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Codex Interview RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Jon Van Caneghem on Might and Magic

Crooked Bee

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Tags: Jon Van Caneghem; Might and Magic; New World Computing; Retrospective Interview

In this installment of the RPG Codex Retrospective Interview series, we are happy to present you with a Q&A session with Jon Van Caneghem, the creator of the Might and Magic series and a living legend among CRPG designers. Have some tidbits:

RPG Codex: As one of the most distinguished game developers, what was the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? Looking back at your career now, is there something you would have done differently?

JVC: The biggest challenge for me was being the designer / creator of the games and the CEO of the company. This dual role always created personal conflict. On the one hand I wanted to make every game perfect, more features, better polish… and on the other I had to pay the bills. My ongoing compromise was: if I stayed profitable, I will always be able to make another game.

Doing something differently, would have to be not giving up programming. In the early days I did all the coding, but as the projects got bigger I had to focus on overseeing the teams. I really enjoyed programming.

RPG Codex: In what ways did you intend Might and Magic to be different from Wizardry and Ultima, design-wise? What did Wizardry and Ultima lack that you wanted to do in your games?

JVC: Wizardry and Ultima were great inspirations for me. But I wanted to make my own vision for a CRPG. I wanted more of an open world feel with quests, puzzles and an emphasis on exploration and discovery. I wanted party based tactical combat, tons of magic items to find and an ever increasing feeling of power as you leveled your characters. Most of all I wanted players to feel free to experiment with all the "tools" I put in the game so they could enjoy playing any way they wanted to.

RPG Codex: Regarding the Might and Magic lore, what gave you the idea to give prominence to the mingling of sci-fi and standard fantasy, when other series (such as Ultima) had dropped it? Were there specific games at the time that inspired you to do this kind of thing?

JVC: I have always been a big sci-fi fan as well as fantasy. Arthur C. Clarke coined the phrase "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This idea plus a Star Trek episode "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky" was the basis for the original M&M Lore. But I didn't want any sci-fi to get into the fantasy world until the very end of the game. I was hoping to create a more thought provoking ending like an episode of the old "Twilight Zones" and not be intrusive throughout the fantasy game.

RPG Codex: What gave you an idea to bundle Might and Magic IV and V together into World of Xeen in such a unique way, and why did you not handle any other games in the series in the same manner? To elaborate, usually expansion packs added something "on the side", but with World of Xeen you could tell that, when Clouds of Xeen shipped, all the connection points were already there.

JVC: I thought to myself as a player, what would be cool if a new version of this game comes out, so I came up with the crazy combining scheme that would be magical to the consumer. This was a monumental task especially in those days. But I thought it was an amazing idea and we keep working on the concept until we figured out how to do it. Thank you for recognizing that feature, we were very proud of that accomplishment and to this day I don’t think anyone has repeated it.

RPG Codex: Are there some kind of extremely obscure trivia or easter eggs in the Might and Magic games that nobody knows about? (Aside from the Star Trek references, of course.)

JVC: Wow, ok, so many games over so many years, there are tons. How about these 2 of the top of my head:
  • "Sheltem" the main protagonist in the first few Might and Magic’s was named after my dog. He was a miniature Collie called a Sheltie. When anything was awry around the house I would always say it was "Sheltem"; that was his mischievous nick name.
  • "Crag Hack" was one of my most played paper AD&D characters. He was a LVL 16 Human Neutral Fighter, 18/00 strength, used 2 one handed swords, acquired Psionics and among other things one of his hands was replaced with the "Hand of Vecna"... it’s a long story. : )
RPG Codex: What do you think about the current state of the cRPG industry? Are there certain trends that are worrisome to you or, on the contrary, that you especially appreciate?

JVC: Besides stand alone CRPGs being completely overrun by MMOs, the move towards "movie games" is worrisome to me; I enjoy game systems, open worlds and exploration. I like to play games, not watch them.​

We are grateful to Jon Van Caneghem for taking time out of his demanding schedule to answer our questions!

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Interview: Jon Van Caneghem
 

sgc_meltdown

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Besides stand alone CRPGs being completely overrun by MMOs, the move towards "movie games" is worrisome to me; I enjoy game systems, open worlds and exploration. I like to play games, not watch them.
I’m convinced there is room in the online space for more sandbox games, but they need to be focused on being games first instead of just being virtual worlds.
I think the Kickstarter program is great and I hope to see many great new games because of it. There’s always a place for good games—it just matters what the consumer expectation is. Turn based games like Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics were successes on DS. Looking forward, those games could easily be successful on everything from PCs to mobile devices to tablets, so yes, they still have a market today.

man it sounds like he's feeling the decline and is leery of kickstarting anything because of how the market has changed :(

dude could still take a hint from grimrock's success though
 

Darth Roxor

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Goddamn you, now I have to resurrect my MM7 playthrough that I've abandoned more than a year ago :(
 

Zed

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Superb interview. Will whisky up tonight and read through it thoroughly.

The biggest challenge for me was being the designer / creator of the games and the CEO of the company. This dual role always created personal conflict. On the one hand I wanted to make every game perfect, more features, better polish… and on the other I had to pay the bills.
A problem for perfectionists everywhere, living off their creative work, I'd imagine. It sucks. On the other hand we might not have seen very many RPGs without the business side saying "STOP, it's ready now".
 

Wyrmlord III

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Besides stand alone CRPGs being completely overrun by MMOs, the move towards "movie games" is worrisome to me; I enjoy game systems, open worlds and exploration. I like to play games, not watch them.

I love you too, Jon Van Caneghem.
 

catfood

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JVC is a true blue bro. Except for that part where he said he wanted to make 3D akshun gaem. That's not a very bro thing to say, Jon. Although I have to say that I would play a 3rd person ARPG in the vein of Gothic designed by him.
 
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JVC is a true blue bro. Except for that part where he said he wanted to make 3D akshun gaem. That's not a very bro thing to say, Jon. Although I have to say that I would play a 3rd person ARPG in the vein of Gothic designed by him.

He could have been pressured into it by 3DO.

Anyway, please Jon, make another fantasy game with the same foundations as M&M, you know you want to.

Although no, he never will. People do burn out and grow tired after a while, and just want a more steady and predictable job.
 

catfood

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JVC is a true blue bro. Except for that part where he said he wanted to make 3D akshun gaem. That's not a very bro thing to say, Jon. Although I have to say that I would play a 3rd person ARPG in the vein of Gothic designed by him.
He could have been pressured into it by 3DO.



Maybe, but it could have been his own initiative. He could have been burned out on making the same style of RPGs over and over again. I know I would be fed up eventually. Can't blame him. Plus ARPGs were "the new shit" back in the late 90's.
 

Grunker

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Anyone who puts the hate on the Bee for the jRPG-stuff needs to open their eyes to the work she does on our content, not only the content she produces herself but also the assistance she gives to the rest of us.

Great interview!
 

DaveO

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Thanks so much for the interview, JVC! While both M&M and Ultima crashed and burned on the ninth entry, it is a bit more probable that a decent M&M revival could be done by Ubisoft. I'm not holding my breath, mainly due to their DRM nonsense, but a small chance is better than none. Ultima can't be revived into anything decent with EA holding the rights. They'd just rape the corpse with Lady British on top.
 

Infinitron

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Anyone who puts the hate on the Bee for the jRPG-stuff needs to open their eyes to the work she does on our content, not only the content she produces herself but also the assistance she gives to the rest of us.

Great interview!

Grunker and Crooked Bee, enthusiastic young Codex staffers on the job! (notice the degenerate Danish facial expression)
maya-the-bee-and-her-frie_4b2904ab366dd-p.jpg


Seriously though, great interview :salute:
 

Sceptic

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Awesome interview. Some of the answers are fascinating. "I have always wanted players to enjoy the game the way they want too and not be forced to play the way the developer wants them too" and "I like to play games not watch them" made me go all warm and fuzzy. He still sounds the same 10 years later, minus some of the bitterness when NWC went down (perfectly understandable at the time; I can't imagine what it must be like to watch someone else drive what you built over decades into the ground). I think the interview's extremely well rounded; some of the early answers should already be known by those who read his interviews at the time, but a lot of the more obscure trivia, like on Spaceward Ho and the naming of Sheltem and Crag Hack I'm sure he's never said before, and I always love to have these kinds of little stories. And we had a lot of questions on his view of open worlds and exploration that got some great answers regarding quest compasses and handholding. It's not surprising Fargo retweeted the interview - many of the things JVC said here seem to mirror Fargo's views on CRPG as well, at least as far as the exploration and sense of discovery is concerned.

And he thanked us for pointing out the WOX uniqueness! It really was a very bold approach to integrating content, and even now I'm still amazed at how well it turned out and how cleanly the whole thing ran - not a single bug to speak of and we were literally installing one game on top of another. Now we're lucky if a release isn't riddled with bugs without any expansion or DLC even!

His response to the question on Scorpia's MM2 review was quite funny :) Interesting that MM3 was such a poor seller though, especially since the game did get unanimously good reviews, and I remember it being very popular and quite well played at the time... Maybe it was only the MM fans that played this one, whereas for some reason WOX also got lots of new blood into the series and therefore sold better.

Maybe we should link JVC to the Best Might and Magic thread, with its 40-50 pages of ranting and raving about the series, all these years later :)

To sum it all up,
I love you too, Jon Van Caneghem.
:love:
 

Gakkone

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Nice job with the interview once again! Jon still seems like a cool guy with straight priorities when it comes to games. Almost makes me regret giving up on my M&MI playthrough, I might have to resume it before my intended playthrough of the sequels.

RPG Codex: After the recent Kickstarter success stories of Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo, what do you think of crowdfunding as a way of independent video game publishing? Would you consider turning to Kickstarter to fund a new turn-based cRPG in the vein of Might and Magic or a new Heroes(-like) game? Do you think such games still have a market today?
JVC: I think the Kickstarter program is great and I hope to see many great new games because of it. There’s always a place for good games—it just matters what the consumer expectation is. Turn based games like Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics were successes on DS. Looking forward, those games could easily be successful on everything from PCs to mobile devices to tablets, so yes, they still have a market today.​

Now that's a careful answer.
 

Infinitron

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What he's implying there is that he can't get into the Kickstarter business personally, but here are some ways he might be able to do something similar within the AAA space he is confined to within EA.
 

Luzur

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good answers, but kinda short.

also i think he mentioned the Crag Hack related thing, atleast im sure i knew about it before.

and yeah he should read the Best Might and Magic thread, if EA allows him to browse the Codex that is..

oh btw, i forgot to mention this but Scorpia reads RPGCodex from time to time, she posted on her site about our interview with Jeff Vogel some years ago.

too bad she doesnt update her site anymore, she said goodbye some years ago and left the site up but not adding anything.
 
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I wonder if some of Jon's ideas for Might and Magic online were integrated into Rift, which he worked on for quite some time. I hope not, because in the end I found Rift generic and insipid.
 
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Ah man, those were the days. It's so sad to see so many great developers don't develop anymore. Imagine if the decline never happened, and developers like him still producing games with today's technology and resources. And it would be a magical circle, because kids today would grow up on such games like I did. And we'd have a millions dollar market for games like they used to make them. Because they wouldn't know popamole brainless trash that would make them even more stupid and popamole. Imbeciles would be removed by "natural selection" because they would have other hobbies. Now, I'm sad.

Anyway, great work on the interview!

And Jon Van Caneghem is a real bro! :love:
 

mondblut

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A lot of developers seem to discourage experimentation and exploration by introducing features such as a quest compass and unkillable NPCs. Might and Magic, however, did not hold your hand

Lolwut? It was Might and Magic which invented automap and quest log, FFS. And killable NPCs never were on the platter, (remotely important) NPCs being a menu screen triggered by a door or a specific square or something else equally indestructible.
 

Grunker

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Automap and quest log is handholding? lol, ffs codex :lol:

They serve to do what you did manually before anyway, whereas the quest compass is a fucking solid wall between free-hand exploration and the game. There's a big fucking difference between giving you great utilities and playing the game for you (like the quest compass does).
 

Phelot

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Jony V.C. is one of my favorite guys, so awesome stuff!

Besides stand alone CRPGs being completely overrun by MMOs, the move towards "movie games" is worrisome to me; I enjoy game systems, open worlds and exploration. I like to play games, not watch them.

:salute:
 

Gozma

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Yeah, those were the days, playing MM3 and Xeen... last week

I chuckled at the Scorpia thing
 

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