Here is an interview made by Norwegian gaming magazine Gamer.no during a press event in Budapest.
What follows is my translation from Norwegian to English:
- We listen to the fans
We find out why the Heroes series is back
When an interview starts with a five minute talk about what I think about what I have tried of a game, it can mean several things. One obvious reflex is one of these made-up PR stunts where you as a journalist is being injected with enthusiasm and love, and put on a pedestal. These are probably more difficult to detect than the better stepbrother: genuine love for the product.
I sat down with assistant producer Max Von Knorring and lead level designer Julien Pirou, to talk about the next chapter in one of the most well-reknowned strategy game series of all time. There was never any doubt that the enthusiasm was genuine, and the game felt better than the series has been in a long time. The interview quickly made it clear why.
- This game series has a mass of highly enthusiastic and dedicated fans. How do you communicate with the customer base?
Julien: – The first thing we did was open up a separate VIP forum for 25 select fans, fansite writers and mod makers etc. Here we discuss what they would most want to see in a new game. What you should know about the fans of these games is that they are very diverse. You've got young and old players, as well as 30% girls. That's a very high number for a PC strategy game.
Max: – One thing worth noticing is that people like this series for different reasons, and everybody has a different favourite. That's why we have established a relationship of confidence with this group. Among other things, we showed them an early draft of the skill system, which was much simpler and more similar to the one used in Diablo. The feedback we got was that we were missing the essence of the series, which is depth in choices and great flexibility. So we threw it out.
– You really deleted the whole thing and started over from scratch?
Max: – Quite simply! We mixed their many suggestions with the best from our system, and made a compromise. Some of the skills you see in the system are actually direct suggestions from our users. We are very happy about all their feedback, and keep in continous contact. We have actually flown them over to both Gamescom and this arrangement, where we eat dinner together, talk and let them try the game.
– And many of them probably have strong opinions about your last interpretation of the series, Heroes of Might & Magic V. What did you do wrong with that game?
Julien: – First let me clarify that I was employed after the development of Heroes 5, so I can speak as a fan. First and foremost, the game was released with too little polishing and too many bugs. It was also unbalanced. I was a big fan of the game and made many maps for it, but I couldn't quite enjoy it until after three patches and two expansions.
Max: – Another problem was that we introduced 3D maps, with rotation and a very flexible camera. This enabled us to hide resources behind buildings and landscape. This confused the players a lot. Now we have been inspired by Heroes 3 again, and that creates a far less ambiguous map that is easier to understand.
– Having played for a while, it seems that you are moving slightly away from the game's strategy roots, with smaller maps and the possibility to enter the different towns. How well does this fit?
Julien: – Firstly, I think perhaps we have the biggest game levels in the series so far, but of course the size varies a lot. I think perhaps that things appear closer then. In the first three games in the series , everything was observed from afar, and the surroundings became more like icons than actual depictions. Now everything looks to be a lot closer.
Max: – You mentioned the possibility of viewing your buildings in full screen as they are built, and it is true that this function has been removed. We know it was popular with the players, but how annoying is it with a several seconds long pause every time you build something? After a couple missions you are tired of it. You can still see an accurate representation of your town in the new, smaller menu. At the same time, some of the buildings (among others the unique buildings) are shown on the world map so that other players can actually learn from your bases by looking at them.
– At the same time, you have introduced boss fights for the first time in the series. What purpose do they serve?
Julien: – They are there first and foremost to give variation to the fights, something which was very important to us. We have also taken this onwards to other types of battles, where you may for instance have to protect or kill acertain unit in a given number of rounds. Bosses are part of an attempt to spice up this part of the game. These fights require all new strategies, like using an item at the right time in order to penetrate the enemy's defence, and see how much you have learned.
– My first thought is that you have been inspired by similar fights in MMORPGS. Is that right?
Max: – Undoubtedly for some if the fights, and the one you have tried out is a good example. All the fights should be different and require different strategies. At the same time, it lets us be more creative with the story and set up obstacles that aren't just normal enemies.
Julien: – But this is not really a completely new concept Heroes-wise. In the final expansion pack for Heroes 3, seven new dragons were introduced - more difficult to kill than other enemies. In that game, many of the maps were also based on killing a neutral enemy stack to win. The difference is that we have now given them a unique pattern and new properties.
– Can we expect to see boss fights in multiplayer too?
Max: – We actually don't have an answer to that yet; you have to ask Black Hole Games about that. It would undoubtedly be cool, and we have nagged a lot about it, but it all depends on how much time we will have. You can write down that we are working hard on getting them into the multiplayer part, and then we'll have to see what we have time for.
– On to something different - you seem to be a lot more focused on the story than before. Why?
Max: – There is a focus on the story in this game, and there's a good reason for that. In Heroes 5, the story was made by the Russian developer Nival, and Ubisoft were given the job of writing dialogues when they were finished creating this world with a full story. Now, control is back with us again, and that's another reason why we are emphasizing it more. This is finally our project again.
Julien: – Another reason is the staff we're working with right now. We have four skilled writers who have been inspired by great works like A Song of Ice and Fire, where one of them has also worked as a text writer for comic books. We are playing with plot twists and the meta plot to create a coherent story across the different campaigns.
– Have you received feedback from the players that they actually care about the story in these games?
Julien: – I think the players are basically divided down the middle. Half are very interested in the mythology and make wiki pages to gather all sorts of background info even we have forgotten. The other half don't care and only want to play the game. By balancing story and gameplay we aim to please both types of players. By implementing a bad story and excellent gameplay, only one half will be happy. These games have always been part of a heroic fantasy universe, and I think that's where the appeal has been. By building on this and tie it into a good story, I think we're adding new dimension.
– How has the cooperation with Black Hole worked out for you guys at Ubisoft?
Max: – Very good! They have super experience with strategy- and tactical games, since they developed Warhammer: Mark of Chaos og Armies of Exigo. They had a lot of experience with fantasy games, a good game engine and - not least - a good work flow. They used to work with Games Workshop on the Warhammer license, and they are extremely particular about how their concept should be treated. That's why the are used to delivering quality work at zero time.
Might & Magic Heroes VI is released June 23. for PC.