1999 was one of the wealthiest years for gaming history. Legendary titles spawned one shortly after another, leaving gamers—exhausted but happy—no time for rest. Just think about it: Age of Wonders, Homeworld, Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri, SimCity 3000, Planescape: Torment, Dungeon Keeper 2, Quake 3, Jagged Alliance 2, Age of Empires 2, etc. They all saw the light of day in the glorious 1999. Like dozens of smaller suns, those masterpieces rose to the skies, making them brighter and brighter.
One of the first titles in this pantheon of ‘99 was the game eagerly awaited by hundreds of thousands of people. In late February 1999, New World Computing released Heroes of Might & Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia—the game condemned to greatness.
Continue reading “Heroes of Might & Magic: The Rise and Fall”
Since the second half of the ‘80s, Might & Magic series have been accumulating the love and appreciation of the masses. World of Xeen, the role-playing behemoth born from the fusion of Might & Magic IV and V, crowned the series with a luxurious quality cap. New World Computing needed new ideas and technologies to continue the series without the risk of becoming repetitive. Thus it was decided to let the role-playing Might & Magic rest a bit. In the meantime, the studio has made its old ideas work for the sake of its leading franchise.
It was probably the best decision they could have made. For it has led to the birth of the new series in the Might & Magic universe, which arguably became even more popular and beloved than the role-playing one.
Continue reading “Heroes of Might & Magic: The Classical Era”
Cryo Interactive was a very prolific developer and publisher. During twelve years of its activity, this French company has managed to release so many games, that there is a separate Wikipedia page, listing the most of them. Although you may find quite a variety of game genres in that list, Cryo is mostly remembered for its adventure games.
This legacy is more of notoriety than fame, though. Back in the early ’00s, the phrase ‘adventure game by Cryo Interactive’ bore an a priori meaning of a shallow, not more than a mediocre Myst-like experience, probably based on some public domain property.
Atlantis trilogy is one of the most successful of Cryo’s adventure series (sold over a million copies worldwide) and an epitome of the company’s remarkably unremarkable style.
Continue reading “Atlantis Trilogy: The Remarkability of Unremarkable”
Technological spike in the mid-’90s kick-started a wave of prophecies predicting a fusion of videogames and cinema. A fresh breath of future was in the air: FMV-games and emergence of realistic graphics fueled futuristic fantasies about highly interactive movies ought to bring eternal joy and happiness to our long-suffering world. Alas, the reality is the most ferocious party pooper: it turned out that it is tough to balance interactivity with cinematography. You have to prioritize. As a result, games with a high focus in cinematography were severely lacking in their interactivity, falling between the chairs of two mediums: failing to compete with movies (because of their still immature cinematography and incomparable budgets) as well as with other games (because of their primitive gameplay).
Cyberia was one of the first games that learned that truth the hard way.
Battleborn’s story is short and tragic. Released by Gearbox just a couple of weeks before Blizzard’s Overwatch, this hero shooter fell in a deadly whirlpool of unflattering comparisons despite being a pretty different game. In the public consciousness, those two games became counterparts, and Randy Pitchford’s attempts to emphasize differences between them fell in vain. Ironically though, Battleborn’s weaknesses lay also in its differences from Overwatch, not just in similarities. In the light of the latest news about Battleborn shutting its servers in January 2021, I just had to look back at it. For it is not only for successful games to be remembered: flops also deserve their place in history.
I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed it overall: it has some good writing and beautiful bright-colored aesthetic. On the other hand, there was a constant feeling of déjà vu throughout my play-through. Rarely it was a warm nostalgic breeze: most of the time, it was a suffocating swelter of banality. In the first half-hour of the game, The Outer Worlds had reminded me of Bioshock with its retro-stylistic propaganda posters, of Borderlands with its crazy space colony frontier atmosphere, of Douglas Adams’ books with its over the top satire, and expectedly Fallout: New Vegas with its… well, everything else. New Vegas’ spirit is omnipresent in The Outer Worlds, and it is not a good thing, as it seems to be. The reason is that Fallout: New Vegas is, in fact, a much better game.
Might & Magic series entered the new millennium with a limp. The Day of the Destroyer, the eighth game in the series has shown severe signs of stagnation and was met rather coldly by the public, which expected a rise to a new quality level from the beloved franchise. Furthermore, the Heroes series were also walking in circles, being caught in a loop of trying to stretch further the massive success of Heroes of Might & Magic III. In the light of the tough financial situation of the franchise’s publisher 3DO, the next game just had to be successful. So much was at the stake, that New World Computing’s two separate teams had been working simultaneously on both of franchises.
Again I will start an article with a spoiler alert: it all ended pretty bad.
The first five games of glorious Might & Magic franchise have received all the love and praise they deserved. But in the mid-’90s, New World Computing decided to put the series on hiatus. Sheltem’s story has ended on an epic note, and all the roleplaying juices seemed to dry out. Might & Magic became strategic: Heroes of Might & Magic has been released in 1995 and became the world’s most loved turned-based mind boggler almost instantly. But that’s the story for another time.
Might & Magic returned in 1998 after the years of constant technological advancements and evolution of RPG as a genre. It would be a grave mistake to not keep those environmental changes in mind, so NWC had to put their hand on the pulse of time. I am going to spoil you the ending: the return of Might & Magic into the roleplaying genre was phenomenal.
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Behold that fabulous world of roleplaying games! Vibrant and beautiful, it floats through the vast space of escapist entertainment, enchanting the hearts and empowering the minds. There are three pillars this world is based upon—Ultima, Wizardry, and Might & Magic. Each of them had an overwhelming influence on the shape, feel, and direction that the genre of CRPG has taken while forming itself.
I’ve decided to turn my retro-gaze onto the youngest one of the three. Join me in remembering the wonderful worlds of Might & Magic and reminding once again the pure joy of virtual roleplaying escapism.
Oh, some major spoilers ahead, so be warned.