Author Archives: David Mullich

My Life As A Videogame Character

Of the sixty or so videogames I have developed, perhaps my favorite was the Heroes of Might & Magic series, thanks in large part to how well we development leads got along with each other.  While we worked very hard, we also took the time to have fun with each other.  For example, after I had returned from a week’s vacation with my family, my lead designer, Greg Fulton, had told me that they had added a new character to the Armageddon’s Blade expansion in my absence, and he wanted me to review and approve it.

The character the had named the character they added “Sir Mullich”, and the artwork was based on a photograph of me dressed in a Renaissance Fair costume that I had put on a few months earlier for a photograph used as reference for the town leaders in Might & Magic VI, a role-playing game set in the same fictional universe developed by our sister team at New World Computing. However, it was the character’s description that really got to me: Generally stoic, Sir Mullich is prone to spasmodic fits of uncoordinated excitement believed to intimidate his troops into working faster. As I read it, the rest of the team hovered about, waiting to see how I would react.

Fortunately for everyone, I laughed at their joke about my leadership skills (or lack thereof), but told them that they could keep the character (and its description) in the game.  Little did I realize how long that character would live on.  Not only did Sir Mullich appear in all of the Heroes of Might & Magic games that our team launched from 1999 to 2002, but the character lived on in the Heroes games that Ubisoft continued to develop after buying the franchise from our parent company, The 3DO Company.

“Sir Mullich” also lives on in the many Heroes sites that the series’ fans publish, and I was amazed that when I entered the name into Google for this article, it received 10,600 results. Even more unsettling, I occasionally receive fan mail from all around the world, sometimes with the fans posing with a picture of me.  I may not be famous in America, but apparently I have a large enough following in Eastern Europe for my photo to have been hung up in a gamer’s lounge in Poland or there to be Russian fan art of Sir Mullich in DeviantArt.

What most tickles me is the artwork that is produced for this character, which seems to make Sir Mullich less spasmodic and more heroic with each iteration.  Just this morning, my contact at Ubisoft, Julien Pirou sent me some fantastic artwork of Sir Mullich created for Might & Magic Era of Chaos, a mobile game released in China.  It’s a far more heroic depiction of me than anyone in real life would think, and having created a game that has a worldwide appeal two decades later actually makes me feel more humbled than heroic.

An even stranger experience for me was meeting the real-life incarnation of a video game I had worked on.  The protagonist of Dark Seed II, a horror-themed adventure game I had produced for game publisher Cyberdreams based on the artwork of H.R. Giger, was named Mike Dawson.  This character was the same as the hero of the first game in the series, whose name and likeness was based on the original game’s programmer.

When I joined Cyberdreams in 1993, Mike Dawson had already left the company, but I did get to meet him twenty years when I joined The Los Angeles Film School, where he taught Game Programming courses.   Far from being the tormented and tortured soul from the Dark Seed series, Mike is an impressively normal guy (albeit with a sly sense of humor), but one who is far more heroic than his video-game counterpart for being an absolutely outstanding teacher who just celebrated ten years at The Los Angeles Film School, where he consistently receives the highest praise from his programming students.

So, what’s it like to be someone who is far less heroic than his video game counterpart but having known someone who is actually far more than his? I’m good with that.  I originally got into game development to use computers as a storytelling tool, and so I’m thrilled to entertain people with fictional stories that they continue with their own fan art and fan fiction. But even more importantly, it’s given me many opportunities to meet people like Mike Dawson who inspire me with their real-life stories.

L.A. Game Night At The Scum And Villainy Cantina

You know how you never see the tourist spots and landmarks in your own home town? Such was the case with me and the Scum and Villainy Cantina, a Star Wars themed bar located on Hollywood Blvd in the heart of Hollywood. Although I work only two blocks from this “friendly, neighborhood geek bar” where comic book fan and filmmaker Kevin Smith hosts the weekly podcast Fatman Beyond with his cohort Marc Bernardin, I never seemed to find the time and energy to stroll over to this otherworldly watering hole to check it out. Until last night, that is.

I came at the invitation of Redd Yoachum, the owner of the Los Angeles based music production company Redd Rock Music. I had met Redd the previous week when we were both on a game industry panel at the Art Institute of Hollywood. Redd is a passionate gamer, and coming from the music industry, he was enthusiastic about the idea of promoting indie game developers in the same way that indie bands were promoted. So, he started going to game development meet-ups around the Los Angeles area and invited them to show off their games at a monthly event, L.A. Game Night, that he holds on the last Sunday of the month at the Scum and Villainy Cantina, which is owned and operated by Redd’s long-time friend J.C. Reifenberg, a filmmaker who turned his love for Star Wars into a gathering spot for all fans of fantasy and science fiction.

The evening I attended was the fifth meeting of L.A. Game Night, and the venue did not disappoint. In one small step, I made the giant leap from modern-day Hollywood Blvd to a cantina from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. After passing by the droid detector, I found myself in the middle of a Mos Eisley cantina, where alien concoctions were bubbling behind the bar and I expected intergalactic smugglers and bounty hunters to be having secret discussions in the dark alcoves along the wall.

However, I was here for the games, and again, the event did not disappoint. Here is a rundown of some of the indie games I sampled.

LIttle Bug is bittersweet adventure platformer from Buddy Systems Games in which I coordinated two playable characters who share a physics based swinging mechanic in real-time. I played both as Nyah, a little girl who walking home from school when she’s suddenly cast into an uncanny world where dangerous spirits linger restlessly in bottomless canyons and moonlit desert, or her spirit light. While Nyah can walk on the ground and collect treasures, her light can fly in any direction — and I could them both in tandem at the same time. By forming a telekinetic beam between them, I created a powerful connection that can swing Nyah to new heights, destroy barriers, thwart spirits and light the way to secret locations. I especially enjoyed the foreboding, atmospheric landscape. You can find out more about this game on Little Bug on Steam.

Reiko’s Fragments is Pixel Canvas Studios’ fully immersive VR experience in which I donned a Vive headset to explore the harrowing hallways and daunting rooms of a creepy house inhabited with puzzles and clues while evading the terror of those who inhabit the house with you. I used the handheld controller to collect the fragments of your lost memory to discover the truth behind the identities and story of the doll, ghost, and your own self. I was impressed with the number of items with which I could interact and engrossed by the story about the tragedy of what happens when the pieces of a family become fragmented, of the freedom we have to make choices, and of the consequences we cannot be freed from. Some of the jump scares were especially… scary. Joey Lee, the game director and studio founder, told me afterwards that what I played was just a tiny vertical slice of the game. The full game, which uses the Unreal engine and is displayed at a rate of 120 fps, is a full two hours long. You can find out more at Rei-ko’s Fragments.

After such a harrowing experience, I needed some libations to calm my nerves. I sidled up to the bar and scanned the drink menu: Asteroid Field, The Mind Trick, Grabthar’s Hammer, as well as food items like the Falcon Burger. I couldn’t decide and so I asked the barkeep to name the most Star Warsy drink on the menu, and she recommended I try the “Wretched Blue Milk” a concoction made with rum, coco lopez, blue curacao, and pineapple juice, and served with a green glowstick. It tasted like a pina colada, which was 12 parsecs from wretched to my tastes.

When I finished downing my drink, I discovered that games were not the only interactive entertainment on display this evening. Tales From The Bloodstream is a web comic set in a gritty world of rivers, pirates, revolutionaries and gangsters, It follows the lives of its inhabitants and their struggles, the most common being just making it through the day alive. (Sounds like life outside on Hollywood Blvd.). It contains themes of politics, child abuse, conspiracy, religion and drugs but at its heart it is an adventure with a positive message about overcoming adversity and the search for family. Creator Kevin Hill told me that he worked as an artist at Activision during the same time I also worked at th game publishing company, but several years ago he began developing his own graphic digital novel, which at its heart it is an adventure with a positive message about overcoming adversity and the search for family. You can see the latest episode at Tales from the Bloodstream :: The Long Game 0022 | Tapas

Throughout the evening, Redd and his crew interviewed the indie developers for a video live stream (available at www.twitch.tv/la_gamenight) and that he films a live-streamed podcast at 5pm, one hour before the event itself, which runs from 6pm to 11pm. If you are someone who loves video games and wants to check out the latest on what indie game makers in the LA area are developing — or even if you just want to play a classic retro console games with someone cosplaying a Wookiee while you are sipping a “Bad Feeling About This”, come on down to this wretched hive of Scum and Villainy on the last Sunday of the month. You can find out more at LA Game Night | Patreon.