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Originally appeared on The Astral Wizard. Reprinted with permission.

Fnord:
All the previous Heroes games have added more towns than the game before, yet HoMM IV will actually have fewer, but with more options. What design issues led to the decision to have fewer town types?

Maranthea:
This decision mainly stemmed from the new Magic System. With five schools of magic it seemed logical that there would be one town specializing in each school and of course, the Stronghold who would disdain any magic at all. Other important factors included a desire to have a stronger theme to each town, making them more distinct. The difference between towns, heroes and creatures was often minimal in previous versions of Heroes games and we sought to correct this in Heroes IV. One of the side benefits is people will once again have an easier time to grasp the basics of the game, but with the more options it will take a lifetime to master.

Fnord:
In some of the screenshots we've seen so far, the graphics look incredible but people are worried their current systems may not be able to run the new game; HoMM III recommended a Pentium 166 with 32MB of RAM. When New World Computing was creating the HoMM IV engine, were they able to find a way to keep the hardware requirements from rising too sharply?

Maranthea:
During research and development we have always kept in mind the lower end machines and the art and programming staff worked closely together to keep the requirements low. Despite the incredible new look we are aiming for Pentium 200 with 32-64MB of RAM as the minimum requirements. We also are supporting multiple resolutions so that gamers with either high or low end machines will be able to enjoy the best looking Heroes game yet.

Fnord:
Many fans have wished for a long time that heroes could fight directly in battles, and this is finally going to happen in HoMM IV. As possibly one of the biggest changes to Heroes so far, what kind of issues had to be resolved before you could be certain this would integrate well into the game?

Maranthea:
The two biggest issues were hero death and hero balance. Death on the battlefield and permanently leaving your forces would have been a huge detriment to any player, so we decided this was not a way to go. On the other hand we didn’t want invincible heroes. If a hero is ‘killed’ on the combat field before the rest of the army they enter a state of unconsciousness. If you win, you need to take your hero to a town or sanctuary and resurrect them. If you lose, your opponent has the choice to imprison your hero, and you have to go rescue them. This way any hero you hire is always part of your forces, they just aren’t always active if you lose a battle. As far as balance went, we worked out how powerful a hero at certain levels should be in comparison to creatures and balanced out their hit points, damage and so forth.

Fnord:
Another major change that goes along with the heroes fighting is that of armies existing, moving and fighting without heroes. In some ways, this could be an even more radical change. Although the concept has been used in other turn-based strategy fantasy games, what made it seem like this would work well in the Heroes game, and are there limitations to the number of armies that can run around on their own?

Maranthea:
There are still only 8 armies allowed for each player on the map, but you can garrison an unlimited number. We thought creatures by themselves would be great for scouting, picking up loose resources or other little ‘freebies’ that exist on the map. It’s much cheaper to lose one halfling than to lose one hero. Armies without a hero have backpacks to pick up artifacts, and creatures with hands can use potions. However, not having a hero means your forces just may run away if overwhelmed, or even join if the opposing army has a hero with Diplomacy or Charm. Not to mention there is a group of skills devoted to enhancing the abilities of creatures, along with some very powerful artifacts. These are still very good reasons to have at least one hero in an army, so I suspect most people will make sure their main fighting forces consist of a nice mix of both.

Fnord:
The expanded skill system (with five levels of mastery), sounds exciting. The Computer Gaming World article mentions nine primary skills, each with three associated secondary skills. In HoMM III, primary skills were Attack, Defense, Power and Knowledge. Does this mean that there are now nine of these score-based skills?

Maranthea:
No, you won’t have 9 score based skills. The entire system has been rearranged quite dramatically. The stats are now damage, hit points, spell points, shots, luck, morale, speed, movement and experience, which are score based. The new skill system has been devised very carefully so all of the skills are useful, but once again you can’t get them all. The nine primary skills are Combat, Tactics, Scouting, Nobility, Life Magic, Death Magic, Order Magic, Chaos Magic and Nature Magic. Each has three associated secondary skills and they have five levels of mastery. With so many options you’ll be more likely to specialize your heroes. The biggest side effect of this change is that your heroes will become more distinct in late game, rather than less distinct.

Fnord:
Replacing the elemental magic schools with five town-based magic schools makes a lot of sense and should help to enhance the individual identity of each faction. However, the new Stronghold town won't have any magic, but can hire heroes from the other town types, presumably including various magic-using heroes. If these magic heroes have virtually no access to spells, they would seem to be very weak and of little use to the Stronghold player. Did this potential contradiction pose any design problems?

Maranthea:
Not really, the town was designed to be quite effective without a mage guild present. Faster creature generation definitely gives the Stronghold an edge. Their blacksmith has more items available for sale, which can really help heroes out in early game. There are shrines, artifacts and potions available on the maps, and these offer up a diverse number of spells, giving Barbarians the opportunity to learn and use magic.

Fnord:
One of the more popular fan wishes for HoMM IV was for some sort of underwater or pirate town, yet there's been no indication of anything along these lines so far. Was it too hard to integrate such a town into the design of the game?

Maranthea:
We chose the towns based on the schools of magic, and a water-based town didn’t really fit well into the magic or skill system very well. The basic idea of making the water terrain more interesting was understood and we’ve created a few creatures specifically for the water, such as Pirates you can hire and sea monsters you can fight. The other step we took was to increase the number and variety of water-based adventure objects players can visit.

Fnord:
The underground level introduced in HoMM III was very popular and many fans wished for even more map "levels" for the next game. Was this element discussed by the design team?

Maranthea:
That’s an interesting idea, but we think that two levels is really the sweetspot. Too many levels and it would become tedious to chase someone down, or put you too far away from strategically important towns.

Fnord:
The new town screens use the same basic layout for every town and also change their background depending on the type of terrain they're placed on. This is a very nice idea and will add greatly to the atmosphere of the games. Will this mix-and-match approach to the town screens allow for completely customized town creation in the map editor, such as mixing dwellings from any of the six town types?

Maranthea:
We too thought it would be easier for the player if town buildings were in roughly the same place for all towns. Using this method also allowed us to have a more diverse building tree than in previous Heroes. After first level you will be able to choose between two different creature dwellings. Using this method there is greater diversity among the towns and armies, especially in mid and late game.

Fnord:
We're all very excited about the upcoming release of HoMM IV. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the game's design?

Maranthea:
No other question was so difficult to answer because there are so many new features and design changes. Not to mention I want to tell everyone about them all right now, but that would spoil all the fun wouldn’t it? So I’ll just let you in on my favorite feature. It has got to be the way we’re handling heroes. I love the new role-playing elements we’ve added. Once you’ve chosen a class, give your hero a new name, new biography and new face. After that your hero can adventure alone, with some friends or with an army to command. Heroes will be more specialized so they’ll have a distinct personality later on. In combat we’ve been able to really bring heroes alive and give them much more personality than ever before. For all of you who are more concerned with strategy than role-playing, don’t worry. Heroes demand a lot of strategy every step of the way, and with so many possibilities it’s going to take you a very long time to master them.

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