David Mullich is a legendary game designer and game producer. He has been working in the game development industry for 40+ years and has developed projects for Activision, Disney, and Electronic Arts. All team workers at iLogos are fans of games produced by David: Heroes of Might and Magic (including Heroes III, which have genuinely grown my generation here in Ukraine), Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Lord of the Rings.
Right now, David works as a consultant and helps people to learn game design.
At the end of 2021, we met David Mullich and invited him to our game studio in Kyiv to highlight his insights on the gamedev industry and discover some gripping details from his work life.
We asked David Mullich many questions about games he produced, you can find top 10 answers below, but if you are a fan of David as we are, we definitely recommend you to watch our full video on Youtube.
1. Where did you start? What was the biggest challenge at the beginning?
David: Well, that's going back a long time when I started 40 years ago. It was what we would call a cottage industry. It wasn't very well developed, there weren't very many business people like you, which is very important now. But back then, we didn't know how to sell our games. We didn't. It was, I'd say, the biggest challenge with the distribution. We were getting it into the hands of developers. There was, of course, no internet back in the early days. There was no steam, and there were no chain games stores. So when I started up my own company, I had to go and cold call a lot of individual stores one by one trying to get them to sell our games.
So it was tough to get into people's hands. We would advertise in-game hobbies magazines, some very crude ads, and then Electronic arts came by. So, early days - it was a struggle just getting our games out there into players' hands. It's a real hobbyist industry. And you know it's tough to get to when you have a bunch of small groups of people you're trying to communicate with - that's difficult.
2. What are the most intriguing aspects of working for Heroes?
David: The most challenging part was following heroes of might and magic II, which was one of the greatest games ever made. When I was hired by new world computing or even offered the job, I had to think about how I could do something that even lives up to the name of the heroes of my magic series. I was worried I would only be able to fail. So that was the biggest challenge, and I played heroes for about a week - heroes II. And I'm going, this is a great game that I can add to the franchise, and I thought it would be in the artwork. I thought the artwork was lovely.
It was colorful, maybe a couple of years behind the times. So my main goal in developing Heroes III - I mean, you know, creating another great game in the franchise was to improve the artwork. That was probably my biggest focus. When making more what I would call, I was looking for something that I called extreme fantasy. Something a little bit more like Warhammer. In terms of the artworks in a bit of a bit grittier. And not quite as fanciful while still having all the mythological elements that people everywhere could relate to.
So I focused on the artwork, and luckily, I had a really great art team behind me, led by Phelan Sykes, our art director. And that was probably my main focus while maintaining the good game balance and the great gameplay that the previous Heroes games had."
3. What is your success advice? Did you think that time, you could have done something differently?
David: I don't look back and think about what I could have done differently. I had a great group of people I was working with, and we all worked to our full potential. We all enjoyed working together, which shows through in the game. If there's anything that i can say about the magic behind heroes of my magic III, it was a great balance between programming and music and art and design. It all works together so well, and I think that's because the team got together, along with each other so well. We all communicated well, we enjoyed each other's company, we all wanted to make a great game, and I think that all came through in the final product.
4. What would anyone need or require to achieve this type of success? What are the components?
David: Here are the secrets of any great game. It's got to be very easy to learn and then challenging to master, as everyone says, yes. Not too complex to start with. I teach game design to college students, and there are two mistakes they always make. The new students tend to make the games too hard, to begin with. They make it for themselves, but they tend to make the challenge very high because they're experts in playing their own game. When someone else is playing, they forget that the purpose of us making games as game developers we're making entertainment for other people.
So, keep in mind that your players don't know much about it. They're not very skilled in it. Give them time to get adjusted to playing your game. Then, ease your player into it.
5. What is your favorite game?
David: I've made over 60 games in my career. And almost always, by the time the game is released, I am so sick of playing it. Remember, in-game development, most of the time, when you're playing your own game, it's not fun to play it. It doesn't become fun to play it, hopefully till the very end. So most games are not fun to play when you're working on them, and by the time it's released. I'm sick of the game. I never want to see it again. The only exception was Heroes of Might and Magic III that. I continued to play after it was released because it was just such a fun game. That's my favorite.
6. How do you deal with people who have business decisions or different ideas from you?
‘We're very blessed, we're very lucky to be doing this kind of work making products that make people happy, but on the other hand, it's still hard work. It's hard work, and there are disappointments along the way. You need to develop tough skin not to cry yourself to sleep every night. You know it's a matter of being a professional, to also realize the reality of it - you're both an artist and a creator, and you also have to be a professional and be aware of the business realities of what you're doing. So it's tough, although sometimes I look back at some of the people above me, and I think, 'oh, they are such idiots. If only they had listened to me, it would have been so much better. But you know it's the reality of life. Things don't always work out the way you want. Just stay professional.
One of the hard parts is knowing when to fight your fights to get the kind of game you want. Sometimes you have to give in to the realities, but sometimes you have to fight hard against the people who have the business decisions or different ideas. And sometimes you're able to convince the business people that it's worth it. Another week on this game a little bit extra money. Fewer people bring up into the project or that maybe you have a vision for the game that they don't see, perhaps they don't think there's an audience for. On the other hand, sometimes you can successfully make your arguments and convince them.’
7. What do you think makes a good producer, the one that positively affects the project that he's making and the team as well?
David: The number one skill of a producer, I'd say, is communication and communicating with a wide variety of people. Programmers are very different from artists, and they're very different from game designers. So you have to speak the language of each other's discipline, and that's not just the terms they use, but maybe their different personality types. And they also have additional concerns. So you have to be able to speak with and empathize with everyone. What is that you're trying to achieve, what is the vision for the project, and keep everyone mindful of that vision. And everyone's going to look at it from a different perspective, but you're the tough person who has to deal with everyone while still getting everyone to fall in line with what that vision is. Because if you're successful as a producer, the team gets all the credit rightfully so, if everything goes wrong, you get all the blame. It's your fault.
8. What should be the main points of focus for the producer and the game designers in the early stages of development, especially with the people only starting up with their games?
David: I'd say two things. One is having a clear vision for what your project is. What you're trying to achieve to what experience are you trying to deliver for the player. Because there are many different ways to have fun, you can have fun. You could have a straightforward game that's fun as a casual game or a very hardcore game that's fun for hardcore players. You could play a very realistic game or a very fantasy-oriented game. They're both fun for different types of people.
Figure out what type of fun your game is trying to deliver, who it is trying to deliver to, and who your player will be. And measure everything against that because the number two thing to keep in mind is that you don't want to get the game's scope too big. The number one cause of failed games is trying to create a game that's more work to do and maybe beyond the skills of what your team is capable of, how much time you have, and what the budget is.
Maintaining your designing game that fits within the scope and then measuring everything you want to put into the game early on, each feature includes and does fit within the vision. And that's sometimes one of the most difficult things to do during pre-production. Because you're all excited about the game, you have all these great ideas, and you have to be able to cut those features early on that don't fit in with your vision and don't fit in with the scope. So it's what I would say is what you most have to keep mindful of in pre-production.
9. What about radical concepts? How can you know if it's worthwhile?
David: Radical ideas can be very good, but they can inspire you to come up with even better ideas. So, it's great to be radical at the very beginning when you're designing stuff. But you don't necessarily have to stick with that radical idea to the very end as long as it's enough to inspire you to make wise game design decisions. You don't have to abandon being really creative. But, on the other hand, you don't have to take that extreme creativity to the point where you may be making a game that may not be as much fun for as many people as possible.
10. Where to start? What is the key piece for beginners?
David: I would say that to anyone interested in making games - make games! I get approached by many young people who want to break in - how do I get started, and it's just so easy to get started now. A lot easier than when I started in the industry. There are some different game engines that are free. You download it, and you can download the game engine. There are many tutorials out there, and it's really easy to learn simple games and start simple with your first game.
Just make a simple game. You can have a very creative idea. If you're good at art, you can have perfect, specialized skills and a distinct art style. You could do a crazy wild innovative game. And hopefully, eventually, you'll get one that people like and sell it. Failure is your learning, and sometimes, it's not necessarily all your fault when you fail. It's tough to make it a hit game because it involves marketing. It consists of finding the right audience and having everything worked together in ways that you couldn't possibly replicate.
There's no recipe for making a great game, so it's a lot of trial and error. So keep at it, keep finding what your passion is, pursue that passion, and stay repeatedly trying until you develop your skills and create a game that's the suitable game at the right time that hopefully becomes ahead for you.
Every game begins with a concept. The hardest part is to implement this idea into life. To achieve the goal, you must incorporate crucial elements such as strategy, team, resources, etc.
David Mullich's story exceptionally inspires and shows us the hidden world of games. He has a significant influence on all gamers worldwide. We appreciate that he shared a wealth of knowledge about game production and his personal experience.
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