Celestial Heavens spoke with Kris Piotrowski, Creative Director of Capybara Games, about the newest game of the Might and Magic series, Clash of Heroes. We asked him some of the questions the community had regarding the genre and the audience of the game, and Kris answered openly and told us a little about the origins of the puzzle-RPG hybrid genre.

Read it all here! If you have other questions about the game and its development, ask them in the article thread. I'll ask the Capybara folks to drop by sometimes this week.

Clash of Heroes Interview

Kris Piotrowski is Co-Founder and Creative Director of Capybara Games, an independent game studio located in Toronto, Canada. Their specialty has been mobile games, but they are now making games for the iPhone and the Nitendo DS. Their current project is Clash of Heroes, a prequel to Heroes of Might and Magic V with a puzzle flavor. The game, which receives positive preview articles everywhere, will be in store on August 25th. Special thanks to Pitsu, Marzhin and Kalah, who submitted questions, and to Nathan Vella for scheduling the interview.

Celestial Heavens: How is working with a large publisher like Ubisoft like? Did the partnership somehow limit your creative freedom or were you given the green light on the project?

Kris Piotrowski: Working with Ubisoft was great. From the get go, our team treated this project like it was an original Capy concept and Ubisoft respected that, while being extremely positive collaborators. Specifically, Ubisoft was heavily involved with the story and setting. It was really important to write a scenario and characters that respected the lore of the world laid out in Heroes 5, and they worked with Capy’s writer Dan Vader to craft a captivating tale within Ashan. Regarding the battle system, Ubisoft provided a ton of feedback all throughout the project, but they let us really drive the design. It was great for us since we really needed to iterate heavily in order to nail the balance of strategy and puzzle.In the end, the goal on both sides was to make a game that was unique and worked well with the Might and Magic world.

CH: Using the Might and Magic name with different game types (particularly the Dark Messiah action game) has been perceived as blasphemy by some fans. How did you guys manage to stay close enough to the roots of the franchise?

KP: I’ve been a long time fan of the early chapters of the series, (1-3), and I’ve played a ton of the World of Xeen as well, so I had my own experience with Heroes to go on. Before starting this game, I also played a lot of Heroes 5, and continued to play that game during development whenever I needed some inspiration for visuals or for design. However, the most important thing for us was a whole slew of documents and source material that Ubisoft hooked us up with. We had world maps, characters bios and a very thick world history “Bible” containing all the lore of Ashan, compiled by Ubisoft’s writers. We also worked very closely with Jeff Spock who was the lead writer for Heroes 5. He visited our studio, along with Erwan Le Breton, to help us nail down the story and provide keen eyes on all the details to ensure that it didn’t stray from established Heroes lore.

However, the most important thing for us was making the best DS game we could, so while Might & Magic Clash of Heroes does use many familiar creature types, abilities and artifacts which Heroes fans will no doubt recognize, they are used in an entirely unique battle system. It does contain unique puzzle elements, but I hope that the focus on turn-based strategy interests Heroes fans as well.

CH: Are you trying to attract die-hard RPG players to the DS, or rather introducing the classic series to a generation of mobile console players?

KP: This is more of a question for Ubisoft, I think, but my opinion on this is that it’s probably a little bit of both. I don’t think most DS player know what Might and Magic is, and that’s a real shame since it’s one of the most classic fantasy series in games.
Also, don’t most hardcore Heroes of Might and Magic fans have kids by now? I’d imagine that they want their children to eventually enjoy all the hardcore intricacies found in a pure Heroes game, but those types of games may not appeal to a younger audience. Maybe Clash of Heroes is like reading the Hobbit to your kids as a bedtime story, hoping that they end up reading Lord of the Rings on their own.

CH: The game comes out more than three years after Heroes of Might and Magic V. What’s the most striking similarity between both games. And what's the most original feature?

KP: I’ll start with the obvious similarities first: The game takes place in Ashan, many of the major characters and creature types should all be very familiar to Heroes 5 players as the game’s story is a direct prequel to the events that occur in Heroes 5.
The most original feature of Might & Magic Clash of Heroes is definitely its unique puzzle/strategy battle system. Heroes fans should be happy to know that the battle system is still turn based and requires strategic thinking, but there are a lot of new, interesting elements to play with as well. It would really upset me if ya’ll thought it was just a simple “match-3” game with old-school sprite art! It’s true the main puzzle mechanic is anchored around colour-matching concepts, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Players have to consider their battlefield layout, the position of their opponent’s incoming attacks, the abilities of all the units on the battlefield, the strength of their defense, advanced power-boosting linking possibilities, and a heck of a lot more. It’s a thinking man’s puzzle game.

CH: How deep is the storyline, and should we expect multiple paths and/or endings like in several RPGs?

KP: The storyline itself is fairly deep fantasy fair, though it is linear and there is only one ending. However, the player does have optional areas to explore, along with multiple side quests in each campaign, secret creatures to enlist and lots of optional battles.

CH: Some people see some parts of Critter Crunch in Clash of Heroes, other see Puzzle Quest as an inspiration. How do you explain the new trend for puzzle/adventure hybrids?

KP: We actually started working on a puzzle battle concept a long time before we ever saw any news of Puzzle Quest. I was actually really upset when that game came out because it sort of knocked the wind out of my sails, but I was less upset when I found out it was really heavily based on Bejeweled and didn’t resemble the concept I was working on at all. Not to knock the game, I absolutely loved Puzzle Quest and played it to death, but I was just happy that our battle system was still unique and slanted more towards puzzle-strategy than puzzle/adventure, which is something that I hope Heroes fans will also appreciate.

The trend of new puzzle/adventure is all linked to the critical success of Puzzle Quest, no doubt about it. Plus I think hardcore players really needed a good excuse to play casual puzzle games. They really want to, deep down inside, but they would be betraying their hardcore roots if they just become casual game addicts. Games like Puzzle Quest give hardcore players the perfect way to play Bejeweled without admitting what they’re doing. When your mom plays Bejeweled after work, you don’t want to admit that you also play Bejeweled, so you go play Puzzle Quest in the bathtub instead… right? At least that’s what I do…

CH: Last but not least: titan or black dragon? Gold or experience?

KP: This one is easy: There is no Black Dragon in Clash of Heroes, so I would definitely choose the Titan. But for my money, I’d say the Phoenix is a real contender. Then again, I usually don’t use Academy; I’m more of a Sylvan kind of player, so for me it’s all about the Treant+Druid combo.
In Clash of Heroes, gold alone will only hire you an elite unit or two, but combined with the other resources (ore & gems) you can snag a full roster of crazy-powerful champion units. Either way, both gold and experience are important in Clash of Heroes. But sometimes all you need is a little bit of luck!

Celestial Heavens would like to thank Kris for his time and wish Capybara the best of luck with the newest Might and Magic game!