- by Fnord
Originally appeared on The Astral Wizard. Reprinted with permission.
All the previous Heroes games have added more towns than the game before, yet HoMM IV will actually have fewer, but with more options. What design issues led to the decision to have fewer town types?
This decision mainly stemmed from the new Magic System. With five schools of magic it seemed logical that there would be one town specializing in each school and of course, the Stronghold who would disdain any magic at all. Other important factors included a desire to have a stronger theme to each town, making them more distinct. The difference between towns, heroes and creatures was often minimal in previous versions of Heroes games and we sought to correct this in Heroes IV. One of the side benefits is people will once again have an easier time to grasp the basics of the game, but with the more options it will take a lifetime to master.
In some of the screenshots we've seen so far, the graphics look incredible but people are worried their current systems may not be able to run the new game; HoMM III recommended a Pentium 166 with 32MB of RAM. When New World Computing was creating the HoMM IV engine, were they able to find a way to keep the hardware requirements from rising too sharply?
During research and development we have always kept in mind the lower end machines and the art and programming staff worked closely together to keep the requirements low. Despite the incredible new look we are aiming for Pentium 200 with 32-64MB of RAM as the minimum requirements. We also are supporting multiple resolutions so that gamers with either high or low end machines will be able to enjoy the best looking Heroes game yet.
Many fans have wished for a long time that heroes could fight directly in battles, and this is finally going to happen in HoMM IV. As possibly one of the biggest changes to Heroes so far, what kind of issues had to be resolved before you could be certain this would integrate well into the game?
The two biggest issues were hero death and hero balance. Death on the battlefield and permanently leaving your forces would have been a huge detriment to any player, so we decided this was not a way to go. On the other hand we didn’t want invincible heroes. If a hero is ‘killed’ on the combat field before the rest of the army they enter a state of unconsciousness. If you win, you need to take your hero to a town or sanctuary and resurrect them. If you lose, your opponent has the choice to imprison your hero, and you have to go rescue them. This way any hero you hire is always part of your forces, they just aren’t always active if you lose a battle. As far as balance went, we worked out how powerful a hero at certain levels should be in comparison to creatures and balanced out their hit points, damage and so forth.
Another major change that goes along with the heroes fighting is that of armies existing, moving and fighting without heroes. In some ways, this could be an even more radical change. Although the concept has been used in other turn-based strategy fantasy games, what made it seem like this would work well in the Heroes game, and are there limitations to the number of armies that can run around on their own?
There are still only 8 armies allowed for each player on the map, but you can garrison an unlimited number. We thought creatures by themselves would be great for scouting, picking up loose resources or other little ‘freebies’ that exist on the map. It’s much cheaper to lose one halfling than to lose one hero. Armies without a hero have backpacks to pick up artifacts, and creatures with hands can use potions. However, not having a hero means your forces just may run away if overwhelmed, or even join if the opposing army has a hero with Diplomacy or Charm. Not to mention there is a group of skills devoted to enhancing the abilities of creatures, along with some very powerful artifacts. These are still very good reasons to have at least one hero in an army, so I suspect most people will make sure their main fighting forces consist of a nice mix of both.
The expanded skill system (with five levels of mastery), sounds exciting. The Computer Gaming World article mentions nine primary skills, each with three associated secondary skills. In HoMM III, primary skills were Attack, Defense, Power and Knowledge. Does this mean that there are now nine of these score-based skills?
No, you won’t have 9 score based skills. The entire system has been rearranged quite dramatically. The stats are now damage, hit points, spell points, shots, luck, morale, speed, movement and experience, which are score based. The new skill system has been devised very carefully so all of the skills are useful, but once again you can’t get them all. The nine primary skills are Combat, Tactics, Scouting, Nobility, Life Magic, Death Magic, Order Magic, Chaos Magic and Nature Magic. Each has three associated secondary skills and they have five levels of mastery. With so many options you’ll be more likely to specialize your heroes. The biggest side effect of this change is that your heroes will become more distinct in late game, rather than less distinct.
Replacing the elemental magic schools with five town-based magic schools makes a lot of sense and should help to enhance the individual identity of each faction. However, the new Stronghold town won't have any magic, but can hire heroes from the other town types, presumably including various magic-using heroes. If these magic heroes have virtually no access to spells, they would seem to be very weak and of little use to the Stronghold player. Did this potential contradiction pose any design problems?
Not really, the town was designed to be quite effective without a mage guild present. Faster creature generation definitely gives the Stronghold an edge. Their blacksmith has more items available for sale, which can really help heroes out in early game. There are shrines, artifacts and potions available on the maps, and these offer up a diverse number of spells, giving Barbarians the opportunity to learn and use magic.
One of the more popular fan wishes for HoMM IV was for some sort of underwater or pirate town, yet there's been no indication of anything along these lines so far. Was it too hard to integrate such a town into the design of the game?
We chose the towns based on the schools of magic, and a water-based town didn’t really fit well into the magic or skill system very well. The basic idea of making the water terrain more interesting was understood and we’ve created a few creatures specifically for the water, such as Pirates you can hire and sea monsters you can fight. The other step we took was to increase the number and variety of water-based adventure objects players can visit.
The underground level introduced in HoMM III was very popular and many fans wished for even more map "levels" for the next game. Was this element discussed by the design team?
That’s an interesting idea, but we think that two levels is really the sweetspot. Too many levels and it would become tedious to chase someone down, or put you too far away from strategically important towns.
The new town screens use the same basic layout for every town and also change their background depending on the type of terrain they're placed on. This is a very nice idea and will add greatly to the atmosphere of the games. Will this mix-and-match approach to the town screens allow for completely customized town creation in the map editor, such as mixing dwellings from any of the six town types?
We too thought it would be easier for the player if town buildings were in roughly the same place for all towns. Using this method also allowed us to have a more diverse building tree than in previous Heroes. After first level you will be able to choose between two different creature dwellings. Using this method there is greater diversity among the towns and armies, especially in mid and late game.
We're all very excited about the upcoming release of HoMM IV. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the game's design?
No other question was so difficult to answer because there are so many new features and design changes. Not to mention I want to tell everyone about them all right now, but that would spoil all the fun wouldn’t it? So I’ll just let you in on my favorite feature. It has got to be the way we’re handling heroes. I love the new role-playing elements we’ve added. Once you’ve chosen a class, give your hero a new name, new biography and new face. After that your hero can adventure alone, with some friends or with an army to command. Heroes will be more specialized so they’ll have a distinct personality later on. In combat we’ve been able to really bring heroes alive and give them much more personality than ever before. For all of you who are more concerned with strategy than role-playing, don’t worry. Heroes demand a lot of strategy every step of the way, and with so many possibilities it’s going to take you a very long time to master them.
- by Angelspit
Celestial Heavens: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Joe. Could you introduceyourself to the readers who might not have heard your name before?
Joe McGuffin: I art directed “Heroes of Might and Magic 4”, the “Shadow of Death” expansion, and all of the “Chronicles of Might and Magic” series for New World Computing/3DO.
CH: How did you get started in the gaming industry? When did you join New World exactly?
JM: I am an illustrator by training from the Art Center College of Design and I’ve been in the entertainment/games industry since 1992. I got my start in the business working for a CD-I and 3DO games developer called the Interactive Support Group. I was interviewed and hired by a producer there with a keen eye for talent…so I thought. Little did I know he was looking for someone very green and that would work for peanuts! The man who gave me my first break is none other than David Mullich. We’ve been friends ever since. After ISG we found employment at different companies, but always kept in touch. I went on to work on a variety of different projects ranging from television and film to mainstream video games for the PC and consoles. It was in October of 1999 that we got the opportunity to work together again. David hired me into NWC and my first project was the “Shadow of Death” expansion for H3.
CH: We spoke with your former colleague April Lee in the past. Did you, like herself,deal with various mediums (card games, comics, prints)?
JM: April and I were both Illustration majors at Art Center where you’re taught to be versatile in a variety of mediums. I have not worked on card games, comics and prints as April, but pursued work in multimedia, film, television, and game projects. The great thing about being an illustrator is that you can design and draw for any medium!
CH: How would you describe your art style?
JM: My work is representational as well as stylized, with a heavy dose of perspective… I can render realism, create cartoon styled characters, and thoroughly enjoy illustrating structures and environments using perspective. I’ve been influenced by many artists old and new – too many to list.
CH: Now, how would you describe the Heroes series' art style, going from Heroes I to Heroes IV?
JM: I feel that the Heroes “style” has remained the same in certain respects, but also has matured from Heroes 1 to 4. Obviously, one of the greatest contributing factors has been the increase in computing power from what Heroes 1 was running on to Heroes 4. With that additional computing power, we were able to increase the amount of art work and animation as well as the quality and the sophistication. Heroes 1 and 2 have a very whimsical style to them, some may say “simple”, but colorful and positive. Heroes 3 got a bit darker and more refined but still kept some of the whimsy. For Heroes 4 we wanted to update the look and feel and the managing members of the team which included JVC, Gus Smedstad, the lead programmer and designer, Jennifer Bullard, the lead level designer and I felt that Heroes should maintain its positive look and feel, be colorful like Heroes 2, and much more animated than the others in the series.
CH: With the Heroes series dealing with very different branches of mythology, how did you inspire yourself and your team?
JM: How to inspire artists...hmmm...that’s tough, but always the most rewarding part of being an art director. I had a great team of artists working with me on Heroes 4, some were Heroes veterans, and others were brand new to the series. Working with the designers, Gus and Jennifer, the head writer, Terry Ray, and David, I was able to assimilate all the different mythological ideas that make up Heroes and translate that to the artists.
CH: How do you deal with mental block?
JM: Building a game is a very collaborative effort. There are many creative and talented individuals involved. So, there are plenty of people to throw ideas around with. This process is very helpful in getting over blocks.
CH: You were the Art Director for NWC. What exactly does that title mean? Are you the top dog in charge of graphics there?
JM: The title of Art Director brought with it the responsibility to take charge of the art production and development of Heroes 4. I had to manage the team, coordinate their efforts, lead the visual design of the art assets, handle the reviews and interviews of the artists, and assist David in tracking the schedule of the art production. The “top dog” in charge of art, as well as design at NWC was and is JVC. JVC had the final say-so on art direction.
CH: Working on the art for a computer game is a collaborative effort. It must be difficult to work with people with different background and styles.
JM: Artists are a different breed. They bring to bear a wide variety of experiences, talents, styles, attitudes, and each has a unique way of being creative. In the production of a game, it is imperative that the artists work together and that the art they generate is cohesive and unified.
CH: Please describe how this process works. Also, which tools do you use?
JM: In the production of Heroes 4, Fernando Castillo, my technical art lead, and I set up a few processes that helped to unify the look and feel of the art assets. These tools maintained the proper perspective, lighting, and scale of the art generated. Because all of the artists were using 3D Studio Max to generate the 3D art, Fernando was able to write scripts that everyone could utilize to process the files within Max. For 2D work, like textures, interface elements, and splash screens, we used Photoshop.
CH: How long does it usually take to complete a creature or a hero for the game?
JM: On average, from design to animation, a character or hero was taking about a week.
CH: According to you, what was missing from Heroes IV to make it a trulymemorable game? Anything you would do different if you could start over?
JM: Artistically speaking, I’d like to have been able to better develop the siege screen artwork. Due to time constraints, we were limited in how much we were able to put into the development and design of the siege screen. We had much more time to create the terrain, terrain structures, and character assets and I feel it shows. I would put more priority in creating the siege screen assets if I could start over.
CH: Heroes IV had only a few cinematics compared to the previous game of the series. How do you explain that?
JM: For Heroes 3, most of the cinematics were done by an outside contractor. For Heroes 4 we used an internal cinematics team that was created by NWC/3DO and they handled ALL the cinematics for every game in development. This team was very burdened by heavy loads of work, and thus prevented us from creating numerous cinematics seen in previous versions of the game.
CH: Portraying demonic creatures or undead in games has typically been a touchy issue. How did you guys handled that?
JM: This actually wasn’t too big an issue during development, but there were a few things that came up. I remember the mantra – “NO blood. Period.” I had to be very diligent in making sure no blood appeared anywhere in the game…the blood pool in front of the vampire generator almost slipped through the cracks! This is also why the vampire sucks the “life force” out of his victims instead of blood. Also, to gain an “E” rating from the ESRB panel, we had to change the death animation of the Venom Spawn. What you see in the game is very toned down. The first death animation for the venom spawn had it exploding in mess of green goo! Even with those changes and concerns, my favorite creatures are in the Death class and I had fun designing the Venom Spawn and the Devil.
CH: What is your favorite artwork in the Heroes series?
JM: I’m especially happy with the Main menu art of Heroes 4, which is also seen on the back of the box. It truly captures the essence of Heroes. George Almond, the illustrator who painted most of the splash screens and menu screens seen in Heroes 3 and 4, and I worked very hard to create that piece. Overall, I’m very proud of the artwork created for Heroes 4.
CH: With the strategy game genre being midway between 2D and 3D, which style do you prefer and what are your thoughts on what's going to be the standard in a near future?
JM: I like the level of detail that prerendered art affords, but like the amount of animation that a full 3D game offers. In the near future, games will appear prerendered but will be 3D. I’ve already seen a strategy game with such an engine.
CH: Are you a gamer yourself? What have you been playing lately?
JM: I’m an avid gamer. I play first person shooters like “Medal of Honor”, and “Unreal Tournament”, role-playing games like “Dungeon Siege” and “Neverwinter Nights”, and of course, strategy games like “Heroes 4”! I do prefer PC games over console games, but own a PS2 and a Gameboy Advance, as well. I’m currently playing “GTA Vice City”, “Mafia”, and “Medal of Honor” on the PC, “John Madden 2003” and “Dynasty Warriors 3” for the PS2, and “Monkeyball” and “Extreme Pinball” for the Game Boy Advance.
CH: Anything you'd like to add?
JM: The time I spent at NWC was some of the best in my career. I thoroughly enjoyed the environment and the team I worked with. I still keep in touch with many people and look forward to any future opportunities to work with them again.
- by GhostWriter
Celestial Heavens' GhostWriter was at the E3 this year, and brought back some exciting new information about 3DO's upcoming games. The first interview is with the creator of the Might and Magic series himself,
Jon Van Caneghem. Click on the speaker icon and be patient while the appropriate Mpeg file loads. The Expo is a very noisy place, so crank up the volume and listen carefully. Coming during the next few days is a discussion with
Rick Reynolds, from 3DO's marketing department, and you can now read Part Two of the exclusive Heroes interview of Jon.
JVC: (Without my wife) Heroes would have never come about. I made King's Bounty, I don't know if you've ever known of that game...
JVC: ... and that was the first game she got into, and I started King's Bounty, and she totally fell in love with it. And I went back to working on Might & Magic. And every month, every week, every morning, (she'd say) "When are you going to make a sequel to King's Bounty? That's the best game, that's better than Might & Magic! That's the one to make a sequel for." (So I said) "Alright, I'll make it." So finally I gave in and that's how Heroes I was born.
CH: Well, thank her for it.
JVC: (laughs) I will.
CH: She had a good eye.
JVC: And she's actually... was involved quite a bit with Heroes II and III. She did alot of the maps and alot of the testing...
CH: ... Oh yeah...
JVC: ... Quite a bit. She still plays it to this day. She still yells at me every day for the way Heroes IV turned out like, "You ruined my game!"
JVC: Alright, so Heroes V, what I really want to get back to, and what I'm spending all my time on, is redesigning the entire game engine, to be much more along the lines of Heroes II and III, except much more modern and a lot more balanced, and much more challenging. The game evolved much more towards a role-playing type of game over the last couple of years, and I want to bring back completely, 180 degrees back to a true strategy game. It will have role-playing elements, but really the esence of what I wanted Heroes always to be since the very beginning is a pure strategy game. And role-playing is nice for campaigns and some particular scenarios, but the basic game is strategy. It's you against a few players, or you against other human players. (continued)
CH: (And so it will) focus more on scenario combat and scenario design features? Well, not just the scenarios, but the game itself, where there will be less emphasis on quests, and more emphasis on tactical combat?
JVC: Right. Absolutely, the game takes it much more towards the strategy orientation, and we'll make the story lines shorter, and the quest-based maps more, uh, simpler in terms of the entire overall quests so... But what that allows us to do and allows me to do is make much more of a strategic quest or story out of (those elements), instead of one of just plodding through it, and opening up a story like an RPG. It becomes an involved strategy quest that's active... figure out what to do, make decisions that are important when you mkae them and how you make them, so then you can work out the scenario. Versus just what it's truned into now is (meaning Heroes IV), it's just a matter of plodding through it. There's really no big strategic decision to be made in the current scenario (meaning Heroes IV). So, that's what I want to get back to, and I think that's more fun.
JVC: (Full-time) Yeah, that's my plan. I mean, I'm looking forward to getting back into it full-time and really making it... It sounds like... I feel like I owe it to the fans, to bring back Heroes the way it was, as opposed to what it kind of evolved into.
JVC: For Heroes V I'm starting from scratch. Everything from AI is now going to be my design from scratch.
CH: It will not be parts of Heroes III?
CH: ...Scrapping Heroes IV...?
JVC: Yeah. Heroes IV was completely new from Heroes III. There wasn't much at all used from Heroes III.
CH: Oh really?
JVC: There was some talk if "there was", "there wasn't", who can really tell...?
CH: ...Right. Lot of speculation...
JVC: ...Lot of speculation, but no. Heroes IV was redone completely, and it just wasn't done right. And a long back-story about how that was done, but I won't get into it.
CH: Well, it's fine, we're looking forward to the new AI.
JVC: Yes, And that will be quite a challenge since I'm pretty much doing the plan again. But, you know, I always... in all my designs I make it that it's always very easy to adjust the difficulty. In that, if you're having trouble or it's getting ahead of you then you can just turn it down.
JVC: Well, we have our creature list for the six town types already done, but all the old favorites, many of them are back, of course... Titans and Giants, and Dragons of course, of all types.
CH: Any new ones that you've decided to go with that are different from the others in the series?
JVC: Yeah, I think there's a few new ones we haven't seen in any of the Heroes, but for the most part we kind of pick and choose the ones people like the most out of the last of the Heroes games. And then put them together in appropriate towns.
CH: Make sure there are Genies.
JVC: Gotta have Genies, hehe.
JVC: There are six town types, and I don't know them off the top of my head, which is terrible but I should.
CH: With everything in your head, I can imagine.
JVC: Yeah, uh, but they're very much, you know, orgainzed in a, I dunno, kind of the (inaudible)-together type of grouping... (inaudible). So there's still all the stand-bys and favorites. But, I'm doing a lot, probably the most exciting thing I'm doing is the actual Hero development and skill system, which is completely from scratch. And people that alot.
CH: And the magic system, is that tied to the faction system like in Heroes IV?
JVC: Yes. In fact, we have a magic system that is completely tied to each town type. We have a set of spells that are generic to all towns, then we have a complete set of spells that's dedicated solely to each town type.
JVC: Yeah, the Underground just didn't seem to add much except for cunfusion. It was... the way I originally designed it was, I made the Underground, and I think it was Heroes III it first appeared... a lot of our maps ran out of room for little treasure caches. So I said well, I could make this little Underground, you could go down and there would be a little bit bigger of an area where I could actually have a little treasure cache based where you were. The big maps it made sense, but the mapmakers went wild and turned it into an entire... thing, and now we had two maps instead of one, and it kind of went in a diredction it wasn't intended to.
CH: So are you planning on doing an alternative system to the Undergound, or just keeping it a single-layer map?
JVC: Keeping it the single-layer. I mean, we can always add it back... and there were orignal plans were for a cloud layer, an Undergound, an alternate plane, and... (but those won't happen)
CH: Yeah, in the Winds of War expansion you actually have in the editor the ability to add or remove an Underground.
JVC: That's right.
JVC: (The music hasn't been done yet), but we'll probably use the same team...
CH: ...same composer?
JVC: Yeah, Rob King.
CH: Excellent music.
JVC: Yeah, I really loved his... I discovered him, you know, (from) nowhere, brought him on full-time, and now he's doing music for all sorts of games, so.. Oh definitely, I want him and the same guys do the music. I really like how the music fits Heroes.
JVC: I'd love to improve on it, I don't know if we'll be able to do much of a revamping with that editor or not. But it'll have all the layout to it in the way it works... but making it easier to use is a big... completely big "if". But the other side of it is it's not that important since if I I get the AI to where I want it to be, no one's going to have to go in to do all these scripted events to make the game play its best...
CH: ... Right, exactly...
JVC: ... So, that's kind of my caveat to, well, if we do this right, then that won't matter as much because people won't have to fight with that editor to get some measure of interesting gameplay out of it.
CH: But you are doing it with a scripting system?
JVC: Yeah, it's the same one. We're basically using the same tools, just changing it to enhance it.
CH: That's good news for me.
JVC: I'm working on it. Yeah, I'm going to try to get that done if I can for the first release.
CH: Because that's a very poplular thing with the tournament players, they're always looking for ways to create maps...
CH: And the Object Painter which came along in the Winds of War expansion is one tool that... anything that saves a mapmaker time. Because that just means more maps...
CH: And people will spend more time on them...
JVC: Making them, yep.
CH: ...not doing the things that (waste time, and thus) planning more creative maps.
The 3DO Booth at the E3
Part Two of this interview with New World Computing's Jon Van Caneghem is presented here.
JVC: That'd be great. I'd love to do it.
CH: Seems like you're going to have to add to your staaff a vit to handle that.
JVC: Yeah, but at the same time, ya know, between web sites and people organizing themselves. If we just support it, I think that could probably work out.
CH: Can we expect you on the 3DO Community or the Round Table posting some time?
CH: You're a busy guy, but ya know, you're the Man.
JVC: Alright, well I mean, I hate to personally get into the whole "posting wars"...
CH: It's hard. It's very difficult, I know...
JVC: I know, I know. Chris (Vanover) had been with us (for so long)
CH: Most of the time someone will ask you a question and you find that you just can't answer it, because it will start something else...
JVC: So, ya know, I'd rather start something up where you guys filter up what you want me to answer, once a month or... and (I'll see if I can get to it).
JVC: Yeah, of course, and I'll end up getting along with most of the stuff, but no, I think it's great that you guys have been supporting us. I know there's been some friction over the last few months.
CH: Yeah. We do post what we find, in terms of news...
CH: ... But we're all fans of the games.
JVC: That's all that matters. Hey, the truth is what it is, I don't care. (laughs)
CH: Most of what we're doing is just bringing news to the community so they can talk about it...
JVC: ...can talk about it, right..
CH: ... not so we can bring our own opinions in.
JVC: No, I love that you guys are there. I mean , ya know, I used to have to read UseNet to find out, ya know, I'd go to Strategy: UseNet, and I'd see... to pick through the Heroes topics to find out what people were saying about the latest game or expansion. But most of your guys grew so large.
JVC: Probably, I think 3DO actually has it on their schedule to do that.
CH: Is that a 3DO question?
JVC: Yeah, that's a 3DO question. I wouldn't have much involvement except we would want to be making the CDs and testing it.
CH: I was just wondering if they might ask you to add some more content.
JVC: I don't know. Unlikely.
CH: If it didn't happen with Heroes III Complete then it probably isn't likely for Heroes IV.
JVC: (The computer has to) ... figure out stuff, but 99% of it didn't move, never changes... it's the map. That can be done when the map's created at our office. It shouldn't be a burden for every player out there at the end of their turn. So there's lots of stuff like that that I want it to be (when clicking the button) "Go, go, go".
JVC: One of the problems we've had with our games and beta testing is, we've never had a large enough schedule to do formal beta testing. So by the time the CD goes out to, say we've got a hundred people we want at the office to be around for the first round of beta, by the time we get them, get them their CDs, and have them start playing it, we're eighteen revisions at the office past what they have. Alot of what they'll be reporting we'll already have on the list, we'll either have fixed them, or decided that we're not going to... (do that in the game).
CH: ... You know you're giving the beta testers this thing that isn't working yet, so you're working on those problems...
JVC: ... we're working on those problems, and if we had a longer cycle the you could do that, but the last few years with 3DO has been, ya know, by the time we're beta, everyone's non-stop (working on the game's problems)
JVC: On and on and on, it all just never ends; the financial situation, so...
CH: Not being a game industry person myself, and most of the readers aren't...
JVC: Yeah. It's hard for them to understand.
CH: ... it's phenomenal to understand what goes into developing a game.
JVC: Yep. The bottom line is two things. There's the integrity, and how great a game is, and then there'e the actual dollars and cents of the checkbook, and everyone keeping the lights on and paying salaries. And a lot of times those two can't meet. They just can't get together to the point where you going to satisfy both of them. So or course the one that's going to fail is the game side, because everyone's got to keep the lights on and pay the bills. Bottom line, that's what it comes down to.
Celestial Heavens wants to thank Jon Van Caneghem for his time and valuable knowledge of the games he lovingly creates.
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- by GhostWriter
As part of our 2003 E3 coverage, Celestial Heavens' GhostWriter had a chance to talk with 3DO's Marketing Manager, Rick Reynolds. The interview took place next to the very noisy 3DO booth, and while we originally planned to provide videos for this interview, the sound quality turned out low due to the environment, and since we have non-native English speakers a transcript is provided instead. You can, however, listen to Mpeg audio files discussing The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse found later in the interview.
RR: I have actually two roles: One based on New World Computing products and one based on 3DO products. So on the 3DO side I have The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in my protfolio, and the other half of my time I spend on New World Computing. On anything that New World does, and they consider me a part of the team, I have a desk and an office down at... actually in the old building I have a desk and an office, in the new building I just have a desk and a cubicle, because we've gone to a more cubicle system.
CH: You've got it split in two?
RR: It's split in two.
CH: How do the recent changes at the 3DO Company affect New World Computing?
RR: Well, the New World group is actually quite seperate from 3DO. Not only are there seven or eight hundred miles of seperation, but their team is run very independently and very seperatley. I think I'm the only 3DO employee that regularly goes back and forth between the offices. So all the changes happening at 3DO and the reduction of workforce we mentioned in our recent press release, it's not affecting New World at all. The New World team is a small, tightly-knit team. They enjoy being a small game company, and they have their small work office that they're in. They're doing just fine down there, we're not going to touch that.
CH: How are Trip Hawkins and Jon Van Carneghem handling all the new developments in the Company and at NWC? Do you know how they feel about the limited success of Heroes IV?
RR: Trip is happy with a limited success, it's better than a failure. The game's still making its money in terms of what life it has. But Jon Van Caneghem, on the other hand, would like it to have been received a little better. He's got a little bit of a perfectionist streak in him, and he thinks he can do a much better job. That's part of the reason why he's taking over the management of the actual game design and for the concept for Heroes of Might and Magic V.
CH: Which is different from his involvement with Heroes III and IV?
RR: Right. Jon helped managed the design of Heroes I and II, and most of III, but towards the end of III he started working on other projects. And IV was entirely managed by David Mullich, the game's design was done by Gus Smedstad.
CH: 3DO recently listed a number of job openings on the official site, and most of them were filled rather quickly. How did that work out for the company? Who are the team members that work on the game now?
RR: Actually, New World's been very picky about who they pick up. They'd much rather wait and not pick up a new employee until they've got just the right person. And my understanding of it is the Senior Programming Designer position took a long time to fill. They worked on it over and over again and it took a long time to find him. But so far I think they're very happy to have the team they've gotten together, and everyone from the Agoura Hills location that took the opportunity to move to the new offices are very excited about the new team.
CH: They just moved their offices recently.
RR: Just last Saturday (3/10/03).
CH: Have you been to the new offices? Can you tell us what their new location and daily activities are like?
RR: A little bit. I haven't been to the new offices yet, but it's on the ground floor of a little building on a street full of - I don't know if you've been to Solvang, it's a quaint little town that looks like it came straight from Europe.
CH: Is it like Santa Barbara, a similar city in that region?
RR: It's far smaller, it has cobblestone streets, and many of the restaurants and bars are filled with tourists. It's a destination to stop and see a little of what Europe is like in the middle of Central California.
CH: What went into the decision for moving the New World offices up to Solvang?
RR: That's a good question, there were several elements that went into that. One is, they definitely wanted to go back to their roots of being a small development team. They didn't want to have the trappings of a bigger business, they wanted to concentrate on their core design features. And they wanted to go back to Jon managing the design team instead of Jon managing the business, so they made the team the size they wanted it to be, and picked it up, it's actually very near Jon's home, and the whole team moved away to this area that's quieter, more quaint, also a little bit more rural, to just concentrate on doing what they really love together. And at the same time their overhead is so small that they're immune to cost-cutting measures or anything like that.
CH: And what are their days like while working?
RR: They're not a big team, so they don't have a lot of meetings. They'll come in in the morning, and they usually start off with coffee first, the artists will sit down and start working on their art projects. They're such a small team that they all know what each other are working on, so they don't find themselves needing to be coordinating as much. One artist might be working on the towns, another one might be working on the different monsters, some might be working on elements for the map and the map generating tool (the editor). Others are working on special effets and things that happen when you cast a certain spell.
CH: And what about the designers, programmers, and producers?
RR: The programmers will be working on things that, as they get something working, some of it will be passed on to a tester or assisstant, to try out these things that need to be tested so that the new developments work properly. The producers will then be coming around, looking over people's shoulders to make sure the game's design fits together, to see how the art's developing or the programming. The game designer's will be writing each new chapter about what will happen in each section, what part of the story works here, which back story will go there, etc., so they clearly have the story and design down.
CH: According to the latest press release the game is said to be released in Spring 2004, with an announcemnt coming this summer. What factors may come into play that could change that? Will NWC be given all the time they need to finish it?
RR: We definitely don't have a rush to get Heroes V done by a particular time. There's no particular magic to making a release date for it like Spring, for example. If this were High Heat Baseball we have to have it out before the other baseball games because we have to compete with the others. Right now (for Heroes V) we just have a target, that's mostly driven my Jon Van Caneghem, he just wants to have it out in the Spring. And we do plan to therefore have it out around that target time according to him.
CH: So 3DO is not pushing for that date so much as Jon himself?
RR: Right, the (NWC) team is driving that. If the team needs more time, they'll take more time. However, we will be having the PC version and then we will have the Macintosh version. The Macintosh version will follow the PC version by about three months. We're going to again likely be working with Contraband.
CH: Who did the last one (Heroes IV Mac)?
RR: Right. We don't have a whole contract with them ironed out yet, but we do have a couple of plans for how to work with them, and we'll do better this time, plan earlier in advance. New World has been very pleased working with them in the past.
CH: At what stage of development is the game in now?
RR: Most of the game design has been completed. Some things still need the artwork finished, but we're not yet ready to call it playable. No one has seen any of it yet. Even I haven't been able to see the results yet. It's not at that stage. I'm estimating that we'll be able to see something like that by about September.
CH: The fan community is getting anxious for news. Gus Smedsted used to post on the Round Table and Christian was quite active in the Community. Will there be more participation by 3DO/NWC people in the 3DO Community or the Round Table, including yourself?
RR: There was a little delay because I was so involved with setting up E3 and James Dickkinson (Producer at NWC) was so invoolved with moving the offices over to the new location. He got down on his hands and knees and pulled cables, did the networks in the building, he moved all the machines himself, and he absolutely did not have extra time to go post on the various forums. I haven't either, so we had a slight delay. But we will both be there much more later.
RR: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a 3rd person action game. It's sort of a cross between Silent Hill and Devil May Cry. It has the pacing, horror-genre, and suspense of a Silent Hill, until you get to the combat scenes which have a more Devil May Cry feeling to them, although Abaddon is not quite as acrobatic and over-the-top as Dante is in Devil May Cry.
CH: Abaddon is the main character we're looking at here?
RR: That's correct. You are a fallen Archangel. You're no longer welcome in Heaven, but you actively oppose the Devil and his minions, including the Four Horsemen.
RR: You face them one at a time. In the Book of Revelations, as each Seal is broken, one of the Horsemen comes to the earth, and you have to defeat them one at a time, until later when you do face them all. You are no match for them, you cannot defeat them all by yourself, one against four. But what happens in the storyline is that three mortal humans have been chosen by God to help you fight them. None of the three knows this though. You have to go and hunt down these people, convince them to sacrifice something of their own personal lives to go and oppose the Devil. And then if they agree they suddenly have supernatural abilities they didn't know they had to assist you in fighting them.
RR: We have a lot of help building this game. The characters were co-designed by 3DO and by a famous comic book artist from England named Simon Bisley, best known for the covers of Heavy Metal magazine. And we also have a lot of help from three time Oscar winner Stan Winston, whose creatures are famous in everything from Terminator to Edward Scissorhands and Jurassic Park. He visually designed the different characters in the game and did an amazing job, particularly on the bad guys, the Four Horsemen and their four mounts.
CH: He actually designed them in the computer, or in models?
RR: A combination of both.
RR: In addition to Stan's help with the characters, he also got so excited about the characters that he licensed them back from us to make action figures. His team designed a set of collectible action figures that are articulated, made in resin, which are being shown here in the booth. They're the hand-painted, reference items that they're going to manufacture the figures from.
CH: Those are the actual ones?
RR: Those are the actual ones in the glass case.
CH: We'll get a picture of those for sure.
RR: Niko will be manufacturing them for this Christmas and they'll be shipp9ing. I'm excited to get a set for myself. They're absolutely beautiful.
CH: Yeah, they're pretty stunning.
RR: And Simon did a lot of work on some comic book transitions, whenever you to do a break in the action of the game to go to a back story element, there's a nifty comic book art transition factor that he did, and it's beautiful. (continued)
RR: Simon went ahead and did a whole graphic novel for us that we're talking to a certain comic book company to release comic books and a graphic novel for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The comic book industry is excited about it because this is the first time Simon Bisley has done a comic book again in six years, and they're looking at it as Simon's return to comic books, and they're excited to see that.
CH: Whose idea was it for the game, whose conception was it to begin with?
RR: The original idea came from Trip Hawkins (3dO's President) to make a game about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He wanted the four horsemen to be the bad guys, and Michael Madheim sat down with another writer to write the whole story behind it.
CH: How many hours can a player expect the game to last?
RR: You can expect to play for fifteen to twenty hours at our current calculations.
Celestial Heavens wants to thank Rcik for his time and generous answers. The E3 show was a blast and the Four Horsemen game looks like it will be a lot of fun, especially if you're looking for an action game with a dark theme. Look for it in stores around Christmas of this year.
- 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. :)
- 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 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 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 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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