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Game Design Essentials: 20 RPGs

July 2, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 22 Next

6. Might & Magic

Designed by: Jon Van Caneghem (original designer, creator, producer)

Influenced by: Old-school D&D and Wizardry.

Series: Nine games, plus the spin-off "Heroes of Might & Magic" (itself a revision of New World Computing's King's Bounty) and some other side games.

Legacy: Difficult to say. Of all the classic RPGs, Might & Magic is the one entered most shamefully into obscurity.

Might & Magic is a series that's fallen into disuse lately, which is a great shame because, in many ways, it is the most faithful homage to the old-style, exploring-for-its-own-sake D&D campaign ever sold as a computer game.

First off, it is highly non-linear. Each game's dozens -- maybe even hundreds -- of quests and tasks tend to be scattered around the world in a semi-scrambled fashion. Players are left to their own devices as far as figuring out what to do and what level they should be at to do it.

I must remind the reader that this is a style of game that relies on the use of unlimited game reloading, so players can recover when they unpreparedly run into that group of Cuisinarts while less than level 200. Usually the player has no clue an area is out of depth for him until the monsters wipe him out.

Once granted this quirk, the M&M games are marvelously open-ended and wondrous experiences. They remain one of the few games to adequately express one of the most unique joys of the old-school RPG experience: that of unabashed powergaming. Might & Magic II has a magic space in one of its caverns that grants all the characters, one time only, a thousand free max HP.

Might & Magic

The series does have a story but it tends to be fairly... I suppose the word I'm looking for is "crazy". For example, in the World of Xeen games, the players are quested by the Dragon Pharaoh to save the world from the two evils of Lord Xeen and Alamar.

Along the way they beat up elemental lords, fall out of cloud worlds (probably multiple times), befriend a bunch of palindrome-talking monks, collect Mega Credits with which to pay for building a castle, stop a witch who likes turning kids into goblins, and many other things; these are just the top of my head. Most of these things can be done in any order, and there are literally dozens of other things to do in the game.

In Might & Magic II the players meet Lord Peabody (after rescuing "his boy, Sherman"), travel in time to prevent a fight against an undefeatable Mega Dragon, sack innocent orc villages, and at the end must solve a cryptogram within in a time limit.

These kinds of things could have felt like a massive series of fetch quests, but Might & Magic is too varied for this to become too noticeable by the player. The game allows players to spend time wandering around and getting into trouble however he wants.

It's not uncommon to have accomplished a half dozen quests before the player even knows someone in the game wants them done, and so ends up getting rewarded the moment the quest is officially granted. I'll tell you right now that I don't consider this to be a bad thing at all.

One of the most interesting design choices made by designer Jon Van Caneghem is the use of two types of currency, the usual gold pieces, and gems. Awards of both areas tend to rise as the player explores harder and harder areas, but they also both tend to ultimately be limited in number.

They're not always hard-limited, but there comes a time towards the end of many (if not all) of these games where all of the areas have been explored and there's no more to be found, even if there are ways to continue to earn experience points. The thing is that gaining a level requires both experience and gold, and while experience is the limiting factor in the early stages of the game, it is the player's gold reserves that more often limits towards the end.

Gems are an even more useful type of wealth that is used up in casting the more powerful spells. All of the revival spells, particularly, cost gems, as do spells that can permanently enchant items and perform other tasks that would break other games.

Tying this magic to a second type of wealth, and allowing scarcity to limit the supply of that wealth, helps Might & Magic's spell system to avoid some of the limitations that magic in other games suffers from.

They're supposed to be wizards after all; what's the use in having a wizard if you don't get to bend the rules sometimes? Might & Magic's chief innovation is in allowing just this sort of thing to happen, while keeping it within the balance of a larger game.

Article Start Previous Page 7 of 22 Next

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