An inauspicious parallel between Heroes VI and TA Kingdoms

The new Heroes games produced by Ubisoft. Please specify which game you are referring to in your post.

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cjlee
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An inauspicious parallel between Heroes VI and TA Kingdoms

Postby cjlee » Oct 4 2011, 4:53

I am playing Starcraft and have removed all versions of HOMM from my computer, so I’m busy converting all my Heroes soundtracks (I do like the music!).

While looking at old files of Heroes and other computer games, something horrible struck me. I wasn’t worried about Heroes’ future although some people were worried, but now it occurred to me that Duke Slava (or Pavel?)’s family tale has an inauspicious parallel.

14 years ago, there was a very popular computer game called Total Annihilation. There was no story involved and your units had no personalities - they were all robots and made robotic sounds.

When you play robots, you are focused on gameplay. Shoot, fight, shoot. I liked the fact that my units didn’t talk. They were just obedient drones and I was the Commander!

Gameplay was great. It was very well balanced with impressive battlefield management, seriously good AI, etc. The AI was so good that NO mission was winnable without your full attention - AI would probe your base defenses, come from different directions, hit and run, change unit types to counter you, take high ground, all the good stuff that even Starcraft 2 AI doesn’t do consistently. I played for the pure joy of fighting. They had fifty missions, and believe me, I played all 50 at least twice, not to mention more missions from TA’s two subsequent expansions.

Then they tried to enter the fantasy world. They produced Total Annihilation Kingdoms, a tale of 4 competing siblings.

When people who specialize in making machines try to enter the fantasy world, it is essentially sci-fi meets fantasy. Very hard to break genre conventions and do it well. (That’s why we don’t get Space Elf very often!)

Kingdoms was a flop. I tried playing it and it was so boring. When you are the servant of a mighty lord with fantasy units like dragons, the market is different. Genre expectations are different. With organic, sentient, human units, you need much more story and character. You don’t want to keep churning units; you want something deeper. You can’t play 50 missions without something that engages you.

I loved Heroes of Might and Magic, and I loved Total Annihilation. But both were inherently very different games. I hated the gamemakers’ attempt to merge them.

All sides in Total Annihilation: Kingdoms seemed the same. All sides did have similar music, so I can’t tell their themes apart. Check out this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ejrCy4YqW8 and see if you can tell the four sides apart from their music alone.

By the way, the guy who uploaded these uploaded Five sides because that includes the expansion. No dif. All five sound the same anyway, even though the fifth side was actually a Technology side that had no magic!

In contrast, one of my friends once played the Heroes II soundtrack to a girl who had never played any computer games and no interest in playing any games. He gave her a list of all 6 factions. She identified all correctly and with minimal hesitation, without even listening to more than ¼ of each faction’s theme.

XXX

Kingdoms’ main plot was the 4 children of a great conqueror fighting each other. But apart from leading different factions with different personalities, they came across as very homogenous and bland. Sure, there was good narration and voice acting, much like Heroes VI. But ultimately you didn’t care for any of the 4 rulers and you didn’t care to advance their cause by fighting for them. It’s not like the Freyda campaign in Heroes V, where even if you didn’t like the bigger Isabel-Raelag plot at least you wanted to help Freyda out and beat up that ******* Laszlo. (Speaking of which, my spelling checker passed Laszlo without a red underline. Is Laszlo such a common Slavic name that even Microsoft knows? Why is Ubival so obsessed with using Slavic versions of Tom, Dick and Harry?)

I never finished more than 1/3 of TA Kingdoms - I just sold it on ebay within a month. I learned the entire plot by watching the movies on youtube. It’s a pity. The entire tale of Kingdoms was very professionally produced - they made it like a documentary and had you play through all essential battles in their game history. What failed them was that you didn’t care enough for any side to push for them; they were just characters in a fictional history.

BTW, Kingdoms bankrupted Cavedog.

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Postby klaymen » Oct 4 2011, 5:06

Laszlo is common Hungarian name, I think our (Slovak) variant is Ladislav.
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Postby vhilhu » Oct 4 2011, 5:57

they made it like a documentary and had you play through all essential battles in their game history. What failed them was that you didn’t care enough for any side to push for them; they were just characters in a fictional history.

I don't share that sentiment... that sounds like just the kind of plot presentation that I would like. I have not played Total Annihilation or Total Annihilation Kingdoms, but the reviews suggest it fails mostly due to gameplay (http://pc.ign.com/articles/160/160307p1.html : "While there's no doubt that Kingdoms looks worlds better than Total Annihilation, the developers seem to have forgotten just how important things like unit design, game balance and level concept can be when putting together an RTS.").

Why is Ubival so obsessed with using Slavic versions of Tom, Dick and Harry?)

HoMM has always been very influential in Eastern Europe, most of which is slavic-speaking. Recently in China there seems to have been increasing interest in HoMM. That is why the two "good" factions in Heroes VI are slavs (Castle) and east-asians (Sanctuary). I too hate this pandering of setting to the target demographics.

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Postby vicheron » Oct 4 2011, 8:00

Heroes 3 was basically told in documentary style. They basically told you what happened and didn't bother to create any kind of connection with the characters.

The Heroes 3 expansions and Heroes 4 were better with a third person narrative where you get a much better feel of the character's personalities and motivations.

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Postby Pitsu » Oct 4 2011, 9:57

I think that not only early HoMM games but even MM games owned much of its success to the actual gameplay, not the story. A good campaign story is just bonus, but the (re)play value is elsewhere (variety, non-linearity). Some developers take that the gamepaly is defined by graphics or is granted if they stick to few general principles (e.g. turn based, stacks). In fact (re)playability is influenced by pretty much all details in game. If it is taken as granted, and story is given a high priority, it may easily happen that playability suffers. I have said it before but a very important question is: does H6 have 5 towns because story demanded it or has the griffen duke 5 children because of the 5 towns were "already there"? Incorporation of lore specific creatures (sun riders, glories) is a hint that it is the lore/official story that rules. And if mapmakers do not learn to live without traditional fantasy creatures, longevity from fan-made maps will suffer.

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Postby Jac » Oct 4 2011, 11:06

vhilhu wrote:HoMM has always been very influential in Eastern Europe, most of which is slavic-speaking. Recently in China there seems to have been increasing interest in HoMM. That is why the two "good" factions in Heroes VI are slavs (Castle) and east-asians (Sanctuary). I too hate this pandering of setting to the target demographics.


This is somewhat beside the topic, but the Chinese forums had their share of rage when the Sanctuary faction was revealed. It was thought to be too Japanese.

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Postby Torur » Oct 4 2011, 11:58

Jac wrote:
vhilhu wrote:HoMM has always been very influential in Eastern Europe, most of which is slavic-speaking. Recently in China there seems to have been increasing interest in HoMM. That is why the two "good" factions in Heroes VI are slavs (Castle) and east-asians (Sanctuary). I too hate this pandering of setting to the target demographics.


This is somewhat beside the topic, but the Chinese forums had their share of rage when the Sanctuary faction was revealed. It was thought to be too Japanese.

I agree with the Chinese forum debaters then. I always liked the western style fantasy in the HoMM universe.

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Postby vhilhu » Oct 4 2011, 12:40

Jac wrote:
vhilhu wrote:HoMM has always been very influential in Eastern Europe, most of which is slavic-speaking. Recently in China there seems to have been increasing interest in HoMM. That is why the two "good" factions in Heroes VI are slavs (Castle) and east-asians (Sanctuary). I too hate this pandering of setting to the target demographics.


This is somewhat beside the topic, but the Chinese forums had their share of rage when the Sanctuary faction was revealed. It was thought to be too Japanese.

Heh, that's nice to hear.

Pitsu wrote:I think that not only early HoMM games but even MM games owned much of its success to the actual gameplay, not the story. A good campaign story is just bonus, but the (re)play value is elsewhere (variety, non-linearity). Some developers take that the gamepaly is defined by graphics or is granted if they stick to few general principles (e.g. turn based, stacks). In fact (re)playability is influenced by pretty much all details in game. If it is taken as granted, and story is given a high priority, it may easily happen that playability suffers. I have said it before but a very important question is: does H6 have 5 towns because story demanded it or has the griffen duke 5 children because of the 5 towns were "already there"? Incorporation of lore specific creatures (sun riders, glories) is a hint that it is the lore/official story that rules. And if mapmakers do not learn to live without traditional fantasy creatures, longevity from fan-made maps will suffer.


I agree; I think it has to do with modern franchise-building: the less general the units, map locations, terrain formations etc are, the more the player will have felt to have "invested" in the fictional world after playing the game, and so the more susceptible he is to buying other products of the same fictional world. It builds a fangroup for the franchise (who will occasionally yell angrily at another lurid addition, but importantly will be "so deep in" that they'll buy the new games anyway) at the expense of the quality of the game.

This is the image I got after reading http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page : in the official fan-targeted products set after the end of the original trilogy, the Emperor resurrects many times, sometimes as a robot, and on one of those times, Luke becomes an evil sith for a period, then turns back to jedi again (???). Also, at some point, about everybody of relevance becomes a jedi or sith, (or both, or some new in-betweens between the two to target the demographic who think they are too smart and cynical to abandon themselves to simple moral causes) and dies a couple of times.

You might ask, what does a person who would actually enjoy reading/watching such media, that would obviously have no value to an objective outsider, look like? I am not a particularly strong Star Wars fan, but I have an idea: it is a person who greatly liked the original trilogy, then was further attached to the franchise by the clever mechanisms that make a fan feel having "invested" in the lore; those mechanisms were very strongly present in the Star Wars media that would follow the original trilogy. And at that point, the poor fan is "so deep in" that he'll obsessively pay for related media, even if denouncing it on the same time, as the lore is now an integral part of his life.

I think they're trying to do something similar with eg (Heroes of) Might & Magic (as with similar franchises).

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Re: An inauspicious parallel between Heroes VI and TA Kingdo

Postby mr.hackcrag » Oct 4 2011, 14:44

cjlee wrote:When you play robots, you are focused on gameplay. Shoot, fight, shoot. I liked the fact that my units didn’t talk. They were just obedient drones and I was the Commander!

Gameplay was great. It was very well balanced with impressive battlefield management, seriously good AI, etc.


This is what stuck out to me. If the newer Homms treated the story and the characters like robots and cared less about that aspect of the game, there might be more attention given to the great gameplay, balance, AI, etc that you experienced in TA.

Story is so rarely done well in games anyway that game makers should focus on GAMEplay and less on the other junk. Honestly, the story that was created for H5 actually made me not want to play the game, so why bother even spending time, money, and energy, trying to make one?

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Re: An inauspicious parallel between Heroes VI and TA Kingdo

Postby XEL II » Oct 4 2011, 16:01

cjlee wrote:That’s why we don’t get Space Elf very often!

Image
:)
Make you strong places to dwell and practice the evil of your arts. Build great monuments to stand through the ages and remind your followers of the task with which you have been charged. Use these halls of iniquity to perpetrate your schemes against the infestation that has taken the fields and lakes of this land from you, their rightful masters. Never forget the hatred that must finally overcome and consume mankind. Dwell in your dungeons and brood. - Sheltem the Dark


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