RPGamer Feature - Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes Interview
Developer: Capybara Games
Publisher: Ubisoft
ESRB: E10+
Release Date: Fall 2009

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Back in August, Andrew Long and I had the opportunity to visit Capybara Games in the heart of Toronto. There, we were given the chance to try out Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, and both of us fell instantly in love with the little game that could. We also had the chance to sit and chat with Nathan Vella (Co-founder, President & Art Director), Kris Piotrowski (Co-founder & Creative Director) and Greg Georgiadis (Lead Designer) to discuss Clash of Heroes in further depth, as well as their love of old school RPGs and, of course, about Capybara Games.

Where did the idea of Clash of Heroes begin? Was it designed as a puzzle game and the RPG elements came later or the other way around?
Kris Piotrowski: We developed the original idea for the battle system when we first decided to transition out of mobile to DS. We created a really hefty pitch and brought it to GDC with us, not really expecting much to come from it aside from a few good contacts. But, Ubisoft really surprised us with their enthusiasm for the game and eventually the concept we pitched became Clash of Heroes. The idea for the game always included a layer of RPG gameplay, because we were very excited about creating a puzzle game with actual army units and army commanders. The idea that each army unit had their own ability and stats, and each commander had their own hero spell was there from the very start. That being said, it took us quite a while to nail down exactly how to do the RPG aspects, since this was really our first game with RPG systems, and it wasn't a traditional one so there was ton of stuff that we had to figure out to get the 2 elements to work well together.
Greg Georgiadis: The game was first conceived to be very RPG-lite to be easily accessible and more "casual friendly", but I think because many of us are classic RPG fans we unconsciously ramped up the RPG elements more and more, and ended up with something that the super RPG fans on the team could respect, and the non-RPG players on the team could easily grasp and become addicted.
Nathan Vella: I think it's interesting to note that Kris and Greg actually sorted a lot of the battle system out on paper first – with a simple grid and colored plastic coins representing units. It helped a ton in figuring out a lot of the gameplay. Maybe someday we’ll make the Clash of Heroes board game out of it.

With the art direction, what made you decide on an anime-style as oppose to something more Westernized?
NV: This was one of those great developer/publisher moments, where we were literally 100% on the same page regarding the art direction. Ubisoft was interested in taking the art in a more manga-inspired direction for Clash of Heroes... and it just so happened that Capy is heavily influenced by Japanese art, both in games and beyond.
KP: I'm a huge fan of 2D games. I love pixel art, especially from the SNES era so I had absolutely zero issues with going for that art style from the game. Really, the only "anime" aspect of the game is the portrait art. Everything else (overworld environments and battle system included) is just pure, classic pixel art which is an aesthetic that just looks much, much better when you’re working on a smaller screen. When I think about "Westernized" art, I always think about "Realistic" art styles, and I just don't think that stuff looks very good scaled down, on the DS.

What makes Clash of Heroes a Might and Magic game?
GG: Fans of the series will see some of their favorite characters and experience a chapter in their lives that took place in their younger years, before they became who we know them as in Heroes of Might and Magic V. As far as gameplay goes, although it may not seem it at first glance, the battle system fits really well within the Might and Magic World. Building up an army by purchasing units, equipping artifacts, leveling up abilities, and using strategic planning to wipe the floor with the opposing army is what the game is all about.
KP: We tried very hard to keep the game true to the setting established by Heroes of Might and Magic V, so there's a whole ton of new lore that we're hoping the fans will appreciate. I agree with Greg, though, the battle system, though different than the system used in classic Heroes of Might and Magic, should hopefully provide a good source of strategy gameplay for the fans. That being said, I hope people don't think this game is a replacement for the HoMM game style. I don't think that that is the goal for this game. I see it more like Final Fantasy Tactics to true Final Fantasy (and by that, I mean nothing past Final Fantasy 7). Final Fantasy Tactics is a solid, beautiful game on its own, which pushes Final Fantasy to new territory, but it's not supposed to usurp true Final Fantasy games. Clash of Heroes will hopefully introduce Might and Magic to new players who probably (and sadly) have never heard of the franchise.

What are some influences that Clash of Heroes draws upon outside of Might and Magic?
KP: One of the big influences for me was actually Meteos. When I first got my DS, I got really really hooked on that game and I loved the idea of launching puzzle pieces into the sky like rockets. I think that idea kicked around my brain for a long time before it finally congealed into the basic idea that lead to the battle system we have in Clash of Heroes today. We were also working Critter Crunch for a long time during this whole process, so I think as a studio we had puzzles on the brain, specifically puzzle game styles that tried to really step outside of what is normally associated with the genre, like colored blocks and abstract environments. We tried to take puzzles where no puzzles have gone before… We were also influenced by Puzzle Quest, but not by the battle system or RPG elements. Specifically, we looked at how PQ handled the adventuring aspects of the game and we thought that a similar node-based approach just seemed to make sense for a puzzle-based game. This type of node-based system is often used in many puzzle games, and even in Super Mario 3/World, probably because it provides a really "causal" sense of exploration and progress which suited our game well.
GG: A few of the other influences in the game would be Puzzle Quest, Zelda series, Final Fantasy series, and even Capy's own Critter Crunch. There are definitely some noticeable gameplay elements that were largely affected by these games specifically.

Tell us a bit about the plot of Clash of Heroes.
KP: The plot of Clash of Heroes follows most of the main characters from Heroes of Might and Magic V and shows how they actually became the great heroes they end up being in that game. It's a prequel filled with a lot of back-story. The main heroes in Clash of Heroes are Anwen, Godric, Fiona, Aidan and Nadia. Each character leads a different faction through an entire campaign and experiences a different side of the overarching plotline.
NV: Even though there are five unique heroes' stories to tell, the plot is really cohesive and interesting to follow. Some of the plotlines happen simultaneously, while others happen at different times. On the whole I think Dan Vader, Capy's resident game writer, put something together that really drives the campaign mode of the game.

How long does Clash of Heroes take to complete? Also what is the challenge level like?
GG: As far as difficulty goes, once the player has learned all they need, and once battles start getting bigger and more varied, it’s not exactly a walk in the park. We tried not to make difficult battles ever feel cheap or impossible, and we really didn’t want the player to rip the hair from their scalp during every battle, but it is a challenging game… especially some of the boss battles and the fights towards the end of the game.
NV: Some of the game's biggest challenges come from playing multiplayer against other skilled opponents. We have had some crazy wi-fi battles here at Capy that last quite a while and end up going down to the wire, usually ending with massive amounts of yelling, swearing and smashing of things.

Do you have any personal stories you'd like to share while developing Clash of Heroes?
KP: Well, one thing that I think would be interesting to mention is the fact that for a good long while, we all wanted the battle system to be real time instead of turn based. We honestly spent a good long time wrestling with the battle system in real-time mode, but it was just too damn hectic and crazy. The strategy aspect was pretty much non-existent and it basically boiled down to a twitchy "match colors as fast as you can" style of play. Everyone wanted the game to feel strategic, and eventually we decided to try it out in turn-based, just to see what would happen. To our great surprise, the game almost immediately started feeling infinitely better and the strategy aspects really began to shine. In hindsight, it’s obvious that turn-based was the way to go, but we had to bark up the wrong tree for a long time before realizing that. I guess anytime you try to create something unique, there’s bound to be some time lost creating a pile of broken junk before arriving at something solid.
NV: We have really intense MP battles at the studio. Pretty much no one on the team can beat our QA lead Christian, and he and Greg had some amazing fights with half the studio looking over their shoulders. Hearing loud swear-words throughout the studio was the norm during playtesting sessions. It was offensive and awesome at the same time.

Tell us a bit about Capybara Games and some of your projects prior to Clash of Heroes?
NV: Capybara Games is a small independent studio from the wonderful city of Toronto. We started a while back out of our local IGDA chapter, and even though none of us had worked in games, we decided to try our luck developing games together. After completing two games while working other fulltime jobs, we used them to convince Disney to give us money to make a cell phone game for the movie Cars. From there we made a whole bunch of mobile games, many of which we think were pretty good, and we won some fancy awards like the 2008 IGF Mobile best game, and IGN Wireless' Best Puzzle & Fighting games. As our interest in mobile games faded, we decided to move onto the platforms we always wanted to work on – DS & downloadable console games. Clash of Heroes will be our first DS game, and Critter Crunch for PlayStation®Network (releasing soon) will be our first of many downloadable console games. We also have done, and will continue to do, games for the iPhone.
KP: Before Clash, we worked on a ton of mobile games. Mobile is the worst place on earth for a studio like ours, but it helped us build the foundation. Now, by mobile I don't mean iPhone. iPhones rule both as indie distribution platform and as solid hardware you can actually do cool things with. When we were working in mobile, we were working with Series 40 Nokia's, AKA the worst platforms for gaming, ever. In a way, it was like traveling back in time, except without the luxury of a keyboard or joystick... or sound... or memory. That being said, I think we managed to make some good stuff on for those horrible little cell phones but we always had our sites set on the real platforms. I kind of wish our older games, like Super Shove It and Monkey on Your Back, got some more recognition, but mobile just wasn't the right place for those types of games. Now, thankfully, we're releasing games on DS and downloadable platforms, which is where we see the studio really doing our best work.

Are you planning to develop another RPG in the future?
KP: There is a lot of room to do something really interesting within the genre. It’s such a deep well of inspiration that we would love to take another refreshing gulp from in the near future.
NV: Most of the team here at Capy love RPGs. I don't think you will have to wait that long to see Capy start dabbling in the genre again.

RPGamer would like to thank Nathan Vella, Kris Piotrowski and Greg Georgiadis for taking the time to answer our questions and let Andrew and I hang out in their studio for an afternoon. Clash of Heroes will be out in stores in October.

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