in the M&M franchise? If so, roughly when do you intend to realize these plans (near future, distant future)?
Answer: "At the time you'll be reading this Q&A, we'll have launched the Beta for Duel of Champions, a card game in the Might & Magic universe developed by the teams at Ubisoft Quebec. While the Beta is for the moment only available in France, the game is already generating a lot of feedback and enthusiasm in many communities worldwide. And it's only one of the many projects we are working on, some big, some small, all bringing something new and exciting to Might & Magic. 2012 and 2013 are going to be busy years for us."
CH: 11. How would you evaluate your current relationship with the VIP fans? What would you say is their opinion of the game and your handling of its development? Do you think there is any point to communicating with the VIP fans or have they failed in their role?
Answer: "You have to remember that making a game is a collaborative effort between us, the development studio and the VIP fans. The VIP fans have been the representatives of the Communities and always acted as the voice of the rest of the fans. Now the constraints of game development meant we could not always implement their numerous feedbacks, much to our regret. In any case, we have no intent to close this forum and we'll continue to work with the VIPs as much as possible on the future projects of the Might & Magic brand."
Celestial Heavens would like to thank Irina and the rest of the team very much for their time.
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- by Kalah
Julien "Marzhin" Pirou Q&A
April 10th, 2011.
CH: 1. Will the player have the opportunity to customize the game mechanics (e.g. activate/deactivate the area of control, enable/disable town conversion)?
Marzhin: "We're still working on the actual options that will be available to customize the game experience outside of the campaign. What is possible today is to create maps without Areas of Control in the editor. If there is no control point in an area, then mines work the same way they did in the previous Heroes. You can also block the ability to convert towns, so it's possible to create "old school" maps. The only things that won't work without Areas of Control are the neutral dwellings."
CH: 2. How did you decide which towns/units were going to make it into the game?
Marzhin: "That was decided pretty early during development (even before my arrival on the project). The game designers thought about what factions would be interesting and unique to play, and then they conceived the unit line-up according to the faction's gameplay."
CH: 3. Do you plan for a strategic mode view? Like "2D" view from above or lowly skewed angle in the battles and alternatives to "View Air&Earth" in the overall map?
Marzhin: "In H6 we brought back the "kingdom overview" screen, where you can see a larger, more detailed minimap. You have different layers that can be activated or deactivated if you want to only see the mines, towns, areas or quest locations, or all at once. It also summarizes the towns you own, your heroes, the creatures available for recruitment and the resources produced each turn.
As for the in-game view, you can zoom out more than in H5. It's not a 2D view, but you have a better sense of your surroundings."
CH: 4. Is it possible to do terrain "terramorphing"? I.e. that the ground can change to look like it actually belongs to the faction that owns the nearby castle; Inferno would change the ground to lava, Necro to cursed ground etc.?
Marzhin: "Currently the ground below the town changes to reflect the faction, but not the whole Area. On the other hand, the unique building of each faction can cause interesting effects on the Heroes travelling in the Area. So having an Inferno or Necro town in an Area does have an effect on the terrain – only it's a gameplay effect, not a visual one."
CH: 5. How was the decision making process concerning the number of male/female units?
Marzhin: "Once again, pretty early-on. Having more female units was a design choice done when the line-ups were being revised. Ashan is a world of equal opportunities after all."
CH: 6. Ubi mentioned they might release a preview of the new editor before the game. Have they decided on that?
Marzhin: "It's something we'd really like to do. However, there are a number of things that must be considered – most notably, the security of such a release (since to make maps you basically need all the assets of the game). We're still looking for the best solution."
CH: 7. Is there a chance simultaneous could return – if not in H6, then some day?
Marzhin: "I have no definitive answer on this right now, but clearly it would be a logical feature to add in a patch or add-on."
CH: 8. How will the difficulty system work – will the AI "cheat"?
Marzhin: "The H6 AI is still a work in progress, but obviously we'd like to have something better and "cleaner" that the one in H5. I can already tell you the AI turns are way faster this time around.
Also, in H6, the AI will cheat much less and less obviously than in H5. It doesn't cheat at all in Easy difficulty, and not too much in Normal either. In Hard, the AI will lose less troops and will receive some extra resources. That's all. But honestly: the AI always cheats in strategy games - I have yet to see a game where the AI doesn't cheat.
As far as difficulty is concerned, there are the classic difficulty levels, plus it's possible to customize the details (amounts of resources, strength of neutral stacks ...)."
CH: 9. What can you tell us about human-AI interaction, say, in an alliance ... can they communicate (like "attack now", "send me money", "explore here" etc.); will you be able to watch your AI allies moves?
Marzhin: "It's not possible to interact with the AI, but of course, you can send resources to allied AI players and see their movements."
CH: 10. How far along is the town screen, and will it be animated?
Marzhin: "We know there is a lot of confusion and worry in the community on this subject. Here is all I can tell you about the current town screens at this point:
- The town screen is actually a town window. It is designed to remain the same size whatever your screen resolution is, even if you use a 16:9 monitor.
- The town visuals will be animated and are what could be described as "2.5D".
- Each town has its own musical theme (as usual).
- The town visuals change when you build stuff (although in the current design, not all buildings appear).
- Building and recruiting is done through the window interface, rather than clicking on the buildings directly."
CH: On a less serious note ... You entered this business as a fan; what is your favourite PC game of all time?
Marzhin: "It's hard to pick only one ... I hesitate between Fallout and Dungeon Keeper. And there's also Heroes of Might & Magic II and Might & Magic VI, of course."
CH: How exactly did you get this job, and how did your mom react to the big news?
Marzhin: "Well as you know I've done the Legends of the Ancients campaign for H5 (hosted here on CH). Before that, I did countless maps for H2, H3, H4, WarCraft 2 and 3, StarCraft, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal Tournament, even Freespace 2. Those were the days before Internet was widely available here in France, so my maps were mainly used by my friends in our local LAN club.
Back to LotA, someone (I don't know who) forwarded the link to the campaign to someone at Ubisoft, and a few days later I received an e-mail from Fabrice Cambounet who said he liked what I did and wanted to give it the "Seal of Approval". Later, Ubisoft needed someone to do the Dark Messiah map for the Complete Edition. Fabrice and Erwan contacted me. They were satisfied with my work on this map (done under a very tight deadline), so Erwan told me: "When we do Heroes VI, we may contact you again". And he did.
As for my parents, they are pretty zen about it. My father is a big fan of Heroes so he waits eagerly for Heroes VI. Funny thing considering he was the "playtester" of my very first H2 maps."
CH: You know how fans like to shorten names, like Ubisoft + Nival = "Ubival". How do you like the name "Ubihole"?
Marzhin: "I think it's a name that has depth."
CH: Which is the better Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter or Adrianne Palicki?
Marzhin: "The best Wonder Woman is, without a doubt, the one Adam Hughes draws (but his Catwoman is even better)."
CH: Was it a mistake not to get del Toro to direct "The Hobbit"?
Marzhin: "I think Del Toro's Hobbit was going to be something very special, and it's unfortunate he left the project. But I'm confident his next films will be amazing anyway (too bad Universal canned "At the Mountains of Madness"). I really love his movies. I think he's one of the most creative filmmakers out there, one of the few who managed to cross the gap between great entertainment and artistic vision.
Actually, I was lucky enough to exchange a couple of e-mails with Guillermo a few years ago (when he was less busy), and then to meet him in person (albeit briefly). Not only is he incredibly talented, he's also a genuinely nice person."
CH: What is your favourite drink, your favourite sexy actress, and do you prefer fresh mozzarella on your pizza, or that rubbery stuff Pizza Hut use?
Marzhin: "I unfortunately drink way too much Coca-Cola Zero. I suspect I'm addicted to that stuff. And fresh mozzarella of course. Although I'm not sure what a "Pizza Hut" is – is it related to the place where strange hermits give you quests?
As for my favourite sexy actress, I'd say Zooey Deschanel."
CH: What do you like most about working on the "inside"? Don't tell me - there are wild parties, aren't there ...
Marzhin: "You know, the usual – sex, drugs and rock'n roll. Or so I'm told – nobody invites me to those parties. So I go to the Ubi association of Cthulhu worshippers instead. There's a ritual sacrifice every Thursday, and they have cookies."
CH: I'd also like to ask you for your shoe size, whether you like fresh or dried pasta, and whether you prefer the new or the original "Battlestar Galactica" – but I understand if you consider those questions to be too personal.
Marzhin: "44 (European standard). Fresh pasta (preferably Penne, with Carbonara sauce).
As for "Battlestar Galactica", the original had its charm, but I prefer the recent series, especially thanks to actors like Edward James Olmos or the great James Callis. Contrary to some, I thought the ending was satisfying and managed to wrap up the story decently. Not a mind-blowing finale, but it did the job. Of course there were some plot holes and stuff left unexplained, but I actually didn't mind. I think movies nowadays try to explain too much.
But anyway, who needs "Battlestar Galactica" when you can have "Doctor Who"? Steven Moffat is an amazing writer and I just love Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor. He had big shoes to fill after David Tennant's departure, but he really created a unique, fun and likeable version of this iconic character."
CH: Semi-serious, then, to round off the interview: What's the future of Might and Magic, in the RPG area, future games ... where do you think we'll go from here?
Marzhin: "What I can tell you is that Might & Magic does not stop with Heroes VI. If I say more they'll send Ezio or Altaïr after me ... As for a new M&M RPG, there's not a single day that passes without me harassing ... I mean, politely advocating the need to make a new one.
A big thanks to Marzhin for taking the time to answer some of our questions. We are eagerly anticipating the upcoming release of Heroes VI, and you just know that having guys like Julien on the inside is going to be a good thing.
- by Kalah
With the coming expansion to Heroes V, we thought it would be a good time to send the producer some questions. Here they are - oh, and the answers as well.
First, let me ask you what word UbiSoft would use to express their opinion on Heroes V sales so far - satisfactory, good, excellent? Is the game selling as well as expected - is your management happy?
H5 has been selling very well up to now, and the feedback from the top management is satisfaction. The US market, for instance, had to raise its expectations twice after the launch and do quite a number of new copies. I hope the arrival of the addon will revive the interest during the Christmas season :)
Second, the Community is very excited about the return of the Dwarves; when did you decide what structure the expansion town was going to have?
This was actually decided a long time ago. We knew what sort of content we would include, the race and creatures, some time before the release of H5. As the game buzz was growing fairly well, the project was greenlighted, and the work started right after H5 went gold, and in parallel to the patch plan.
How do you feel about dealing with the Communities' regulars; their demands, their protests? Do you feel it's a goal for you to satisfy the wishes of the fans with these expansions?
I'm sure it's impossible to meet all of the demands :) However, we know quite well what is important to the communities, and I think we have provided it either through the patches, or with the addon. What is really important, like the map editor and its updates, is not linked to buying the addon, and is given through patches. I hope we will have covered most demands, I know that many people felt some features were missing at the release.
Continuing that, will there be a swamp town coming our way some day?
You have to play with the swamp town you have, not the one you wish to have or will have at a later date. :)
The RMG is also longed for, and will no doubt have a great impact on the game's replayability. But will maps generated with this RMG will be compatible with the standard version as well as the expansion?
No, the RMG will only be compatible with the addon data and exe file.
A more general question now: Fans are divided in their opinions on the patches, that is to say: the game's balance etc. – but they seem to appreciate your efforts in continuing to issue updates. Do you plan to continue issuing patches/updates for the standard version also after the expansion is released?
Yes, we still haven't concluded our initial patch plan, mixing balance tweaks and new features. We've been gathering delays in this respect, especially as the addon was entering a crunch phase. In the last few weeks of patch 1.4, we have also concentrated on the desynch problems, as it seemed cases were still being encountered. Nival produced a special version of the game for our testers to track these issues, which are stemming from various and specific game situations. I hope these problems will now be behind us. After this initial plan is done, I think we will draft a new one to continue providing new content!
Did/do you personally take an active part in the making of the expansions? What is your role?
I have the same role on the addon production as I had during H5's production :)
The first expansion yields a "Silver" edition... Do I smell gold? Platinum, perhaps? How many expansions do you think you can make for Heroes V?
I can only answer the question that was asked by Archangel Castle: the number of expansions has been decided already :)
How is the outlook for a continuation of the HoMM universe, in other words: if the expansion(s) reach the same level of success the standard version did, how are the chances we'll see a Heroes VI some day?
Making expansions is a way for a publisher to continue providing content for a complex game (strategy games, usually), and increase its quality long after the initial game was released. So, it does help increase the revenue, but you need to have a success with the original game first :) As it is the case with H5, the addon should hopefully be a success too. It will in turn increase the chances that Ubisoft invests in the future of the series :)
At the end, for something completely different: You have been fairly efficient in re-releasing the older games in the series in 'Complete'-packages, much to the delight of the fans. Is there any chance at all you might do the same with the old 'Might and Magic' series?
This is not planned in the near future as far as I know, but if we start working on this series, it will certainly happen :)
Thanks, Fabrice - let's hear it, everybody! Drinks all round!
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- by Angelspit
Christian "Evil C" Vanover was one of the most popular New World Computing employees. With Jennifer Bullard, he was one of the contact persons at the 3DO Community forums. He took the time to answer the questions of the fans, as well as tease them a little. He was never afraid to step into the forums whenever there was some panic or confusion. He stayed with Jon Van Caneghem's team until the very end, before accepting a job at Microsoft.
Celestial Heavens: First of all, how are you, and where do you live these days?
Christian Vanover: I'm doing well, thank you. In the near two years since I left NWC, I became a dad, moved to Seattle, and as you know, now work at Microsoft.
CH: Now, where does that nickname come from, and that fascination for all things evil?
CV: Back when I was first posting to the NWC/3DO message boards (during the development of Heroes III), I developed a knack for hinting that I would be about to give out new info, but then I'd tell everything except the one thing I had hinted at. It was visitors to the boards that started calling me evil, and it just kind of stuck. I could post real info as "Good" C., and be a smartass with "Evil" C. (well, within the limits of general good taste, at least).
CH: Not that I want to make a connection between evil and Microsoft, but what have you been doing over there?
CV : No no, go right ahead and make the connection. In fact, when I got the job here I very nearly posted to the CH boards a thread called "Evil C. Joins Evil Empire, Says Plan of World Domination Nearly Complete!" And as strange as it may seem to longtime fans of the Might and Magic games, I'm currently part of the Design team working on a racing simulator for the Xbox called Forza Motorsport, due out this year.
CH: Did you stay in touch with former New World employees?
CV: Absolutely! Many of the people at New World were friends before they started working there, and there are many that I stay in touch with or visit with when I get the chance to go back to L.A.
CH : Now, if you could step into the time machine... You've done a lot of work on Heroes IV, especially on the expansions. Despite the good reviews, the game is considered by many the bastard child of the series. What should New World Computing as a whole should have done differently if we could go back in time?
CV: I personally consider Heroes II to be the best in the series, with Heroes III a close second. So for me, Heroes IV was the lesser of them all. But that's just me, and I know that opinions differ greatly. As for what could have been done differently, that's a tough call, because essentially Heroes IV was done differently.
CH : Jon Van Caneghem was very critical towards that game, even though his participation on the project has been... minimal. "It just wasn't done right" he told us two years ago. We also got the feeling that he wanted Heroes V to be a Heroes III remake. How did you feel about this?
CV: Honestly I felt the same way Jon did, but I think I can clarify the statement some. After so much close work on Heroes I-III, Heroes IV was the first time the game was out of Jon's direct control. I had also gone off to work on a different game, and as a result I missed all the Heroes III expansions and didn’t get to see Heroes IV until it was nearly done. With a different group of people, you undoubtedly get some different choices being made, and so I think that when Jon finally got to see the game it was completely different from what he would have created himself. Speaking for myself it was a strange feeling the first time I got to sit down and give it a spin.
CH: What was Heroes V like later on? Was development coming along well? Did you have high hopes on that games, or was it just a project on life support?
CV: We had actually pitched a few game ideas to 3DO, and encouraged them to shelve both the Might and Magic and Heroes series for a few years to give everybody a break (both us and the fans). Unfortunately, 3DO insisted we deliver two Heroes IV expansions and get to work on Heroes V, so off we went. I spearheaded the expansions, and by the time they were done, Jon and Bryan (Farina) had a pretty solid framework in place for how we would build Heroes V. Our Art lead already had an entirely new set of gorgeous looking terrains ready for the map editor, and creation of the new towns and creatures was well underway. We were all pretty excited.
CH : The last time we talked, the news of the move to Solvang just appeared on Celestial Heavens and generated some controversy. It was the beginning of the end after all, wasn't it? What was the atmosphere in the offices during that time?
CV: The move to Solvang was more of a new beginning. I never got to confirm it, but I suspect that Jon was prepared for 3DO to close its doors, and wanted to be set up "lean and mean" for when that happened, so that New World could hopefully continue on as their own game studio. The atmosphere beforehand was mixed... those moving saw a fresh start, but there was a touch of sadness because there were others leaving.
CH : Have you been keeping an eye on the details of Ubisoft's Heroes V? What do you think of the artwork? Do you agree with the decision to take heroes out of the battlefield?
CV: Yes, I've been watching. It will be interesting to see what direction they take the game in. As for taking heroes off the battlefield, that was something we were going to do ourselves, so yes I do agree with the decision. But we weren't "just" removing them... we had found what we thought was going to be an engaging way to keep them involved that would have improved combat overall.
CH : The first non-NWC Might and Magic title to be announced is some sort of MMORPG for the Chinese market. Aren't these plans similar to what Jon Van Caneghem wanted to do at some point? Isn't it ironic that Jon is now at NCSoft, working on a MMORPG?
CV : Well Jon originally brokered the deal with 3DO because they were planning on using their existing online technology to develop Might and Magic Online. As often happened at 3DO, however, plans changed, and MMO was shelved before it ever really got off the ground. As for Jon being at NCSoft working on an MMORPG, I wouldn't call it irony... I would call it justice!
CH: Do you miss the Heroes/Might and Magic fan community? Do you sometimes feel we were a little tough on New World and 3DO?
CV: Like anything else from my past, there are things I miss and will always remember fondly. As for being tough on us... you can never be too tough on 3DO, but y'all could have cut New World some slack! Heh.
CH: Finally, the age-old questions: Might or Magic? Gold or experience? Titan or Black Dragon?
CV: Might, Experience, and Black Dragons. And a certain hero named Sir Christian!
We would like to thank Christian for his time. His new game, Forza Motorsport, is scheduled for a May release.
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- by Angelspit
Tim Lang, now at Electronic Arts, was the lead designer of Might and Magic IX. The Round Table regulars might remember seeing him in the forums after 3DO filed for bankruptcy last year. Tim is also an advisor in the fan-made Might and Magic Tribute project. The picture on the right was taken during an EA party.
Celestial Heavens: The last time I read something about you was in Might and Magic IX preview somewhere on the Net. What were you working on afterwards, and when did you leave NWC/3DO exactly? And what are you doing these days?
Tim Lang: After the great purge at the end of H4 and MM9, I had about 4 months off, then went to work for EA. I'm still there working on the Medal of Honor series.
CH: Did you stay in touch with former New World Computing employees?
Tim: I kept in contact with a lot of the ex-NWC people. A lot of them found work here at EA, and a few others at Liquid Entertainment. The rest are scattered throughout the industry, at least those who chose to stay in the games-making industry. For the rest, well I can't blame them for finding a new line of work.
CH: You have been somewhat active in the community following the auction of the 3DO assets. How confident are you in Ubisoft's ability to deliver *two* good Heroes/M&M games?
Tim: There's no question that Ubi really wanted the Might and Magic license for a long time. During the H4 and MM9 development, they came down and made an offer to 3DO for NWC. Trip Hawkins declined, hoping for more money, and of course, went bust. I am still a little amused that in the end Ubi ended up with the MM licenses. As far as their ability to deliver great games, it all depends on their commitment to the series'. Are they going to deliver more games like Crusaders and Warriors that just cashed in on the recognizable name? Or will they actually try to make something that we former NWCers would be proud of? I don't know. I hope so.
CH: Might and Magic IX is considered a disappointment by more than one fan. How do you explain that the last few games of the series never quite managed to match the fun factor and polish of The Mandate of Heaven?
Tim: I think there's two reasons why Might and Magic took such a drastic downturn. First and foremost 3DO seemed intent on driving every single intellectual property they owned into the ground. We got shorter and shorter schedules, and less and less financial support from them. In MM9's case, a lot of the people we were depending on to finish the game were tied up with finishing Legends. Since that thing just stayed around and lingered in the depths of not-being-doneness it really pushed MM9 onto a tighter schedule. Secondly, I'm pretty sure JVC was burned out, disillusioned and just plain didn't like coming to work anymore. Most of us rarely saw him around the office, and when we did see him, he usually told us that we were doing things wrong much too late for us to fix them. He's made no bones about disliking MM9. I think that if he had taken a more proactive role in its development, things might have turned out better. As far as the reason why MM9 was considered the worst in the series, that's really because we delivered a game that was pre-alpha at best. It needed at least another 3 months, if not another 6 to get it to a playable level of quality. Knowing we didn't have much time, we cut a lot of corners, and left out features the fans liked, but would have been too time consuming to implement. It was a half done game, and it shows.
CH: Has there been any plan for an *official* 1.3 patch at some point? Some major bugs were still remaining after patch 1.2.
Tim: Now that NWC is gone, I doubt there's going to be any official support at all. I don't think that 3DO even wanted to do the 1.2 patch, and if it wasn't for the return of the Anskram Keep bug or the "yell" crash, we probably wouldn't have done one at all. I think if anyone's still looking for a patch, the should check out TELP. Bones has been doing a great job fixing all the stuff we left behind. I'm really surprised that people are still playing MM9, and I'm pretty sure it's because of him and TELP that people are still interested in it.
CH: A former NWC artist has blamed Jon Van Caneghem for not trusting his team with the design of Heroes IV. Jon had previously admitted not liking Heroes IV much during an interview with Celestial Heavens at the 2003 E3 exhibit. Was there some tension during the final days of H4 and MM9?
Tim: I hate to point a finger at one person, because if one person really deserves it, it might be Trip Hawkins for driving NWC into the ground. There's absolutely no question that Jon was in absentia during most of MM9 and H4, and when he finally started paying attention to them, a lot of things were already too far gone. He came in right near the end of H4 and as I understand it changed a whole lot of things. Mostly for the better, I think, but that sort of late night meddling is sure to cause some resentment. As far as his comments in the interview, I thought they were a little inappropriate. He basically blamed the teams for the failures of the games. These were people who worked their butts off, working unpaid late nights and weekends for 80-90+ hour weeks while Jon was off racing cars and not showing up to work. I won't say that we were totally faultless, but when you've got someone with 20+ years in the industry, not having his support and guidance really hurts the projects.
CH: Your name appears in the credits of the Might and Magic Tribute game. How did you get started on the project? What are your tasks? What is it like to work with a team of fans?
Tim: I've been pretty active helping Bones out with his TELP patches, and when I saw that some fans were going to take it upon themselves to make their own MM game, I jumped at the chance to help. I really don't do that much. I usually just lurk in the forums, and post once in a while. I'm there to help prevent them from making gigantic game-breaking problems in their design. So far, I haven't been needed much in that capacity. I also am there to answer any MM trivia questions they may have. The MMT team is as excited and motivated as any team I've ever seen. I wish that some of the people I worked with in the past had such energy. I think it's fantastic that Might and Magic has such great fans.
CH: In the Tribute forums, you agreed with a statement saying that Heroes Online will probably not have anything to do with the previous Might and Magic games. How does it feel to see a product you have been working on for years being exported to the other side of the world?
Tim: It's funny, because when I went to work for NWC in '96 I had never heard of them or of Might and Magic, even though I've been a huge RPG fan ever since the Bard's Tale/Wasteland eras. But during my time there, I grew pretty attached to Might and Magic. I actually have caught myself thinking things like "They better not screw up my game!" But I'm glad that they're keeping Might and Magic going, and am looking forward to playing the next installment of either Might and Magic series.
CH: Speaking of multiplayer, was there any plan to introduce multiplayer features in the Might and Magic games during the New World Computing era?
Tim: That was what Legends was originally supposed to be. Christian Vanover had designed this multi-player RPG-"lite" game that was sort of a "Diablo in First Person" sort of game. I was real excited to work on it, but it turned out that the networking code in Lithtech wasn't really suited for the type of game we wanted to make. We had to change the designs of the game to suit the technology.
CH: Finally, the age-old questions: Might or Magic? Gold or experience? Titan or Black Dragon?
Tim: Ask anyone I used to work with at NWC, and they'll tell you: Might. While we were working on MM6, I tried to beat the game using an all knight party. I got to a point where they wouldn't dish out enough damage though. Experience, and Titans. gold doesn't do you a lot of good if you don't have the levels to back it up. And Titans because, as I recall they were cheaper than the Black Dragons.
Celestial Heavens would like to thank Tim for his time. We wish him the best of luck in his current projects.
- by rogue and Angelspit
Rogue, of Mac Heroes, and myself, recently had the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with Rob King, the guy in charge of sound on Heroes of Might and Magic IV which is currently under development by New World Computing and will be published by 3DO in Spring 2002. We sent the questions on November 9 and the answers arrived on November 13. Hope you enjoy!Questions and Answers
Angelspit: First of all, thank you so much Rob for taking the time to chat with us. We are really excited to discuss an underated side of computer games, the music. Let the questions begin!
ROB: Alright, let's go!
Rogue: Rob, you are the Music and Sound Supervisor for NWC. What exactly does that title mean? Are you the top dog in charge of music there?
ROB: Well I am the top dog till they want changes... :) One thing I have always loved about working at NWC is that they have given me creative freedom on most of the projects I work on. I am in charge of anything you hear in the game. From composing or producing the soundtracks which usually includes mixing and recording them to all the sound effects you hear in the Game. I am also in charge of hiring and directing the voice talent as well as the recordings.
Angelspit: How did you get started in the industry? How did you end up in the gaming field?
ROB: Well I have been doing music for about 16 years now. Started singing in bands at a wee ol' age and then moved into production in my early twenties. I have been at NWC for almost 8 years now. Getting in was a bit strange. I worked at a record store my last year in college and had a health class with a guy who had just got a job as an artist for NWC. We kept in touch after school and he came by and told me that this company (NWC) was hiring a "Sound Guy". So needless to say I applied. At the time I didn't even own a computer nor ever used one excect for my Atari 5200. :) I have had plenty of "recording" experience though. After a couple of interviews Mark Caldwell really liked me and gave me the position. I went in head first...and it all worked out.
Angelspit: 2001 has been a difficult year for 3D0 and New World Computing. However, the NWC employees I exchanged mail with are all enthusiastic and extremely friendly (Jennifer, April and Becky come to mind). What is it like to work there?
ROB: For me, I really do love it. I have excellent relationships with everyone at NWC. The producers and management I work for are all truely talented and have an uderstanding towards audio for a game. Jeff Blatner (V.P. of Development), Jon Van Canegham (President), David Mullich (Director) and Keith Francart (Director) are always a pleasure to work with and are very professional.
Rogue: Based on your descriptions in the Heroes Community forum, it sounds like the Heroes 4 soundtrack will be very interesting and thematically focused. Could you describe it again here for people who missed that discussion?
ROB: "The score is amazing this time around. We used over 30 musicians in the making of the score. My good friend Paul Romero is back at the helm Composing and Conducting again. We have Opera..... Yes, It is back and better than ever my friends. Karin Mushegain is back (From HOMM2) and we also used Dean from the NYC Opera. We also have a full Women's Choir " NEVENKA" and tons of string players. Justin Bahrami, only 17yrs old layed down an amazing flute track on The "Academy" Town. For the Adventure themes we went for a total different approach. The entire adventure score is Celtic. Using all live musicians. Bagpipes, Mandolins, Guitars,vocals and a bodhran. The new Combat themes are heavier and more aggressive. I have always been excited to work on these games especially because they are just plain good. I think you will all enjoy this soundtrack as much as I ! have creating it."
Rogue: What instruments can we expect to hear? Anything that is unusual for a Heroes game?
ROB: We have added a few... Keeping with the "Theme" of what all The Heroes soundtracks have always had there will be ton's of strings and all the classical instruments. We have added new to HOMM 4, the addition of celtic instruments. Mandolins, Bagpipes, Guitar, Mandecello and accordian. The "Battle Themes" also include alot of synth sounds as well as heavy percussion along with a nice blend of classical instrumentation to keep it all together.
Rogue: The vocals were one of the most memorable aspects of the music in Heroes 2. Why weren't there any vocals in Heroes 3, and what led to the decision to bring them back for Heroes 4?
ROB: Funny thing...When we did HOMM 2 I was fighting for the vocals. Many people at the time thought I was crazy for wanting to put opera in a video game. Anyone who has played a HOMM game knows that it is a breed all it's own and I wanted to do something different in a game that seemed to never have been done before. I really felt it would add some magic to the experience. It was a hard sell but they went for it, and it proved to be a success. Not everyone liked it, but most did. I mean you can never please everybody but damned if I wanted to try. When we did HOMM 3, we opted to go with more world instruments with a couple of vocal samples. People actually missed it! I had a few emails telling me that some of of the fans were dissapointed that the vocals were gone. This was one of the biggest factors in bringing back the Operatic vocals for HOMM 4. We don't use them for every song so there is a little something for everytone. The addition of the NEVENKA Womans Choir is also! nicely added to compliment the arrangements.
Rogue: Many people have told me they felt the music in Heroes 3 was weak compared to that of Heroes 2. Not only due to the lack of vocals, but also because the tracks seemed shorter and more repetitive. How do you feel about that opinion? Do you feel there was a weakness, or perhaps a design limitation, that caused the Heroes 3 music to seem less "memorable" to fans of the series?
ROB: HOMM 3 was just different. We wanted to use more world instruments like a kyoto and sitar and things like that. The fans were very vocal about missing the "Vibe" of HOMM2. As the producer I do admit to enjoying HOMM 2 more. As far as HOMM4 goes...well, in my opinion blows 1, 2 and 3 out of the water. The amount of time we spent from writing to recording was very tedious. We knew we had to make adjustments in the design of the Soundtrack to this game and bring it to a new level. We used alot more live musicians and the recording equipment was top notch. I could go on for hours about all the expensive mics and pre-amp's but I will spare you. :). It was recorded at 24bits on a Protools Rig at 3 different studios. Tracked on a Solid State Logic Console. This soundtrack sounds really good.
Angelspit: So, what are your impressions of the Heroes IV gameplay so far? Will it do better than Heroes II and III, if such a thing is possible?
ROB: I have only had a few minutes on it so I cannot really comment. But the few new features I saw were really cool, especially the ability to move your "Party" Characters around in the map screen. (Hope I can say that)
Angelspit: One feature I particularly enjoy in a computer game is when the music changes according to the current situation (Origin's Ultima IX: Ascension is a good example). While this is easy to implement in a linear adventure game, it is another story for a strategy game. Can we expect to see more of that in Heroes IV?
ROB: Well This game is just different. There is definitely a differnet theme to each type of situation in the game like the Towns, the Adventure Themes and the Battle sequences. Basically when you start to do something different the whole game really changes.
Rogue: Is all of the music made from actual recordings, or is some of it computer/synthesizer generated?
ROB: Most of what you will be hearing in HOMM 4 are real instruments played by real musicians. In the Battle themes you will hear some synthesized sounds as well as real perccusion and Drum loops.
Rogue: What equipment do you use for mixing? Do you use a traditional mixing studio, or is it done on a computer?
ROB: The entire score was recorded on a Digidesign ProTools system. We used various recording software to get things started but it all found its way to the protools system. We used Cakewalk's Sonar, Steinberg's NUENDO and Cubase as well as Sonic Foundry's Vegas and Sound Forge to do alot of pre production recording. Everything was recorded at 24bit 48K through Digidesign, Apogee and SoundScape Converters. Most all the instruments and Vocals were recorded straight to Protools or some of the other software bypassing any mixing console. The recording path was usually Instrument - Mic - Preamp - Compressor (Sometimes) - A/D converer - Protools. As far as the mix goes, I mixed it entirely on a Mackie D8B digital mixer and Protools using some great outboard gear like Avalon compressors, TL Audio Compressors stuff from ADL, Joe Meek, Neve and SPL. I also only use a Lexicon 480L for my reverb.
Rogue: I read that you are pushing for a HoMM music collection CD to be released someday. Would this be music from all games in the series, recreations based on the old music, or just stuff from Heroes 4?
ROB: Don't know yet. We have thrown around the idea of a collection from all 4 games. probably mostly 2 and 4 with a couple from 3 and maybe one track from 1. I really don't know at this time.
Rogue: Is it possible for there to be an mp3 of the week download, similar to what Blizzard Entertainment did leading up to the release of Diablo II?
ROB: That is a good Idea...I will mention it. :)
Rogue: Were you involved with the Sega Genesis version of King's Bounty? I've had the adventure music from that game stuck in my head for the past 10 years.
ROB: Not at all. But I will take a listen, maybe we could do some "Cover Songs" for HOMM 5? :)
Angelspit: It is safe to assume you are a gamer yourself. What have you been playing lately? Spent any time on Diablo 2 or Red Alert 2?
ROB: I have to admit I love to play games. I have every console, Mac and PC. I think that the diablo games, the C&C Games and the Heroes Games are some of the best ever made. Beleive it or not I am kinda one of those strange ones that likes those stupid fishing games too. Some of the new Fighting games for the new consoles are awesome too.
Angelspit: Finally, what's up with Red Delicious? I heard you once appeared on Farmclub and CBS News, among others. Did you get some good exposure recently?
ROB: We had alot of exposure a year ago. We also won the "Best Unsigned Band Online" award at the 2000 Yahoo Internet Awards. We are currently finishing up our Major label Debut on Extasy Reords/Warner Bros. as we speak. In fact I have to go back to the studio in 2 hours. We are mixing the CD with Jack Joseph Puig (Goo Goo Dolls, No Doubt, Remy Zero, Green Day) over at Ocean Way in Hollywood. We Co-Produced the Cd with Chris Vrenna (NIN, U2 - Elevation Remix). Steve Baca, Sara Wallace and myself have written all the songs on the CD as well as played the majority of the instruments. Paul Romero has also contributed some great string arrangements. You can read about us at our website that is almost completed www.Red-Delicious.com and check out other artists on our label at www.Extasyrecords.com. We are really excited about the music and hope everyone else out there will enjoy it. You can still get the demos at www.mp3.com/RedDelicious for a few more weeks. Well, Back to the studio I go. Thanks a lot, and I hope everyone enjoys Heroes of Might & Magic IV. I know I will. :)
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