Welcome. Hope each of you is doing well.
This month I have five topics, followed by part five of my interview with Behemoth Cave (Webpage & Facebook).
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Lich
Filled with all-consuming ego, the Lich is a self-proclaimed ruler of the undead. Powerful and ruthless, this wicked skeletal mage feeds on the lifeforce of the living to prolong its existence. It is truly something between and beyond.
One of the wonderful things about working with Justin, is seeing how he will ultimately render a familiar fantasy archetype. As always, he didn’t disappoint. I'm looking forward to seeing this one on the Battlefield.
For those of you who want to see Justin actually render the drawing, you can watch a VOD of his Twitch stream.
Fanstratics Faction #9: Chimerans
An ancient cosmopolitan faction, the Chimerans are associated with the exotic Runic terrain. Believed to be the unfortunate remnants of archaic arcane experiments, their origins are directly tied to the establishment of the present cultures.
Up to this point, each of the preceding 8 Fanstratics Factions had a familiar association with an existing HoMM3 Faction. Some will try to tie the Chimerans to the Conflux, but in truth, the Chimerans are a unique culture with no HoMM3 parallel.
Representing the Chimerans is the Medusa Vanguard, which can be viewed in the Fanstratics Gallery.
Fanstratics Feature: 9 Playable Factions
If you have been keeping track, you would know I had 9 Factions planned. In revealing the Chimerans, all 9 are now known. Here they are in alphabetical order...
Some of you may be wondering why 9... from the start? HoMM3 shipped with 8 Factions, with the 9th Faction, the Conflux, being added with the expansion. Truthfully, it all comes down to expanded cultural knowledge of the fantasy genre.
Prior to 1999, the public’s ‘cultural knowledge of the fantasy genre’ was limited to classical architypes. Since 1999, due in large part to video games, the public’s ‘cultural knowledge of the fantasy genre’ has expanded. In 1999, if I had proposed a spell casting, anthropomorphic alligator (Gatorkin Caster), I’m relatively confident JVC would have given me a sour glare and shot it down. Today... most people wouldn’t blink.
While Fanstratics will continue to adhere to classical fantasy architypes, there is more room to play around at the edges, and embracing this additional freedom goes an exceptionally long way to helping FST distinguish itself from HoMM3.
So, from the start, I was able to construct a comfortable 9 Factions.
Question: Hail from Poland! We love the series here! I was introduced to Heroes 3 as a kid, playing on a pirate version with my 3 brothers on a hot seat mode. It been a wild fun experience. We did eventually buy official copies of the game. I still have official cd-disk of the Shadow of Death and Armageddon Blade. Nowadays GoG version. Seriously, we all still play the game, we always have it installed. Heroes 3 for me is precious. A game that shaped my childhood. Something we always return to. There’s very few games like this I treasure and always come back to. Genuinely from my heart. Thank you for it.
Thank you very much for your story. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy the tales people tell me, regarding HoMM3, and how they discovered it. I suspect I would do something similar, if I ever met Tomohiro Nishikado, and could tell him my Space Invaders story.
Speaking of Game Design legends...
HoMM3 Recollection: My HoMM3 Job Interview
I was working at Dreamworks Interactive (DWI), in pre-production for a game based on the Goosebumps book Beast from the East. What DWI wanted to do, considering the available technology and budget, was unrealistic. It was clear the project was going to be cancelled.
In fact, I was recommending they cancel it. In anticipation of this, with no guarantee of employment, I began looking for another job.
Back in 1997, the World Wide Web had yet to reach critical mass.
There was no Google. There was Yahoo, which was not so much a search engine, as it was a large directory of known websites.
One such directory was...
Computer Game Companies / Developers and Publishers
One-by-one, I checked each available website, looking for a Careers/Jobs page, and any listing for Game Designer. This included ‘nwcomputing.com’ or New World Computing (NWC).
I was very familiar with Might and Magic, as Might and Magic 3 was one of my all-time favorite games. However, their job listing was for a Lead Game Designer for Heroes of Might and Magic. While I had played and finished Might and Magic 3, 4, and 5, I was less familiar with Heroes of Might and Magic, having only played the campaigns of HoMM2.
Over a weekend, I refamiliarized myself with HoMM2, by marathoning a number of single player maps. While I didn’t like the art style, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the game.
In the end, I decided, “What have I got to lose?”
So, I sent in my resume, and a week later, I got an email from NWC, asking for two things.
What would be a good time to visit for an interview?
Could I bring in a list of my suggestions for the next Heroes of Might game?
I had three days before my interview. Three days to write up what I wanted to do with the next HoMM. It just so happened, I was in the middle of moving from one apartment to the another, but I found the time to sit down, analyze HoMM, and produce 1.5 pages of suggestions.
When the day arrived, I drove to a small, nondescript office building in Agoura Hills. At 10am, I went inside, up the stairs, and found a small plaque adjacent to a pair of wooden doors. It read, ‘New World Computing’.
I stepped inside and addressed the young, red headed, lady Receptionist, “Hi. I’m here for an interview.”
Receptionist, “What’s your name?”
Me, “Greg Fulton.”
Receptionist, “Do you know with who?”
Me, “Actually, I don’t.”
She smiled, “Have a seat. It’s gotta be either Mark or John.”
The Receptionist made a quick call, “There’s a Greg Fulton here for a job interview? Okay. I’ll call him.”
The Receptionist made another quick call, “There’s a Greg Fulton here for a job interview? Okay.”
The Receptionist addressed me, “John will be right out.”
After a couple minutes, a man walked into the reception area, put out his hand and said, “You’re Greg?”
I replied, “Yep.”
He replied, “Hi, I’m John. Follow me.”
Keep in mind, up to this point, I had worked at Activision and Dreamworks Interactive.
Activision was Activision in name only. Its founders, the gaming pioneers Dave Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead... they were long gone. It was now being run by Bobby Kotick, a pure businessman.
Dreamworks Interactive was staffed by former Microsoft and Dreamworks Pictures people. Within the halls of DWI, hardcore game developers were rare, and only on one occasion did I see Steven Spielberg (from a distance).
As for New World Computing, I was aware 3DO had purchased the company in 1996. In my mind, NWC was going to be like all the other places I had worked... another corporate puppet with absent founders.
I followed John into his large office, where he took a seat behind his desk. There were two chairs in front of John’s desk, and I sat in the one giving me a clear line of sight with John.
John, “Do you have your suggestions sheet?”
I pulled my printed ‘suggestions’ document, from my carrier. As I handed it to John, I was immediately distracted by the bookshelves along the wall behind John’s desk. On the shelves were numerous physical awards from various computer magazines of the day. There were also copies of every game New World Computing had ever published. I easily recognized Might and Magic 3, 4, and 5.
Realizing I was avoiding eye contact with John, I apologized, “I’m sorry, I’m just scanning your bookshelves for the games I’ve played.”
John smiled, “Oh, okay.”
I continued, “Might and Magic 3 is my favorite. I played 4 and 5, but I have a soft spot for 3.”
John set my document aside and replied, “Yeah. Three was the best reviewed, but the worst selling.”
I also spotted Heroes of Might and Magic 2... and King’s Bounty for the Sega Genesis.
Perplexed, I asked, “New World made King’s Bounty?”
I had no idea King’s Bounty was made by NWC. I’d completely missed it.
John, “You didn’t know that?”
Me, “No, I didn’t. I played it on the (Sega) Genesis.”
John, “That’s not surprising. We sold more copies on the Genesis than the PC. When we started the second one, I thought it would be easier to market if we tied it to Might and Magic. So, I renamed it Heroes of Might and Magic.”
It suddenly dawned on me. He didn’t say ‘When New World made King’s Bounty’ or ‘When we made King’s Bounty’... he said, ‘When I made King’s Bounty’. I was thinking ‘John’... not ‘Jon’.
THIS WAS THE GUY.
This was the guy who made Might and Magic 3, one of my all-time favorite video games.
I never thought he would still be running the company, yet here he was, sitting directly across from me.
I was immediately star struck, but somehow, I managed to maintain my composure, and for the next 30 minutes, Jon and I chatted about Might and Magic, Heroes of Might and Magic, the computer game market, and my background. Eventually, our discussion reached a natural conclusion.
Jon, “Would you be willing to come back for a follow-up interview?”
Jon, “Okay. One moment.”
Jon picked up his phone and made quick call, “Got a minute? Yes.”
A minute later, Mark Caldwell walked into Jon office and took the seat next to mine. My first impression of Mark? Energy.
Jon, “Greg, this is Mark.”
I shook Mark’s hand.
Jon addressed Mark, “Are you available for the three of us to have lunch in day or two.”
Mark addressed Jon, “Wednesday or Thursday?”
Jon, “I was thinking an eleven o’clock lunch on Thursday, and I’d go home afterwards.”
Mark turned to me, “Sound good?”
Me, “Shouldn’t be a problem.”
Two days later, I returned to NWC. Jon, Mark, and myself went to lunch.
While JVC still had final word on everything happening at NWC, it was clear he was taking a lesser role in running the company. I didn’t know it at the time, but JVC’s participation was basically oversight. He came into work 2 or 3 days each week, and with NWC now under the wing of 3DO, Mark was taking over the day-to-day duties of running the company.
Our lunch session was really for Mark to size me up, and possibly veto JVC’s selection. Mark had been with JVC since Might and Magic 2.
During our lunch, I queried them about ‘the old days’. They reminisced and joked about their previous office location, in a bad section of Van Nuys, where they routinely heard gun fire. JVC added, when they were making Might and Magic 2, Mark was the only person who could successfully operate the plastic wrap machine. Everyone else either got the wrap too loose or too tight. For some reason, Mark had the magic touch, and was able to wrap each box just right.
Mark asked a number of basic ‘who are you and where are you from’ questions, but the real ‘let’s get to it’ question came when he referenced the file name for my ‘suggestions’ document. He had seen my document, and its filename listed on the header... HeroesOfMightAndMagic3_BS.doc.
Mark, “Your suggestions document was named Heroes of Might and Magic B S.”
I replied, knowing exactly what he was implying, “Brainstorm. Not bull shit.”
After lunch, we returned to NWC.
Outside the office building, Jon asked Mark, “So, what’s next?”
Mark, “He needs to talk to Trip."
Jon turned to me, “You’ll need to talk on the phone with Trip Hawkins.”
Mark looked at me, “It’s just a formality. Unless you find a way to offend him.”
Jon addressed me, “Do we have your phone number?”
Me, “Yeah. It’s on my resume.”
Mark, “I’ll set up your meeting with Trip and send you an email with a list of potential times.”
Two days later, at Dreamworks Interactive, Trip Hawkins called me on my office phone. It wasn’t another interview, so much as it was Trip talking for 30 minutes, laying out his new vision for 3DO.
3DO was getting out of the hardware business and going into strict software development. I don’t think I said more than 30 words the entire time. Trip did all the talking.
Thirty-minutes after our ‘conversation’ concluded, my phone rang.
Mark was on the other end of the line, “Ok. Trip is happy. For your salary, I’ve got 50k budgeted. Is that acceptable?”
At the time, I was making the equivalent of 30k at DWI.
Me, “Uh... yeah.”
Mark, “Where do you want me to send the offer letter?”
Me, “My office here. I’ll send you an email with the address.”
The next day, an offer letter arrived at my DWI office. I signed it and sent if off. Two days later, Mark emailed me with my start day... in two weeks.
It was done.
Several days prior, Beast from the East had been officially cancelled.
Myself, and my producer (Barbara), were in limbo, waiting for DWI to fire us, or roll us onto another project.
I went to Barbara’s office, and told her, in anticipation of the project being cancelled, I had been looking for another job.
Me, “I got an offer from New World Computing.”
Her, “Who’s New World Computing?”
In a nutshell, her answer was one of core problems with DWI.
Me, “They’re known for the Might and Magic RPG’s. I’ll be working with Jon Van Caneghem. He made one of my all-time favorite games.”
Barbara smiled at me, seemingly envious, “I’m happy for you.”
Behemoth Cave Interview
Questions 9a-10c, of 18
This interview was conducted by Behemoth Cave (Webpage & Facebook) and originally published on November 10th, 2020. It’s another relatively long interview, comprised of 33 questions in 18 parts. I’ll be posting around 5 questions per Newsletter, until we reach the end, after which we will roll into another interview. Below are questions 9a to 10c, of 18.
9a. Heroes III is not the only game in the series. Can you share with us your opinion on the Heroes’ games that came after the 3rd installment? How do you rate Heroes 4 and Ubisoft trilogy set in the world of Ashan?
Regarding this question, I am going to respectfully decline to respond. Anything I say about the other HoMM game, positive or negative, will create controversy.
9b. Do you think Ubisoft will continue with Heroes 8?
Unlikely. After three attempts, Ubisoft has been unable to replicate the success of HoMM3. From a business perspective, they have other franchises, in which they have more expertise, and better success (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, Rainbow Six, etc.). Why pour resources into an underachieving franchise you don’t understand? This is how older game franchises are put out to pasture.
Command & Conquer?
Legacy of Kain?
Medal of Honor?
Prince of Persia?
10a. This is a good moment to talk about your newest project: Fanstratics. Name of the game is composed of words: Fantasy, Strategy & Tactics and as you said yourself - it is a spiritual successor to Heroes of Might & Magic 3. Fanstratics status is currently pre-alpha and to this moment we haven’t seen any graphics or screenshots, excluding three concept artworks. In September’s newsletter you wrote that visually it will resemble Heroes 3. 3D models converted to 2D graphics, squares on adventure map, hexagonal battlegrounds and town interiors on a separate screen. Can you say a little bit more on the topic?
Firstly, one correction. Fanstratics uses true 3D models with 2D interaction. 3D models are not converted into 2D sprites/graphics. For an example, I have pointed to Ori and the Blind Forest, which is a 2D platformer, rendered in 3D. I guess you could think of Fanstratics as a 2D TBS, rendered in 3D.
10b. Will Fanstratics contain sci-fi/futuristic elements or will it be strictly set in fantasy canon?
While I want Fanstratics to be thought of as spiritual successor to HoMM3, I don’t want it to be viewed as a Might and Magic ‘rip off’. For this reason, I have chosen to avoid science fiction or futuristic elements. I have already laid the creative foundation upon which the Fanstratics world is based, I am happy with what I’ve done, and I look forward to its gradual reveal. While it is strictly fantasy... it is not stereotypical fantasy. Hopefully, you will like it, and enjoy it. :-)
10c. For example what factions and magic schools are planned? Please, share with us everything you can! We are Fanstratics news-hungry :).
Nine factions are planned, and starting with the December Newsletter, I plan to start a slow trickle of details. Currently, the landing page gallery showcases concept sketches for four Troop types, each from a different faction.
A draft of Adventure and Battlefield Spells has been completed, but not finalized. So, at this time, I would say ‘no comment’ regarding Magic Schools.
Please believe me when I say, I want to reveal everything I have designed and everything currently in development, but we have a very long way to go before launching a crowd funding effort. Were I to divulge everything I have planned... there would be nothing to discuss for months.
I know it’s a lot to ask, but please be patient. We’ll get there. Hopefully, you will find it worth the wait.
Additonal links extracted from the Newsletter: