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Bard's Tale Co-Creator Heineman Lays Out Series' Demise

In a new Gamasutra feature, Interplay co-founder Rebecca Heineman lays out the series of events that led to the untimely demise of her successful and critically acclaimed Bard's Tale series of games.
In a new Gamasutra feature, Interplay co-founder Rebecca Heineman lays out the series of events and conflicts between developer and publisher that led to the untimely demise of her successful and critically acclaimed Bard's Tale series of games. After helping create the original Bard's Tale (also known as Tales of the Unknown) and taking the wry RPG series in new directions for The Bard's Tale III, the fourth title in the series saw a last-minute renaming thanks to a conflict with publisher EA. "The publishing deal we had with Bard's Tale was that even though we owned the code and the scenario and so forth, the name Bard's Tale was trademarked by Electronic Arts," Heineman recalls. "So if we wanted to release a game called Bard's Tale, we had to pay a licensing fee to Electronic Arts. They wouldn't even let us do it." To avoid the licensing fee, the game was renamed Dragon Wars despite the amusing fact that there were no dragons in the entire game. "So I had to come up with, at the last minute, a story that had a dragon in it, and put little quips every now and then that said there were dragon wars in the past." Heineman said. "But since the game was only a month or two away from shipping, I couldn't re-do the actual ending of the game to make a battle of the dragons. So, it's a running joke that we shipped a game called Dragon Wars with hardly any dragons it." Without the Bard's Tale name, Dragon Wars' sales failed to meet expectations, Heineman said, and EA's own Bard's Tale IV project was eventually cancelled after four years of development. But the final irony came when Heineman tried to pitch her own sequel years later. "There was a time when I had some of my team came up with a scenario for a Bard's Tale IV that I pitched to Electronic Arts, but they said the franchise was too old," she recalls. "Crap!" While a Brian Fargo-led production with the Bard's Tale name was eventually released in 2005, Heineman said the production failed to continue the series' legacy, as she saw it. "In my opinion, the Bard's Tale that Brian released was The Princess Bride," she said. "It even had Cary Elwes as the bard; the humor and everything was The Princess Bride and was not Bard's Tale. ... Now, the game that was shipped was one Brian wanted to make, so that's fine. But to me that Bard's Tale game, I would disavow any connection." The full feature includes Heineman's fuller thoughts on the relationship between developers and publishers, as well as tales of how a Space Invaders tournament earned her her first job, how she came by the nickname Burger, and how a long-sought Mac port of Half-Life was cancelled just before its release.

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