The Quest for Might & Magic X
"Nothing is lost, everything is transformed"
~ The Quest for Might & Magic X ~
Creating a video game is a huge endeavour mobilizing the energy and effort of dozens of people, so nobody can really say “this is my game”. This is also the case for Might & Magic X. However, I can at least brag that I’m the one responsible for Might & Magic X being in development in the first place :)
Might & Magic X: Legacy has been in development for more than a year now (the first proof-of-concept prototypes were created in May 2012), but this is only the culmination of an arduous journey, the latest chapter of a long adventure that, for me, started in January 2004. Back then, I was an 18 years-old geek having just graduated in Applied Arts, dreaming of working in the video game industry.
I had been a fan of the Might & Magic series since the early nineties, having started with Might & Magic II on the Sega Mega Drive. So when I learned that Ubisoft (whose offices were virtually two streets from my small, one-room flat) was buying the rights to Might & Magic from the then-dying 3DO Company, I was at first thrilled. All I had to do was to be hired by Ubisoft to work on my favourite series, right? How hard could that be?
To me, everything started with this Mega Drive cartridge...
So I started writing the first draft of a story for a potential Might & Magic X, which I planned to send to Ubisoft. My story would take place on Axeoth, tying together several plot points that I considered "loose ends" of Might & Magic IX and Heroes IV.
After a few weeks of work, I eventually gave up. It was the result of what you could call a “reality check”: after all, I was a freshly graduated 18 years-old with no experience in the writing or making of video games whatsoever, apart from creating mods and maps for my favourite games on my spare time. So I ended up working in a different sector entirely.
Sometime after that, Ubisoft announced they were dropping the "Ancient universe" to create their own continuity and their own setting, Ashan. Because I believed the Ancient universe deserved a proper send-off, my old MMX story draft became the basis of a campaign I created for Heroes V, Legends of the Ancients. And as it turned out, that campaign would get me hired by Fabrice Cambounet of Ubisoft to work on a map for Heroes V (the "Dark Messiah" map included in the Heroes Complete box); then, two years later (in late 2009), to be invited by Erwan Le Breton to officially join the Heroes VI team as level designer. Funny how life works sometimes…
But I was still thinking of Might & Magic X. Why was Ubisoft not making a new Might & Magic RPG? Well as I learned, there had actually already been several attempts to create the long-awaited tenth instalment...
Yeah, you could say Might & Magic X is an old obsession of mine.
X marks the spot
One such attempt was actually completed, although the final game was not released as “Might & Magic X”. Soon after Ubisoft acquired the franchise, they met a promising development team, with a love for first-person RPGs: Arkane Studios. Arkane and Ubisoft started working together on a project that was meant to be a new Might & Magic RPG.
But as the project progressed, it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be something very different from the old games. While thoroughly enjoyable in its own right, Arkane's project was more action-oriented, less open-ended. Eventually Ubisoft decided calling that project Might & Magic X would be doing the game a disservice by creating the wrong expectations among the fans, and so it became known as Might & Magic: Dark Messiah.
By the way, one of the early story pitches for the game that became Dark Messiah was not taking place in Stonehelm, the setting of the final game, but in another Free City of Ashan, Karthal. Arkane even produced some concept arts for the city, which we are still using as a basis for Karthal as it will finally appear in "MMXL".
A concept art of Karthal by the Arkane team for the project that eventually became Dark Messiah.
In any case, these experiences left Ubisoft with the feeling that any new “AAA” Might & Magic RPG would necessarily be very different from the gameplay of the old games (for the reasons highlighted in my previous article about tile-based gameplay), and would therefore never be called Might & Magic X.
But I would not give up. On my free time, I started working on different ideas to revive the RPG series, while staying true to the original formula. The Might & Magic production team encouraged me to continue mulling it over. So I started to think about how we could make a RPG with a reasonable budget, targeted primarily at a niche audience. One thing was clear: the game, while true to the roots of the series, would be an evolution of its gameplay, not a straight remake. What to keep? What to change? Shall we go for a gameplay closer to Xeen or closer to Mandate of Heaven? Tough questions, without easy answers. We would have to make choices and live with them.
At the same time, I started writing a story outline for the game, which I submitted to Erwan early on to make sure I was on the right track in regards to the Might & Magic IP constraints.
A little context before we go further: Ubisoft Partners is the name of the branch of Ubisoft working with third party studios. The Might & Magic games are produced by Ubi Partners and developed by external teams. Other games produced by Ubi Partners include the Call of Juarez series, RUSE…
In January 2012, a “contest” was held within the Ubi Partners studio. Everyone in the studio could submit project pitches, and the heads of Ubi Partners (producers, business managers, brand managers, creative directors, etc.) would pick the most convincing ideas and officially start looking for a development studio to make them happen. That was the opportunity I had been waiting for.
Fake screenshot created to illustrate one of my game pitches. The scenery was created in the Heroes VI map editor.
With the support of the rest of the M&M team, my Might & Magic old-school RPG project was submitted. As you can probably guess, it was one of the projects that made the cut. By the way, I wish to address a big thank you to the fine folks at Almost Human Games. This whole contest took place before the release of Legend of Grimrock, but the Grimrock team had just released a gameplay trailer that proved a great asset to "sell" the project internally, as it showcased what we wanted the new Might & Magic to be: old-school, but looking cool.
We had convinced Ubisoft to give that project a chance, but we still needed a dev team to actually create the game. Several companies were contacted, prototypes were made, and in the end, Limbic Entertainment Gmbh got the job. Personally I was very happy with that choice, not only because we had worked with them in the past and knew them to be great people, but because I felt there were actually getting it. They had played the old games, and they understood what made the Might & Magic RPGs fun and unique, while at the same time bringing ideas of their own.
It took some more weeks of negotiations to hammer down the details of our collaboration and then development could officially begin. Ten years after the release of Might & Magic IX, a new Might & Magic RPG (codenamed Legacy) was at long last in production, with the most old-school gameplay we could get away with. And when it was eventually decided the game would actually be called Might & Magic X, it was like everything had finally come full circle.
But let's not count our Dragons before they hatch: we still have a long road ahead of us. Thank you everyone for being part of this adventure!