- by Psychobabble
Celestial Heavens: Hello, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with Celestial Heavens.
David Botan: No problem.
CH: Ok, first up, what was your exact position at NWC and what did it entail?
DB: I was a Level Designer II and my main responsibility was creating maps for the Heroes series using the proprietary editor. This sometimes involved writing text for the in-game story and custom hero bios. In between Heroes games I would either help out on other projects (when there were others) or assist others in small tasks.
CH: Do you have any history with playing the Heroes of Might and MagicGames?
DB : My first contact with Heroes was “King’s Bounty” (the prelude to the Heroes series as every true fan knows) for the Commodore 64 and I loved it. After I was hired as a tester some 7 years ago, I started playing and testing Heroes 1 when the first patch was released. I play-tested Heroes 2 next and then started doing Level Design for 3 and 4 (along with their expansions).
CH: What is your opinion on the latest incarnation in the series?
DB : Well, there’s no doubt that the latest version was rushed. 3DO’s schedules are never easy. I think if the A.I. had more time, in particular, the game would have been a true AAA title, but as it was, I think we made a good game.
CH: How did the map-making process work at the company? Did more than one person usually work on a single map?
DB : Usually with campaign maps the designers would give a specific concept of what they wanted and then we were free to expand on the little things. On single player maps it was more free-form: we were told what sizes needed to be made and how many, and that was it. The level designers did all the rest. Of course this varied by designer and project. On the last two expansions we were given even more leeway on campaign maps, which was almost a necessity since there were so few of us left. As for the second question, the artists did the terrain for most of the “Picture maps” (the ones that actually looked like something in the mini-map) and a few of the normal terrain maps. Then they are passed along to the level designer(s) for playability purposes, adding towns, power-ups and such. If we were really rushed the artists did most of the map terrains.
CH: Do you use the map editor included in the game to make the maps ordo you have other tools at your disposal?
DB : I used the same editor that the public used, though I would use beta versions at first so we could get the maps done quickly.
CH: Was there a particular reason why the story lines in the expansion campaign maps were markedly thinner than those in the originalcampaigns?
DB : Yes, the original designers for Heroes IV wanted loads of story-related text. They even hired a writer to handle it all. I built my maps around the text in most cases. Unfortunately at the end of Heroes IV when most of the team was let go, the ones that were left wanted less text. I, for one, like a good story, but as a map-maker, I follow orders, so less text it was. I think the problem was that people expected lots of text after Heroes IV. In Heroes V, I wouldn’t expect a big, elaborate story, but I would expect great game-play and a much-improved A.I.
CH: As a professional map-maker, do you have any tips for community map-makers?
DB : Well, unfortunately, as a level designer I didn’t get the chance to make the kinds of maps I wanted to make many times because of time constraints and other reasons, but the fans are lucky because they have this time. Anyway, this is my advice: make a map you know you’ll have fun playing, write a great story with interesting events (this doesn’t necessarily mean complicated, most of my events were simple), and don’t hide resources and artifacts behind trees or mountains. Pathways should always be clear and wide unless you want it to be a choke point guarded by a monster or gate, and last but not least: play-balance, play-balance, play-balance!
CH: How aware are the staff at 3DO of the game community (news, usermaps, forum opinions, add-ons etc.)?
DB : I browsed the forums and read public opinion a lot. As for Evil C, he also did a lot of browsing (especially as a moderator on the 3DO message boards). As for the rest I couldn’t really tell you. I think JVC is generally aware of what the users want but in the end he’s the big boss, and if everyone is screaming to get a better A.I. and he feels it would be too much of a change, well then, there will be no A.I. changes.
CH: Do you (or other staff) ever play custom maps?
DB : Generally no (as far as I could tell when I was there), we did not have a lot of time to play user-made maps. I did play a few at the end of the WOW expansion though, the ones that were from the contest and thought they were generally good.
CH: What is the company attitude towards making game-play balance changes in patches?
DB : Not very good. New World has rarely made game-play balance changes in patches. I would have loved the necromancy skill toned down as well as the Ogre mage to have more variety of spells to cast, but once again that decision came from the top. In the end I think NWC just didn’t have enough time to make changes and then playtest them again. I know I was usually too busy making maps for the next expansion to have played-balanced my campaigns again.
CH: Thanks again for your time, we appreciate your comments!
*Unfortunatelly David Botan passed away. He's now making maps in the heaven.
- by rogue and Angelspit
Chris Jacobson Interview
I recently had a chance to ask a few questions to Chris Jacobson over at Contraband Entertainment who is the Project Lead on Heroes of Might and Magic IV for Macintosh. I had some assistance in gathering questions from Angelspit of Celestial Heavens. The game is currently scheduled for a Christmas 2002 release and will be published by 3DO.
Rogue: Are you a fan of the Heroes of Might and Magic series?
Chris: I played the old game Kings Bounty, and enjoyed it for a bit, but never really kept up with the other games. I played them a bit, but not much. My interests in games are very eclectic.
Angelspit: What do you think is the most interesting improvement to Heroes IV compared to the earlier games?
Chris: Heroes IV is a complete rewrite from the ground up, and has many new features over the previous versions. There are so many things that were improved, and the new graphical engine is just a small portion of it.
Rogue: How has the porting process been for this game? With regards to Heroes III, I heard from the developer that the game was not difficult to port but the editing tools were a big task.
Chris: Being a complete rewrite, Heroes IV had to be done from the ground up. Overall it has been a fairly straightforward conversion, and our own DirectX and Windows conversion code, developed by Burger and I over the past few years on prior conversions, helped save a lot of time in getting the game running.
Chris: The editor has been as much work as the game itself, and in some ways more so. It involves large portions of GUI code being rewritten for the Mac.
Angelspit: How would you describe your cooperation with 3DO and NWC?
Chris: 3DO has been a dream to work with; they let us get the job done without trying to micromanage us. They are responsive when we need things from them, and easy to work with.
Rogue: Is the Macintosh port keeping up with the patches that have been added to the Windows version of the game?
Chris: Work was started with the v1.3 code, and we are incorporating the multiplayer patch currently.
Rogue: The multiplayer patch was recently released for the windows version of Heroes IV. Can you say what network protocol was used and if it will be possible for the Macintosh and Windows versions of the game to play together online?
Chris: The multiplayer patch uses DirectPlay. Unfortunately, that rules out Mac/PC networking compatability .
Rogue: Do you have an estimate of what the hardware requirements will be?
Chris: The minimum system requirements should be announced soon.
Rogue: The requirements, especially video RAM, were rather steep for the Windows version considering that it is a 2D turn-based game. Is this something that is being addressed in the Macintosh version of the game?
Chris: Being 2D game doesn't necessarily mean it will have lower memory requirements than a 3D game. Having many frames of animation for a 2D sprite takes up more RAM than a skeletally animated 3D model with a single texture. The game is VERY graphically intensive. On top of that, graphics are not the only use of RAM; game data, music, sounds, etc all have to be considered.
Rogue: What video and music formats will the game use? Will save files and game data files be compatible across platforms? Will there be any differences between the Macintosh and Windows versions of Heroes IV?
Chris: Video will be quicktime, music will be MP3. Save games and maps will be cross platform.
Rogue: Are there any plans for the Expansion, or is it too early to say?
Chris: That depends on sales of Heroes 4 for the Mac.
Rogue: Is there anything you want to add that readers might find interesting?
Chris: We are NOT fueled by souls of the damned. That would be canabilism.
- by Angelspit
April Lee is a Graphic Artist at New World Computing. She worked on Heroes II, Heroes III and Armageddon's Blade, creating well-known graphics such as the H2 Mummy, the Manticore and the Gnoll. She tells us about the world of graphics and her work on Heroes IV.
Note: All pictures in this article are property of April Lee or 3DO. Reprinted with permission.
To learn more about April Lee and her work, please visit her Web site at www.aprillee.com
Angelspit: You have worked with various media before, such as CD-ROM games, Collectible Card Games, RPG Books, Magazines, and so on. What is your favorite one? Which one do you think is the most rewarding?
April Lee: Most of my work has been either in computer games or card games. I've got to say that my favorite is the card games. I like working in traditional mediums, and sometimes we are given a lot of artistic license to create people, creatures, places and objects that can really affect the look of the game.
In computer games, I tend to be assigned all kinds of different things and since it IS so collaborative, I try to match my style to the game, rather than try to affect the look of the game. This isn't quite as satisfying as the card games, especially since the artists aren't really credited that well. With the card games, my name is usually on every piece of work I do. With computer game art, the art may have been begun by another artist and finished or touched up by yet another, so it's hard to point to anything that's really mine.
That said, I do enjoy modeling and animating on the computer. It's very different than painting, and it's fun to contribute to a team effort.
Angelspit: What is a typical day of work for you? Since you are a freelancer, I guess you must work from home? Do you have a particular schedule?
April: Actually, I work full-time at New World Computing/3DO. And if you know anything about computer game companies, this means that 50 or 60 hour work weeks are not uncommon. Almost every single other hour, and most of my sleeping time, is consumed by my free-lance illustration work. Actually, I'm getting a bit tired of doing both--it does wear a normal person out. I've been doing it for 7 years straight, which is pretty hard-core.
Schedule is usually: into the office by 10am, out by 9 or 10, then eat and work until 2 or 3 am, weekdays. Weekends--catch up on sleep, work in afternoon and nights until 3 or 4 am.
I also go to conventions and sell artwork and prints--which can also be incredibly time-consuming.
Angelspit: How did you come to work with New World Computing? You said you knew someone there? Is it easy to get in touch with gaming companies?
April: I was hired at New World 5 years ago, for character animation on Heroes 2. Before that I was working for a small game developer called The Dreamers Guild (not to be confused with the big-time DreamWorks!). Several co-workers had left there to work for New World, who offered better pay, and they passed my name on to the art director. I had the exact skills they were looking for, so it was a natural transition.
The first game I ever worked on (at the Dreamers Guild) was "Inherit the Earth", which was published by New World. And I had also done free-lance, black and white illustrations (non-digital) for New World's manuals from 1989-95. So I actually had a rather long association with the company. It was also local to me, which didn't hurt.
Now, breaking into computer games with no experience is a bit harder. It wasn't too hard when I started in the early '90s, since the technology was still evolving and there were very few--almost NO-- places that actually taught the computer graphic skills. I was trained as an Illustrator in traditional media (at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena), and that alone helped get me in. But I also had been a fantasy artist, showing my art at Science Fiction conventions for years, so people at the Dreamers Guild knew me and I originally started doing concept sketches for them.
Since all companies at that time were critically short of computer artists, and the artwork in games was becoming increasingly involved and increasingly a large part of the game, they were practically begging me to work on the computer -- willing to train me and give me a computer at home to learn on, etc. Now that there are more schools that teach the programs, and the programs are more difficult to learn, it's probably harder to break in. Although an illustrator can almost still do it the way I did (starting with concept sketches)--as long as they know at least a bit of PhotoShop. I learned everything on the job, though, which isn't how it's being done these days.
Angelspit: You said working on the art for a computer game is a collaborative effort. It must be difficult to work with people with different background and styles, to know where your work starts and where it ends. Please describe how this process works. Also, which tools do you use?
April: I'm not very up on all the Game Design aspects--but it begins with the Designers and the Leads--in art and programming. The designers need to start a Design Document that covers the game play and all the elements. As soon as they have some idea of what assets and programming they will need, those leads will come in and figure out the time and resources (in artists and programmers), and the producer/lead designer will organize the writers and other departments, and interface with, perhaps, level or map design teams, testers, marketing, etc. Then things start going into production. In art, often there will be a concept sketch artist who will be communicating the look of the game, determined by the art director. Modelers and texture artists and 2d/interface artists will hopefully get their direction from the art director and the concept sketches. With Heroes 4, the art director was doing some concept sketches, as well as various artists. If I was assigned to do a building for the Adventure Map, say, a Library, I would get a sketch and I would model and texture the item based on that, and perhaps animate it, and submit it to the art director for approval, then it would get plugged into to the game by the asset-coordinator. The maps would be assembled by the map designers on Map Editors created by the programmers, etc.
Most game companies, New World included, use 3D Studio-Max and PhotoShop, primarily, along with other programs to do specialty things.
Angelspit: How do you manage to "enter" the Might and Magic universe, in other words, where do you get the information you need to create such a good-looking creature? Did Classic authors, mythology or the other Heroes games inspire you?
April: This is mostly left up to those doing the sketches. I've done some now and then. MM tends to be very "classic" fantasy/rpg--which means the images most people are familiar with--vaguely Northern European medieval-like society, with generic dwarves, halflings, elves, etc. We just use whatever visual inspiration we like to try not to make things mind-numbingly boring and repetitive. Hopefully, we are creative and interested enough to do this, at the same time, making sure we're not doing something TOO out there so that it doesn't fit into the general look of the game.
Angelspit: Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are your favorite games, of any kind?
April: I started role-playing (AD&D, Runequest, C&S, Traveler) decades ago, but haven't had much time to do that lately. I can still think of playing paper rpg's since it's up to the GM to do all the work and planning and I can just join in a session for an afternoon or evening. I haven't had time to put into a computer rpg (I have NOT gotten through ANY MM game--or anything similar). And I can't keep up with the card games, either. I can do some lunchtime multi-player Unreal Tournament, now and then!
Angelspit: I just cannot resist: can you say a little something about Heroes 4? I know you must be under a NDA, but something like "there's a new creature, and it's brown and ugly!" would be fun!
April: Hmmm... I'm not up on the creatures. There are plenty of the Usual Suspects, however... I have friends who are Heroes fanatics and I am VERY frustrating for them, since I really don't read the design doc and can't tell them what's new, even if I wasn't under a non-disclosure act...
Angelspit: Thank you very much for your time April! We can't wait to see the results of your good work on Heroes IV. Best of luck in the future!
Page 199 of 199