Might and Magic may no longer resemble its roots as a turn-based, sometimes silly role-playing game, with its mix of science fiction and fantasy and some goofy monsters (like the Cuisinart). That comes from its creator, Jon Van Caneghem. He’s the CEO of VC Mobile Entertainment, but he started his career 30 years ago, inspired by his love of fantasy and sci-fi.
These days, like hordes of other designers, Van Caneghem is working on a mobile game. It’s called Creature Quest, and it’s a strategy game for smartphones and tablets (it’s already soft-launched in some regions). It’s a strategy role-playing game, and it’s full of nods to Might & Magic and its Heroes strategy game series, with silly jokes, artwork, and map mechanics that echo these beloved franchises.
GamesBeat interviewed Van Caneghem earlier this year. This is the first part of our conversation and an edited transcript.
GamesBeat: I’ve been playing your games since the original Might and Magic.
John Van Caneghem: Oh, my gosh. That goes back a ways.
GamesBeat: I’m old, too. I know a lot of people, when they think of old role-playing games, their favorites are Ultima or Wizardry, but mine are Might and Magic and Bard’s Tale.
Van Caneghem: I get a lot of people like that. There are different camps of things people like from that period in terms of the style or the strategy, how difficult they were.
GamesBeat: Party compositions, tone and humor.
Van Caneghem: Tone and humor was a big part of the Might and Magic series, yeah. We always tried to be a lot of fun.
So, I recently started a new company, about two years ago, called VCME, VC Mobile Entertainment. Our focus is mobile games. Our first product is now in soft launch, in Australia and New Zealand. Our first partner was Tencent, who invested in us, in our A round last year, which I think—you guys covered the announcement. We recently announced the game, Creature Quest. This is a strategy-RPG creature collectible game. It’s kind of a blend between some of the creature collection games people are familiar with and a lot of stuff I brought from Heroes of Might and Magic.
GamesBeat: Heroes was always one of my favorites.
Van Caneghem: One of the challenges—mobile games are the renaissance of gaming, the future of gaming for me. People always asked me what platform I like, and I always said, to me it’s wherever the gamers are. Where can I get to the most players possible and make something they’ll enjoy? It was PC, it was console, and today there’s such an amazing amount of people playing mobile games. They’re becoming more sophisticated. They’re not just little casual things anymore. We’re getting to very deep games, some of which are even more complicated than the 80s and 90s games I made. It was intriguing. I’ve been addicted to a lot of games out there right now. People have been telling me that so many of them are based on what I invented with the Heroes series, so we should go ahead and make one. This is our first game with my new studio. It’s called Creature Quest.
GamesBeat: Is it going to be iOS and Android?
Van Caneghem: Yes. It’s available right now just on iOS in Australia and New Zealand.
GamesBeat: I can see some callbacks to Might and Magic in the art already.
Van Caneghem: Yes, of course. We have all the famous fantasy creatures.
GamesBeat: You definitely twisted the style for mobile, but you can see it some of the runes, or this character right here, this one here.
Van Caneghem: The pyromancer, yeah. Definitely wanted to bring in–
GamesBeat: And the stylized castle, right out of–
Van Caneghem: –Crown of Heroes, yeah. I’ll get started here. This is our throne room. This is where you start the game. There’s a few things going on here I’ll explain. First off, across the bottom, these are similar tabs that some of the other collectible games have. We wanted to maintain some consistency with home. We have our creature collection. All the creatures you can collect and your whole inventory of them. There’s a treasure section.
GamesBeat: I’m seeing–
Van Caneghem: –lots of stuff going on.
GamesBeat: I see a blend of art styles. Some of it’s what you’d get from Asian games, some of it’s what you’d get from western games.
Van Caneghem: The first creatures you get are kind of a little cutesy, like this kitten mage. All these little pirate guys, a little dragon in a shell. A lot of little fun creatures. Then you start to collect the more powerful ones, all the way up the knights and dragons and wizards, and there’s a transition from small and cute, medium and powerful, to oh my gosh, these are legendary, amazing-looking creatures. But we have little things like these bats, little goblins with bats, the dragon in a shell, the matador bee. Tons of little fun things. A little friar mantis.
GamesBeat: That’s totally your Might and Magic-style humor there.
Van Caneghem: We have tons of those in the game. They all have their own sound effects. In fact, all the sound and music is done by the same guy who worked with me at New World and did all the Heroes stuff. There’s a lot of continuity there. Then you go all the way to the more ferocious stuff, like the dinosaurs and druids. You have to have a phoenix. Five hundred creatures in the game at launch, and all sorts of collectible paths. There are different color groups. Each one has their own ability that’s different from all the other creatures. There are tons of treasure to collect, items. I’ll get into that in a second. The usual shop where you can buy the paid currency, which you can earn in the game, or buy extra if you want to play more or speed things up. The premium currency is our diamonds, but we do give a lot just for playing, for logging in, for participating in events. You can play the whole game without putting money in it. We want to make sure that people who just want to play, they can. If they really enjoy it and want more stuff, they can buy things they want. Here’s the way you get new creatures. One of the ways. You do this little summon. You spend either tickets or diamonds and it’s a random—ring the gong and see what comes down. Okay, I got a little fairy dragon. That’s the summoning. We have all the social stuff with your Facebook and friends and guilds and whatnot. But also the bookkeeping stuff is pretty cool. We have a very pretty art style, I think. Not a very anime look, a very western, Heroes type of look.
GamesBeat: But a little blended.
Van Caneghem: Yeah, a little blended. We wanted to bring in something for everyone, try to make a worldwide game.
GamesBeat: Which is not an approach a lot of people take.
Van Caneghem: With the Heroes games, we tried to appeal to a worldwide audience without having any—there wasn’t any kind of anime feel to it, but it did have a lot of Eastern Europe, Western Europe, U.S., fantasy from all sorts of different mythologies. Anyway, that’s some of the basics. Here’s the main ways you play the game. There’s three ways to play. The first is our most innovative, our questing system. This is very new to this style of creature collecting game. Nobody really has something like this. We have all these daily quests, controlled on the server with a schedule. Some are available Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. They rotate and new ones come and go. They all have a little story background. They’re very comical. They tie into the creatures. Each one has different items and stuff that you want to collect by playing through those quests. You choose a quest and it has a difficulty setting, just like Heroes. The higher the difficulty, the better the rewards.
GamesBeat: You don’t see that in a lot of these games.
Van Caneghem: No, you don’t. Then we start the quest. We go into our adventure map. This is very Heroes-esque, something nobody’s done in a creature game. We have our map where you have to explore, but instead of moving a guy around, you tap and spend energy to explore new territories. As you uncover stuff you pick up all the treasure. There are little people you find, quests, and here’s the castle. The castle says, okay, I need a siege weapon to attack this castle. I have to go find, somewhere, a siege weapon. We’ll keep collecting gold and exploring. There are signposts. Okay, here is a creature blocking our way. We can’t go any further because he’s blocking us. Now we have to do combat. The combat is a turn-based strategy game. All the little creature stories behind them are really funny.
GamesBeat: So this is all strategy-based.
Van Caneghem: Right, all turn-based. Here we have the bad guys, up here, and the little numbers are how many turns until they go. Here’s our team of heroes we’ve assembled, our creatures we own. Everybody has all these stats that tie deep into the RPG elements. Lots of numbers. Sometimes they’re creatures, sometimes they’re humanoid. They all have a basic attack specific to the creature, which has all these stats and bonuses. I can press each player and they go. I can target someone if I want everyone to go after that same guy. And I can do what I call a swipe, which is convenient for just grinding away.
GamesBeat: Did I just hear a “wah-wahhh”?
Van Caneghem: Yeah. That was the bugle butterfly playing the sound effect. All the sound effects are pretty cool. Here’s the kitten mage. We’ll see what he says. [meowing noises] Okay, let’s get rid of this wight here. After we build up some mana, our special moves come on line. Each creature has a unique special ability that does all sorts of different things, from stuns to area effects to bonuses, negatives, debuffs. There’s a whole list. Typical RPG stuff. This guy does a bite attack on three different people. The phoenix sets everyone on fire. This valkyrie has a magical attack that gives you bonuses for the rest of the round. Our druid here has a heal, of course, for the party. And our wizard has this chain lightning spell.
GamesBeat: Now we have this dwarf here. He looks like he’s ready to attack.
Van Caneghem: Yeah. One turn, he attacks. If I go once, he goes, and he hit my guy here, but he’s not very powerful at the moment.
GamesBeat: So when a foe attacks, it lists their attack and they do what they do.
Van Caneghem: Right. They can cast spells, heal themselves, do all the same abilities. Whatever ability they have, if you have him in the party, he does the same ability. There’s also what we call our combo system. There’s all these combo dots across the top of the creatures that can be used for mana or, if you strip away all the dots, I get what’s called a combo. He does like 16 times damage. All right. Let’s finish this guy off. We’ve got one more wave. We have a three-wave battle. Then here’s the big guy at the end. Let’s try to get through this quicker. He knocked one guy out. My druid went down, which is unfortunate. She’s our healer for the party.
GamesBeat: Is the A.I. smart enough to know who to attack?
Van Caneghem: Yeah, yeah. But you can also cast spells to protect that person or draw attention elsewhere, stuff like that. He knows who he’s best at. He’s red, part of the fire group of creatures, so he’s good against earth creatures. They get set on fire. There’s a circle of colors in these games, something pretty common. We beat the wave. And we collect all the treasure from the creatures we defeated. We’ve got some EXP gems. So now we continue on our quest. He’s gone. There’s some more stuff to pick up and we keep going. You go through the entire map, of which there’s the wizard’s story here—let’s see. We have to find the catapult to get through the walls and fight the wizard here for the final battle. That’s one way to play. It’s our story quests. It’s very unique to this style of creature collection game. It has the Heroes-type feel to it.
GamesBeat: The games I’m most familiar with are Monster Strike and Puzzle & Dragons.
Van Caneghem: Yeah, you can see some similarities there. But they’re just encounters, not stories. We wanted to do the stories. Every day there’s a new story, and they’re kind of fun. There’s Pirate Plunder and Bewitching Bayou. She’s having a love affair with the wizard and you have to find her potion to make her look pretty. On and on and on. There are special ones with these genies that—it’s a lot of fun. A lot of humorous background based on the characters.
GamesBeat: Wish Vortex? Is that a rib on Grand Theft Auto?
Van Caneghem: Maybe? That’s our questing system.
GamesBeat: How long have you been making games now? What was your first game?
Van Caneghem: It was Might and Magic in 1986. Thirty years.
GamesBeat: And your humor is still intact. It hasn’t changed. It’s still there. That’s rare. This business eats people up.
Van Caneghem: Yes, it does. But I love playing games. That’s what keeps me into it. I love seeing all the new games come out. I love getting joy and inspiration from all the new people making games. There was a period there where I stopped, a very short time, about six months. I said, all right, I’m done. And all I did was play games at home. It was time to get back into it again. I’ve been re-energized by the whole mobile world, because it’s smaller teams. It’s a lot more iteration. It reminds me of the ‘90s in terms of the size of teams and the iteration ability. The ability to make something cool up, versus—today, in console and whatnot, it’s 300, 400 people on a team. It’s a monster of a business. You don’t have that ability to iterate and be nimble that we had on smaller games and smaller teams. That’s why it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to this game coming out, and making the next one and the one after that. I want to create a system where we can keep cranking out fun mobile games.
Correction, 6:08 p.m. Pacific: Jon Van Caneghem’s named was incorrect in multiple places. GamesBeat regrets the error.