- 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 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 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 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 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 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
From the Battlefield to the Tilted Mill
Heroes of Might and Magic IV would only be a shadow of what it is today without Gus Smedstad. Some of the best features in the game, such as the battlefield artificial intelligence and the skill system, are among his creations. We originally hoped to meet Gus at the E3, but he was not one of the Tilted Mill representatives at the show. Fortunately, he agreed to write from his Wellesley, MA office. In this article we discuss the life of a programmer, Fry's Electronics, the strategy game genre and the dreaded adventure map AI.
Celestial Heavens: How are you doing? And how is your current project going?
Gus Smedstad: I don't feel I can talk about the project I'm currently working on at Tilted Mill, except to say that it's further along than I'd expect for the amount of time that we've put into it. From a purely project management point of view, we're doing very well indeed.
CH: What is a typical day in the life of a game programmer? Is the job as fun as it sounds?
GS: I think gamers tend to romanticize working in the game industry. It's definitely hard work, and even when you're working on a game that fits what you'd like to play, there are days when you're either slogging through a hard problem, or there's a bug that seems impossible to diagnose. Generally, the first thing I do in the morning is pick an issue to fix, or a feature that needs implementing. I'm not currently doing any design work, but when I was working on Heroes IV, sometimes there would be design details that needed filling in, or balance issues to address.
In any case, I then spend some time thinking about how I'm going to do it. If it's complicated, that may mean sketching out a diagram or two, or writing out an approach in English pseudo-code. I.e., "for every hero, do this-and-such." Most of the rest of my day is writing code. It's not very exciting to watch, just a lot of typing. Once I've got a draft done, I generally have to iron out a few typos or overlooked items that the compiler finds.
Finally, I test. Usually testing is nothing like game play, it's a purpose-designed scenario that checks first the "normal" conditions, and some extreme cases to test possible problems. I.e. does the creature select the right target? What if there's no way to reach the target? What if taking the action at all is a poor choice?
That's all there is to it, really. I generally don't see the entire game as a whole until late in the project, usually I've gone over individual pieces many, many times, but not in the kind of context a player has.
CH: You were looking for a publisher for a game of your own in early 2002. Why did you choose Tilted Mill instead? Was leaving California a difficult decision?
GS: Honestly, I dropped the idea of going independent because I lost confidence in my ability to do so. The design I had looked a little too derivative to me, and since I was in pretty good shape financially, it was just a little too easy to just slack off and play games instead of work. Leaving California wasn't actually that hard, though I hate the amount of work and disruption moving brings. I grew up in Michigan, so I found I had no real trouble adjusting to the colder weather, though I still don't like driving in snow. The housing prices are better here, and so is the traffic, though neither is as much better as I'd like. I do miss ready access to Fry's Electronics, which is an computer and electronics superstore chain in California. Places like CompUSA or Circuit City just aren't in the same ballpark.
CH: The skill system remains my favorite feature of Heroes of Might and Magic IV. It is accessible, yet deep enough to ensure replayability. What was your favorite?
GS: I'm glad you liked the Heroes IV skill system. I'd played an awful lot of Heroes II, and not quite as much Heroes III, and one thing I knew I wanted was more meaningful choices in skills and spells. I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of must-have skills, like Wisdom, and useless skills, like Eagle Eye.
I also wanted a system that was more skill-driven than character class driven. I've always been a fan of skill-based pen and paper RPGs, like GURPS, as opposed to class based ones, like D&D. The magic system really was at the core of my Heroes IV design, but the skill system followed naturally from it and from my feelings about skills.
I don't think I can pick a single favorite skill. I liked the way the combat skills added special abilities to your hero, and of course each of the magic skills has the whole depth of that field of magic tacked on to it. To say, for example, that I liked the actual play of Life magic better than most doesn't really say that Life Magic as a skill is all that interesting, since it's just an enabler for a branch of magic.
CH: The main problem with Heroes IV is definitely the erratic behavior of the computer player on the adventure map. What happened there exactly? Why does the AI have some success on the battlefield (despite various changes with spells, range combat, special abilities and damage calculation), but keep making major blunders on the adventure map?
GS: The adventure AI is a touchy subject. We were under enormous time pressure with Heroes IV, and really the game was released 3, maybe 6 months before it was really done. As a result, I delegated some programming tasks that I probably should not have.
I did write the battlefield AI, which is why it has a substantially similar feel to the Heroes III battlefield AI. The programmer who did the adventure AI was an excellent programmer, but didn't have that much experience with AI or the Heroes series, and didn't get the polish time he needed to bring it up to the level of the Heroes III adventure AI.
What if the computer played as well on the adventure map than on the battlefield? We will never know...
CH: If one thing could have made HoMM IV a better game, what would that be?
GS: From a design standpoint, the single best thing I could have done to improve Heroes IV would have been to keep the "unconscious" state for heroes. The idea was that heroes on the winning side of a battle who fell in combat weren't dead, they were just badly hurt. Because we dropped the idea, we opened all sorts of unpleasant loopholes in scenario victory and defeat conditions which relied on hero deaths. The "potion of immortality" was a last minute stopgap to try and fix half the problem, the defeat conditions, but we really should have gone back to the original model.
CH: How did you feel about the reaction of the fans and the press? Were the expectations from the fans too high according to you?
GS: I don't think the expectations of the fans were too high, nor do I think the press reaction was unfair. We released a game well before anyone on the development team thought it was done or should be released. I like to think we might have met fan expectations if we'd really finished it. Except perhaps those fans who just wanted an expansion of the previous games, rather than a true sequel.
CH: Did you keep in touch with current and former New World employees?
GS: I do still occasionally exchange emails with former New World employees, though not as often as I did six months ago. Current New World employees are a different matter, since all of the artists and programmers I knew were either fired or quit. One did hang on for nearly a year, but quit when the company moved out of the Los Angeles area.
CH: How do you feel about the most controversial design decisions for Heroes V, such as removing heroes from the battlefield? Was it a bad idea in the first place?
GS: I haven't been following the news on design decisions for Heroes V. I think that heroes on the battlefield are and were appropriate for a Heroes game, with its ties to RPGs and heroic fantasy. Realistically, the fighting contributions of individual heroes shouldn't make much difference to a battle with armies hundreds or thousands of creatures, but the Heroes series has always been more about enjoyable gameplay than realism.
Since heroes don't grow the way economies and armies do, balancing them as individual units was difficult, but I think I did a decent job.
CH: Is there still a future for turn-based strategy games? Is there any danger that the genre might suffer from the same faith as the adventure genre several years ago? Are RTS taking all the room in the market?
GS: Yes, I do see a future for turn-based strategy games. Real time does give you better a better model of many actions, but even with the ability to pause and give orders, you can't easily spread your attention across several areas in a real time game, and you can with a turn based game. As long as we have people who enjoy playing games of grand scope like Civilization, we'll have successful turn based games. I think the problem with Adventure games was that they were inherently less interactive than strategy games or action games. You can't stray very far out of the bounds of the story the designer envisioned. As such, they're highly sensitive to good writing, and good writing in rare in computer games.
Strategy games, whether turn based or real time, have a much greater potential for the player to tell his own unique story. Writing isn't critical to game enjoyment, though it can help.
CH: Finally, what game are you playing these days?
GS: I am currently playing a Playstation 2 (gasp) game, Dark Cloud 2, and enjoying it a great deal. The writing is really awful, but I enjoy the gameplay. It's a resource management geek's game. You're continually modifying your character's weapons, you're saving resources for town building, you're going on photograph collecting expeditions, and you're even allocating skill points in things like the fishing mini-game. It's a surprisingly complex game, and it flies in the face of the cliché that console games are relatively unsophisticated compared to PC games.
CH: Thank you very much Gus. The best of luck for your current project.
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- by Fnord
Originally appeared on The Astral Wizard. Reprinted with permission.
Having worked on the previous Heroes games, what's your overall feeling about Heroes IV? Has the opportunity to create a completely new game, with a brand new engine and top-quality art opened up any new features that weren't technically possible to do in the previous games of the series?
I think the choices you will make as a player will be harder. We've made a real effort to make all creatures, spells, and skills individually different and uniquely valuable. You'll be hard pressed to decide which ones you want.
To answer the second part, yes, definitely. There are a lot of technical improvements in the new engine.
In combat, we can now handle multiple animations gracefully, which means that a wide variety of spells and creature abilities are now possible that would have been difficult before.
On the adventure map, we can now make the wandering monsters move instead of remaining fixed in place.
We're also getting a lot of mileage out of alpha-blending. We're using it for anti-aliasing and for transparency effects, such as partially submerged icebergs on the adventure map, and translucent illusionary creatures in combat.
Of course, those are just a few examples of the many improvements in the game engine.
One of the most important aspects of the single player version of any strategy game is the quality of the AI programming. Can you tell us a little bit about how the AI in Heroes IV works and how it differs from, and improves upon, the Heroes III AI?
When you're writing an AI, you're always learning from previous games. While the Heroes III AI is certainly a major improvement over the Heroes II AI, it still has some noticeable loopholes. For example, it's overly fond of attacking weak stacks, and it's prone to summon creatures even when it's overwhelmingly ahead, and a damage spell would be a better choice. These are things which I intend to correct in Heroes IV.
In broad outline, the basic approach remains the same. The AI evaluates each potential action, assigns it a value including a small random factor, and chooses the action with the highest value. In detail, there are many changes, but describing them is difficult without becoming highly technical.
For example, we're changing the basic "unit" used to value actions in combat from "creature value" to "damage potential." We're also adjusting the value of beneficial spells by a factor that includes relative army strength, and using a more complex method to consider spell point costs when selecting a spell.
Another feature, closely related to the AI programming, is the way that allied computer players are handled in the game. The changes from Heroes II to Heroes III were good, but the AI allies were still only mildly helpful for the most part. Will allied computer players be noticeably improved in Heroes IV?
The difficult part of this problem is communicating your needs and desires to the AI. Without some easy way of doing this, the AI must always follow its own agenda, which may not match your strategy.
We certainly do intend to make them more helpful.
We've heard mention of a scripting language that will be part of the Heroes IV game. This is exciting news because it could really make maps come alive and be even more of an interactive experience than ever before. Could you provide a brief explanation of how the scripting language will work, the kinds of things that can be done with the language, and how easy it will be for mapmakers to learn to use?
Scripts can be used anywhere where you would have used placed events or timed events in Heroes III. You can also attach scripts to individual heroes which are triggered when the hero enters combat or is killed or captured. Seer's huts, of course, can be scripted, as can victory conditions.
To create a script, you'll use a series of dialogs. A script is a series of actions, drawn from a list of about 30 choices. For example, you can give or remove creatures, artifacts, skills, spells, experience, and materials. When you add an action to a script, you get a dialog showing the various properties of the action, such as the target, and how much or what to change.
The most important new actions are the conditional and question actions. If the condition is true, or the player answers "yes", the game executes one set of actions. If not, it executes a different set. This means that the storyline can follow the player's actions much more closely than was possible before.
There are roughly 20-30 things you can test in a conditional, such as whether a specific hero, skill, creature, or artifact is present. You can also test variables that you set in actions, so you can record whether the player has accomplished a task, or visited a location.
In general, anything you could do in a Pandora's Box, placed event, town event, or timed event can be done with a script.
The map editors included with Heroes keep getting better and better with each new game and every expansion pack released. Features such as a terrain height editor have been mentioned, as well as customizable object palettes. Could you elaborate on these new features and explain how they might be used, along with any other new features that the Heroes IV map editor will incorporate?
The terrain height editor lets you raise and lower land on the adventure map. You select the tool, and how large an area you would like to affect, and you drag the terrain up or down. There are restrictions on the changes you can make, so that you can't create a slope so steep that you cannot see the squares on the far slope.
The result is more natural looking terrain. The 3D effects may not be strongly apparent unless you're looking at a shoreline, but you'll always notice the variations in shading of the terrain.
Object palettes allow you to organize the adventure objects into folders in any way you desire. You can even customize an adventure object, and then drag it into the palette. From then on, when you drag that object onto the map, it will be customized that way. You can have multiple copies of an adventure object customized in different ways in a folder, or in different folders.
I primarily see this as a way to change the editor to suit your preferences. If you find that you'd rather organize objects by terrain type, instead of by function, you can do that. Or you can organize it by alignment, or any other method that meets your needs. It's also something of a scratch pad, that you can use to store customized objects or sets of objects you need to make a map.
Rock terrain, for underground maps, has been improved in a big way. You now have two choices for wall appearance, either stone wall or cave wall, and the placement is a lot more flexible. You can now draw any wall shape, including single tile wide rock walls, which wasn't possible before because of restrictions in the terrain tile set.
Mapmakers love to customize everything about their map, and with each Heroes release, more and more objects have been customizable. Will this trend of increased customization be continued in Heroes IV?
The most powerful new tool for customization is the scripting language. By adding scripts to objects, you can do almost anything.
For example, you can add a script to a town that opens up a passage through the forest when the player conquers the town.
Also regarding customization, will it be possible to import graphics, sounds or music into player-created Heroes maps?
Not this time around, but it's something we might do for an expansion.
Some people found the campaign editor in Heroes III a bit difficult to work with, and it didn't seem quite as polished as the standalone map editor. In what ways will the campaign editor in Heroes IV be improved, and will it be incorporated as part of the standard map editor or left as a separate program?
The campaign editor is now an integrated part of the map editor, rather than a separate tool. It should be much easier to use simply because of that.
One of the most asked for wishes for Heroes IV dealt with some kind of expanded event system, where one event could be linked to another. Have you found a good way to do this, or are linked and "smart" events now part of the new scripting language?
The scripting language completely replaces the event system in Heroes III. By setting variables with a script, you can pass information to another script.
In the previous games, diplomacy was limited to preset alliances between players, set at the start of the game. Will there be any sort of expanded or dynamic diplomacy model in Heroes IV?
While we did consider this, it's not something we plan on doing for Heroes IV. It's quite possible that this might appear in an expansion.
Could you tell us your favorite new feature of Heroes IV, or the part that you most enjoyed programming?
In broad terms, the changes to the heroes. I like the new skill system, I like the new spell system, and I like the changes we were able to make because heroes now appear in combat. I think my current favorite new thing is the Animate Dead spell, which allows you to temporarily raise dead creatures as undead, even if they didn't originally belong to you.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Is there anything else you would like to add about the much-anticipated Heroes IV?
I think the significant differences in the spell schools, and the number of special abilities, are going to mean that there are many different ways to play the game. A creature-summoning Druid is going to play very differently from a lightning-throwing Sorcerer or a Priest casting protective spells.
- by Angelspit
Q&A with Fabrice Cambounet
Heroes of Might and Magic V Producer, Ubisoftt
When did work on Heroes begin exactly?
Not more than a month ago actually for the real production, although the process of launching the project itself started a couple of months before that.
How did you end up working on that project?
I am probably the most qualified to work on strategy projects among ubisoft producers. And anyway I suppressed any possible competition (and hide the bodies). :)
Do you have a lot of experience with the Heroes games? Are you familiar with the Heroes player community?
As a player I am mostly a Heroes 3 fan, I only picked up Heroes 4 when starting the project (shame). Three years ago I was responsible for the port of Heroes 3 to the Dreamcast. This was done with the "Arcatera" developer, now-defunct german Westka. They did a really good job, and everything was adapted to the DC, however we were not able to speed up the game enough to a satisfying level. This was very disappointing as we spent month testing and trying different methods to have a good result, but in the end the project was not released. Regarding the community, I am only discovering it right now :)
When will Ubisoft officially announce the game?
Probably not before around this time next year, as there is a long road to go. But I will be happy to communicate with all people interested in the subject until (and after) this point.
Are there any plans to recruit former 3DO or New World Computing employees?
We are considering this.
How much of the work done by NWC before the 3DO bakruptcy do you expect to reuse, if any?
This is to be evaluated, however it will certainly be a small part of what they did for Heroes 5.
Is there any major change (3D engine, Heroes on/off the battlefield, etc.) that has been considered yet?
These *minor* changes are among the "one-thousand-questions-for-heroes5-design" :)
Will Ubisoft re-release Heroes of Might and Magic IV? Will it provide support for the various Heroes games?
No info there.
Are there plans to develop a RPG Might and Magic game in the future?
All I can say now is : "most certainly".
How should fans submit their ideas for the game?
In order to avoid a flood on ubi's mailboxes, I am contacting the major communities in each country (or looking for them), to act for ideas gathering and first selection, before sending them over. All ideas will be considered, but of course all cannot be implemented. Everything is open to discussion at this stage, and I am really eager to know what the fans have
in mind for this game.
Special thanks to Fabrice for taking the time to answer our questions. Image courtesy of Heroic Corner.
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