Welcome. Hope each of you is doing well.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Clockwork Gremlin
This month’s Troop took a mildly interesting road from idea to concept art.
For story, lore, and world reasons, I wanted at least one clockwork Troop. Stoutbluds were the logical Faction, but there are only so many Troop slots. Initially, I cut the Gremlin and replaced it with a Clockwork Warrior.
About a week later, I was looking over the roster, and... well... I was missing the Gremlin. They are cheesy, endearing, surprisingly fun, and great for trolling an Enemy Player. I thought about it and eventually asked myself, “Why not merge the two?” Thus... the Clockwork Gremlin.
On the art side of things, this was one of those instances where I gave Justin a good amount of background detail to digest. Upon seeing the initial thumbnails, I quickly realized I was getting in his way, and told him, “Don’t worry about the lore. You know what I’m after. Just make something cool. I’ll make adjustments on my end if necessary.”
Ultimately, I think it turned out rather well. ;-)
Fanstratics Faction #7: Infernals
Residing in Volcanic lands with persistent lava flows, this Demonic faction exists only to slake its unquenchable thirst for fire. Burn the world... scorch it all... until the self is destroyed... and the thirst no more. To ask ‘why’ shows an absence of understanding.
Most will immediately recognize this Faction’s similarity to HoMM3’s ‘Inferno’. Representing the Infernals is the Bile Worm, which can be viewed in the Fanstratics Gallery.
Fanstratics Feature: Player Determined Weekly Events
HoMM3’s Weekly and Monthly Astrological Events were... oddly enough... one of its more iconic elements. For Fanstratics, I’m expanding this specific mechanic.
It is no longer a passive event. Instead, on Day 1 of each Week, one Player is randomly selected. This Player is then given the option to choose one of two random ‘Decrees’, with a third ‘Gamble’ option. A Decree can affect Town Construction, Merchants, Resources, Troop Recruits, etc. If a Player chooses the Gamble option, there is chance to enact both presented Decrees... or neither.
Question: “I also wanted to say some things about the Forge. I don’t know about the rest, but I think it’s a good idea to diversify the fantasy world with mechanical factions, and to be honest, it’s sad for me what happened to the Forge in HOMM3, I personally think it was a good idea, at least with regard to the faction itself, so I join the number of those who are waiting for the Forge (or something similar to it).”
I understand your sentiments. I too was disappointed with the Forge’s cancelation, but I also understand the opinions generated by the opposition. Rudimentary clockwork technology has a place in the Fanstratics universe, so a clockwork faction isn’t out of the question, but we first need to publish the initial game.
HoMM3 Recollection: Dave Botan
When it came to finding and leading the Map Makers for HoMM3, Christian Vanover was the logical first choice as he made maps for HoMM2: Succession Wars. He couldn’t do it alone, and suggested someone he knew in Quality Assurance (QA / Test / Game Testing).
When Christian appeared in the doorway to my office, he had with him... Dave Botan. Dave stood there, sheepishly, with both his hands in his front jeans pockets.
Chris, “Dave, this is Greg. Greg, this is Dave.”
Dave pulled one hand out of his front pocket, and shyly waved with a deadpan, “Hello.”
I nodded, “Hey.”
My first impression? Dave was awkward, self-conscious, and a touch grumpy. I liked him.
Chris, “I want Dave to help me with the maps on Heroes.”
I could have conducted in person interviews for potential map makers, but Christian’s recommendation was more than enough. He had been at New World Computing (NWC) far longer than myself, and knew who he could rely upon. So, Dave was assigned to making Campaign Maps and Single Player Scenarios for HoMM3.
My initial interactions with Dave were very limited. At the time, 3DO was growing NWC’s headcount, and we didn’t have any extra office space. Despite no longer being a Game Tester, Dave had to stay in the communal QA room.
With computer desks butted up against one another, the QA room was the largest ‘office’ in NWC. There were no dividers... no privacy. Off in the corner, Dave sat at his desk, doing his best to focus on making good maps for Heroes3. I have no doubt it added to his grumpiness.
Eventually, NWC expanded its office space. Dave, along with Jennifer, Ryan, Walter, Marcus, and Michael, finally got a cubical. It wasn’t as good as an office, but far better than a desk in an open room.
After the expansion, when walking about the office, I would frequently catch Dave standing up within his cubical. He would look my way. I’d scowl at him. He’d scowl back. We’d both smirk, snicker, and continue about our business. This was effectively my relationship with Dave... playful provocation. Perhaps the pinnacle of this dynamic occurred when Dave accidentally embarrassed me in front of Jon Van Caneghem (JVC)... remotely. What do I mean by ‘remotely’? Let me explain.
One day, David Mullich poked his head into my office, “Could you set up Heroes on JVC’s machine. He wants to play the current build.”
Me, “Just tell him to use the Network Tool.”
David, slightly hesitant, realizing he could have just told JVC to use the Network Tool, “I told him you would do it.”
I rolled my eyes and pushed back from my desk, “Is he there now?”
David, “I think so, I just spoke to him on the phone couple a minutes ago.”
We were far enough along in development to play the game and get a sense of how things were going. There was still a lot to finalize, but almost all of the first draft artwork was in, and you could play a number of maps, win, lose, etc.
JVC was alone in his office, at his desk, when I stepped inside, “Just use the Network Tool.”
JVC, “What directory?”
I thought for a second, “I know how to get there, but I forgot the drive letter.”
JVC pushed back from his desk. I stepped behind Jon’s desk and grabbed his computer’s mouse. He already had the Network Tool up and running.
What was the ‘Network Tool’? It was a simple, custom, in-house desktop application. NWC used it to selectively copy the contents from a network folder, to a different folder on your local computer. It would compare files between the two folders, and copy over anything with a more recent date. Once you had it set up, it was essentially fire-and-forget, so it was easy to misremember how you’d set it up. Using the Network Tool, I navigated to the Heroes3 build and started the transfer.
As I left JVC’s office, I told him, “It should take about 10-15 mins to copy everything.”
I returned to my office, sat down, and got back to work. After about 20 minutes my phone rang.
I pressed the speaker button, “Yes?”
It was JVC, sounding playfully peeved, “Would you come here.”
Me, “Build not working?”
JVC, “Just come here.”
When I returned to JVC’s office, he was waiting for me, “I just played a map and got killed on Day 10.”
My heart sank. Great. There could be any number of reasons why this occurred: Map, Ai, wrong data, etc. It was embarrassing.
I asked, “What happened?”
JVC, “I don’t know. I was exploring the map. Building up my town. Then on Day 10, this Hero shows up, mows down the monster at the choke point, then marches right to my town and kills me.”
“Was your town defended?”
“It was Day 10 on Normal difficulty.”
“Okay-okay. Can you load the autosave?”
Looking over Jon’s shoulder, I watched him load the saved game.
Me, “Press Tab and type ‘nwcgeneraldirection’.”
Jon pressed Tab, hesitated, “Type in what?”
“N W C general direction. All one word.”
The Shroud disappeared from the map, showing the Enemy Hero ready to pounce.
Me, “Right click the Enemy Hero.”
Jon right clicked the Enemy Hero, displaying its Army... fully loaded... including Tier 7 Behemoths... on Day 10. Jon looked back at me, squinting, suspicious.
I immediately stammered out an excuse, “He shouldn’t have that many creatures. Especially Behemoths.”
JVC, “No kidding.”
As I mentioned, there could be any number of reasons for this aberrant behavior, but the easiest first check is the map.
Fingers crossed, hoping, I said, “Open the Map Editor. It might be a bug. Maybe someone accidentally set to the town to fully built.”
Jon opened the Map Editor, and loaded the map he was playing (I don’t remember its name).
JVC navigated to the Enemy Town, double clicked, and displayed the Town Properties. Everything normal.
Me, “Huh? Check the Hero.”
JVC closed the Town Propertied window, double clicked the Enemy Hero, and navigated to the Creature Tab. Full army... including Behemoths... on Day 1. For the second time in less than five minutes, Jon looked back at me, squinting, suspicious.
For the second time in less than five minutes, I stammered out another excuse, “That’s not my fault.”
Jon started chuckling. I reached for Jon’s office phone, picked up the receiver, and dialed Christian Vanover.
Me, “Hey. It’s Greg. I’m in Jon’s office. Did you make [insert forgotten map name here]?”
Over the phone, I could hear the clicking of Chris’s computer mouse “No, but I can tell you who did. One moment. Uh... Dave (Botan).”
Chris, beginning to suspect something was amiss, began to laugh, “Something wrong?”
Me, hanging up the phone, “I’ll explain later.”
I looked at JVC, “I’ll take care of it. Try another map. Let me know if you get trampled again.”
JVC chuckled, “Okay.”
JVC’s office wasn’t too far from the QA room.
Walking through the office of QA Lead Walter Johnson, I said “Hey, Walt.”
Walt replied, “Hey, Greg.”
Immediately inside the QA Room, in his corner, sat Dave Botan, at his desk, working away on a Heroes3 map. Dave looked up at me.
While the QA room was large, it was small enough for you to hear almost any conversation, provided you weren’t whispering. Well... I wasn’t in any mood to whisper. Mind you, I wasn’t yelling, but my voice was elevated, as Dave had just unintentionally embarrassed me... remotely... in front of JVC. You could say I was... miffed. I knew the map could be easily fixed, but I didn’t want Dave to forget this moment. If he didn’t remember, he might make another map with same issue.
Me, “So... today JVC decided he wanted to play Heroes. I set him up with the game. He loads up a map. Starts playing. On Day 10... an Enemy Hero shows and [censored] him in the [censored].”
My description of the event caused Dave to stifle a laugh. By this time, my volume, my tone, and my energy, had captured the amused attention of the QA testers.
Me, “The map’s name is [insert forgotten map name here].”
Immediately, Dave knew it was his map.
Me, “Well, Jon just read me the riot act (not really). Now I’m here reading you the riot act (not really).”
Dave attempted to defend himself, “That map’s supposed to be that way. It’s supposed to hard at the beginning.”
Me, countering, “The Enemy Hero had Behemoths on Day 1.”
Dave, “Okay. Well. Maybe that was too much.”
Me, “The goal is the make the game fun for the player, not [censored] them in the [censored].”
Dave stifled another laugh and shrugged, “What do you want me to do?”
Me, “You know what to do. You can hassle the player, without running them over. Make it easier.”
Dave, in reluctant agreement, “Alright.”
When I was composing last month’s Newsletter, I briefly exchanged emails with Phelan Sykes (HoMM3 Lead Artist). I was surprised, when she told me, earlier this year, Dave Botan had passed away. I liked Dave, and while I lost track of him, it saddens me to know he isn’t somewhere, making someone’s day more interesting.
Rest in peace, Dave.
Behemoth Cave Interview
Questions 3-4c, 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 5a to 6b, of 18.
5a. Let’s talk about balance. What methods did you use to make decisions about creature statistics, AI value, faction balance and schools of magic? Was every single value chosen on a whim and then verified or rather were there more complicated mathematical calculations involved?
Balance was determined using a process of opinion and verification, via abstract simulation. JVC and I hashed out the statistics for the various troops, based on our personal opinion of which was more or less powerful, in relation to one another.
Using these preliminary numbers, I put each Troop through a Battle Simulator I constructed in Microsoft Excel. This Battle Simulator produced a relative number, which I then used to verify our assumptions. If something appeared to be out of whack... an adjustment was made.
Using these base ai values, Gus Smedstad further modified the numbers, to account for special abilities, creating adjusted ai values, which were again verified using the Battle Simulator. If something appeared to be out of whack... an adjustment was made.
Faction balance was less complicated. I did an analysis of Troop Power versus costs over time. If something appeared to be out of whack... an adjustment was made
Spells and spell schools were largely opinion.
5b. Were you aware of earth magic or logistics supremacy, or how useless eagle eye or learning are?
Keep in mind, at the time, HoMM3 was considered, first and foremost, a single player game. If a skill or spell proved to be overpowered, it wasn’t a big concern, because the overwhelming number of games were human versus ai. If we had known, twenty years later, HoMM3 would be a competitive multiplayer game, we would have given ‘balance’ extra attention.
This being said, at the time, we did not know Earth Magic or Logistics would be considered overpowered.
Learning could have used a buff, but we were worried about it becoming a ‘required skill’, so we errored on the side of ‘underpowered’.
Eagle Eye was a hold over from HoMM2, and within NWC it wasn’t considered ‘useless’. Regardless, in hindsight, it could have been cut.
5c. Were there dedicated testers and balance designers in the dev team of Heroes III?
Short answer... no. Please keep in mind, at the time, network play was a relatively new thing, and the thought of competitive HoMM3 was inconceivable. Also, dedicated balance designers and testers didn’t really become a thing until Starcraft became an esport in South Korea. Today, it is standard practice for any pure multiplayer game.
6a. How did you react when you realized that after 20 years Heroes have a huge fanbase (which still grows) in the central-eastern Europe (especially in Poland and Russia) and Asia?
In the USA, immediately after its release in 1999, HoMM3 stayed at #3 on the sales charts, for 3 weeks, before declining. HoMM3 was respected, but never showcased. At the time, it felt like a cult hit, not a commercial success.
Around 2016, to my genuine surprise, I saw thousands of people regularly playing HoMM3 on Twitch.tv. After speaking with David Mullich, and doing a little digging, all of the hints I had seen over the years... suddenly made sense.
Whenever I mentioned HoMM3, to my surprise, most people knew of the game:
- HoMM3 SoD?
- HoMM3 Chronicles (x3)?
- HoMM3 WoG?
- HoMM3 VCMI?
- HoMM3 HotA?
- HoMM3 HD?
- Thousands of user made maps?
- Persistent GOG.com bestseller?
In the 3DO bankruptcy, when Ubisoft bought the Might & Magic intellectual property, I thought they were going after the RPG and the TBS games for their long history and built in fan base. In truth, they were specifically after HoMM. Ubisoft distributed HoMM3 outside of North America, and it sold millions of copies across Europe, Russia, and Asia.
I was stunned. I had really had no idea.
6b. Do you have any idea what could be the reason behind the popularity in those regions?
I’ve chatted with David Mullich about this, and thought about it at length. In my opinion, it is a unique combination of elements.
1. Easily accessible genre
Fantasy is a universal genre. Around the world, most people understand the concepts of knights, wizards, and dragons. It doesn’t hurt this genre was also birthed in Europe.
HoMM3 is a beautiful game, and continues to hold its own after all these years. Phelan Sykes, Scott White, Adam McCarthy, George Almond, and David Mullich, don’t get anywhere near enough credit for what they pulled out of the New World Computing art staff.
3. Exceptional Value
There’s plenty to see, experience, discover, and play within HoMM3. It’s unusual for a game to be both deep and wide. This creates an exceptionally large amount of gameplay for your money. With all the expansions, mods, user made maps, and the random map generator, you can literally play the game for 100’s if not 1000’s of hours.
While HoMM3 isn’t the easiest game to get into, you don’t need to be a guru to enjoy it. Also, being turn based, there is no pressure to immediately engage the game, and you can explore it at your leisure.
5. System Requirements
You don’t need to be a member of the PCMR to play the game. Any office computer or laptop should suffice, and this makes almost anyone with a computer, a potential fan.
Most game developers don’t like talking about this, but at some point in their lifespan, all of PC’s biggest franchises were heavily pirated. This effectively got the game into the hands of people who wouldn’t pay-to-play the game. This ‘unofficial’ demo uncovered a lot of fans who didn’t know they were fans, and hopefully purchased a legitimate copy, at a later date.
Greg's FANSTRATICS (FST) News web, with all newsletters and gallery: https://www.fanstratics.com
Fanstratics Newsletter #01 (September 2020)
Fanstratics Newsletter #02 (October 2020)
Fanstratics Newsletter #03 (November 2020)
Fanstratics Newsletter #04 (December 2021)
Fanstratics Newsletter #05 (January 2021)
Fanstratics Newsletter #06 (February 2021)
Fanstratics Newsletter #07 (March 2021)
Fanstratics Newsletter #08 (April 2021)
Fanstratics Newsletter #09 (May 2021)
Fanstratics Newsletter #10 (June 2021)