Lost Tales - Q&A with Terry Ray 09/11/2015 | 109 commentaires

As you know by now, we’ll celebrate the 20th anniversary of Heroes by releasing later this year the first of two Lost Tales of Axeoth for Might & Magic Heroes VII.

Set on the world of Axeoth, these two free bonus campaigns, Unity and Every Dog Has His Day, were written by Heroes IV’s master bard: Terry B. Ray. We have asked Terry to tell us more about these two lost stories, and his work on Might & Magic in general.

  • Can you tell us about yourself?
I’ve been a writer slightly longer than I’ve been a gamer. I wrote my first story around age nine and I’ve played video games ever since Pong. I flipped Asteroids in the arcade, but I sucked at more games than I was ever good at. Still had fun though. Been a father less than both but it has influenced my life in much greater ways.

My father was in the Army, so I had the great pleasure of living in Europe during my high school years. I consider that time in Europe some of the most important years in my development. It gave me a global outlook, not one that was centric to my nationality, and an open mind. I wish everyone had the chance to do that.

Today, I have recommitted myself to telling stories. I am, at my core, a writer. You can’t deny something like that. I learned that the hard way. So, who am I? Writer, father, gamer, trickster, humorist, amateur philosopher, and lover of grilled salmon.

  • How did you become involved with the Might & Magic series?
Honestly, I owe my involvement to my best friend Joseph McGuffin, who was the Art Director, and to David Mullich, who is one of the best bosses I have ever had. David wanted a writer. Back then, there weren’t that many writers applying for jobs in the gaming industry and he wanted one who could really bring life to the characters and campaign. Thankfully, he liked my stuff. I interviewed with five or six people sitting across the table from me throwing questions one after the other. I made them all laugh. I think that’s why I really got the job.

I was also a fan of the series so I kind of knew what I was talking about. I played Heroes II and III and loved them both. I played Might & Magic too. I also ran D&D campaigns since I was fourteen so I knew how to develop a fun game. A lot of varied experience as you can see.

  • Can you tell us about your work on Heroes of Might & Magic IV?
There was so much fun throughout the project! That’s what I remember most. Of course, there was a lot of tension too, especially during the last six months. That’s probably true for every video game.

For me, the project began with creating the campaign story ideas. Sometimes, people had to wait for me to create characters or aspects of the stories before they could do their job. Thankfully, I’m relatively fast when it comes to writing. Once I was done, I would help the others in whatever way I could. I made maps, edited the stories, worked on the manual, and wrote other content.

All told, I was hired to work on Heroes IV, but also wrote the Heroes III Chronicles series. I wrote for other games produced by 3DO too. It was a really busy time but I remember it fondly.

  • Heroes IV began with a shocking scene for longtime Heroes fans: the destruction of the beloved world of Enroth and the transportation to a whole new world, Axeoth. How was created the world of Axeoth, the continent of Iranese where Heroes IV took place, and how was it connected to the larger mythos of the Might & Magic games (the cosmic conflict between the Ancients and the Kreegans)?
This was actually a decision that was made before I got there. It is my understanding that the teams ( Might & Magic and Heroes) felt they had written themselves into a corner. Sort of like how Marvel and DC reset their universes every once in a while because no one can keep track of what has been going on. If Marvel can do it, then it’s okay with me.

So, when I walked in the door they already knew they wanted to blow everything up but they didn’t just want to move to another world and start all over. They wanted to keep the characters that people loved. They also wanted to keep the town types and the Kreegans and, I believe, the Ancients. I didn’t have much to do with the Ancients while I was there, but I was pushing for making them a more prominent story line in future products. I had ideas. Wonderfully evil and fun ideas.

Wait, that just made me sound like some kind of Bond villain. Sorry.

Anyway, for a writer it gave me a somewhat clean slate to start with. I got to create the kingdoms, their philosophies, their leaders, and more. I realized it was a shocking event to begin the game. Two guys, two swords, and a big explosion. Usually, that’s the end of the story. But that is what Heroes IV was to me, a tale of exodus and rebuilding. It is the kind of an archetypal tale that is part of every human being. Natural disasters happen all over the planet but the people who are devastated by them don’t have the luxury of running away to another continent. They rebuild, often in the exact spot where they were before. Katrina. The tsunami in Indonesia. Haiti. So many more. That is human endurance. THAT is heroic.

Look at all the Heroes IV stories again. If there is a theme to the game, it is about the human potential to crawl out of the ashes of destruction no matter what.

  • What was the writing process on Heroes IV?
I am fortunate that I was trusted to create my stories and left mostly on my own, but anything that had text attached to it was run through me. It was my job to give it an overall appeal.

I had a cubicle right next to the break room, which meant if someone brought in free food I was one of the first to get at it. Anyone who has worked for a game company knows just how quickly free food disappears. I think it’s about twice the speed of light. I kept my own coffee maker on my desk because I like my coffee so strong and bitter my ancestors feel it. Other than that, I came in and wrote and created levels for the campaigns and talked to everyone in every department. I feel like everyone accepted me with open arms. A great bunch of people, really, because I also feel I was kind of an outsider when I started there but a friend when I left.

About my process, my bosses gave me just a few rules such as a campaign for every town type. Then I would create the central character for each story, really create who they were inside and out, and then the story would write itself. In the writing world, I would be called a seat-of-the-pants writer. I don’t plot everything out. I let the characters and their choices in given situations write the story. Yes, I know that sounds almost mystical, but that’s what I love about it.

  • What can you tell us about the two “lost” campaigns, Unity and Every Dog Has His Day? Do you remember why they were not produced back then?
Essentially, they came about when I had a little extra time on my hands and still had stories running through my head. This was also during a time when we were still unclear on where we were going with expansions. The future of Heroes was uncertain. So, I put some of the stories down just so they would be ready when the time came, and I figured if I needed to revamp them to fit whatever gaming requirements were established later I could still make them fit.

The two I wrote down were the ones that were the clearest in my head. The Unity campaign was one I would hope would appeal to most of the Heroes audience. The game is titled “Heroes”, after all. But I admit, I have a fondness for characters that fit in a gray area, or sometimes downright black. So, that was how Dogwoggle was born. I fell in love with him the instant I came up with the name. His personality and his story came to me quickly, and I saw him as a character that I could write more on in the future.

As for why they were not produced, they simply did not fit into the plan for Heroes IV, and I was no longer involved after that. Maybe no one knew they existed…until now. 
  • Your script notes reveal some secrets about some of Heroes IV’s characters. For instance, the fact that Lysander, Waerjak and Gauldoth were actually brothers, the illegitimate sons of King Nicholas Gryphonheart with a woman named Iduna. What was your “master plan” with the storyline?
Ah, you caught me! Knew I should have burned those notes.

Whenever I had free time, I often played around with the story lines, the characters, and more. That is how my brain works. My commute to work each day was about an hour and a half on average. Another strange thing about my brain is it comes up with some of its best ideas while I am driving or in the shower. If I could put a shower in my car I would be the Einstein of writing.

When I looked on the future of the story line, I wanted to select three characters that would be pivotal in future games. I wanted these characters to share the same blood. Not like they were all from the same mother, but all from the same bloodline. That is where Lysander, Waerjak, and Gauldoth came in. In my defense, this idea was never completely developed. I was toying with other options too, but these three characters were at the top of the list. What may not be in the notes is the fact that Tawni Balfour, the Pirate Queen, was probably going to be the major villain. I wanted a bad guy that was real, and among all the characters I created for Heroes IV she was probably the most ambitious and the one with the most potential for cruelty.

So, what were my plans exactly? I didn’t have the stories figured out completely. My writing process depends on the characters doing most of the work. I can say that Gauldoth would not have been the bad guy, and Lysander would not have been all good. I know the fantasy genre loves its black and white characters, but I feel we have so much more fun when we’re surrounded by the gray. That’s one of the reasons I think the Gauldoth campaign is so popular. In my eyes, he is a hero.

  • The expansion packs for Heroes IV, the Gathering Storm and Winds of War, were very different in tone from the base game and featured new lands and new characters, with no connection to the stories of Emilia, Gauldoth and co. Were you involved in their conception and writing?
No, I wasn’t involved in those titles. That was after me. When Heroes IV shipped, most of the company was let go. That’s when I left the industry. I tried other things for a while and ultimately ended up teaching high school English. I enjoy teaching, but it’s not writing.

I have mixed feelings about that decision actually. I think I would have enjoyed being involved in writing for video games all these years and maybe would be involved in some of the really great story-driven games of today. But that long departure from writing also brought me back to writing for my own audience. I can’t really complain.

  • The Might & Magic IX team was crafting their own corner of Axeoth, Chedian, while you were working on Heroes IV. How was the collaboration between the two teams?
The collaboration between the two teams was awesome actually, especially when it came to programming and art. On my side, however, there wasn’t a huge amount of talk about the product. Oh, we played each other in ping pong or LAN games every day, talked all the time, and got along great. But at that time the story lines for each product were being kept separate.

I don’t find fault or anything with how things were done. At the time, we considered them two games with two different directions. Nothing wrong with that. In hindsight, yeah, maybe it would have been nice to blend them into a single story line that made people want to play both.

  • What is your best memory of working on Might & Magic, and what are your favourite characters?
Oh, when I think of that time, I think of the camaraderie we had. We crossed over the walls of artists, programmers, and designers and just became friends. We had this ping pong table in one room where we had serious cutthroat games during our breaks. Then there were the LAN games during lunch. Unreal Tournament was the most fun. People in cubicles and offices screaming things like, “Headshot!” or “M-m-m-multikill!” And then there was the time when the entire office outlawed my use of the goop gun because I was just THAT GOOD.

As for characters, I created them all so I like them all. Well, I didn’t create the ones we resurrected from previous games but I did reimagine them. I like every character for different reasons, but I’m not going to chicken out and say that.

Number three was Solmyr. Actually, I wish I had done more with him. He surprised me sometimes. Tarnum from the Heroes Chronicles series is a close second. He is my Crag Hack, my very first D&D character that I brought to life in many tales.

But hands down and far ahead in this race for my love like a cheetah running against sloths is Gauldoth Half-Dead. I set out to make Gauldoth the opposite of every necromancer from every fantasy story and he became so much more during the writing process. That’s my favorite thing about being a writer – when characters gain a life of their own. Gauldoth certainly did.

He’s still very real to me, and to this day I do annual searches about him just to see what people have been saying. Despite his horrible life, he’s a philosopher and probably wiser than anyone around him. He is not ruled by a quest for power like most necromancers, but he sees the purpose and usefulness of power. He is neither good nor evil. He sees chaos and order, creation and destruction all as one thing dependent on each other. I wanted him to be a metaphor for all Mankind. Because of that, I think he is the one and only hope for peace in the troubled realms of the Might & Magic universe.

For years, I have been telling my friends I would love to write a Gauldoth book, or maybe a series of books. When I say things like that, I feel like an ancient god who molded a figure out of clay, breathed life into it, and released him upon the world. Gauldoth will forever be my child. May he live and unlive forever.

  • Did you try the latest Might & Magic and Heroes games? What did you think?
Sadly, I haven’t played the Might & Magic series since but I have played Heroes. Someday, I’ll probably pick up the Might & Magic games I’ve missed. There simply isn’t enough time in the day or the year for me to do all the things I want or have to do, and for the last couple years writing has taken all my free time after work. I can’t seem to stay away from strategy games though. Even when I should be working on other things, I tend to gravitate toward them. I played both Heroes V & VI. I enjoyed VI more because of the character drama. A game with an epic fantasy quality like Heroes should, I believe, always have intense stories. Yes, at its core it is a strategy game but the genre is fantasy. We lovers of fantasy love a good, long, dramatic tale. That is really what keeps us coming back.

  • Are you happy the two unused campaigns are finally getting made for Heroes VII?
At first, I was stunned. Ever seen one of those scenes where people are opening up a time capsule? It was buried twenty or fifty or a hundred years ago and no one really knows what is inside. Then they open it and out pops those giant floppy discs from the 1980’s and you laugh at the memory. That, exactly, was my initial response. Frankly, I had forgotten about those campaigns. But they are stories that I wrote, and I write my stories for other people to experience and hopefully enjoy. So, yes, I love that they are going to finally come to life, but most importantly Dogwoggle is finally going to get his day. I thank you for the opportunity.

  • What are your current projects?
Currently, I am working on a career as a novelist. The new explosion of independent (or digital) publishing has made it easier for a writer to seize control of his own career. Not that I have anything against traditional publishing, but making a living in that venue alone is next to impossible. That is my dream though – to live entirely by creating stories.

Anyway, Indie publishing puts much of the control in the hands of the writer, which I love. This puts the writer closer to the reader. Plus, the reader has access to a greater variety of fiction than ever before. I now write under the name T.B. Ray. Like always, even dating back to Heroes, my fiction is strongly character oriented, plus I love action. I currently have a near-future scifi mystery series out with the first book, Hour 13, already on Kindle and Kobo. It should be out in other forms soon. I also have an apocalyptic series out there called Zycho. Future projects will venture into other genres, especially one of my favorites – fantasy. Getting my stories to my audience is my primary goal.

Anyone who is interested in looking me up can find information at my website tbraybooks.com.

  • Do you have any message for the Might & Magic fans?
I am going to be greedy and give you two.

First, whenever I read the message boards I inevitably come across the arguments about which game in the series is best. These are normally amusing, sometimes upsetting. I understand the impulse. I’ve been a fan of the Denver Broncos football team since early childhood. Some years I remember with pure joy, and others pure pain. But I still love the Broncos.

As for Heroes and Might & Magic, I try to look at them as a whole. Yes, maybe one version is not as appealing to you as another, but that doesn’t mean it is a vile tumor that must be excised from all memory. Love and support the series as a whole so it will stay alive forever (like I hope Gauldoth will), but if someone disagrees with you don’t freak out. Remember, they love the same thing you do.

Second, I know the word “fan” has its origins in “fanatic” and maybe some of you consider yourselves true believers. That’s okay. But I see the fans as those who have given life (or breath) to this very long series of games. There are few out there who can even come close to the number of games that have been set in the Might & Magic universe. That is an achievement gained because of you, the Fans. Congrats!

The fact that I am answering these questions at this point in my life is also a testament to your love. That humbles me, and might even bring a little salty sting of moisture to the corners of my eyes when I think about it too much.

Thank you all. You are wonderful.

Thank you very much :)
(Special thanks to David Mullich and George Almond.)

// Presentation of the Lost Tales available here
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