In late April, New World Computing and 3DO released Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven, the only high-profile CRPG to reach store shelves during the first part of this year. Well-crafted and nearly bug-free, it provided legions of hungry RPG fans with hundreds of hours of solid gameplay. It's a few months later now, and with Might & Magic VII: For Blood and Honor well into development, I thought it might be a good time to follow up on the recent past and on the future with NWC's Jon Van Caneghem, the driving force behind the entire Might & Magic series.
Jonric: Let's start at the beginning of Might & Magic VI. What factors led you to decide to revive the series at a time when the RPG genre was not exactly thriving?
Jon Van Caneghem: The lack of competition was certainly a factor, as well as the simple fact that we had not made a Might and Magic for quite some time. With our fans clamoring for another Might and Magic, it was the perfect time to make an RPG.
Jonric: Overall, the reviews of Might & Magic VI rated it as very good, but not at the level to become a "classic" of the genre. Do you think this was a fair assessment? Are there any areas that you think the reviews under- or over-emphasized?
Jon Van Caneghem: Sure. Only so many games can become classics! On the whole, we felt that both our fans and reviewers treated us fairly. When you are so close to a project for so long, it's hard to tell what's going to work in the game and what's not. After a lot of reflection on the comments and criticisms of the public, we found that we agreed with most of the popular opinions.
Jonric: Perhaps the most frequent criticism of the game was that it was too combat-intensive, and that combat was too repetitive - you fought one group of monsters, then went only a short distance before having to fight another group of the same monsters. Care to comment?
Jon Van Caneghem: I think so too - for the most part. There were too many monsters in general, and it could get tiresome fighting the same group of monsters over and over, especially if they did something that "conditioned" your characters, like poison or break armor. In Might & Magic VII we intend to reduce the number of monsters you have to fight, and it will be quite common to talk or bargain your way out of fights if you want.
Jonric: That sounds like a change which will add nicely to the new game. If you could have added, changed or improved one more thing before releasing the last one, what would it have been, and why?
Jon Van Caneghem: It seems small, but I would have liked a re-mappable keyboard. A lot of players said that they couldn't get used to the default keyboard setup. We had originally intended to include this feature, but we just didn't have time before the game shipped.
Jonric: On the positive side, Might & Magic VI drew quite a lot of praise for having few bugs. Did you do anything special in terms of QA?
Jon Van Caneghem: In the last few weeks before any major product ships, just about everyone in the office is playing the game and reporting bugs. You could say our QA department quadruples in size at this time. It really helps work everything out.
Jonric: OK, that's what the media and the public said. As the game's developer, what do you feel the game's major strengths were?
Jon Van Caneghem: Although controversial, I feel the most important thing was turn based/real time system of combat. We really gave this a lot of thought, and I think this was the key to bringing Might and Magic's party based system into the post-Doom 3D world. The only adjustment I would like to make to that system is permitting movement in turn-based combat. I was also very happy with the skill system and the combat balance.
Jonric: Are you happy with sales of Might & Magic VI? Did you release it in any other languages, and are any more planned?
Jon Van Caneghem: Sales have met expectations, and we are quite satisfied with the game's retail performance. And yes, it has been translated into Dutch, French, Japanese, and German. I think that all other translations (Spanish and Italian) are in the works, and we won't be making any more.
Jonric: Blizzard recently announced that their RTS, Starcraft, which was also released earlier this year, has sold over a million copies to date. Diablo, which many class as "RPG Lite" has sold even more, and is still going strong. Do you think it's possible for a "hard-core" RPG to sell that kind of quantity? Why or why not?
Jon Van Caneghem: Certainly. I believe that the Final Fantasy series has achieved that level of success, and it is a complex role-playing game with a higher than average learning curve. With the ever-increasing spread of the PC, we have a better chance of meeting those figures with each passing year.
Jonric: Do you have any research or feedback to tell you whether people are playing Might & Magic VI through more than once?
Jon Van Caneghem: There's no formal research, but from what I can tell by reading message boards and news groups (as well as talking to friends), I would say about 20% of those who finish the game play it through again. Most people who replay are looking to play a different class of character or go through the game stressing different kinds of skills to see how it plays.
Jonric: The idea for the NWC dungeon was a lot of fun. Where did it come from?
Jon Van Caneghem: One of the level designers had made the dungeon as an internal joke during development, and we all thought it was pretty funny, so we threw it in as an Easter egg at the last minute.
Jonric: Glad you did. What major changes will you be making for Might & Magic VII? To what extent were any of these influenced by player and/or media feedback?
Jon Van Caneghem: We are VERY interested in the feedback we received on MM6. Here's a quick list of a few of the most important things we're going to change or add for MM7:
Monster vs. Monster combat: Players will see monsters fight with each other in MM7. They will often have a chance to intervene in a combat to help choose the winner. Players will also be able to summon monsters or charm them into fighting on their side.
Plotline: There will be several instances during the game where the players will be asked to make a decision that will radically alter the story for the rest of the game. Also, the characters will be persons of importance very quickly. This spells the end of "go fetch my staff from the woods for a reward" quests.
Classes and Races: Players can choose from three new classes (monk, thief, and ranger) and three new races (dwarf, elf, and goblin).
Castle Ownership: The players will get a chance to own and operate their own castle. They'll be able to make improvements, store treasure, and hire retainers at this castle.
There will also be 3D accelerator support, a re-mappable keyboard and movement during turn-based combat
Jonric: Sounds great. Are there any significant changes to the design team this time around?
Jon Van Caneghem: No.
Jonric: When can we expect Might & Magic VII to be released? Aside from its own merits, Might & Magic VI stood out simply because it was the only major RPG this spring, but the new game won't have that advantage. What will make it stand out?
Jon Van Caneghem: Might and Magic VI will be released in March of '99. It isn't a one-horse show - it doesn't rely on any single feature to make or break it. Might & Magic VII will stand out as a product that shines in all departments: excellent graphics, combat, story, music, and interface.
Jonric: Lofty goals indeed. What can you tell us about the storyline for Might & Magic VII? I understand it will tie into both Might & Magic VI and Heroes of Might & Magic III. Is that correct?
Jon Van Caneghem: Yes. The story takes place on the edge of the kingdom of Erathia just after the wars chronicled in HOMM3 reach their conclusion. There were a lot of loose ends (Archibald!) in Might and Magic VI that need tying up, and there will be a few loose ends in Heroes III that need tying as well. The story revolves around a conflict that arises between the Human and Elven kingdoms over a small valley kingdom that the PLAYER is in charge of. Although the war seems straightforward at first, there are plans within plans hidden behind the simple fašade of a border dispute. In this story, even the puppet masters have masters.
Jonric: How far ahead are you looking? Assuming it would use a new engine, you would have to be thinking about Might & Magic VIII already if you want to release it before the end of 2000. Anything you can tell us at this point in time?
Jon Van Caneghem: One word: Ancients.
Jonric: Heheh. Interesting yet mysterious. I seem to recall that you were thinking of a Might & Magic Online game. Any plans along those lines? Any plans for a Might & Magic game with multi-player capability for a small group?
Jon Van Caneghem: Plans for an MM Online have not died, just been delayed. We are not convinced that the business model is a successful one. If we start to see other companies make profits, well start the idea up again. As for multi-player capability in the stand-alone Might and Magic game, we're thinking about it, but not for MM VII.
Jonric: Before we end, let me ask which upcoming RPGs, if any, you are most interested in seeing and playing.
Jon Van Caneghem: I, for one, am looking forward to Diablo II and Ultima: Ascension. Diablo isn't exactly a role-playing game, but I thought the first one was a lot of fun.
Jonric: Alright, last question. Any thoughts or predictions as to the future of the RPG genre?
Jon Van Caneghem: One day, we'll be bigger than movies!
Jonric: Cool. And when I'm the Siskel and Ebert of RPG reviews, I'll be sure to invite you on my TV show as a guest. 8-) For the moment however, thank you very much for sharing some of your thoughts with me and with our readers.