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Q&A with Erwan Le Breton
for Acid Cave's 15th anniversary

Dla wersji polskiej przejdź tutaj: Wywiad z Erwanem Le Bretonem na XV-lecie Kwasowej Groty

The year 2018 marks not only our, Acid Cave’s 15-year anniversary, but also the 15th anniversary of Ubisoft developing the Might & Magic brand, which means that Ubisoft held onto the brand for almost as long as New World Computing. Like with everything, there were many highs and lows during that time, but currently it seems we’re at a low point. We caught up with Erwan Le Breton, the creative director of Might & Magic at Ubisoft to tell us a bit about the past, present and future of the series.

Let’s get the hard ones out of the way first. Heroes 7 received mixed or average reviews ranking a Metacritic score of 67 with reviewers and 4.9 with users. In terms of sales and popularity it definitely wasn’t a hit. What went wrong?
To put it bluntly our biggest mistake was to ship the game too early in spite of the community’s warning. After months of interacting with the Shadow Council members and listening to their feedback, we pushed the game’s release when all the fans were raising the red flag.
The game had severe technical bugs, and artistic and design flaws that could have been fixed given some extra months of polish.
In my opinion Trials By Fire was a better (if not perfect) illustration of what we really intended for Heroes 7. I was proud to showcase it at the Gamescom, and I’m still thankful to Limbic and my fellow M&M colleagues at Ubisoft for their dedication in a time when we had very little love and support.
That said, our initial intention for Heroes 7 was to make it the “Best Of” Heroes by involving the community and combining the most appreciated features from Heroes 1 to 6.
To be honest, we failed.
My own personal analysis is the following (not pointing fingers at anyone here, I’m also guilty as charged):
  • A collection of features is not a Creative Vision – Heroes 7 lacked a “soul”
  • I’m OK with the reuse of art and audio assets from former games because it allowed for a larger scope, but, for various reasons, Heroes 7 ended up looking less modern and appealing than Heroes 6.
  • No matter what we do, we always stand in the shadows of Heroes 3. We’re Ubisoft, we’ve acquired the IP, we have not created it… Fighting the nostalgic aura of Heroes 3 is like fighting the waves, ultimately futile.
  • For a large company like Ubisoft, Turn-Based Strategy titles like Heroes are now too costly to produce (because of the scope expectations and our overhead costs) and too limited in their sale potential.

If you had a time machine (from the Ancients) or a magical stone of infinite power that could turn back time, what would you have done differently with Heroes 7?
Spend more time and effort on finding the game’s focus. A breakthrough feature. A defining vision to give it a clear identity.
Push harder on the art side. I know some fans lament that we spend too much money on making our games nice versus refining the gameplay, but trust me, it’s key in leveraging internal support and external favorable reviews that convert into more confidence (and budget, and time) on the project.
And of course, don’t ship until our beta players raise their green thumbs up.

Might & Magic Showdown - a short-lived game that broke records in terms of lack of players (a maximum of only 79 players playing at once and also a very often minimum of 0). Was that just a bad idea? or a failed experiment?
I still see it as a good idea (the figurine collection concept, them coming to life to fight in an arena or a dungeon, the paint workshop…), but flawed in its execution.

We do know that Julien Pirou was at one point in charge of making a new Might & Magic game, but it was cancelled. Could you confirm whether this was supposed to be Dark Messiah 2? Could you reveal what plans did you have for it and why was it cancelled?
At the time of the release of Heroes 7, several other Might & Magic projects were in discussion, including Dark Messiah 2, but also Clash of Heroes 2, and Might & Magic XI. Concepts were proposed, with various possible partner studios, all involving Julien Pirou at one position or another, but unfortunately, none was greenlighted.
Editor's note: Some time ago we found some graphics published by their authors that were created for Ubisoft during the time Julien Pirou's game was being developed. Ubisoft does not comment on them. We do think they were created for Dark Messiah II, but with no confirmation that remains to be only speculation. Here are some of those graphics:

Now that we have the hard ones out of the way, let’s be more positive :). Might & Magic Elemental Guardians is the latest installment of the brand. Is this a “new way” for Might & Magic titles – going the route of mobile games for the still expanding market?
This is indeed the “current” way. Might & Magic is a perfect fit for RPG and Strategy titles on mobiles.

Can you reveal some Elemental Guardians details that are coming our way?
As it is a “live” game with constant updates, I don’t want to interfere with their communication strategy. However, what you can expect from the game’s future updates is new, original creatures to enrich the Might & Magic bestiary. Hopefully, some of them will one day migrate to PC games.

It seems that with Heroes 7 we came as close to concluding the known Might & Magic storyline as possible, having now stories about almost all eclipses. What would you like to tell next? A story from the times of the Seventh Dragon maybe? or the story about what happened after Dark Messiah? Or maybe it's time to reboot the Might & Magic universe?
Honestly, we feel it’s about time to leave Ashan to rest and work on a new setting. Which means that Heroes Dynasty and Elemental Guardians are probably the last Ubisoft games set in Ashan.
That said, they will be “live” for a couple of years, and there’s still the possibility for a new project to be signed that presents strong arguments to use Ashan as its setting, so no official “obituary” to be expected yet.

Was the Might & Magic Ubisoft Team disbanded after Heroes VII?
After the release of Trials by Fire, the Ubisoft Partners studio was terminated (as part of a global corporate restructuration, unrelated to Heroes 7’s disappointing performances).
Ubisoft Partners was supervising the production of various games made in collaboration between Ubisoft and external developers, including many Might & Magic titles (Heroes 5-7, Dark Messiah, Clash of Heroes, MMX).
Our IP team was part of this studio.
So we were all relocated to other entities in Ubisoft.
We still have a Might & Magic team at Ubisoft HQ, in the Editorial team, notably to support our 3 mobile games (Elemental Guardians, Heroes Era of Chaos, Heroes Dynasty).
But it’s now mostly a content team. Marketing and Community Management are specific to each projects, not centralized anymore.

(The Heroes 7 team, 2015)

Besides yourself, who is currently working on Might & Magic at Ubisoft? How many people?
There’s me, Julien Pirou (still our loremaster, and occasional “jack of all trades”), Theo Gallego (our game design expert), and Victor Malineau (content director for the mobile games).
All of us have other missions at Ubisoft. Our involvement with Might & Magic is just a fraction of our time.
External experts (like writers Kurt McClung and Simon MacKenzie) are sometimes called to the rescue.

It seemed that you kind of “withdrew” from the scene before Heroes VII release, while you were the frontrunner for Heroes VI. Why?
Simply because I was producer of Heroes 6 versus “Might & Magic Creative Director” for Heroes 7 (so less hands-on on the project). I was still a spokesperson for the game, but sharing the spotlights with its “parents” (Ubisoft producers and Limbic developers).

(Meeting fans in Warsaw during Might & Magic Days 2012)

The Really Big Question (that you probably won’t answer in an interview, but here it goes anyway ;) – are there any plans or chances for Heroes 8 in the foreseeable future?
Unfortunately, very little chance in the near future. The base costs for such a game would be too high when compared with the sale expectations, even with a 90+ metacritic rating and a massive support from the community. However, the IP’s popularity in China may tilt the balance in the right direction.

Any other new Might & Magic titles that are coming our way? What should we look forward to for the next months / years?
Might & Magic remains Ubisoft’s main medieval fantasy IP. Even with the genre seemingly less popular than in the recent past (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Witcher, Diablo, Dragon Age, League of Legends… being now “behind us”), it’s far from obsolete (Divinity: Original Sin 2, The Elder Scrolls VI, World of Warcraft’s new expansion…).
So we keep pushing the IP whenever there’s a “let’s do a game with Knights and Dragons in it” discussion happening at Ubisoft.

In Heroes VI there are some remnants of the Academy faction. What was the reason for it being cut? What would the campaign be about if it made it to the game? Something about Elisabeth perhaps?
Academy was planned for the Nival Heroes 6 and originally kept in the Blackhole reboot. It was cut during production for budget and time reasons. The story was not about Elisabeth but about a great daughter of Sveltana (born in the Seven Cities and raised as a Wizard), and her falling in love with a Djinn, then faced with the choice to sacrifice her lover (and gain power and prestige) or spare her (and become a hunted rebel). The story was edited to become the Academy campaign in Heroes 7 (Fahada and Khalida).

At the very early stages Heroes VI was being developed by Nival Interactive (the studio that made Heroes V). What was kept from Nival’s work and why Ubisoft and Nival parted ways?
The collaboration stopped because we had some disagreements on key elements of the Creative Vision and because Nival’s priority had shifted from Heroes (their “flagship” title at the time of Heroes 5) to online games (they were focusing on Allods Online and heroes 6 was their “B” project).
What’s left of the Nival vision is a “Faction reputation” system that evolved to become the Tears / Blood choices in Heroes 6, and a couple of concept artworks that were used as inspirations / references for other Might & Magic games (notably Duel of Champions).
Editor's note: Courtesy of Erwan and Ubisoft we can present a few previously unpublished artworks created by Nival for Heroes 6 (and also - for comparison - an artwork that was finally used in Duel of Champions):

Could you tell us something more about the cancelled Might & Magic titles: “Kingdoms of Might and Magic” (not to be confused with “Might & Magic: Heroes Kingdoms”) and “Might & Magic Raiders”? What was their storyline about?
(About Kingdoms)
The game’s concept, pitched by the late studio Wolfpack, developers of Shadowbane, was an MMORPG with innovative Strategy (Realm vs Realm) features. The game’s pitch was a conflict between a kingdom of Order (Haven faction + allied races) and a realm of Chaos (Inferno faction + allied creatures).
Their world was called Axeoth but borrowed from various Might & Magic settings and mixed everything with very little lore references, mostly “name-dropping”.
The pitch was not greenlighted so we had very little interactions with the team. Only a world map and a couple of artworks remain.
(About Raiders)
Some of the lore created for Might & Magic Raiders, such as the Raiders and their code, Hammer Fall and its Bloodsmiths... later found their way into Might & Magic X and Heroes 7. A few music tracks composed by Roc Chen for Raiders were also reused in these games.
Some characters created by Kurt McClung for Raiders would also find a life of their own later on: two minor NPCs from MMX, Romuald and Karim, were originally characters in Raiders (Romuald was supposed to appear as a street urchin in Hammer Fall). Gloria and Murazel from Heroes 7 were important story characters in Raiders.

Tell us something about you becoming the Might & Magic creative director. What were the reasons for it? Were you excited to “get the job” or scared?
When Ubisoft started development of Heroes 5 and Dark Messiah, I was part of the Editorial team and my job was to help the dev teams on the definition and implementation of their creative visions. My portfolio of games was with the “fantasy” settings (Prince of Persia, Beyond Good & Evil, Myst, The Settlers, and… Might & Magic).
The development of the Might & Magic games was supervised by the EMEA Third Parties studio. Its manager, Stéphane Decroix, offered me a job as associate producer on Dark Messiah, with a parallel mission to work on the Might & Magic IP (create the world of Ashan, etc.).
During the development of Heroes 6, the “parallel” mission was becoming the most important one (with new Might & Magic projects being kicked-off in internal Ubisoft studios – Raiders in Chengdu, Heroes Online in Bluebyte, Duel of Champions in Quebec, etc.).
It was thus natural for us to create a dedicated IP team, and I left my producer position to become the full-time IP Creative Director.
I was super-excited to get the job, as it was a logical continuation of my involvement on the IP, and the opportunity to work with people I highly esteemed.
I sometimes joke about travelling back in time to speak to teenager me and tell him “you know what, sometime in the future you will have meetings to define the colors of Dragons, and people will discuss seriously about it, and you’ll get paid for that” ☺

What are your best and worst memories of working with the brand? What are you most proud of and what would you like to forget?
My worst memory is related to the release of Heroes 6. I was hurt with the degrading relationship between Ubisoft and Black Hole, crushed by the game’s state at launch and the absence of support to fix it, saddened by the loss of esteemed colleagues who were leaving Ubisoft to create Amplitude Studios, in conflict with other people at Ubisoft, and at the same time divorcing from the mother of my daughters.
Fortunately, at the time of Shades of Darkness, the situation had greatly improved and I was back to my smiling self.
As for the “best moments”, they were countless – brainstorming on exciting contents with the design teams, seeing them come to life during development, celebrating the games’ releases, and sharing our passion with the fans (and sometimes the press) during consumer shows or Might & Magic conventions.
My biggest pride is related to the relationships I’ve built over the years with some people who have worked with me on the IP. It’s a mix of admiration and genuine friendship. I would go to hell without hesitation with them, knowing we would find our way back with incredible stories to tell ☺

Why games that were developed after Heroes V and Dark Messiah told tales from Ashan’s past instead of continuing the storyline further?
Simply because we had tons of cool things to say about Ashan’s history. In retrospective, setting Dark Messiah very late in our world’s timeline was a mistake. If I were to do it again (build a new world), the first games I would publish would be very early in the timeline, so we could build form them instead of going backwards to explore the past.

Did you play Heroes VI or Heroes VII recently? What were your feelings?
I haven’t played Heroes 6 or 7 since the release of Trial By Fire. I’m more of a solo / campaign guy for this category of games so I don’t play skirmish or multiplayer.

(part of Heroes 6 team, 2013)

Can you finally reveal the true identity of Kha-Beleth and what happened to the six Demon Overlords?
It’s something I want to keep secret for a little while longer. When we announce the “official” death of Ashan to leave room for a new Might & Magic world, I’ll be ready for an “ask me anything” interview ☺

How the Shantiri Empire came to be? Who was their enemy (besides Demons?) and who or what was responsible for its disappearance? Why nobody, including the Demons, doesn’t seem to remember anything about it?
The creation of the Shantiri Empire is as described in the Ashan Compendium:
From the Spirit world, the Dragon Gods send visions to their now mortal servants, instructing them in proper worship.
This leads to the foundation of the Shantiri Empire which unifies all six Elder races into a single nation, ruled by a cast of Priests, led by nine Hierophants (one per Elemental Dragon, three for Asha to represent her various aspects).
Through their prayers and sacrifice, the Shantiri devouts hope to restore the power of their Gods so they could someday return.
The Shantiris spread across the face of the world, building titanic cities and temples.

Their enemies were the Demons, but they also had internal conflicts.
What doomed them to oblivion is the Elder Wars between the Angels and the Faceless.
The power of the Void was unleashed during this conflict, resulting not only in the destruction of the empire but also to most inhabitants of Ashan forgetting about the Shantiri, their memories erased.

How old is Ashan? Does it exist for millions of years? Or only thousands?
Ashan’s cosmogony is kind of “Creationist” - No Big Bang, no Dinosaurs, no Darwin, just the demiurgical work of Asha and the Dragon Gods. So tens of thousands of years versus hundreds of millions.

What can you tell us about other continents besides Thallan? And if that wasn’t ever specified – what would you like to find there?
Thallan is based on Eurasia, so naturally, we discussed an “African” continent in the South, and an “American” in the West, with opportunities for lost Shantiri cities and variations on known creatures (Egyptian-themed Angels for instance). But we never really brainstormed on what could be found there.

(Thallan and a part of the "African" continent to the south)

Are the various small nods and connections to the previous storyline universe (from Heroes 1-4 and Might & Magic 1-9) only easter eggs or does it mean that the two universes are actually combined? You probably discussed about it many times throughout the years. What were the reasons for and against such an idea?
Julien Pirou fought tooth and nail for years to connect Ashan to the other Might & Magic worlds. I was his Nemesis, always refusing (“Ashan is pure fantasy, I don’t want any Science-fiction multiverse in it!”). However, little by little, with subtle touches, he convinced me to at least hint that maybe… but you’re never sure… could be just a coincidence or the ravings of lunatics ☺

How many Dark Elf clans and Wood Elf kingdoms actually are there? Can you tell us something about the ones we don’t know about?
We have never decided on a finite, set number. We wanted to be able to create new clans / kingdoms whenever needed.

How big was Ygg-Chall in its entirety? Some texts suggest that it’s only one giant, ruined city of the Faceless, while other say it’s their kingdoms.
It’s their first original kingdom (not just a single city).

One Heroes 5 scenario mentions Lake Elves – were they just different Wood Elves or maybe Sea Elves?
It’s just a Wood Elf tribe from Irollan that lived close to a lake.

Void Magic. What was known about it in the Shantiri Empire? Was it legal? Who practiced it (Demons, Faceless, Angels) ? Who discovered it?
Void Magic is one of the three aspects of Prime Magic. The best known is Order Magic, also called Arcane Magic, taught in the Wizard schools or in the monasteries of Asha (Blind Brothers, etc.). Then there’s Chaos Magic, linked to Urgash and the Demons. And there’s Void Magic, bound to the “Great Nothingness” that predated the Cosmic Egg and Creation.
There are still vast expanses of “Void” in the Spirit World. Like Black Holes they are extremely dangerous to the unwary traveler.
However, all souls cross the Void at the moment of death, after they are separated from their bodies, to erase the memories of their past life before being reunited with Asha on the Moon, and given a new incarnation.
At the time of the Shantiri Empire, powerful sorcerer-priests (whose name and identity are now lost) experimented with Void Magic during the Elder Wars, resulting in the near-obliteration of their civilization.
Centuries later, Sandro “rediscovered” Void Magic and was able to tame it (somehow).
Void Magic has never been “legal” or favored by a certain faction (except the Nethermancers but they’re more akin to a sect). The Dragon Knights relentlessly hunt its practitioners.

(Void Magic)

What happened to the original Duel of Champions campaign, where the Herald of the Void was depicted as a man, not as Gazal, Sandro’s female accomplice?
It’s an inconsistency issue with the artwork of the Herald of the Void card.
It was supposed to depict Kieran, sitting on the Throne of Renewal on Gazal’s command, to become the Knight of Negation.
But if you compare Kieran’s card with the Herald of the Void they’re not exactly a 100% fit.
And in DoC’s story, Kieran is not the Herald of the Void (Gazal is), so the card should show Gazal, not Kieran.

Did Wysloth’s story from Heroes 7 really happen or is it merely a legend? Why there are no specific dates on his campaign?
[Credits to Julien Pirou for the answer to this question]
The idea of the Sylvan campaign in H7 was that it was less grounded in history than the other ones, more like a folktale. It is certainly based on true events (Saabira, for instance, was clearly a real person), but Lasir weaves his own version of said events, to support the lesson he's trying to teach Ivan. Lasir is a "marketing expert", in a way, and he knows the importance of storytelling to "sell" anything. That also makes him a rather unreliable narrator ☺
To drive the point across, we drew a clear parallel with Homer's Odyssey (the name of the campaign itself, but also its events: Cyclopes, pseudo-Lotus Eaters, pseudo-Charybdis and Scylla, and Saabira was the equivalent of Circe, being the sorceress who turns people into animals... or in this case, Beastmen...)
We also let the player choose the ending (foreshadowing Ivan's own choices at the end of the game), and we didn't give the campaign an actual date. It happens in "the time of legends".
That being said, the drama between Danan and her mother, as well as the secondary Heroes who appear over the course of the campaign, hint that the true story happened some time after the Day of the Tears of Fire, but long before the events of Shades of Darkness.

In Duel of Champions there was a Dark Elf Necromancer by the name of Damran. What’s his story? How does a Dark Elf become a Necromancer?
Anyone can become a Wizard, or Necromancer.
Damran’s story was that of a rebellious Dark Elf who would turn against his clan and Malassa to become a Necromancer, but then would find “enlightenment” and finally become a Dragon Knight.

(Damran, Duel of Champions)

Do Sea Elves have some special creatures under their command?
Yes. Like Wood Elves have Treants, Unicorns, and other forest creatures or spirits as allies to fight by their side in times of war, Sea Elves can count on marine creatures or spirits like Mermaids, Dragon Eels, or even Leviathans and Krakens (depending on their respective alliances).

Finally: Do you have a message for Might & Magic fans for the next 15 years? :)
There’s very little chance that I’ll still be in charge of Might & Magic in 15 years (even if… you never know), but I sincerely hope I’ll be there, with you, one fan amongst the multitude, happy to see the IP being still alive, maybe even elevated back to its former glory, when it was considered one of the top AAA Medieval Fantasy franchises in the video game world.
No matter what happens in the future, I will fondly remember my time with the Might & Magic community.
It was not always sunny and warm. But even the occasional “hate” messages were received with a smile. Some of them were, after all, quite funny. Others justified in what they were saying (if not in how they were saying it). Most of them I saved in a special folder to keep my feet on the ground and remember for whom we were working.
And, all things said and done, I’m a half-full glass kind of person. There were so many great moments shared with the community that the glass, in my mind, still is, and will remain, full.
So here’s my collective thank you to all the fans out there whom I’ve met in person, who have joined our VIP our Shadow Council programs, who have been active on our forums, who have played our games, who have sometimes joined our ranks to work side by side with us.

What's symbolic, this interview was conducted on the day of the Blood Moon Eclipse, in summer 2018 by Acid Dragon with invaluable help from Rabican, Alamar and Dark Dragon. We give our big thanks to Erwan Le Breton for this interview and for many years of supporting the Might & Magic community. Despite the criticism he received (sometimes just, other times not) and even occasional toxic reactions from some "fans", we could always count on his possitive attitude, response when contacted, patience and enthusiasm.
Thank You!

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