Welcome. Hope each of you is doing relatively well.
With this Newsletter... another small adjustment. I’m relocating links to the ‘monthly Troop concept sketch’ into the Questions Section.
Why? As each is revealed, I want to chat a little bit about each one.
In writing these Newsletters, about the development of Fanstratics (FST), I continue to unearth old memories concerning the development of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3). Before all of this began, part of me wanted to author a book about HoMM3’s development, and with the way things are going, these posts are quickly becoming the loose developmental memoir I had in mind. Perhaps, after the ‘interview well’ runs dry, I’ll start posting HoMM3 development anecdotes. We’ll see.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Archangel.
When word first broke concerning the development of Fanstratics, I quickly needed a ‘signature image’ for the game.
For me, it came down to the Archangel or the Human Cavalier. After giving it some thought, I settled on the Human Cavalier, as I thought it embodied the entirety of the game, where the Archangel was more representative of one faction (Allegiant).
For HoMM3, the Archangel has arguably become its signature Troop. I remember George Almond’s color picture of the Archangel, when David Mullich and Phelan Sykes first showed it to me. I don’t recall why Phelan had George create the picture. It may have been for the box art, but Scott McDaniel (Marketing) shot it down as he wanted ‘3D’ rendered armies on the box front. I suggested, “Let’s use it for the Main Menu.” Both David and Phelan liked the idea, with Phelan recommending we animate the flames on the sword.
In hindsight, I wish I’d advocated for the option to customize the Main Menu background. When Armageddon’s Blade was released, the Archangel disappeared. With subsequent releases, accompanied by Paul Romero’s wonderful Main Menu score, some people never saw the Archangel in all its Main Menu glory.
In the years since, I have seen two different sculptures of the Archangel. One on Kickstarter (canceled) and a second on Artstation (where is link to YT, as he also did Solmyr). One last story about the Archangel as it relates to the Main Menu...
David, “He doesn’t like the Main Menu.”
Me, “What’s wrong with it?”
“He wouldn’t say.”
“He wouldn’t say?”
“More like he couldn’t say. I couldn’t get anything out him. You try talking to him.”
Scott White (Artist, GUI, Castle town, Tower town, etc.) and I had been working on the game’s interface for weeks, and Scott’s office just happened to be adjacent to Mark’s. Before I stopped in to see Mark, I took a detour to give Scott fair warning. I mentioned I was going to see Mark, because he had an issue with the Main Menu GUI. I remember Scott’s puzzled expression and shoulder shrug. In response, I shrugged my shoulders as well.
After giving Scott a head’s up, I walked into Mark’s office, and got right to it, “You don’t like the interface?”
Mark replied, “It’s ugly.”
Me, “It’s not ugly.”
“Yes it is.”
“You think the Archangel is ugly?”
“No, the Archangel is great.”
“Then how can you say it’s ugly?”
“Everything but the Archangel is ugly.”
“Everything? Can you show me specifically what you think is ugly?”
Mark exhaled, rolled his eyes, and started the game.
We were looking at the Main Menu splash screen, I said, “Okay. You think the Archangel is fine... but you think the icons are ugly?”
Mark, “No, the icons are fine. It’s the other stuff.
Mark navigates to Scenario Selection, “This stuff.”
Me, “You don’t like the layout?”
“It’s... it’s... BROWN.”
“You don’t like that its brown.”
“Right. It’s ugly.”
“What colors would you like?”
I looked at Mark and exhaled, “Alright. Let me talk to Scott.”
I literally went next door, walked into Scott’s office, who was bracing for me to deliver bad news. Something like, “Throw out all the hard work you’ve already done.” Instead, I looked at him and said, “Well, I tired to pin him down on what he didn’t like. It’s the color. He doesn’t like the interface being brown.” The look on Scott’s face said it all, “Really?”
At the time, we had followed the precedent set by HoMM2, which had a ‘tan’ interface. In fact, if you want an idea of the Main Menu’s original color scheme, just look at the Adventure Map interface, which is, for the most part, ‘brown’.
So, I said to Scott, “What if we used the Archangel’s color scheme for the other parts of Main Menu? Blue, gold, and white.”
Scott seemed to like the idea and nodded, “Okay.”
“How long will it take to re-color all the GUI pieces?”
“Day or two.”
The following day, I dropped in on Scott for a quick update. He already had a mock-up ready in Photoshop. I asked him what he thought. He liked it better. So did I. I told him, to clear it with Phelan and David, and put it in the game.
Scott asked, “What about Mark?”
I replied, “If Mark doesn’t like this, I don’t know what we’ll do.”
A couple of days later, after not hearing any feedback, I did manage to catch Mark, with the game running, with the updated Main Menu GUI. I asked, “Do you like the colors?” With a slight smirk, Mark nodded.
Most people don’t understand, an important part of being a game designer, is figuring out what people want, or what a person wants, when they can’t properly communicate it... specify it... or put it into words. If you can do it well, it’s a big benefit, as you become something akin to a mind reader... at least where video games are concerned. If you can do it well, it can also be a big headache, as you may find yourself spending most of your time solving other people’s problems... in addition to your own.
Returning to the present, this month's Troop concept sketch, is the Archangel. I’ve been champing at the bit for Justin to render this Troop, and its finally here.
Fanstratics Faction #6: Zubhewen.
Largely of Goblin descent, this sub-human faction lives in an underground, Subterranean world. Terror, chaos, and fear are their allies, leading to an amorphous ‘might-makes-right’ form of self-rule. Representing the Zubhewen in the Troll Witch, who can be viewed in the Fanstratics Gallery. For most, the Zubhewen will be remarkably similar to HoMM3’s ‘Dungeon’, but keep in mind... as I mentioned in the last Newsletter... some troops have been shuffled off to other factions. So, some hallmark ‘Dungeon’ troops may have found new homes with other, more thematically consistent cultures.
Fanstratics Feature: Hardcore Mode.
Similar to the previous two features (Rally Attack & Boss Battles), a Hardcore Mode is not a new idea. Anyone familiar with late 70’s, early 80’s, coin-operated arcade games, have experienced video game ‘permadeath’. While this design choice has a long history, in my personal experience, it wasn’t formalized as a mainstream feature until Diablo 2’s ‘hardcore mode’ in 2000.
There is something masochistically romantic about risking your precious time attempting to conquer an intentionally difficult video game. While I personally don’t have the time to grind out repeated hardcore wins, hardcore play has been responsible for some of the most memorable video game streams I’ve ever seen: Diablo 3, Fallout: New Vegas (hardcore mode), XCOM (ironman), Darkest Dungeon (86 or 100 Weeks), etc. Most recently, Moonmoon played Doom Eternal in a pseudo-permadeath mode... and failed during the final fight.
While I suspect only a minority of players will utilize this feature, I would like to see hardcore streams of Fanstratics. So, a hardcore mode is planned; one persistent save for your current game, with the difficulty settings of your choice. There may also be other ‘hardcore’ wrinkles, such as ‘permadeath’ for Heroes. If you lose a Hero in battle, they no longer appear in your Kingdom’s Hero Pool. Bottom line... if you lose... you lose.
Personally, I want to see people play and stream Fanstratics in hardcore mode, on the toughest difficulty, against multiple AI opponents, with an in-game time limit. It could make for some gripping entertainment.
Will there be a map editor and random map generator in Fanstratics?
HoMM3’s map editor and random map generator were released with its first expansion pack ‘Armageddon’s Blade’. For Fanstratics, I expect to rollout both a Community Map Editor and a Random Map Generator, well after the game’s official public release. When? I cannot say at this stage.
If there will be a random map generator, how will it be configured?
It’s been a very long time since I crafted HoMM3’s original RMG templates (using Microsoft Excel). Since then, different methods to random map generation have been developed, and I would like to research a number of them, before I decide on a final design direction. So, details regarding the internal logic and implementation of the Random Map Generator are currently unresolved.
Behemoth Cave Interview
Questions 3-4c, of 18
This interview was conducted by Behemoth Cave 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 3 to 4c, of 18.
3. Obviously, the creator’s vision of the game often evolves while still developing the game. Some ideas are dropped out, new ideas come up and are implemented in the game. Some press materials contained unit concepts like the "Demilich" (flying green skull with horns, appendix 1), Kenneth Thomson’s “Lobstrosity” (appendix 2) or an aristocratic elf (appendix 3). Even after the release, we can find Fear spell icon or the Market of Time (the adventure map location) in the game files. Can you tell us something more about these elements/features that didn’t make it into the game? Also, Dendroids, Efreets, Zealots, Unicorns or Minotaurs and a couple of others - they all have additional animations and sounds which aren’t used by the game in any way. Is there any particular reason behind them? Were those units supposed to cast a spell on the battlefield, like Ogre Magi for example?
As you call it, the Demilich was supposed to be a Will-o-the-Wisp, for the Fortress. It was inspired by the Lost Soul monster from Doom, and was cut because we couldn’t get it to ‘glow’ properly.
I believe the Aristocratic Elf was an early draft version of the Grand Elf.
The Fear spell was ‘cut’ because it was little more than ‘bad morale’ in another form. Later, I thought it was better to convert the mechanic into the Fear ability for the Azure Dragon.
Market of Time
Originally, the Market of Time was called ‘Brigadoon’. It would randomly appear after long periods of time, and for a Day, a Hero could purchase very high value artifacts and very cheap resources. It was ‘cut’ because it required new programing functionality, we were running out of development time, and I was worried players would ‘park’ a Hero at the destination and simply wait for the Market. Also, for the record, it was never a place where Heroes could unlearn Secondary Skills.
Additional Animations and Sounds
There is no particular reason why certain characters didn’t get additional animations or sounds. I suspect it was typical miscommunication or misunderstanding.
4a. Heroes III in its bestiary has plenty of mythological beasts (like Minotaurs, Medusas, Hydras) or creatures that are popular in fantasy in general (Dwarves, Dragons). What were your sources of inspiration while creating Heroes III - not only for creatures but also for spells and locations?
Nothing is created in a vacuum, and is always derived from various sources of inspiration. I looked at everything: paper and pencil RPG’s, table top games, card games, novels, comics, movies, and art books. For the various troops and spells, anything and everything was a potential source of inspiration.
4b. Can we find any direct reference to books and/or movies in the game?
Obviously the cheat codes reference Star Wars the Phantom Menace, the Matrix, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As for in game assets, Gelu’s appearance was clearly inspired by Elric of Melnibone, and the Behemoth was derived from the Rancor in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
4c. Are there any heroes that are based on real people (beside Sir Mullich - David Mullich, Inteus - George Almond, Sir Christian - Christian Vanover)?
To my knowledge, there are only four...
It’s relatively well known, Sir Mullich shares the name and likeness of David Mullich. While we were working on HoMM3, Might and Magic 6 was still in production, and needed people and costumes for various character portraits. Of course... David had a Renaissance Fair costume... and volunteered. When Phelan Sykes (Lead Artist) saw the final game asset, she couldn’t wait to tell me how goofy it looked. Immediately, I said to her, “We should put it in the game.” She told me she would clean up the portrait, get it game ready, and deliver it to John Bolton (Lead Programmer). When David was away on vacation, for birth of his first son (if I correctly recall), we put it into the game. Upon his return, we showed the ‘new’ Hero to him, and he got a chuckle out of it. Since then, he’s become one of HoMM3’s most famous Heroes.
Inteus shares a likeness with George Almond. George did all of the HoMM3 concept art, the manual cover, and the interface backgrounds. He also painted all the Hero portraits, so I’m not surprised he slipped himself into the game.
Sir Christian is named after Christian Vanover, but doesn’t look like him in the slightest. I don’t recall if Christian requested to be put into the game, or I did it as a goof. The entire Sir Christian secret campaign was made to poke fun at Chris, who was a good sport about it.
Luna is based on a young lady from New World Computing tech support, who’s name I do not recall. After 3DO finished its acquisition of New World Computing, her job was moved to 3DO corporate, in Redwood City. I lost track of her after E3, in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1998.
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)
George Almond - Heroes portfolio
Lobstrozity Easter Egg PotD
CH Interview - Christian Vanover, 2005
David Mullich - My life as a videogame character
David Mullich - Remembering Erathia 15 Years Later
*Added some links and graphics above original imageless newsletter.