Interviews


Jon Van Caneghem
January 2017
JVC 2016


Regular readers will know this name well: as one of the original founders of NWC and creator of the Might & Magic games, Jon is considered the spiritual father of the franchise. As he said it himselt: "I wrote the first Might and Magic while finishing college on an Apple II, and I’ve been making games ever since." After 3DO went belly up in 2003, he moved on to other things while Ubisoft would eventually pick up the baton and continue the series. Currently, he's CEO of VC Mobile Entertainment. After the release of Creature Quest, we were able to get him to answer some questions for us.

CreatureQuest 41. What's your current job? Please outline what your work entails.
"CEO, so I oversee everything involved with running the company, but I try to spend as much time on game design as possible."

2. What's your favorite part of the job?
"Designing new games and playing new games, but working with a talented and enthusiastic team is by far the most fulfilling."

3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
"Hopefully doing what I’m doing now but with multiple teams."

4. What do you like to do in your free time? Do you still race cars?
"Yes, I’m quite active with several racing organizations and I won a national championship with NASA-pro racing 4 years in row! I still play lots of games on PC and Mobile, but my hobby has always been racing cars."

5. What was your inspiration for Creature Quest?
"I was enjoying many of the current mobile games and I had the idea to bring some of the elements that made Heroes so much fun to the genre. So many people who have mobile devices have never experienced anything like this."

6. What are you most proud of?
"When making something new, it’s very difficult to create a game that’s fun and addicting. I’m very proud of how the game has evolved, the decisions we made along the way and how much fun it is to play."

7. How big is the team?
"We just past 20 people and growing."

8. What are you hoping for with the global release?
"We all hope for a big hit, but just having a large number of players try the game and enjoy playing will be awesome."

9. You're just now launching globally; why the "soft launch", why didn't you launch globally right away?
"In the mobile world, this is quite common. We have made a tremendous amount of changes and adjustments during our soft launch, which is difficult to do in the PC/console world, but it gives us a chance to iterate and polish before we go out to a large audience. Its especially important for free to play games that only generate revenue from players sticking around."

CreatureQuest 510. What are your future plans for the game?
"We have an entire roadmap for the next year and beyond. It really becomes a live service like the MMO world where we have the ability to constantly add and improve the game, and respond to consumer feedback."

11. What does Creature Quest have in common with the games in the Might & Magic franchise?
"The combat system has the same feel as the early M&M RPG’s (party of portraits, taking turns attacking waves of creatures). The adventure part of the game is like exploring maps in Heroes, find treasure, resources, battle blocking armies, completing quests."

12. How is working on a mobile game different from the PC games?
"Embracing the input differences is probably the biggest challenge; swiping and tapping is very different from keyboard / mouse / controller. The play session length also makes for very different focus and scope. This means different types of games will work better than others. The list goes on, but at the end of the day it still must be fun!"

13. Fans like to think about "the road not taken" - did you have any specific plans for the future of the M&M/Heroes series, lore-wise and gameplay-wise? Did you have any visions for Heroes V or other games?
"I really wanted to make Might and Magic Online a long time ago, this was before EQ and all the MMOs. We started on it and had a lot of great systems and ideas, unfortunately I was never able to finish it. For Heroes, I had a very cool design for V that I would still like to do and now with all the connectivity and server power available, so many new cool things could be done with the Heroes franchise… (raising and waving hands in air)"

14. Were you proud of the creature lineups of HOMM IV factions? Were you planning to do radical changes in HOMM V factions due to fan reactions?
"Yes and yes, but the most heated debate was whether or not to allow the heroes on the battlefield (H3 vs H4)"

15. Do you think there's a chance you might work on M&M/Heroes related titles in the future?
"Hmm… maybe?"

16. What do you think is the future of gaming? Will mobile games grow at the expense of PCs and consoles?
"The future of gaming is… more gaming. I think all the platforms will grow, although mobile will always reach a much larger audience."

 

That's it - big thanks to Jon for taking the time and we hope to hear more from him in the future.

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Tracy Iwata
January 2017



CreatureQuest 31. A quick bio: what's your story? How did you get into gaming and what's been your career so far?

I got hooked on video games when I was a kid. I took classes for programming and graphics, aiming to be an animator or programmer to work on a game. New World Computing was my first job, thanks to Julia Ulano who liked my fantasy art. It was fun creating 2d animated sprites for Heroes II and seeing the game box in the stores. Things shifted to 3d for Might and Magic VI. From that point on the games used 3d models. When NWC relocated to Solvang, I went around different companies and learned new skills along the way, but I still missed working on fantasy games. Then JVC sent me an email and now I’m working on his Creature Quest project. It is so exciting to be working with familiar faces that I have not seen in years.

 

2. What's your current job? Please outline what your work entails.

I create the visual effects that are used to enhance gameplay on Creature Quest. They help pop out a feature in the interface or creature - such as sparkles over a button, or flames from a creature.

 

3. What's your favorite part of the job?

Watching other people having fun playing the game.

 

4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I hope to be working on a creative project in some form.

 

5. What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy drawing creatures, and playing video games.

 

CreatureQuest 26. How many creatures are there?

There are over 500 creatures in the game, including all the variations of evo states.

 

7. What’s your favourite aspect of the game?

The map quests, I enjoy exploring and uncovering goodies. It is also a good way to collect items that level up your creatures.

 

8. What does Creature Quest have in common with the games in the Might & Magic franchise?

It is from JVC, lol. The strategy of building a team of creatures and improving their stats is there.

 

9. How is working on a mobile game different from the PC games?

There is a smaller limit on the amount of data a mobile game can push compared to a PC. I would love to have higher particle counts for each creature. As the chipset technology improves, mobile devices will eventually play more graphic intensive games.

 

Editor's note: Thanks to Tracy for taking the time. smiley
Creature Quest launches globally in two days, on January 26th. It will be available for free download on Google Play and iTunes.

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Bryan Farina
January 2017



1. A quick bio: what's your story? How did you get into gaming and what's been your career so far?

NWClogo"I started gaming in the late ‘70s when my tech-loving father got a PONG system for our TV.  Then  he bought a computer in 1982, a used Atari 800.  I was connecting to BBS systems and downloading and uploading games (at 300Bd!) when I was 10 years old.  We upgraded to an IBM clone in ’86 or ’87, and I’ve been upgrading every few years ever since.

My career started at New World Computing in 1995 as a QA tester. In very short order I became a Technical Writer, then a Designer, and then a Producer.  For Heroes I and II, I was the QA Lead, contributed heavily to both strategy guides, wrote the Heroes II manual, and did map building and other design work.  I became more full-time design for Might and Magic VI and VII, and then shifted into more of a Producer role for the later Heroes and Might and Magic games.

After New World, things have been a blur. I worked at NCSoft for a bit on an MMO game that never released. Then I was part of the team that founded Trion Worlds and worked on (what became) Rift. After that I went to Electronic Arts to bring Command and Conquer to the online world. When that was cancelled, I pushed JVC to start VCME."


2. What's your current job? Please outline what your work entails.

"I’m the Executive Producer for Creature Quest.  As exotic as that title sounds, in reality I coordinate all the aspects of the game to try and keep things flowing as smoothly as possible.  Beyond just art, design, and programming you have to factor in external groups (localization, first parties), create release schedules and the processes for hitting them, while also trying to develop the people working for you."


3. What's your favourite part of the job?

"Nothing beats creating something original and having it come to life—moving from paper design to implementation, going through numerous tweaks and revisions, and finally getting a full version finished that you can hand to a stranger.

And when that stranger gets their hands on it and become enthralled—that moment you realize what you dreamed up actually connects with people - that’s my favorite part."


4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

"That’s impossible to answer!  I wouldn’t see myself where I am today five years ago.  Ideally, I’ll still be here working on who-knows-what awesome, new thing.  If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, though, it’s that this industry is quite unpredictable."


5. What do you like to do in your free time?

"Primarily, I play games in my free time.  I love RPG and Strategy games the most, though I dabble a bit in other categories (FPS and action).  I prefer the PC to consoles, and I’ve been spending more and more time on mobile titles.

Outside of games I haven’t had that many other hobbies.  I’ve started to learn how to golf so that I can enjoy an ‘outdoor’ activity without requiring an organized team.  Recently, I’ve picked up reading books, primarily non-fiction, to gather up ideas and further develop my skills."

6. About Creature Quest: What devices does it play on?

"Creature Quest will be available on both iOS and Android devices through the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon.

7. How large is this world?

"We have over 20 different quests, each taking place in different regions of the world.  It’s hard to compare world sizes, and we’re not close to done building out all the different areas yet."

CreatureQuest 1

8. How do you keep the balance, is there a (battle) formula?

"Fortunately for us, JVC’s pet passion is balance.  He’s been very involved in making sure we have proper boundaries for the Creatures’ stats and abilities. Our ‘battle formula’ is actually derived from the original Heroes combat system."

9. What can you tell us about custom quest creation?

"At release, we aren’t supporting user-generated quests, though we have a lot of ideas for how to expand the guild/community features of the game."

10. Are there also Dungeons and Utopias?

"Not in the specific sense of the Heroes games. The quest maps have specific objectives, but they also have locations gating treasure and quest completion bonuses. The spirit is similar, but the specifics are different."

11. What's your target audience?

"Our primary audience are mobile gamers, and people moving into mobile games, that want games with depth and strategy. Obviously, we want to appeal to fans of JVC’s work (Heroes and Might and Magic), and in a broader sense not restrict our audience. One of the tentpoles that New World Computing had was to create games that could appeal to wide audiences - ages 8 to 80 and both genders - and we’ve tried to accomplish the same with Creature Quest.

12. How is money generated - in-app purchases?

"How to monetize a game is a question based entirely on the distribution platform for that game. Console games and traditional PC games were/are box purchase, primarily because there was no other way to easily distribute them. Modern console games have leveraged DLC more aggressively because they are now connected devices. Modern PC games (built solely for PC) are moving more and more towards free to play. Mobile games have tried both methods, and free to play has won handily. Having the widest possible audience is the smartest approach, and giving that audience the ability to enjoy the game before asking them to spend makes their purchase more considered and valuable.

Given that, our goal in crafting the game was to make sure we were consistent with certain principles: 1) that monetization does not gate progress, and 2) that the game is not filled with annoying ads. We play plenty of mobile games and know how irritating ‘pushy’ monetization can be. Our goal is that players choose to spend because they want more right now, as opposed to feeling like they have to spend to simply progress.

It is possible to play, and progress, without spending any money at all. Spending is like adding nitrous oxide to your car - it doesn’t make the car move, it makes the car go faster once it’s moving."

13. What does Creature Quest have in common with the games in the Might & Magic franchise?

"Creature Quest isn’t really a port of a Might and Magic game - it’s inspired by Might and Magic. There’s a map to explore with random encounters, humor, and combats like in Heroes. Those combats are presented and fought in manner similar to Might and Magic and there’s a wide range of Creatures to encounter and collect similar to both Heroes and Might and Magic. Creature Quest is an RPG game with some strategic elements, as opposed to a strategy game with RPG elements (like Heroes)."

14. How is working on a mobile game different from the PC games?

"For us, it’s been like turning the clock back. Our team is fewer than 20 people, which doesn’t happen much anymore in AAA console/PC development. Outside of that, it’s the interactions that are the most different - the display is much smaller than a monitor and the input mechanisms are significantly more limited - so creating UI and control schemes are pretty different than a PC game.

In addition, the monetization of modern mobile games (F2P), and the design around that, is very different from stand-alone PC development. Our goal here is to make spending in the game something you do to enhance or speed up your playing, without gating enjoyment of the game based on spending."

 

That's it - big thanks to Bryan for taking the time and we hope to hear more from him in the future.

 

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Rob King
January 2017

 

Rob King is a name that will be familiar to fans of the Might & Magic franchise. Responsible for much of the music of previous games, his work serves to add that certain level of class needed to lift the gaming experience. It's been a while since we had our own talk with him - you can read that interview here. For now, though, let's catch up with this guy and see what he's doing:

1. First a quick bio for those who may be unfamiliar with the name Rob King: what's your story? How did you get into gaming and what's been your career so far?

"I got into gaming in the late 70’s with Pong! Then was addicted to my Atari 2600 all through the early 80’s. I had every console made through the 2000’s! Even the Magnavox Odyssey, Colecovision, Vectrex, Atari 5200 in the 80’s. My career has been working on Games, Music and Film projects since the early 90’s."

 

2. What's your current job? Please outline what your work entails.

CreatureQuest"My current job is working on different projects as I have done for years. I usually bounce between music, dialoue and sound design. Just finished a lot of VO production on Ghost Recon: Wildlands coming out March 1st. Just did a score for a really cool Augmented reality project coming out this year some time and of course we are wrapping up this cool mobile game that we have all worked really hard on this year – Creature Quest! The soundtrack will be available when the game drops."

 

3. How is making music for mobile devices different from your previous work? How is it different from the PC games?

"Absolutely no difference except for a little more memory limitations; the technical challenges. Although I think you need to make something fun that you can get in an out of quickly or be able to play at great lengths. I think people like to play between life’s tasks quite a bit. I know I do. You can be at a car wash waiting for your car and just wanna play a quick 10 min of something. You can do that with Creature Quest if you want to or you could be pretending to watch TV and be engrossed in the game for hours."

 

4. Do you personally play such games?

"Oh yeah, I play mobile games all the time. I am actually addicted to Hearthstone in a bad way.. I have been playing our Creature Quest build for over 2 years and I still enjoy it! Kinda crazy really as I rarely even play games I work on."

 

5. What's your favourite part of the job?

"Working on a team with other humans…  I spend way too much time by myself in the recording studio so whenever I can work with others it’s a pleasure."

 

6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

"I have no idea. Five years ago I wouldn’t have known where I’d be today. Hopefully I will be able to continue to do creative work in some capacity."

 

7. What do you like to do in your free time?

"I love art, I go to a lot of gallery shows. I like writing pop songs and consuming good wine. Spending time with my daughter is also very important to me."

 

8. How did you enjoy your collaboration with Ubisoft?

"It was great. They always gave us creative freedom. The producer on the last HOMM games Julien was also a super nice guy."

 

9. How many tracks have you composed for HoMM in total?

"Oh god…I have no idea. I’d have to say somewhere between 200-300 over 21 years."

 

10. Can all the tracks from the H7 Tbf expansion be heard somewhere on the web?

"I have no idea, but they are sitting on my hard drive.

 

11. What does Creature Quest have in common with the games in the Might & Magic franchise?

"Obviously the sound.  Personally the score to this game is one of our best. I love exploring unique instruments and blending them with the orchestra. We did a lot of this back on the Heroes III soundtrack and this score feels similar. It is a pretty mellow score over all but has our signature sound. Paul Romero and I worked on and off for over 2 ½ years on the music score. We didn’t really have any set schedule so we got to take our time working on it which is always the best way to work.  I think the character and creature design has an M&M feel and our art director Heather Poon is an absolute talent. Another thing in this game is the adventure maps. They have mini story lines and the way you explore has a familiar feel to HOMM even though it is completely different. When you start to play this game for a good 30 min and understand your way around the game play, it starts to give you that “Just one more turn” feeling.

 

That's it - big thanks to Rob for taking the time and we hope to hear more from him in the future.

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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.

Karin Mushegain

July, 2015.


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.


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Q&A with the Masters of Sighisoara

December, 2013.

Back in 2009, CH member HeroofPunk announced his intention to create a whole new continent called Sighisoara. Joined by fellow map makers Maygwan and Yurian Stonebow, the team have since created a whole series of maps for Heroes III. What follows is a Q&A about how it all began, where the project is now and where it is going next ...

Yurian_HeroOfPunk

 

Tell us a little about Masters of Sighisoara, how did it all start?
"Well, for me it started with a fantasy map being painted in school. After that, I got home and realised that I wanted to create my own fantasy world, and since I had some earlier experience of map creating in the Heroes 3 Map Editor, I decided to go with that.
I also knew that I would need some expert guiding, that was why I contacted Yurian and Maygwan. It really just developed from there and I got more and more into the world that we have built up around the campaigns and scenarios."

You mentioned earlier in the thread that some custom music could be made for the campaigns, what is the current status of that?
Well, as you may know I posted a clue (I only left you with the letters PAR) in the Masters of Sighisoara main thread. Well, it actually has to do with the custom music being made.
And it is my honor to tell you that we will be getting a custom made campaign song for our third campaign (yes, there will be another one!), composed by none other than Paul Anthony Romero! So that feels very huge for us. Both Yurian and I are finding his work inspirational and I practically grew up with some of his tunes (my favorite being Necropolis town and Evil theme from HoMM3).
I have also been in touch with a friend of mine and we have together created some more customs songs to be released with Masters of Sighisoara III.

Your team just released the second campaign in the series, what do you have in the works now?
We have been working closer together and more effective then ever the latest month now and we currently are working on Masters of Sighisoara III. Map 1 is a 0.95 version for now and Map 2 is something along the lines of 0.75, map 3 is currently in a 0.25 state. I myself are in good contact with Paul Anthony Romero and have received the recording of our very own song composed by him.
We are also working on a wiki for MoS and it can be found here. It is not fully finished yet, but you can read up on storylines, quests from the first campaign, see pictures, read about certain artifacts and relics, heroes, campaigns, releases, everything will be posted and updated on there, so keep checking it out and feel free to contribute to the wikia as well!
I can already in this early state of campaign 3 tell you that we have been putting a LOT of focus on fine-tuning story lines, checking up on dates etc. And what I can tell you now is that you will be exploring 4 different islands, you will be able to search through historical documents about the entire continent and the story line will be deeper than ever before! Really looking forward to it!

Anything else?
Yes, we are also holding a little competition and handing out some prizes to the person who can finish MoSII - The Undead of Xerphef with the highest score. To enter the contest simply link us a screenshot of your high score in the main thread in the Round Table forum and we will contact the winner!

Sighisoara_map
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Julien "Marzhin" Pirou Q&A

August 27th, 2012.


Might & Magic: Heroes VI Lead Level Designer Julien Pirou

Julien Pirou, lead lever designer on Might and Magic: Heroes VI, known to us fellow fans as "Marzhin", answers questions about how it's been like to work on the game this past year.

CH: 1. Before we start properly, I've been meaning to ask you about your title – "Lead level designer". This isn’t just a fancy name for "map maker", is it ... what is it, exactly, that you do? What’s a normal day like for you?

Marzhin: "My job as Lead Level Designer is a bit similar to what an Art Director is for graphic designers. So I’m supervising a team of designers and working on the “high-level” conception of the maps, but not (much) taking part on the actual map making (except when extra hands are needed to survive crunch time ). I am also a sort of “interface” between the level designers and the writers.
So basically my job begins by meetings with the writing and creative team, discussing the kind of story they want to tell and how it could be translated into gameplay objectives. Once that’s done, I start briefings describing where the map takes place, the kind of geography, terrains, where the towns are, and outlining the main objectives of the map as discussed with the writers.
With this briefing document, the level designers can start working on the map itself. While they do, I’m starting to draft a document called the Sequentials, which is basically a table listing all the narrative events of the map, and where they are triggered. This first draft will then allow the level designers to put “placeholder” events in the map, and the writers to start working on the dialogs. The Sequential also includes a list of all quests.
Obviously there’s also some back-and-forth with the level designers, who will get back to me with suggestions to improve the flow of the map, ideas for secondary quests, etc. So I integrate these changes and additions to the rest of the documents.
When the maps start to be playable, I’ll also play them and give feedback and suggestions to improve them. After that, the map is pretty much in the hands of its level-designer(s), but I continue to play the new versions of the maps as they come out and give feedback if needed.
Aside from that “main job”, I also did some writing for Heroes VI (some artifact bios, a couple of signposts and lore texts), and I’m also involved in the reviewing process for all graphic assets."

CH: 2. It has been some time since we last talked, but since then, a lot has happened. This last year, what has been the high point for you?


Marzhin: "This last year has pretty much been a roller-coaster. I think the high point was being trusted with the writing of the Adventure Packs. Writing is something I enjoy as much as designing a map, so I was immensely happy when Erwan Le Breton offered me to write Crag Hack and Sandro’s return."

CH: 3. What has been the low point?

Marzhin: "No surprise there, I’d say the months that immediately followed the release of Heroes VI. As you probably remember, there were many issues to tackle. So the end of the year was pretty gloomy, and while we were determined to find a way to continue working on H6 no matter what, the future seemed uncertain at best. Fortunately the guys at Limbic rose up to the challenge."

CH: 4. The DLC has been worked on by a lot of people, but you were at the core, pouring your heart and soul into it; would it be fair to say it is your "baby"?

Marzhin: "In a way, the Adventure Pack was the culmination of my own campaign to bring some of the Ancient universe (as I call it) back into Might & Magic. I was already happy to have managed to bring back some familiar faces in H6, like Kilburn, Shiva, Maximus, etc.
So to have the opportunity to make a “legacy character” (as we nicknamed the characters showing up in several Might & Magic worlds/games) the centerpiece of its very own product, that was a blast. And as I said before, it was an honor to be able to actually write their adventures myself.
So yes, you could say it was my baby. However I wasn’t the only parent – the Limbic team gave an equal part of their hearts and souls to make this possible. Special kudos to Anselm, Karsten, Alexander and the rest of the team for their hard work."

CH: 5. So far, Ubi have been adamant in their decision to leave the old worlds behind and set up their own universe of Ashan. What was the motivation for returning to an old world?

Marzhin: "Ubisoft wants to keep Ashan as the main world for their Might & Magic games, but they weren’t automatically opposed to bringing back the Ancient worlds as bonus “legacy” maps. One of the reasons they didn’t do it earlier was that they didn’t want to do it wrong and attract the ire of the fans (which was one of the main reasons for creating Ashan in the first place).
The catalyst for bringing back VARN (and soon XEEN and Enroth) was the 25th Anniversary of Might & Magic. It was giving Ubisoft a good opportunity to pay tribute to the history of the brand."


CH: 6. So, you have taken us away from Ashan to revisit the old world of Varn. What's next?

Marzhin: "The next Adventure Pack, Danse Macabre, will be released in late September, and it includes a Legacy map set on the world of XEEN. World of Xeen is one of my favorite Might & Magic games (along with The Mandate of Heaven).
While the “Princess of VARN” was about imagining a possible future for VARN, the XEEN map (“A Tale of Two Guardians”) is an (almost) straight retelling of World of Xeen.
Basically after doing the VARN map, I wanted to do a map with Corak and Sheltem, who are to me the two most iconic characters of the early Might & Magic games. If you’re going to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the series, you have to include them. Also, XEEN felt like the natural choice for a Heroes map because its epic conflict translates easily into a "capture towns/defeat heroes" game mechanic, and the two-sided nature of the world is pretty cool (although it gave the level designers some headaches )
I preferred to tell the story of Corak and Sheltem rather than going into the future of XEEN since as you might remember after WoX it turns into something very different and I didn’t feel it was right to infringe into that unexplored territory.
There will also be a Gold edition of the game that includes H6 and both Adventure Packs, and a bonus legacy map that is a retelling of the Succession Wars of Enroth, opposing Roland to Archibald."

CH: 7. Fans were quick to spot the connection between the presence of Crag Hack’s helm in the game and his appearance in Pirates… There is a similar presence of an artefact set belonging to a "Great Lich". What can you tell us about this? (editorial note: these questions were submitted the day before the answer was revealed).

Marzhin: "Well now that the Danse Macabre Adventure Pack has been announced, you know the answer. There are several hints about Crag Hack and Sandro in Heroes VI, actually. Crag Hack’s helmet, the Staff of Sandro, and some texts found on signposts foreshadow the Adventure Packs. Although at the time I included those “easter eggs” I didn’t know if Crag Hack and Sandro would officially return! But I wanted to include those hints to show these characters were alive (well for Sandro that’s debatable ) and active in the world of Ashan, hoping that maybe, one day, I would have the opportunity to tell their stories."

CH: 8. Can you tell us what you're doing – are you working on more DLCs?

Marzhin: "If that ever happens, there are many classic characters I would like to bring back under the spotlight... Yog, Ignatius, Sir Christian... But for the moment I can only say that we have some more surprises for you in the future."

CH: 9. More content for the existing game is well and good, but our members seem to have a great desire for an expansion. Can you tell us if there are any plans for an expansion in the future and, if possible, how far along those plans are?

Marzhin: "You know that’s not my place to say anything about that. Let’s just put it this way: Heroes VI does not end with Danse Macabre."

CH: 10. What do you think you will do when the adventure of Heroes VI comes to an end?

Marzhin: "I still have a lot of work on my plate before that day comes, but there’s a pet project of mine I hope will become a reality somewhere in the near future. And that’s all I can say for now."

Big thanks to Marzhin for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Heroes live forever!
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Paris Q&A

June, 2012

Znork was one of the people who recently visited Paris for a fan day with the dev team. With him, he brought 10 questions asked frequently by the fans. Here are the answers - which will also be made into a video soon. I have translated the answers for your convenience - if you wish to read the Q&A in original Znorkish, visit the forum.

 

A video of the interview is available here.

 

 

Question 1: (by znork)
When are you going to understand that the "always online" feature is a sure way to piss off your customers?

We were trying to make more than an offline game - we would have liked the user to be online when they played the game but there were some shortcomings. We were working for the offline game to have classic play like Heroes of Might and Magic V and we wanted the Conflux to be a new Heroes experience online. The incentive would be that the online part would add more fun gameplay like ladder and achievements. The quality of the online server was not up to what we were hoping for, but we are working on making them better. We do want to keep the online part of the game and make it better - and as a part of this we are are fixing the online/offline save games so that the online experience will be better even when the server is down.

Question 2: (by znork)
Do you realize that the game's being poorly balanced and having lots of bugs, and your being slow to patch it after release, have made the fans even more angry?

Yes, we understand! There have been lots of problems with the game and there have been lots of problems with patching due to the transition from Black Hole to Limbic. We really understand that this angered the fans, but we still believe the game has potential. We are now starting to improve what needs to be improved in the game. We had some problems at the end of the production because of the budget, but in the end we released the game as good as we could with the resources we had. It's really good that we can release patch 1.5 with balancing, online-offline save compatibility and much much more.
We understand that fans were angry. We now have one person dedicated to balancing the game, reading the forums and just changing the numbers. He has also been working with the VIPs to improve the balance. There are lots of things we would like to improve; we have over 100 issues we would like address. We are not going to do them all, but we are really now working on doing as many of them as possible. We have improved the patching process and we now feel that this is going a lot smother. We are no longer in crunch mode, but are now looking at what important stuff can we do to improve the game.

Question 3: (by kingimp)
Do you not realize how badly you have turned off the majority of long-time Heroes fans by charging an exorbitant amount for this DLC when you haven't even proved you can properly fix this broken game first?

We really wanted to some support and patching before we released content people would have to pay for. Fixing the game is our number 1 priority. We believe the adventure pack is reasonably priced by how much gameplay the customers are getting and we have kept to the industry standard on the pricing. We believe you really get a lot form the adventure pack. The prices will of course drop as times goes.

Question 4: (by kingimp)
How about giving us this DLC for free as a sign of goodwill for releasing a product that in essence was no better than a Beta?

There are 15 people working on supporting and improving the game, and they need to get paid. But we believe the adventure pack is good and people should give it a chance. We would also add that patch 1.5 adds a multiplayer map from the adventure pack for free.

Question 5: (by kingimp)
Are there any plans of simplifying the map editor at all?

Yes, there are! When we were working on Heroes VI, there were a lot of things we would like to improve; the map editor was one of these, but since the end of development was as it was, we sadly did not have the time. One thing to know about the map editor is that it is a very powerful tool. The main issue is a huge gap between the hardcore map makers and the casual map makers. We are now trying to make the map editor more rewarding and pleasing to use. We are no really working on this, but it will still be a complex tool. This will be on the main topics we will be working on the next 3-4 months.

Question 6: (by Fyrestorme)
What was the primary motivator for making weapon artifacts tied directly into the dynasty system?

There were two obvious reasons for that: we wanted something that was powerful and part of the game. We also wanted something to be highly visual in the 3D models. That was why we also added dynasty pets for Heroes VI.

Question 7: (by Fyrestorme)
If you were to make another Heroes game in the future, what types of things did you learn from H6 that you would apply to it?

Try not to release an unfinished game! We could have long list, but we will try to get a more global answer. Area of control worked very well. The reputation system did not work so well. The skill sytem was not good enough and we would like to improve that. We are very concerned about the quality of the Conflux and want the service to be improved but not removed. The story part the game was not very good, but we believe the adventure pack will show how much we have improved the story telling. We are talking about resources, spell books and things like that and we are listening to what the Community is saying. We believe we lost something making the game too rational. And we would be having town screen right from the start!

Question 8: (by Gabryelxxx)
Are we ever going to get the free DLC with the Academy faction that Black Hole promised back during the beta?

We do remember this, and we know this is based on miscommunication. But there is a lot of things going to happen, and we have plans.

Question 9: (by broui)
Used to be that when we clicked on a destination point for our hero to travel, you'd know how many turns it would take to get there. Got plans to put that back in?

We've actually been asked this question twice. I'll have to take it back to the team, see what's possible and get back to you on this topic.

Question 10: (by broui)
Is Crag hack the only classic hero on tap for a return?

There is a lot of other heroes we would like to return to Ashan. But only time will tell. You'll have to buy the adventure pack.

To read Znork's early H6 preview, posted after the Budapest fan day in January, go here.
For more Q&As, see this page
.


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A month ago, we submitted a list of questions for the Ubisoft representative responsible for communication on Might & Magic, Irina Kassina. Since then, a few things have happened, but there is still a need to get something cleared up. So, without further ado, here is our Q&A with the M&M production team:


Might & Magic Community Developer Irina Kassina

There has been near-total silence on the game from producers and developers alike for the past five or six months, a mysterious and worrying phenomenon unprecedented of post-launch periods in the Heroes series. This has caused the Community of fans, who consider the game to be a failure, to become absolutely furious and now something even worse has happened: they have given up. Most of the forums are in fact quiet because the fans have abandoned the game. Also, hardly any fan made maps are being produced, unlike the situation after the release of Heroes V.


Taking even a cursory glance at the rage evident at the game's official forums, we observe a considerable disconnect between the game's developers and its customers. Very few posts are made by the producers and/or the Community Developer, nor can we trace any activity worth mentioning on the fan sites. This is very different from the situation of Heroes V, during the production of which the producers frequently volunteered their opinions. We therefore feel that harsh criticism is warranted and well deserved, and that the Community has need for answers to the following questions:

CH: 1. What is your reaction to the knowledge that most of the fans have already abandoned the game and will you do anything to rectify this situation?

Answer: "The opinion of the members of the various communities is very important to us, but they represent only a part of the whole of Heroes players. We gathered a lot of feedback on the game after the release on the forums, websites, the Facebook page and also through the post-launch survey that was answered by more than 20.000 players. One thing that really comes across is the fact that not everyone plays Heroes the same way or for the same reasons. A vast majority of players completed the single player campaign, played some skirmish maps and moved on to other games, just as they did on the previous instalments of the series.
That being said, we agree that the post-launch support for Heroes VI has been disappointing so far. We had to look for a new developer to take over the patching duties, and that made things more complicated (and slower) than expected. But this period of uncertainty is now over and we are back in the saddle, working to improve things.
In any case, we consider Heroes VI to be our baby. Sure, it was born with flaws, but we'll use any opportunity to make sure he eventually turns into a fine, healthy young game."

CH: 2. As the current M&M Community Developer, can you tell us the reason for the lack of Community activity from the producers and yourself? What is the cause of this silence and will it be improved upon?

Answer: "Over the last 6 months Community activity was not as high as we'd like to see it. While we've organized some events after the launch of the game, shared with the Community some interesting news, communicated about patches, our planning, a few Q&As have been made by the team and so on, I would agree with you that Community experience could be still more exciting. For instance we'd like to see more maps created by the Community and it is something we are currently working on (Map Editor will be improved along with the patches' releases). It is only one part of our plans, more will be revealed pretty soon.
It is important to notice as well that communication channels change all the time, but our engagement to take into account fans' feedback remains the same. The forum VIP was created exactly for this purpose and it is of a great value for us as opinions explained there are really representative of what the whole Community would think about different matters.
There is a team dedicated to the Community as well (Community managers, forum managers, moderators, customer support and Community developers) which is striving to create a solid link between players and developers. As I'm working with the production team, it is easy for me to get the information you are looking for (when there is an answer ready to be revealed of course). So, feel free to challenge me about anything related to Might & Magic.
The M&M production team is always eager to know what's your opinion about different stuff and to give you a better insight into what's going on in here, we are working on devs' diaries, Q&As (like this one), gameplay videos. Basically all of this is done in order to keep in touch with you."

CH: 3. You have made several design decisions intended to streamline the game and attract a wider audience, but despite Community managers trying hard to maintain activity, we see no evidence of such an audience. In light of that, can you tell us in general terms how well the game has sold? Has it exceeded your expectations, done "OK" so far or proven a flop?

Answer: "Despite a changing PC market, Heroes VI performed well, and even exceeded our expectations in some areas. Without delving into specific figures, it was the strongest launch of any Heroes or Might & Magic game, but has not yet reached our original expectations."


CH: 4. According to the Amplitude Studios website and apparently-former H5 and H6 writer Jeff Spock's Twitter comments, several fairly notable members of Ubisoft's production team left the company midway through Heroes VI's development to start up their own independent studio. What was the reason for their departure? Do you think it has harmed Heroes VI?

Answer: "Production on Heroes VI spanned 4 years and in such a long period there will always be some turnover and internal changes. That doesn't mean these seats remained empty – Ubisoft being a big company, one person leaving does not have the same impact as it would have in a small development studio. It's always sad to see talented and energetic people leave, but sometimes in life you meet opportunities (in that case, creating your own company) you just have to pursue.
In any case we wish them the best and their project looks very exciting. As for Jeff, he's an independent writer, so while he's indeed not the lead writer on Might & Magic anymore, he's still working with us on some unannounced projects."

CH: 5. Given the previous question, we are wondering what it is like to work with a Might and Magic brand under Ubisoft. What are the guidelines dev teams are instructed to adhere to and how free are they to follow their own ideas and communicate them to the world?

Answer: "As you know, the Might & Magic IP spreads to several games, which can be developed by different companies. That’s Nival on Heroes V, Arkane on Dark Messiah, Capybara on Clash of Heroes, Black Hole and now Limbic on Heroes VI, etc. All these games were developed in close partnership with Ubisoft producers and experts who work within the (appropriately called) Ubisoft Partners studio.
We soon realized we had to really give a "framework" to the studios and precise guidelines about the world of Ashan and its denizens, and validate the designs they create. This approval mainly touches upon art direction, but game design as well. For instance, a Vampire creature shouldn't attack with Fireballs, even if a game designer suddenly feels this would be awesome. That being said, we're always open to new ideas brought by developers as long as they are consistent with the IP. And while we have documents describing what the "high-level" game design of this or that Faction should be, they are just guidelines and we've always welcomed discussion with the developers if they are against a feature or want to bring something new to the table. And they are free to discuss these ideas with the Communities if they wish to do so, as long as it doesn't clash with the established PR plan."


CH: 6. There were a lot of rumours about Black Hole before you announced their substitution with Limbic Entertainment. Now, it seems to spread to other media. We wish to give you a chance to comment, but mostly we want your assurance that you will continue to improve the game: what are the plans for future support for Heroes VI?

Answer: "We cannot make any official comment about Black Hole. What is important is the fact the patching plan is underway with Limbic, and we haven't forgotten the promised towns creens as well, which will of course be released in a free patch. We have plans beyond that but it's too early to give the specifics."

CH: 7. The fan sites have a fairly general consensus as to what can be done to salvage Heroes VI. What do you think are the most important new/changed features needed for the game to evolve and survive?

Answer: "From what we've read, there are actually a lot of different opinions as to what could improve Heroes VI, so it's far from a "general consensus".
On the low-level changes, our plan is firstly to work on balance itself: make the abilities more relevant, reduce the power of Healing/resurrection spells, make the Core units more vulnerable, increase the damage of the spells. This should be seen in the future patches. In the long run, we also want to promote the differences between the Might and the Magic heroes, and between the Factions themselves. We know a revamp of the Skill System, Sim Turns and RMG are important features for the Community, so they are high on our "backlog" of features to add in the future."

CH: 8. The Map Editor is being worked on. That's good. But fans also want a Campaign Editor in order to make bigger and story-based sequence maps with carryover heroes/artifacts. Given that Heroes VI is based heavily on campaigns, is there any chance of ever getting a Campaign Editor released?

Answer: "We cannot promise anything but the Campaign Editor is one of the features we'd like to add to the editor somewhere along the road. You can bet Julien is bringing this subject back to the table at every meeting."

CH: 9. Given the mediocre success of Heroes V and the thoroughly unimpressive release and post-release stages of Heroes VI, the Community strongly questions Ubisoft’s commitment to the Heroes series – it looks like you want to move on to something else already. To what extent are you focused on Heroes VI and shepherding the game to a more satisfactory state?

Answer: "Heroes V has actually been the most successful Heroes game of all times in terms of sales, and proved to be a very popular game. It sold more than Heroes III for instance. Might & Magic is an important brand for Ubisoft, and we have no plan to abandon it. That includes Heroes VI and the Heroes series as a whole. H6 was meant to be the flagship of the Might & Magic brand for 2012 and beyond, and while it was not the game we dreamt it to be (not yet, anyway), it still paved the way for more Might & Magic in the very near future."

CH: 10. Do you have any plans, vague and unofficial or otherwise, for direct sequels to the Heroes series beyond Heroes VI, or other games in the M&M franchise? If so, roughly when do you intend to realize these plans (near future, distant future)?

Answer: "At the time you'll be reading this Q&A, we'll have launched the Beta for Duel of Champions, a card game in the Might & Magic universe developed by the teams at Ubisoft Quebec. While the Beta is for the moment only available in France, the game is already generating a lot of feedback and enthusiasm in many communities worldwide. And it's only one of the many projects we are working on, some big, some small, all bringing something new and exciting to Might & Magic. 2012 and 2013 are going to be busy years for us."

CH: 11. How would you evaluate your current relationship with the VIP fans? What would you say is their opinion of the game and your handling of its development? Do you think there is any point to communicating with the VIP fans or have they failed in their role?

Answer: "You have to remember that making a game is a collaborative effort between us, the development studio and the VIP fans. The VIP fans have been the representatives of the Communities and always acted as the voice of the rest of the fans. Now the constraints of game development meant we could not always implement their numerous feedbacks, much to our regret. In any case, we have no intent to close this forum and we'll continue to work with the VIPs as much as possible on the future projects of the Might & Magic brand."

Celestial Heavens would like to thank Irina and the rest of the team very much for their time.


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