Fierce Harmony: An Interview with Michael Pierre Price


Over the last few months, I have still been searching for any information pertaining to a special game that has remained long forgotten by the mainstream gaming masses. This was an online-only multiplayer sword combat title known as Fierce Harmony: The Beginning. It started development in 1996 by Indigo Moon Productions and eventually saw release through Kesmai’s Gamestorm service in 1999 along with other titles like Air Warrior III, Aliens Online, the aptly titled Legends of Kesmai and many other games meant solely for online play.

Fierce Harmony took place in a fictional plane of existence known as the Nexus and was composed of several regions that served as ceremonial battle grounds for the tribal combatants of this universe. These beings would then engage in one-on-one sword-based duels in a format that was more strategic and deliberately paced than other weapon oriented fighting games like Soul Blade [PS1] and Battle Arena Toshinden [PS1]. Each player would have a window of time to input his or her commands that would then translate to the on-screen action.

Unfortunately, Fierce Harmony had a very short lifespan and was eventually shut down sometime in 2002. The development studio, Indigo Moon Productions, would eventually close its doors some years after. The online nature of the title coupled with a lack of a proper standalone physical retail release has possibly rendered this as a lost game, meaning that it may no longer exist in a playable form.

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Through a great deal of research and pleasantly serendipitous events, I was finally able to learn more about this intriguing piece of gaming history by speaking with Fierce Harmony composer Michael Pummell. In that interview, he conveyed just how much he enjoyed working on this project and that it is a creative work that he is truly proud of. He also expressed how great an experience it was to work with Indigo Moon founder Michael Price.

In an effort to learn more about this unique game, I tried to find a way to contact Mr. Price. This proved to be very difficult because little information about Indigo Moon exists. Fortunately, the first interview caught his attention and he expressed an interest in speaking further about Fierce Harmony. In my interview with Michael Pierre Price he elaborates on his start in the video game industry, the history of Indigo Moon Productions, the development and release of Fierce Harmony: The Beginning along with many experiences during his 30 year long career in the industry.

Jon Rivera and Michael Pierre Price


Rivera: Firstly, I would like to start with thanking you for speaking with me about Fierce Harmony. I greatly appreciate it.

Price: Oh, my pleasure. I didn’t think I’d ever do anything like this, so this kind of a treat in a lot of ways.

Rivera: It is very much a treat for me too. It’s a game that, from what I have researched, seems really interesting. It is a very fascinating cul-de-sac in multiplayer online gaming. It took a lot of bold moves and risks and I definitely learned about that talking to Mr. Pummell. By the way, he sends his regards. He hopes all is well.

Price: Yeah. I really liked working with him.

Rivera: He has definitely done quite a lot of amazing work as far as gaming goes and games I personally played. I guess the best way to begin is to ask you got your start in the video game industry. If my research serves me correctly, you actually started in the realm of pen-and-paper role playing games. Is that correct?

Price: Yes!

Rivera: It’s funny. I actually exhumed my copies of Gamma World and Star Frontiers that my stepfather gave me [Price laughs] and, sure enough, your name was in the rulebooks. I said to myself, “Oh my goodness! He [Price] has had a bigger impact on me than I first realized.”

Price: Well, that’s pretty cool!

Rivera: Absolutely. So, you started out at TSR?

Price: Yes, yes I did back in 1980.

Rivera: What other things did you work on during your time at TSR other than Gamma World?

Price: Well, one of the very first games I did for the company was one of TSR’s mini games. The title was They’ve Invaded Pleasantville. TSR was doing a bunch of mini games at that time and then I was involved with the D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] expansions from Basic and Expert. That whole thing during that time frame as well. [I] did a lot of behind-the-scenes things, a lot of play testing. I was originally brought in because of my background in physics and astronomy to help with Star Frontiers. That was being developed at that time as well, and did a lot of play testing help. So, it was really formative time for TSR and myself as well. It was a really cool fun time. Also, the last big thing that I was involved with was trying to help them launch the very first products in their computer game area. That was kind of an exciting time, that was around 1982 or 1983. So, that’s how I got started. I left academia and joined as a game designer, one of their first game designers.

Rivera: Ecxellent. Another game I played was Star Frontiers. I was raised on the good stuff; the classics.

Price: That’s cool stuff. Awesome.

Rivera: I have to assume that your time at TSR was sort of a springboard that propelled you into the world of interactive entertainment. Was this starting with Coleco?

Price: Yes. In fact, Lawrence Schick, who had hired me at TSR, had left several months ahead of that [for Coleco]; Maybe even a year ahead from when I left. When I’d left TSR he and I stayed in contact and he was telling about Coleco and video games. To be honest, I really didn’t know much of anything about video games. It was still obviously a very new phenomena at that time and I didn’t really consider that as any kind of possibility. Eventually, I did join Coleco. So, it was a lot of on-the-job training in terms of the whole new technology component on top of things. [Laughs] It’s crazy because the games that were being made at that point were 4Kb cartridges… 4K [laughs]!

I mean, you know we have textures these days that are a lot bigger than that! It was really, really fascinating to get a chance to be involved with something that was emerging into the mass market conciousness at that point.

Rivera: What are some titles that you work on? Did you do game development work on the Colecovision exclusively, the Adam Computer exclusively or both?

Price: Actually both. The Adam was the last stages when I joined on board. There was still a lot of internal play testing on some of that along with some of the entertainment titles that were being packaged with it. That was part of some of my involvement and then working on just the Colecovision titles as well. Development times and the scope of the games obviously was very different than what we’re kind of used to these days. The design department really was made up of traditional pen and paper game designers and we were working on multiple titles not only as the leads for those titles, but then also helping to serve as play testers and additional developers on other titles. So many of the titles were arcade knock-offs or arcade adaptations (arcade to home console ports) for the Colecovision and adaptations from other consoles at that point, other machines, to the Colecovision. We were working with Japanese developers on the arcade side. We had a lot of arcade machines within Coleco that we would play test to understand what all the ins and outs of the games were, so that we could then replicate that on the Colecovision. It was a chaotic environment, but it was really cool!

Rivera: It must have been an extremely interesting learning experience. Just as a non sequitur, did you have any involvement with the K. C. Munchkin games or did you experience the strife of the Sid Sheinberg Universal lawsuit for Donkey Kong?

Price: Yes, in some respects. Well, it was really interesting at that point. With the Adam version, I believe that Lawrence was the lead on Super Donkey Kong and we actually created some new levels. Apparently, I guess the license holders nixed most of that. For me, so much of this was new, other than some of the classic arcade games, and was really fascinating. Also, to be working with a new technology within a hugely successful company that had other products made for an interesting dynamic too.

Rivera: For sure. How did it come to pass that you would found Indigo Moon Productions?

Price: Well, I left Coleco and that wasn’t because we really wanted to; it was because they basically made a business decision that shut down the electronic game division. I managed to get involved with a privately held company that had licensed laser technology that they wanted to do some entertainment titles with. That led me, for a few years, to work in the location based entertainment industry. Things that you would find maybe at Disney World that would be dark rides and things like that which then led me, in the mid 90s, to a company that was building virtual reality arcade games for the location based entertainment industry that was based out of Louisville, KY. I then got hired on as their director of game development to create games for their VR efforts. After a year of working with them, myself and two programmers and one of the business development guys saw that the management running the company had some issues, so we decided we would go off on our own and start our own company doing game development for the games industry. At that time, our two programmers were really experts in 3D, which was emerging. We started Indigo Moon Productions without any clients and we went to CES [Consumer Electronics Show], got a rep for our company, landed a title with Interplay to do programming development and grew the company. The company lasted for six or so years based in Louisville, KY which was an oddity at the time.

Rivera: Absolutely. I was actually quite intrigued to find out that there was a video game development studio in Louisville at some point in history, which is pretty close to the Solid State Gamer headquarters in Lexington. That is how I first discovered the title, through a fellow with whom I work with. He does acting work on the side and had mentioned something about doing the preliminary fight choreography for a small game title called Fierce Harmony.

Price: Oh my Gosh!

Rivera: Yes, Mr. Phillips. Thomas Phillips!

Price: [Laughs] Yes! He was awesome. Oh my god, he was so developmental in helping us hone and really target what we conceptually wanted to do for the fight sequences. Oh my gosh, what a small world [laughs]!

Rivera: It sure is a small world! What time would you say this was in the development cycle of Fierce Harmony? Was this 1996 we are talking about?

Price: Yeah, in that time frame. I literally spent two months working at home away from the other guys in fall of ’95 conceptualizing the major game play ideas that would become Fierce Harmony. It was really a major effort on my part. The other guys had no idea of what I was working on and, after about two months on my own, I came back and we went through a lot of the concepts this was our first title that we wanted to pitch to the newly emerging online game space. There was a lot of excitement, but also at the same time for a really new small company the idea that we could kind of pitch our own idea was a real big double edged sword at that point. A small pun intended I guess [laughs].

Rivera: How did you come to contract Micheal Pummell for composing the music for Fierce Harmony?

Price: Well, that was definitely further down the road, but I really wanted to create a very otherworldly, atmospheric and primal environment. Not something that would feel like being on another planet, but something that would feel like being in another plane of existence. We were looking at creating visual environments that would be evocative of a lot of the conceptual things going on and I knew that I wanted to create music and sound effects that would tie in and really enhance the visuals at the same time. We had nobody on board with the capabilities or the background in that area, so we went searching and had heard that there was this group in Cincinnati, OH [Goldman Productions] that existed and we reached out to them. We had a few meetings and that’s where I met Mike. I don’t exactly remember was his title was there, but anyway we got along. He, I would say, almost immediately had a good feel for what we were trying to achieve and there was a lot of back-and-forth experimentation and collaboration; a lot of things we didn’t end up using. For me, it’s what’s magical about working with other creative people when you get in sync with them. Things happen and come into existence that could have never happened if you were the only one doing it. So, for me, Mike was a real joy to work with.

Rivera: It is always great when that sort of magic happens. With how you have described in terms of doing development on the game, could I make the conjecture that there was a lot of working remotely between different facets of the game’s development?

Price: Well, on the sound side, yes. The rest of it was done internally. We had a small team of about a dozen people. It was a pretty good mix between 3D and texture artists, animators and the programming side as well. It was a real cool experience because there were only a few really major massively multiplayer titles at that point, all of the classic RPGs. There were a small number of companies that had been experimenting in this area and our title got picked up by the Imagination Network which became World Play and became a part of America Online. Unfortunately for us, AOL dropped their external developments and then we ended up getting picked by Kesmai, which was a whole other experience for us as a small company trying to stay afloat. We finally got released on Kaesmai’s GameStorm network in 1999 when we finally got out of beta and launched.

Rivera: I see. Not to skip around the chronology too much, but when you had Tom Phillips do the fight choreography, was there any semblance of motion capture or was just recording his movements on film or tape?

Price: Yeah, we recorded it on video camera. What he was doing for us was giving us the visual language to take to the folks that we worked with on motion capture. So, a lot of Tom’s choreography was from classic sword fighting and what is done in theater and also with movies. He gave us a lot of the basic language and the basic stances with transitional concepts in going from one movement to another, the different defensive postures and offensive techniques. I guess I had been influenced a lot by the sword fighting that I liked seeing in The Highlander, so for me, I was kind of looking for a mix between martial arts sword fighting to some degree and classic European style sword fighting. The folks that got to do the actual motion capture for us were expert martial artists experienced in sword fighting, so they added their own innate way in which they did things based on the kinds language and concepts that we had developed. It changed even further from what Tom showed us, but Tom gave us the basis for being able to talk to and direct the guys that did the motion capture movements that we would have never been able to do without Tom. So, he gave us the vocabulary and the concepts for us to make the time we had in the motion capture studio productive. He was very instrumental with that.

Rivera: Was the game itself, if I can get into the mechanical framework, to be a real-time action oriented experience or was it supposed to be a more deliberately slow paced turn based experience?

Price: That is an excellent question. That was the challenge I faced as a game designer when we were doing this because, at that point in time, the technology for online gaming made a fast-paced button masher game an impossibility if you were trying to reach a mass audience. We made the decision to create a hybrid between fast-paced action and a deliberative turn based approach, so it was turn based in the decision making that the players had, but they were limited in terms of how much time they were given to make those decisions. There was the definitely the back-and-forth [with the action], but at the same time you had to be making your strategic decisions within a certain time frame.

Rivera: That is really interesting.

Price: Not microseconds, but several seconds. The time pressure was there, but it was enough so that you could strategize.

Rivera: What were the other features of the game? I noticed that the combatants, in the few stills I could find on the internet, showed different creative looking avatars that would serve as the vessel to put the player in. was there a character character creation suite?

Price: There was, but not in the sense that you could pick lots of different physical characteristics. You were really picking qualities about your character and that created the fighter. It was very limited and the body type was pretty standard. Some of the tones of the character could change, but the big feature was about how your abilities grew. Each of the fighters basically had a mohawk on top of their head and as your abilities grew your mohawk got bigger and bigger, so you could tell who the badasses in the game were by how big their mohawk was. Most of your abilities related to your fighting skills and fighting approach, whether you were opting for being a straight forward attacking player versus a more deliberative fast, but more defensive and reactive player. The world in which the player existed had sympathetic vibrations that would either enhance or detract from your various abilities depending on the region were fight took place. There were 12 different areas in this world, 12 different arenas and they were all made up of these various elements like air, earth, fire, water, lightness, darkness; the classic elemental features. Your fighting style could be sympathetic with some of those elemental features and could be opposite some and that would give you certain pluses and minuses. Depending on who your were fighting, they would have their own pluses and minuses that you had to kind of get a sense for how they did and that’s were a lot of the strategy element come into play.

Rivera: That is actually really interesting how the arena environment plays such a big role in the game play. Leaping from that point, what was the story of Fierce Harmony? Was there an overarching narrative or was it just a simple backdrop for action that would take place in that universe?

Price: Well, I had a grand scheme that I wanted to do basically a trilogy. By the time we were in development and had gotten this off the ground I think we were more concentrated on keeping Fierce Harmony as a single title and then if we were lucky enough and successful enough then maybe we would do a followup. The grand concept was gonna be that this was a first look at this and that there was going to be some kind of evolutionary moving forward, but it was a lot of stuff that never really came into being.

For us, we were trying to take the excitement of the arcade fast-paced games and look at what goes into becoming a master sword fighter, you know? Whats the training? What are the things that you learn? What are the things you need to master? If you could do the equivalent of bullet time for sword fighting [this was obviously before The Matrix], what would that look like? That was kind of what we were looking at as my approach, trying to find a cool solution within the technological limitations of that massively multiplayer environment. Instead of throwing everybody into one big arena and having a shared world that you were trying to compete in, we toned it down to something much more manageable where you could play against a smaller group of people [and] almost have little micro tournaments and kind of grow within that environment. I think we were successful within the limitations of the time frame that we existed in, but the online world in which we were connected to at that point was rapidly changing and some the hosts that had existed for while like Kesmai and World Play… it really just a time in flux. Unfortunately for us, we got swept up in and not to our benefit and not in our favor.

Rivera: That is unfortunate. Speaking of World Play, I have briefly contacted Susan Manley, previousy of 3DO and World Play, about possibly talking about Fierce Harmony.

Price: Yes, she was our producer.

Rivera: How would you describe your professional interactions with Ms. Manley while working on Fierce Harmony: The Beginning?

Price: Again, another person that I think was very visionary. She understood the necessity for diversity in types of games and I think she saw the potential in us as a team, myself with my direct experience, our technical abilities and the game concept. She was an advocate for us from the Imagination Network from the get go. If it wasn’t for Susan I don’t think we would have ever gotten the game out there, so for me, she was wonderful and very professional. She understood the necessity for deadlines, budgets and focus. She really kept things moving forward whenever we ran into issues. She was one who said, “Don’t be like a lot of other developers that try to hide and spring surprises on us at the very last moment.” I hate that kind of work as well, so we got each other. The working title for the game was Nexus and we decided we wanted to to really come up with a more evocative name and Susan was the one came up with the idea to call the game Fierce Harmony. As soon as she said it I fell in love with it, so kudos to Susan. She’s the one who really came up with the name of the game! We owe a lot to her. I had never worked with her before and I have to say that I am glad she’s still in the industry. She’s definitely one of the women in the industry who’s been around for a long time and has a remarkable job, often times going against the flow at moment.

Rivera: I have a lot of respect for her as an industry veteran and a professional.

Price: Yes, me too.

Rivera: In terms of distribution, obviously this game was a multiplayer online only experience that a facet of a bigger thing, with that bigger thing being AOL/GameStorm. Were there ever plans for disc based or physical retail distribution of Fierce Harmony?

Price: Yes. In fact, that was the original model because of the data, the art and the music assets. The assets were going to be delivered on CD and that was the game plan. That was the delivery mechanism that was planned for and that’s how we did get delivered on GameStorm as well; it was on their CDs.

Rivera: Theoretically, there are disc-based versions of this game that do exist?

Price: Right. However, you couldn’t really play the game unless you were online. If you were offline you could practice. There was a practice arena that you could play on your computer and test things out, but you couldn’t go beyond just the testing.

Rivera: I see. Was this an experience that was in its own window or did it operate in a browser window? How did the framework of the game operate?

Price: It was full screen. Behind the scenes, oh golly, now you’re asking me. I’m trying to remember which version of DirectX we were using at the time. I want to say DirectX 5.0.

Rivera: That sounds about right given the time frame. So, the implementation of the deliberately paced combat mechanics and the strategic elements were done just make sure that, latency aside, the game would just run under the best possible conditions and be playable for all players?

Price: Yes. That was really the whole reason for the game mechanics. Plus, for me, nobody had ever done it and I like trying new things. So, I knew there would a lot of players. If some were into the quick style arcade game then this might not have appealed to them, but I also knew there were a lot of turn based game players that would see something like this that love strategy; that they would see this as a new kind of hybrid sort of game that wasn’t necessarily your standard RTS [real time strategy], but could potentially appeal to players who may be looking for a similar feel done in a brand new way. As a battling game with a strategic focus and we were very successful with that. I think one of the things that was very interesting was that we had a very small amount of community issues. We didn’t have the kind of issues, the disruptive issues of the young teenage players or other players that would just come in and wreak all sorts of havoc in games. We had a very thoughtful player base that made playing the game really cool because they were there to solely enjoy the game. As a new kind of game, we didn’t have the community management issues that other games in the online multiplayer space had. We had very few discipline issues to worry about with Fierce Harmony, which I thought was a reflection of the overall style of the game play.

Rivera: That is something that is sorely missed nowadays in the realm of online multiplayer gaming. I can attest to that as one who still plays a heavy amount of multiplayer games. The anonymity coupled with the adolescence of boys, whether they be 15 or 40 years old, is definitely huge problem. I suppose it comes down to that old phrase, “whatever you put out there eventually comes back.” that is a testament to Fierce Harmony being a game that placed a lot of trust in the intelligence of the people who played it. That level of complexity probably attracted a similar level of maturity. Speaking of the community or player base, do you remember Chadd Mazac who went by the alias The Watcher?

Price: Yes! Absolutely, I remember him. Oh, my gosh!

Rivera: I have spoken with him briefly and he has fond memories of playing Fierce Harmony.

Price: That’s great to hear.

Rivera: How long did Fierce Harmony last? At what point was support for the game cut?

Price: I don’t remember precisely, but I believe it might have been sometime in 2001. I don’t know if it was late 2000 or early 2001. I could be wrong on that. The game was running past that time. We were running it on our own for a while, but I don’t remember precisely. I’d have to look at documentation to know that directly and you may know. You may have some insight into to that.

Rivera: As far as my research tells me it was sometime in 2001.

Price: Okay, I see. We officially closed our doors in summer of 2001, Indigo Moon did.

Rivera: If you don’t mind speaking about what happened with the closure of Indigo Moon Productions, I did find some snippets from publicly open court documents having to do with Indigo Moon, Hasbro and a licensed Clue game during my research. Is there any chance you may be able shed some light on that?

Price: We, unfortunately with the state of the industry with the Dot-Com Crash and a lot of things transitioning at that point in 2000 and 2001, were affected. We actually thought we were in great shape because we had gotten a contract. In 2000, we were working a licensed Mattel title for an online Hot Wheels racing game. We actually went to E3 and showed it there and it was going great. Unfortunately, Mattel made an internal decision in 2000 that they were no longer going to be a game making company and that they were going to be a traditional toy and game making business, so our project got killed about three or four months after the E3 show. That what a huge blow for us, so we then spent the latter half of 2000 looking for followup work, partly for survival and partly because we still thought we were in fairly decent shape and were going to grow as a company. We had some good contacts at Hasbro and we were pitched and pitched to them an idea. What they were looking to do was basically create 21st century iterations of their classic games, but for the current generation at the time. We managed to pitch them a new version of Clue, which built on the classic game elements, but also threw in some new twists and wrinkles. They loved it and we were in the negotiating process in fall of 2000 with Hasbro Interactive to move forward with development. We were really excited because we knew this was going to be a cool project. Unfortunately for us, it was around that time that Infogrames came around and bought Hasbro Interactive. We were assured by the Hasbro Interactive guys that we should just wait for some time in the new year [2001] when the buy-out would happen and then we could start moving forward.

They assured us not to worry and that it was just a new company coming in and everything would be fine. So 2001 comes around and we’re still nervous, but we were being assured. More time went by, it was getting to be late winter to early spring time and we found out [from Infogrames], “We ended having to open this [the Clue game] up to bids.” We were really upset at that point. Long story short, we didn’t get to do the game, so that really put us in huge financial bind. We had to layoff some of our staff and tried pitching another title with Hasbro which didn’t turn out. By the summer time, we just couldn’t make a go of it any longer and simply had to close down at the point. Then, I don’t remember what year it was, but Hasbro came out with some new hybrid Clue game that had some technology elements to it that was really similar to a lot of the core concepts that had pitched them. We felt like they had ripped us off and taken a lot of those ideas, but we couldn’t get any internal documentation from them to confirm whether or not they had developed this internally, independent of us. We then talked to our former investors and there was a decision made that we should explore legal action; because if they had ripped us off then we should have been compensated for that. Things progressed and finally there was the exploration phase of the case. They presented their documentation, we presented our documentation and it was eventually determined that there was sufficient evidence suggesting that the folks who developed the game never saw any of our work. The court felt like there was anything done maliciously on Hasbro’s end. That was the final adjudication and there was nothing to move forward with.

Rivera: That’s so unfortunate to hear that Mattel licensed game project falling through.

Price: It was so cool! It was basically going to be your classic 50’s Style street racing. It was called Saturday Night Racing and we had modeled out some of the classic Hot Wheels cars and you would be drag racing against other people. It a bunch a really interesting ideas. The interface was very innovative; it was a big disappointment when they walked away from the whole project.

Rivera: That is really sad considering that, in 2006, they [Mattel] got back into the ring in the game industry with the Mattel Hyperscan with… low results [Price laughs]. So, not a very good move on their part.

Price: But that’s the nature of the industry, the nature of the beast. I did some teaching a while back and told students that the game industry is not for the faint of heart. If you look at most people’s resumes, they’ve been at multiple companies just because there is such a large ebb and flow of the wave – fortunes and misfortunes.

Rivera: I definitely agree. So to close things out, is Fierce Harmony technically what you would call a lost game?

Price: Lost in terms of nobody knowing about [laughs]?

Rivera: I mean lost as in the sense that it no longer exists in any playable form. I try my best to chronicle gaming history, so that is why I am curious.

Price: Regardless of its fate, I have to say that this [Fierce Harmony] is one of the the games I am the most proud of. We didn’t have much commercial success, but had a loyal following. I believe if we had been able to be part of an emerging audience and company that could have supported that then our fortunes would’ve changed. However, you don’t always get that, you don’t always get to wave the magic wand and have everything turn out perfectly. We were definitely not the only ones that this has happened to. So, from that standpoint, I think the game fits that concept you are talking about.

Rivera: I feel in a lot of ways that Fierce Harmony, above all things, is a victim of being pretty far ahead of its time.

Price: Yeah, yeah. I would agree [laughs].

Rivera: When I first saw anything related to Fierce Harmony I saw it as an interesting experience that was a fresh take on the sword fighting concept. Something even more interesting then a game that Bethesda Softworks made called The Elder Scrolls: Battle Spire.

Price: Yes, I remember that one.

Rivera: Even though Bethesda has made some great titles, Battle Spire was not one of their shining moments. With the few stills I saw of Fierce Harmony they made feel that the world of the game was very otherworldly and fascinating, especially when paired with Micheal Pummell’s music. It is gripping simply with those two lone elements and I just had to learn more about this world.

Price: We strove for a unique artistic approach to it both from a music standpoint, which again Mike Pummel was awesome, and from a visual perspective; it was very experimental. At the same time, from a design standpoint, I wanted to create something that could have developed, under the right circumstances, a really big player base. Again, if we had been able to launch in a different environment that was growing and not simply existing or contracting, which is nothing against Kesmai, we might have gotten a chance to ‘get above the noise.’ I hate using that phrase too much. I think it was an eclectic game, but I also feel that we would have hit a nerve for people looking for something different that has its own unique appeal. Something fun that didn’t require the investment of a million hours to get a payoff. Again, that didn’t happen and I’m sad about that, but I am still glad and proud that it was made. I am proud of the team internally and externally and all the people that were our promoters that tried get us the people who invested in us in terms of money and time. I am grateful for the connection that I have made during the project. So, there is the frustration that I wish more player could have experienced the game, but it just didn’t happen.

Rivera: Despite the sad fate of Fierce Harmony it is a work that I am sure you are proud off and you should definitely be proud of creating this game that tread new territory and pushed the boundaries of design.

Price: It is, thank you.

Rivera: Mr. Price, I want thank you again for taking time out of your day to speak to me about Fierce Harmony: The Beginning.

Price: Thank you, Jon. I appreciate it.


mpp site front page

The front page Michael Price’s digital website


Though he no longer works in the video game industry, Michael Price is still pushing boundaries creatively to this day as a digital artist and fine art photographer. For anyone who has an interest in digital art and fascinating fractal art be sure to check out Mr. Price’s gallery and shop at It was a great experience learning more of an unsung gaming classic from Michael Price as well as his other accomplishments and contributions to the game industry. He and the other members of the Indigo Moon development team including Brad Gianulis (lead programmer and founding member of Indigo Moon), Denise Wallner (art director), Steve Jakab (programmer), Scott Fannin (programmer), David Paull (programmer), Keith Watkins (lead artist), Angel Fucaraccio (artist) and Ian Auch (artist) pushed boundaries and proposed concepts that were pretty far ahead of the time. Regardless of whether or not Fierce Harmony exists in a playable form, it still remains an interesting nested topic in the annals of gaming history.

Fierce Harmony: An Interview With Michael Pummell


Over the past few weeks I have been doing much research on a video game that time has long forgotten. That game is known as Fierce Harmony: The Beginning. Developed by Indigo Moon Productions and released as an online multiplayer only title in 2000, Fierce Harmony was a game with a focus on strategic sword based combat with an otherworldly setting and atmosphere. This was amplified by a unique soundtrack that featured some dynamic elements, making it as interactive as the game play itself. Unfortunately, Fierce Harmony had a short life span, lasting roughly two years. This premature death of the title, among other things, led to Indigo Moon closing its doors soon thereafter.

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It was much to my surprise that the same composer of this ill-fated title also scored the soundtracks to the fifth generation classics Steel Harbinger and Mission Impossible for the original Playstation. This composer is Michael Pummell and he is veteran of the video game industry who has made his mark on the it by creating some of the most memorable songs in gaming, as well as pushing the boundaries of how music can thrive in the realm of interactivity. On top of his musical contributions, he is also the author of the book titled The Game Composer’s Guide to Survival that covers what it means to be a game composer, the pros and cons, and how one can be successful in the field. After reaching out to Mr. Pummel concerning Fierce Harmony, I was given the opportunity to speak with him about it. In my interview with Mr. Pummell he sheds light on the development of this game, as well as his experiences as a composer in the industry over the years.

jon rivera mike pummell


Jon Rivera: Good afternoon, Mr. Pummel. I would like to thank you for your time and allowing me to speak with you. It is quite the honor to speak with an industry veteran such as yourself.


Michael Pummell: The honor is mine sir.


Rivera: I have grown to be quite familiar with your work over the years, with most of it being on the Playstation, N64 and Dreamcast. For those who may be unfamiliar, could you explain your specific profession in the video game industry and some titles you have been involved with?


Pummell: I began working as a composer in the game industry in 1995, right as the original Playstation was being unveiled. I had been working in film and advertising before that, but was immediately drawn to interactive music and its potential, so much so that I abandoned all other musical ventures. I think I have around fifty titles I’m credited with, some as a contributor, some as the sole composer. A few that have stood out include Mission Impossible, The Sims Bustin’ Out, 13 issues of Playstation Underground, Furfighters, XG3, Nuke Strike N64, a rather diverse group.


Rivera: That is a very interesting and substantial body of work. I distinctly remember those titles in action, including Steel Harbinger for the original Playstation. Mission Impossible (PS1, N64) is a title that has remained in my memory ever since its initial release 17 years ago. For myself, the embassy mission is one of the most memorable moments in gaming and it is mostly because of your music that elevates every element. Such a unique implementation of music for the time, using two tracks simultaneously. If you do not mind my asking, how did you concoct and implement that concept?


Pummell: It’s kind of a funny story. The development team, including myself had a problem on our hands. The piano player had a significant role to play on that level. We knew we wanted music appropriate for an Eastern European formal gathering at an embassy, but that music didn’t really lend itself for the remainder of the character’s mission. The solution was to build a proximity engine driven by how close the main character was to the piano. As he walked away and explored other areas of the embassy, the piano would fade out, and the “mission” music would fade in, all I had to do was write two pieces of music that were perfectly compatible at all times…tempo, key, chord changes, melodies, etc. In reality, a very simple idea, but the architecture of the N-64 handed us a challenge we didn’t expect. On any other game platform, a single instrument, like the piano mentioned here, is channelized and can have its volume controlled through software during gameplay. The N-64 would not allow it. Individualized channels in the music sequence could not be controlled once the song began. There was one day of panic after this, until a member of the development team in France tried an experiment, and it worked. Play two independent music files at once, and control the volumes of both files with the proximity engine. For some silly reason, the N-64 tolerated this, and that’s what was implemented.

As for the song itself, it was composed one morning on my commute to work, by noon it was done, and at the time, I didn’t think anyone would ever pay any attention to it. On my Youtube page, there are now at least half a dozen versions of it, performed by different people from all over the world. It always makes me smile when I hear one of those.


Rivera: It’s an impressive accomplishment, as it is one of the all time great moments. So, we’ve briefly touched on your background as a video game composer and some of the important contributions you have made. How did it come to pass that you would eventually work with the team at Indigo Moon Productions Inc?


Pummell: Thank you sir. I can’t remember the exact circumstances. I was working for Goldman Productions in Cincinnati at the time, we had several titles released by then for the Playstation and N-64. It may have been at GDC [Game Developer’s Conference], but I do remember how surprised we were when we both learned that only ninety miles separated our businesses. That was a very rare occurrence for us. Michael Price at Indigo Moon was able to visit our facility several times during production, and we could easily travel to their office in Louisville to see the project develop.


Rivera: I have been speaking to a contact who did the preliminary fight choreography for Fierce Harmony as early as 1996. When would you say you joined the team?


Pummell: I’ll say 1997-1998. They were pretty far along when we started.


Rivera: You mentioned that Micheal Price visited your offices on several occasions. How would you describe your professional relationship and interactions with Price and the rest of the team?


Pummell: Michael Price was an absolute joy to work with, I had little contact with the other team members. What I remember most, is Michael’s willingness to allow experimentation. He didn’t want something from the “box”, and was open to any reasonable idea. Not all of that experimentation worked, sometimes a piece was put on the shelf for any number of reasons, and sometimes I initiated that action, because I knew there was something more appropriate to be discovered. Michael allowed the art design of the game to influence me, and I think he enjoyed seeing my excitement.


Rivera: Was that allowance of creative freedom unheard of in the industry during that time, or was it par for the course for game composing in the late 90s?


Pummell: There were several factors that contributed to the unique music in FH. Streaming audio content was still somewhat new to the world of interactivity. Many composers at that time were willing to abandon all interactivity for the benefit of sounding like a Hollywood production or a current pop tune. I thought FH deserved reactive content, and the team at Indigo were willing to sacrifice some CPU overhead to accommodate that. There was more diversity in game music during the late 90’s than what we have today, but it wasn’t a common occurrence then.


Rivera: The music tracks from Fierce Harmony certainly have a unique sound that carries emotional weight. I never had the chance to properly experience FH when it was commercially relevant, so the music helps to shed some light on the tone of the game. The soundtrack has beats in it that sound and feel almost tribal, as if the world of FH is a ceremonial battleground that is as old as time. You have some tracks from FH playable on your YouTube and two of them are combat tracks. Also, you mentioned in the descriptions that these tracks could be customized. What was your approach with this particular project and how did you implement the song customization?


Pummell: The title theme and persona creation pieces were not interactive, but were given a “world” treatment by using instruments from all corners of the earth. The hope here was to place the listener somewhere very foreign, but with no particular style that might lean in any ethnic direction. That can be a challenge. On the YouTube page you mentioned, there is one track called “Alternate Theme”, a lovely little song that was never in the game, I thought it felt too Celtic in nature and so I scrapped it. I’m not sure if the FH team ever heard that one!

The combat tracks were interactive. In fact, it would have been difficult to hear the same version of the same soundtrack twice. We had the ability to stream eight layers of audio content at once. By composing different layers for each zone of the game, as in North, South, East, West, for example, and mixing those layers with other tracks representing specific arenas of battle, and mixing those layers with other tracks that represented opponents, a foundation layer was assembled. These variables were unique to the situation you were in, and could be manipulated by gameplay conditions. Once combat began, other tracks, far more aggressive would be introduced, percussion and wildly aggressive plucked instruments and these reflected your health and the complexity of the conflict. The result felt very much like the works of Ligeti or Stockhausen, serious 20th century avant-garde composers. The music could scare the hell out of you, because it broke away from every stereotype, and you could tell your odds of surviving were on the line. The two combat tracks on the YouTube page are two examples of the perhaps hundreds of possibilities that may have occurred.

Earlier we discussed the composition method used on the Embassy level in Mission Impossible. This was very similar, except the number of tracks to compose and remain compatible was much higher.


Rivera: That’s an impressive composition approach and dynamic feature, especially for a title that was an online only experience released in 2000. Did you ever get hands on experience with the game?


Pummell: Several times. At the Louisville office, and we had a working demo version we could use in Cincinnati. I don’t know that I ever played a final release version, just “who” was releasing it seemed to change over time, and I have no idea if those distributor/ownership changes had any impact on implemented content. Composers are generally at the bottom of the food chain.


Rivera: I see. Over those several play sessions, did you ever witness any radical changes made to the game during development? Also, was Fierce Harmony always intended to be an online only multiplayer experience?


Pummell: I don’t remember observing any changes, the game was fairly well into development when I became involved. If changes occurred, I missed them.


Rivera: It is near impossible to find information on the critical and commercial reception of FH. It is even harder to find screenshots or video footage of the game in motion. It was only through luck and serendipity that I managed to find your Youtube channel and discover that you worked on it. Why do you think that this game has been long forgotten by the gaming community and the industry as a whole?


Pummell: From a composer’s limited perspective, critics tend to equate success by revenue and popularity. You could compose the finest music ever written, and if it winds up in a game that doesn’t sell, well, your music sucks. At the same time, you could write the worst music ever heard, and if it winds up in a top selling game, then you’re a fucking musical genius. The game industry never matured, some of us years ago thought it would, that’s why we participated, but many of us learned how difficult it is to achieve artistic recognition when building software for toys.


Rivera: I will be the first to say that, from a game critic/journalist’s perspective, I do understand what you mean. Like game creation, game criticism is its own area of profession and one that definitely has much growing up to do. Do you believe that Fierce Harmony was ultimately a victim of that?


Pummell: That may be a question that only Michael Price can answer. Should a third party developer spend their limited revenue marketing a product created for a publisher who should have provided that service? Or do you simply wash your hands of it and walk away? Tough question, and that problem exists in the film industry as well.


Rivera: That is a tough call to make. What would you say is the most important thing you took away from your experience working on FH, good or bad?


Pummell: That some people care about the quality of their work, and some people are willing to push the limits of available technology, even if it means ignoring a production budget, which I did on that project, and I’m sure everyone did. I’m very proud of my work on that game because it led to composition methods that opened doors for other interactive composers, things that were new and innovative, and even though the music may be the only surviving memory, it reflects how interesting the entire concept of that project was.


Rivera: I will say that the industry of today needs more individuals with that mentality, as far the AAA game realm goes. Thank you once again with sharing your experiences in the industry, memories of working on Fierce Harmony: The Beginning and your thoughts on the industry as a whole. Hopefully, Fierce Harmony will not always remain as a lost game.


Pummell: Jon, I want to thank you for asking such intelligent and relevant questions. If you need more information, never hesitate to ask.


(This is an alternate version of the main title music that was ultimately scrapped for the final version. Theses track can be played at Michael Pummell’s YouTube Channel.)


For those who may be aspiring to compose music for games and are interested in the inner workings of the industry, be sure to check out Michael Pummel’s book The Game Composer’s Guide to Survival”. It is currently available on Lulu, Amazon and Google Play for nearly free. It was such a pleasure to speak to Mr. Pummel about this lost piece of video game history, as well as is memories and feelings on the world of gaming. The impact that music can have on a game cannot be understated, or denied. Fierce Harmony stands as a fascinating artifact in the annals of the past that hopefully can be exhumed and properly chronicled someday.