Newsletter #14 & #15 November 2021 (very late edition)
Obligatory Header - 'Thank You' & 'Send Questions'
Welcome. Hope each of you is doing well.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
#Fourteen - Gallery
Fanstratics Troop: Gawker
Where the Chimerans are believed to be the unfortunate remnants of archaic arcane experiments, the Zubhewens are a sub-human faction born from intentional evolutionary corruption. While there are clear evolutionary connections between Elves and Goblins, when it comes to the Gawker, there is one obvious question, “From what did the Gawker evolve, and what is its mysterious relationship to the other Zubhewen folk?”
In 1997, when I began building HoMM3’s various rosters, TSR’s original hard cover Monster Manual was a primary resource. To this day, it is still valuable. It is quite literally, a ‘manual of monsters’ gleaned from mythology, folklore, and fantasy fiction.
To avoid extended creative research, any author can jumpstart their work by thumbing through TSR’s Monster Manual. Most of the depicted creatures couldn’t be copyrighted by TSR, but the Beholder was different, and I wanted something like a Beholder in HoMM3.
While the idea of a ‘floating eye’ is not necessarily original, TSR’s stylistic conception could be copyrighted. In fact, to avoid any potential copyright issues, Ultima’s version of the Beholder was initially called Wandering Eyes, before it eventually became the Gazer.
I had no idea Beholders were specifically copyrighted by TSR, and I should have avoided naming HoMM3’s Beholders/Evil Eyes as such. Perhaps TSR didn’t know, didn’t care, or didn’t think a ‘cease-and-desist’ letter was worth the turmoil. Perhaps we were on safe ground. I simply don’t know.
Regardless, I am happy a Beholder-inspired Troop remained in the game. As for Fanstratics... we have a Gawker.
For those of you who want to see Justin actually render the drawing, you can watch a VOD of his Twitch stream.
- Monster Manual: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Manual
- Floating Eye: https://imgur.com/a/1BQxV5H
- Wandering Eyes: https://wiki.ultimacodex.com/wiki/Gazers
- TSR: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TSR%2C_Inc.
- Justin's Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/justingerardillustration
- Cyclop's Siege Breaker: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1211197396?filter=archives&sort=time
- Humble Hellhound: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1181973300?filter=archives&sort=time
- Humble Hellhound2: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1181973300?filter=all&sort=time
- Spilled Coffee: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/599509764?filter=all&sort=time
- Fanstratic's Gallery: https://www.fanstratics.com/gallery
- Fanstratics Web: https://www.fanstratics.com/
- There's no Gawker, now at Justin's Twitch.
Pol's remark: Do exist also Tired Eyes? How you could imagine such a creature floating through corridors, spreading melancholy, drowsiness, fatique and unluck in general, within a blink of an eye..?
To Quote WiKi a bit:
"Gazers are almost certainly derived from the "Beholders" of the table-top role playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. The Beholder first appeared in the Greyhawk supplement for the game in 1974, and is described similarly to the Gazers of Ultima. Like Gazers, Beholders are beings comprised of a large eye-stalk-bearing orb, with each stalk connected to some manner of magical attack. They are also noted for their xenophobia, a trait only hinted at regarding gazer society in Ultima IX."
#Fifteen - Gallery
Fanstratics Troop: Hell Hound
Fueled by inner fire and external hatred, the Hell Hound is a mid-tier Troop of the Infernal faction. These demonic lycanthropes can set an enemy division ablaze with their assaults, while their Hellish Howl can drain the fight from an entire enemy army.
When Justin delivered his first thumbnail for the Hell Hound, it was a stereotypical... four legged... Hell Hound. It looked great, but I’d asked for an anthropomorphic Hell Hound (a demonic lycanthrope). Justin has been rather busy these last two months, with numerous art-related and unrelated tasks, so the miscommunication was understandable. When I pinged him a second time, and refreshed his memory, he promptly delivered a follow-up thumbnail, which dramatically blossomed into this month’s Troop.
As good as the Hell Hound reads in black and white, I expect this particular Troop to look significantly better when fully realized in 3D with accompanying special effects. For those of you who want to see Justin actually render the drawing, you can always watch a VOD of his Twitch stream.
#Fourteen - Fanstratics
Fanstratics Feature: Artifact Upgrade System.
When I was designing HoMM3, my primary guideline was, “If it is not in the spirit of HoMM... remove it.” When designing Fanstratics, I have a couple different primary guidelines. One is, “When possible, create competition for resources.”
Anyone who has built a HoMM3 map, should know there is repetition in the various Artifact groups. For instance...
- Centaur’s Axe: Attack +2
- Greater Gnoll’s Flail: Attack +4
- Sword of Hellfire: Attack +6
At the time, this approach was derived from TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons, and was quite common. I couldn’t say when, but at some point, the concept of upgradable Artifacts (in one form or another), took root, began to spread, and eventually overtook unique Artifacts.
With Fanstratics, I am modifying the Artifact system. As an example, consider the aforementioned ‘Attack’ Artifacts. While there will still be 3 individual Attack Artifacts, a player will have the option to spend resources (Common, Rare, and Gold), to upgrade an Artifact. For example...
Centaur’s Axe > Greater Gnoll’s Flail >> Sword of Hellfire.
Hopefully, with each turn, a player will be faced with the following budgetary decisions...
- Should I buy Troops?
- Should I buy a Town Structure?
- Should I upgrade an equipped Hero Artifact?
Hopefully, this ‘system adjustment’ will create some additional strategic avenues, which should create additional competition for a player’s resources.
Question: Will it be possible to add custom hero portraits in the Fanstratics map editor, or will it be possible to use only portraits of existing heroes, as in HoMM3?
Hero Portraits will be limited, and the reasoning for this is simple. If we give the community the ability to import any picture they want... well... I think you can imagine someone will eventually import adult material. From a developer perspective, it’s best to keep this feature un-customizable.
Question: Will Fanstratics have a campaign editor? Will Fanstratics use a campaign map where territories are highlighted where the scenario takes place, just like HoMM3? If so, will it be possible to load a custom campaign map and highlight territories on it?
As to a Campaign Editor, I’m leaning against it, but it’s presently undecided. Why? Community Campaign tools simply aren’t used very much. If you look at Map4Heroes.com, there are over 2000+ HoMM3 maps. Of these maps, ~30 entries are multi-map campaigns. This translates into ~1.5%. We’ll see what happens.
#Fifteen - Fanstratics
Fanstratics Feature: 2 or 3 Campaigns and ~45 Solo Maps.
When I was hashing out the campaigns for HoMM3, my objectives were simple. Keep it short, simple, and to the point. Limiting campaigns to 3 or 4 maps accomplished a couple goals. First, more players were more likely to finish a campaign if it was short. Second, a collection of short campaigns created the opportunity to showcase individual factions, which gave a player the opportunity to experience HoMM3 in full.
When I began outlining the story for Fanstratics, I must admit, there was a pull to tell a longer, more involved story. So, in the end, I decided there would be 2-3 Campaigns, each comprised of at least 8 maps. It’ll take more work to weave various story elements together, but unlike HoMM3’s development, I have more time to accomplish this aim. Time permitting, there will be three campaigns.
As for solo maps, my intention is to deliver a quantity similar to RoE... ~45 solo maps (most of which can be used for multiplayer).
Two map makers, who previously worked on RoE, AB, and SoD, have reached out to me about making maps for Fanstratics. I told them, when the FST Map Editor is far enough along, I’d be in touch. Truthfully, I’m considering reaching out to some members of the HoMM3 Map Making community, as some of the non-commercial scenarios are quite wonderful.
Question: Hey love the work you are doing. My only complaint is that Heroes 3 needs an HD Rework for the whole Series, and Chronicles. H3/ AB/ and SOD should be at least the minimum HD project or remastered. Just having HOMM 3 in HD is a let down. I know it isn't your fault and is most likely Ubisofts fault.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had any involvement in HoMM3, since I left New World Computing, more than 20 years ago.
On top of this, I have no contacts at Ubisoft, and if I did... I strongly doubt they would listen to me.
While I wish there was something I could do, I simply have no power to instigate change (which is one of the reasons why I am making Fanstratics).
While nobody can deny the success of HoMM3, it has always been largely a single player game with the exception of Local Hotseat. Online play was infamous of dropping connection, out of sync errors, etc. Recently, passionate fans made not only an unofficial, now de facto expansion of the game, Horn of the Abyss, but also a working online lobby with Elo rating system and stable multiplayer features. And that's not all, what I think is the single biggest feature is the addition of sim turns, so effectively, up until the meeting point, players can play their turns simultaneously, thus cutting the play time by nearly a half, which is huge when it comes to competitive heroes (2-3 hours in some occasions). Do you plan to add something similar to Fanstratics, to support online play? Thanks in advance!
‘Yes’ is the short answer.
Regarding network play, I expect Fanstratics’ to be technically ‘competent’. Thankfully, Unity will go a long way to preventing past issues: dropped connections, out-of-sync errors, etc.
When it comes to an online lobby, with an Elo rating system, I’m still looking at this. My first instinct is to create the server technology, hand it over, and let players setup their own leagues, house rules, etc. I know most companies want to run a central server and control everything, but I don’t foresee us running Fanstratics as an ongoing service. Supporting the game is one thing, running online ladders and leagues is a different beast.
As far as simultaneous turns go, I am looking to implement it, in some form, to help compress play time. I am also brainstorming a couple other alternatives. I don’t know if they’ll make the final cut, but I understand the need to make network games shorter and more play friendly.
#Fourteen - HoMM3 Recollection
HoMM3 Recollection: Nick Ferrari.
I don’t remember when in production it occurred, but I do remember how it started. One day, Mark Caldwell appeared in the hall outside of my office and David Mullich’s office. As our offices were adjacent to one another, Mark could park himself in the hall, lean up against the opposite wall, and address both of us simultaneously. It was an impromptu meeting.
Mark had a morning Coca-Cola in hand, “Heroes3 is on the Warez boards.”
I blurted out, “How’d that happen?”
Mark shook his head, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
I followed up, “When did it happen?”
Mark, “George (Ruof) spotted it over the weekend.”
David added, “I assume there is nothing we can do?”
Mark, “Not at this time.”
I didn’t give it a second thought, but I now believe Mark was ‘surprising’ David and I with information, to witness our genuine reactions. For myself, my puzzlement was authentic. Earlier in production, I had built a map (Dead and Buried) for an eventual Heroes3 Demo. In this respect, we had a playable, production ready map, but I didn’t think the game build was far enough along to actually play the map. Regardless, Mark was immediately suspicious of everyone within New World Computing (NWC), and he was determined to find the leaker.
For those who do not know, in 1998, before social media networks, before web forums... there was Usenet. Usenet had numerous benefits, but the ‘bad apples’ metaphor was in full effect, and the negatives easily eclipsed the positives. At the time, Usenet was the cultural king of widespread trolling, flame wars, pornography, and... piracy... or Warez.
This may surprise some, but ‘yes’, developers do keep an eye on piracy groups/forums/boards/sites. Why? If your game is not on the Warez boards, it means one of two things. Either your copy protection is working... or no one wants what you are making. One is encouraging... the other is demoralizing.
A day or two after chatting with Mark, I remember walking past Test... and seeing the doors closed. In my entire time at New World Computing (NWC), this was the only instance, I can ever recall, where the doors to the Testing Room were shut.
On my way to my office, I took an extra stride, and walked into David’s office.
I inquired, “Do you know why the doors to test are closed?”
David replied, “I think Mark’s reading the riot act to the testers about Heroes leaking to the internet.”
Mark had two working theories. Theory one pointed to Video Game Reporters. A handful of various Game Reporters had received a copy of the game for preliminary review, but each reporter had signed an NDA. Breaching the NDA would put their employment, and their respective employers, at risk. So, there was doubt.
Theory two pointed to the Testers. Mark had his money on a Tester, specifically because of ICQ.
ICQ was originally released in 1996. In 1998, it was still relatively new. While I now find internet chat clients indispensable, at the time, I remember my initial reaction to ICQ being negative. It felt like a digital leash.
Regardless, at the time, all the Testers were using ICQ for various reasons. Each Tester also had Heroes3 installed on their local computer. One of the features of ICQ was the ability to easily transfer files between friends. If one of the Testers had the desire, it was a relatively simple operation for ICQ to send offsite, a current build of Heroes3.
While I don’t know the exact details of the ‘discussion’ Mark had with the Testers, I was told it was stern.
Mark, “Come clean now, because it will only get worse if you are found out.”
Well, no one came forward. In fact, all of the Testers denied leaking Heroes3, and apparently their denials were convincing.
Soon thereafter, Mark received from 3DO, additional information concerning the leak. Someone at 3DO had a friend at Sierra Online, and like 3DO, they too had recently experienced a leak similar to Heroes3. With this new information, Mark decided to go fishing.
A couple of days later, I happened to observe Mark working with George. He and Mark were working to prep a number of custom builds of Heroes3 for the same batch of Game Reporters. This time, each build was individually crafted for a specific Game Reporter. When each installed the game, their name was displayed on the install screen. Additionally, for each respective build, Mark had George bury the name of each Game Reporter, in the actual HoMM3 source code. If a new copy of Heroes3 leaked to the internet, George would be able to download it, ‘hex edit’ a specific file, and determine who had leaked the build.
A week or two later, Mark called Dave and I to his office. Once we arrived, Mark gave us the news. As he had hoped, the updated copy of Heroes3 had leaked to the Usenet Warez boards. George downloaded a copy... and discovered it belonged to... Nick Ferrari.
According to 3DO, Nick Ferrari reviewed games for the Philadelphia Inquirer (it may have been the Boston Globe (I don’t exactly recall (it was East Coast USA)). When 3DO called the newspaper, to complain about their reporter leaking software to the internet, the newspaper replied, “We don’t do game reviews, and we have anyone working for us by the name of Nick Ferrari.”
While Nick Ferrari didn’t work at the Philadelphia Inquirer, 3DO did have his mailing address. At the time, while you could download software from the internet, most people only had a dial-up connection. Because of this, Warez piracy was limited in practice. Buying a game, at a retail store, was still the most efficient method of delivery and acquisition. So, to get Heroes3 into the hands of Nick Ferrari, 3DO sent his copy via the US Postal Service.
When the Police paid a visit to Nick’s mailing address, they discovered Nick Ferrari was the pseudonym for a 14-year-old boy. He had apparently called 3DO and Sierra, told them he reviewed computer games for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and asked to be put on their list of game reporters receiving preview builds. Neither 3DO nor Sierra thought to call the Philadelphia Inquirer and double check the credentials of ‘Nick Ferrari’. They simply added him to the list, and when ‘Nick’ got free games in the mail, he played them, and subsequently uploaded them to Usenet.
David asked, “No lawsuit?”
Mildly exasperated, Mark replied, “You want to sue a 14-year-old kid?”
I chirped in, “Could you imagine the headline? 3DO sues 14-year-old kid, and his parents, over video game?”
David smirked, “Could we at least have him arrested and put behind bars for 24 hours?”
We all chuckled.
We all knew how it was going to go.
Nick Ferrari was going to disappear (which he did)... and we all were gonna have to eat it.
#Fifteen - Recollection
HoMM3 Recollection: Phil Steinmeyer.
For this particular story, there is a fair amount of hearsay. As I did not have first-hand knowledge of many events and details, take it all with a grain of salt.
When I started work as New World Computing (NWC), there was one specific name occasionally mentioned in begrudging whispers... Phil. I had no idea who was attached to the name ‘Phil’, but scattershot information implied he had worked on Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (HoMM2). I didn’t give ‘Phil’ too much thought, because... he was no longer working at... or with... NWC. Phil had no bearing or influence on Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3), so I simply ignored the subject.
I believe it was in April 1998, when I was sitting in Jon Van Caneghem’s (JVC) office. At this stage in HoMM3’s development, JVC and I had gotten into a comfortable ‘developmental’ rhythm. Over the course of a week, I would hash out design details. When JVC came into the office, about 2 or 3 days a week, I would get together with him (assuming Paul Rattner didn’t need him for something), and we’d go over what I put together. Jon would give each item a thumbs up or down, and if he didn’t like anything, we’d try to work it out right there in his office. We were about start a session, typically taking 3 to 4 hours, when George Ruof poked his head into the room.
He addressed JVC, “Did you see they announced Railroad Tycoon 2 (RT2). Gathering of Developers is publishing.”
JVC chuckled, “I’ll guess I’ll try it when it comes out.”
George looked at me and said, “You know, you might see Phil at E3 next month.”
I shrugged, as Phil was still something of a mystery to me, and replied, “Uh... yeah. It’s possible.”
After George had moved on, I turned to JVC and asked, “Railroad Tycoon?”
JVC, “Didn’t I tell you about that?”
JVC, “It was something Phil and I had discussed.”
Me, “I know Phil worked on Heroes2. You, Mark, Paul, and George, have mentioned his name, but I really have no idea who he is.”
JVC nodded his head, as he understood what I was asking, “Phil Steinmeyer was the main programmer on Heroes1 and Heroes2. He offered up ideas, just like Debbie did, so I gave him a design credit. After he left, he told anyone who would listen, ‘he’ was the reason Heroes was a success.”
The facts? According to MobyGames, Phil was the Lead Programmer on HoMM1 and HoMM2. Phil also has a Design credit on HoMM1 (along with JVC’s wife Debbie Van Caneghem), and HoMM2 (along with Debbie and Paul Rattner).
Obviously, there had been a falling out between JVC and Phil, and while I don’t know why Phil stopped working with NWC, it was clear JVC didn’t appreciate Phil taking credit for the success of HoMM1 and HoMM2.
Me, “What does this have to do with Railroad Tycoon?”
JVC, “When we were developing Heroes2, Phil and I had chatted about Railroad Tycoon. We both loved it, and wondered why there had never been a sequel. So, we talked about NWC acquiring the rights, or making its own version. After Phil left, I heard rumors he was making his own Railroad Tycoon... and now we know.”
A quick month later, I was in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1998, from May 28th to May 30th, E3 was held at the Georgia World Congress Center. Of all the people on the HoMM3 team, I was the logical choice to demo the game, so I joined the flight from California, with Mark Caldwell, Scott McDaniel (marketing), Ben Bendt (Vegas Games), and Keith Francart (Might and Magic).
For those who don’t remember, 3DO originally began as a hardware company, with the intention of creating a next-generation game console based around a CD player. Launched in October 1993, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer failed for a variety of reasons. By the middle of 1996, it was over, and 3DO restructured and pivoted to software development. This included the purchasing of NWC, Cyclone Studios, and Archetype Interactive (Meridian 59). For E3, in 1998, 3DO was no longer a hardware company. 3DO was now a software company, and this was the show where they were going to demonstrate this new fact.
At the time, developers typically, bought a spot on ‘the floor’ to showcase their products and secure preliminary sales commitments. For this E3, 3DO chose to purchase a room ‘off the floor’. This accomplished a couple of goals. First, it was ‘invite only’, despite a complete absence of security stopping anyone at the door. Second, they could serve alcohol. While my time at E3 in 1998 is best served with its own entry, I’m going to skip over the details and stick to the present theme.
At E3, I had a kiosk where I demonstrated HoMM3, from 10am to 5pm. When I left my stool, it was only for about 30 minutes, to grab a couple hot dogs and a soda pop (well after lunch). On the last day of the show, early in morning, before people began visiting the ‘3DO room’, I was milling about and approached Mark Caldwell and Scott McDaniel.
Scott, “How have the presentations been going?”
I shrugged, “Good, I guess. It’s hard for me to tell.”
Mark jumped in, “It’s been good. He rarely gets a break.”
I stared at Mark and raised my eyebrows, “I could use some help. I haven’t seen the floor yet.”
Mark put out his hands and laughed, “Hey, just let us know. We’ll take over for an hour or two.”
Scott, “It looks like you have a steady stream of people, and a lot of watchers.”
Mark turned to Scott, “Phil was here. He watched him give a demo.”
Scott seemed to relish the thought, “Oh, Really.”
Scott turned to me, puzzled, “You didn’t see him?”
Mark replied to Scott, “He’s never met Phil.”
Scott slyly replied, “Ohhhh.”
At this moment, I spotted someone hovering around the HoMM3 kiosk. I still had unanswered questions, but I also had a job to do.
Me, “Gotta go.”
Scott called to me as I left, “Let us know when you need a break.”
I never finished my conversation with Mark and Scott, and to my surprise, the last day of E3 was just as busy as the first. When it came time for me to get some food, I waved to Mark and Scott, and pointed to the kiosk.
Me, “I’m taking two hours. I’m going to walk the floor.”
Mark and Scott, drinks in hand, walked on over.
Scott, “Don’t worry, we got it. Take your time.”
So, I left the 3DO room, bought some food, and began exploring.
In 1998, at the Georgia World Congress Center, the main hall for the show was in Building B, where the secondary hall was in Building A. From the beginning, E3 was created to highlight video game consoles. In the main hall you would find Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and all the ‘large’ publishers (Activision, EA, Ubisoft, etc.). In the secondary hall, you would find all the businesses who couldn’t afford a spot in the main hall. This included small publishers, small hardware developers, retailers, etc. Basically, anyone attempting to maintain a presence, or get a foot in the door, of the very competitive video game industry. It wasn’t uncommon for the secondary floor to be called the ‘E3 slum’ or the ‘E3 getto’, and it was here I stumbled across the area occupied by Gathering of Developers.
On two stools, positioned in front of a single kiosk, was a middle-aged man was giving a demo for Railroad Tycoon 2, to an attentive middle-aged woman. I can only assume the man was Phil Steinmeyer.
Every story has two sides, truthful or not, and I was curious to hear Phil’s interpretation of the events leading to his eventual departure from NWC. Watching Phil demo his game, I loitered for a little bit. I wanted to introduce myself, but it was clear Phil had just started giving his presentation, and I needed to get back to the 3DO room.
At this specific moment, watching Phil do his work, I decided what happened between Phil and NWC was really none of my business. It didn’t involve me, it didn’t affect me, and it had no bearing on my job or my life. So, I walked away. A part of me thought this would be the last I ever saw or heard of Phil Steinmeyer... but it wasn’t.
My memory is fuzzy concerning the details, but if I recall correctly, Gathering of Developers released Railroad Tycoon 2, in early November, along with a demo. At NWC, a handful of people were quick to download and play the demo, one of them being George Ruof.
George poked his head into my office, “Did you see the demo for Railroad Tycoon 2 is available?
Me, “Oh. Okay.”
George, “You might want to check it out. I’m downloading it right now.”
Setting aside my work, I downloaded RT2, and installed it on my computer. I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting, but one thing was apparent... on this particular subject... I needed to be ‘in the loop’.
Upon starting the game, almost immediately, the demo gave me an ‘unsettled’ feeling. After roughly 30 minutes, George saw me tinkering with the demo, and stopped by my office again.
George, “Does it feel familiar?”
Me, “Yeah. It kinda does. The scroll bars and these horse icons remind me of Heroes2.”
George, “That’s because it is. I decompiled the executable and found Heroes2 references in the code.”
George quickly alerted Mark, who subsequently notified 3DO. Within a week, 3DO filed a lawsuit against PopTop Software and Gathering of Developers, for unlawfully using the HoMM2 engine to develop RT2. After some legal wrangling, the judge ordered both NWC and PopTop to produce printouts of the complete source code for HoMM2 and RT2. In the end, it was clear Phil had used the HoMM2 source code to make RT2. In his defense, he asserted JVC had told him he could freely use HoMM2’s game engine. JVC found this claim laughable.
Ultimately, Take Two Interactive, who had a stake in Gathering of Developers, asked 3DO what they wanted to make the lawsuit go away. 3DO asked for 1 million USD... and there it ended.
With HoMM3 well into development, and the lawsuit resolved, never again did I hear anyone ever utter the name ‘Phil’. As for RT2, it sold more than 1.5 million copies. With Phil being both the designer and programmer of the game, and the owner of PopTop (later sold to Take Two), I suspect he did quite well for himself, and was able to walk away from the industry on his own terms. According to MobyGames, his last game credit was in 2005.
#Fourteen - Behemoth Cave Interview 2020.11.20 (Questions 15-18, 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. This is the final collection of questions: 15 to 18, of 18. I will begin postings for another interview in the next Newsletter.
15. As you said in the earlier interviews, Angels are highly advanced technological (biotechnological?) constructs. What about Monks and Zealots? Are they human or maybe something else? One of the tavern rumor states: “Have you heard? Zealots are beings of pure energy.”
Monks are human, and Zealots are ‘ascended’ Monks; essentially higher-level Monks able to control and project energy. I wouldn’t say they are beings of pure energy, but they are luminous.
16. What are your favorite computer games? Of course, excluding the games that you developed yourself :P
When people make lists like these, in my mind, there are three types: Best, Influential, and Favorite.
Best games are quite literally, the best games currently available to play. These lists are heavily weighted toward recent games... because recent games incorporate lessons learned from their predecessors. This is why it is difficult to compare one generation of games to the next. While Space Invaders is a favorite, and arguably the most influential video game ever made... does it belong on a ‘best of’ list? No. I love Space Invaders, but I can’t play it for more than five to ten minutes before I get bored. It’s antiquated.
Influential games may not be the best games, or my favorite games, but they are ‘pioneering’ games. They lay the path on which subsequent games tread. In my opinion, Ultima is not the best RPG ever made, but it laid the groundwork for all of my favorite RPG’s. It’s difficult to underestimate its influence.
Now to answer your question, “What are my favorite computer games?” Favorite games are not necessarily the best... or the most influential. These games hold a special place in my heart, because they affected me on a level, other games did not.
These games tend to be older, because when you are younger and inexperienced, it takes far less to ignite your imagination. For example, most people, when they see Fall Guys, they a Twitch driven success story. Me? I see a modern incarnation of Mario Party, which was released in 1998.
Now... onto my list of favorites.
Space Invaders - I heard the sounds of Space Invaders before I saw it. After I saw it... and played it... my life was different.
Robotron 2084 - In my mind, the legends of coin-operated arcade gaming were Space Invaders, Pac Man, Robotron, Dragon’s Lair, and Street Fighter 2. Robotron was true sensory overload, the birth of bullet hell, and the best implementation of the two-stick control scheme.
Dragon’s Lair - Dragon’s Lair appeared in 1983, the same year the as the start of the Video Game Crash in the USA. I’d felt the crash coming, as arcades were diminishing, and the Atari 2600 was everywhere... to an almost sickening degree. Dragon’s Lair was a primitive, ‘learn by death’ collection of what we now call ‘quick time events’, but it was funny... dramatic... artistic. It showed what games could become, and the sound... wow... the sound was exhilarating.
Legend of Zelda - Like many of my generation, with the video game crash of the early 1980’s, I began to think video games would end up little more than a wonderous fad. Then Nintendo produced the Nintendo Entertainment System... and Shigeru Miyamoto’s Legend of Zelda. I played Legend of Zelda, in 12-to-16-hour marathon sessions, until I finished the game. I would forget to eat, and because I would forget to eat, my mother would make sandwiches and lay the plates next to me.
Might and Magic 3 - Colorful. Complex. Vast. Deep. Open world. Surprise twist ending. I was hooked from beginning-to-end. Might and Magic 3 was the first non-arcade, non-console game, I ever played. It was overwhelming.
Wolfenstein 3D - For most people, Doom was a revelation. For me, it was Doom’s predecessor... Wolfenstein 3D. I still remember starting the game, moving the joystick, and witnessing the smooth 3D rendering of a virtual world. I audibly uttered ‘Woah’.
X-Com - I first played X-Com, as a game demo, taken from a 3.5 floppy disc, packaged with a copy of PC Gamer magazine. It, more than any other game, solidified my desire to become a video game developer. Creative. Mysterious. Creepy. Violent. It took disparate game mechanics, and blended them into a truly unique game for its time. X-Com is the perfect example of a game, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Quake - While I enjoyed the Quake campaign, it was Quake multiplayer where the game became mythical: Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Team Fortress, etc. I went into work on the weekends to play some form of Quake multiplayer via LAN. With my coworkers, we played, ordered in pizza, and played more. Suddenly, it was Sunday night, and we had to go back to work in the morning.
Fallout - I bought Fallout as a ‘research project’ (because of my familiarity with the GURPS role-playing game system), and did not have the faintest clue as to the adventure I was about to undertake. I’ll never forget, the moment my character decided it was more beneficial to be evil instead of good. I’ll never forget, being denied re-entry into the vault. In my mind, it was the first truly ‘consequential’ RPG.
Diablo - Dustin Browder and I played marathon sessions of co-op Diablo, with the shared goal to defeat the devil, on the hardest level of difficulty. We did it. Lots of randomly generated memories.
Half-Life - While I played and finished the final release of Half-life, I re-played the demo numerous times. I even gave the demo to my friends, just so I could watch them play and react to it. Half-life was the birth of the cinematic, action-adventure shooter. It was the first game to begin delivering on the promises made by Dragon’s Lair.
I’m going to stop here. There are others, but these are the highlights.
17. How did you came up with names for Heroes towns and characters? Conflux names bear resemblance to Old French, Old German, Latin, Greek etc. words connected with the elements (Wazzar, Igne, Magmetin, Brissa, Lacus).
With the emergence of the internet, crafting an original name is more difficult now than ever before. To arrive at something... somewhat original... I typically start with a basic word description, then work backward, digging into the etymological origins. For instance, the Conflux is an Elemental faction; air, earth, fire, and water. Water descends from the Old High German word of... wazzar. Sometimes I will push or pull a word’s spelling to arrive at something unique, or in the case of Fanstratics, amalgamate different syllables to arrive at a new word. Perhaps the best example of this approach is Darth Vader from Star Wars. ‘Darth’ is a spelling variation of ‘dark’, and ‘Vader’ is Dutch for ‘father’. Hence, Darth Vader means... Dark Father.
18. The last but not least: David Mullich said that his favorite cheese is cheddar. Do you agree with him or do you prefer a different one?
My grandfather was a dairy farmer, and when I was very young, he introduced me to ‘fresh cheese curd’. There’s nothing quite like it. ‘Fresh’ being the key.
#Fifteen - HoMM Hungary Interview, 2021.01 (Questions 1-4, of 17)
This interview was conducted by Andrew Gasz of HoMM Hungary (Webpage & Facebook), and was originally published in late January 2021. It’s comprised of 17 questions in 21 parts (~50% HoMM and ~50% FST). I’ll be posting around 5 to 7 questions per Newsletter, until we reach the end, after which we will roll into another interview. Below are questions 1 to 4, of 17.
1. What do you think is the best element/part of Heroes 3 what put it on the strategy classic status?
Everything Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3) works in concert (design, programming, art, sound, and music), and because it works in concert, it’s impossible to select a ‘best’ element. I can however, pick a personal favorite... Battlefield Combat. Almost everything in the game distills down to Battlefield Combat, and if Battlefield Combat wasn’t fun and engaging... the game would falter.
2. What was the hardest part of developing Heroes 3?
As a Lead Game Designer, you have your fingers in everyone’s respective pie: production, programming, art, sound, and marketing. You must render your own work, then clarify it for others who want or need something from you... almost every day. If you can’t responsibly handle the daily onslaught of required multitasking, you will be overwhelmed and probably replaced.
3. Do you think that Heroes 1-2-3 was an evolution of the same type of gameplay? Heroes 1 was the start and 3 was the refined, upgraded, enhanced version of that gameplay?
Absolutely. HoMM2 was an evolution of HoMM1, as HoMM3 was an evolution of HoMM2.
4. Concerning balance issues on Units, or between the factions power and strength, between the creatures. Do you think is there any balance issue still in H3?
As for HoMM3, in its current state, does it have any balance issues? Of course. As to curbing any balance issues... it would be incredibly difficult to do at this stage.
For ten years, StarCraft 2 dedicated a full team to game balance. Despite continual adjustments derived from testing unit stats, map balance, and analytics gleaned ongoing amateur and professional multiplayer games... players still complain about game balance. Game balance is difficult, and for the game developer, it’s really a ‘no win situation’. In the end, you simply do the best you can.
Thankfully, and what is interesting to me, is how HoMM3 online players have naturally adapted their overall competitive play to cope with these imbalances.
Final list of links:
- Map4Heroes.com - The best and biggest living cache of Heroes Maps & Campaigns: https://www.maps4heroes.com/
- Warez - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warez
- Usenet - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet
- Bad Apples metaphor - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_apples
- ICQ - I Seek You: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICQ
- Hex Edit - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hex_editor
- Behemoth Cave - http://heroes.net.pl/
- Woah - https://youtu.be/FlRUmkqMIe8
- Fresh cheese curd - https://youtu.be/J-BGMmERObk
- Hearsay evidence - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearsay
- New World Computing - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_Computing
- JVC - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Van_Caneghem
- Railroad Tycoon 2 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railroad_Tycoon_II