Hope each of you is doing relatively well, and welcome to Fanstratics Newsletter #4 (December 2020).
Greetings those of you finding your way here from...
A quick subscriber update...
Last Newsletter: ~1950.
This Newsletter: ~2300.
This month's Troop concept sketch is the Gnoll Spear Thrower. For those of you who find art production interesting, Justin showcased his rendering the Gnoll via this Twitch stream.
‘Thank you’ to everyone who wrote, especially the well wishers. If you have any questions or comments, regarding Fanstratics (FST) or Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3), feel free to send them along, and I’ll try to answer them in future newsletters. Please keep in mind, it may take at least 7 days before I reply.
This month, I have five initial questions, four of which were asked by the community for ‘The Silent’. Following those, is part two of the lengthy interview I did with Tavern of Might and Magic.
In other news, earlier this month, I fell ill. At the local clinic, a test for strep throat proved negative, but two days later, a test for COVID returned positive. In my case, hospitalization was not required, but I’ve experienced all the symptoms to varying degrees. Persistent fatigue has been the worst, and as of this writing... it continues. For me, November hasn’t been a productive month. Hopefully, by the next Newsletter, I’ll be past it.
Lastly... an unfortunate report. On November 7th, the founder and leader of HotA, Docent Picolan passed away. After all these years, I feel an inherent debt of gratitude to the HotA team for helping keep HoMM3 in the public eye, and while I never met Docent, I believe we would have had much to discuss. To Docent’s family, friends, and the HotA team, please accept my heartfelt sympathies.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
(Questions, Answers & Comments)
Fanstratics Faction #1: Allegiant.
This first faction should be unsurprising to most. They are the Allegiant; loyal, faithful, and steadfast in devotion. Inspired by medieval Knights, and their chivalric code, this predominantly Human faction makes their homes on the Grasslands. Despite having a moderate lifespan, they are the eldest culture on the continent, and oddly predisposed to forgetting older life lessons. Anyone familiar with the ‘Castle’ from HoMM3, should feel very much at home with the Allegiant. Currently, the Troop representing this faction is the Cavalier, which can be viewed in the Fanstratics Gallery.
Is Fanstratics connected somehow to the lore of M&M or H3 series, or it will be a completely different universe? (adamnavel)
Ubisoft owns the legal copyrights to Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic, so I have no choice but to place Fanstratics (FST) in its own unique universe. In previous newsletters, I described Fanstratics as ‘different but familiar’. It will look different, with different characters and different lore, but anyone who has played HoMM3, should feel very much at home with its game play mechanics.
What features of Heroes III were cancelled before release? (ABC)
Truthfully, other than the controversial Forge faction, I would say 99% of what I wanted in the game... made it into the game. I don’t honestly remember cutting anything of real significance. When we shipped HoMM3, I was satisfied with the work we had done. Is there room for improvement and evolution? Yes. This is what I am attempting with FST.
How many different types of resources are planned for ‘Fanstratics’? (fen)
Six resources are planned: Timber, Ore, Crystal, Incense, Quicksilver, and Gold. I trimmed the original seven down to six, with the intention to create a natural symmetry, and more rare resource competition, between FST’s 9 factions.
Why did you decide to develop a new game now, 20+ years after the release of Restoration of Erathia? (Silent)
This is a big question to answer, but I will try to be concise. When I left game development, I was burned out and unhealthy from years of stressful working conditions and crunch. I tried other professions, specifically, writing, stock options trading, and ultimately... foreign currency trading. It took years to learn how to profitably trade the currency markets, but once I figured it out, I suddenly had spare time on my hands. With this extra time, I began to crave a return to computer game development. Slowly, I started to reawaken my game design skills, when disaster struck. My foreign currency broker collapsed... and I lost everything. I no longer had a choice. It was ‘game dev or die’, and Fanstratics is the hill on which I have chosen to fight.
Tavern of Might and Magic
Questions 12-23, of 58
This interview was conducted by Tavern of Might and Magic and GoodGame.ru, and published on February 28th, 2019, the 20th Anniversary of HoMM3. It’s a very long interview, almost 60 questions, and delves deep into unresolved lore, as well as other common questions. I’ll be posting between 10 to 15 questions per Newsletter, until we reach the end, after which we will roll into another interview. Below are questions 12 to 23, of 58.
12. Can you tell us more about the original version of AB with the Forge? What was the story and its key characters?
Conceptually, the story went something like this…
Following M&M7, Archibald's former 'Advisors' restored production to an ancient wonder called the 'Heavenly Forge'. Using the Heavenly Forge, these Advisors could fashion any manner of artifact or technology. Creating a futuristic city (Forge) and an army composed of cybernetically enhanced creatures armed with high tech weaponry, the Advisors set out to conquer the world. Ground zero was Erathia.
Following the Restoration of Erathia, Catherine musters the nation’s remaining forces to halt the techno-hordes of the Forge cities. If the line breaks, Erathia will be lost. With Catherine and Roland commanding the front lines, another hero is needed to search for Erathia's last hope for survival; the fabled Armageddon’s Blade. For this sacred quest, Catherine chooses Gelu, the half-human, half-elf commander of the Erathia's elite guerilla warriors: Forestguard. Gelu understands the importance of his quest. What he does not know is the truth of his origins.
A campaign structure was in place, with Marcus responsible for putting it all together. To the best of my knowledge, the campaign story went something like this…
1. Deyja solders with ‘strange equipment’ invade Erathia’s northern border. Catherine leads the charge to stop them.
2. Gelu is enlisted to fight a shadow war on the Deyja-Erathian border.
3. Roland leads an army to assist and reinforce Catherine’s position.
4. Gelu is tasked with locating the pieces to construct Armageddon’s Blade.
5. Gelu is tasked with finding a Grand Smith to fashion Armageddon’s Blade.
6. Gelu, Catherine, and Roland lead the final push to destroy the Heavenly Forge.
There was supposed to be an ending cinematic where Gelu drives Armageddon’s Blade into the Heavenly Forge, creating a blast wave destroying only the Forge towns and troops, leaving the land and its people cleansed of its influence.
There were additional branch missions involving a Forge hero (so players could experience the Forge town), but I cannot recall specifically the story or mission details.
I also had plans to divulge information proving Catherine and Gelu were related by blood. Ever notice both have red hair?
13. Were the five side campaigns and their protagonists different, and to what degree?
No, the five side campaigns were conceived completely separate from the main Armageddon’s Blade campaign, but there were adjustments after the Forge was cut.
14. What was the creature line-up of the Forge?
Concerning the Forge, this webpage gets almost everything right. What is missing are details for the Tier 7 troop, which was supposed to be dragon-like Mech.
Personally, I got a kick out of Ubisoft’s April Fool’s concept art for the Pyro, Jump Soldier, and Tank.
15. Since the rise of an entire technological faction in Deyja is a very significant event, what was supposed to happen with the world later? What happens to the Heavenly Forge itself after Kastore and his allies are defeated?
As you can determine from the original story synopsis, in the end, Armageddon’s Blade was supposed to wipe the world clean of all Forge influence. Basically, the world was restored to its pre-Forge state.
16. Is there a chance that the original maps for the campaign or their texts remain somewhere? It’d be interesting to know the actual plans and progress made by the team head as well as your personal thoughts on the matter.
Possible, but unlikely.
Someone at Ubisoft, with access to the original game assets from the 3D0 auction, might be able to turn up something, but keep in mind, the working AB campaign maps were effectively ‘converted’.
There was little reason to hold onto the old material, and if the original working AB campaign maps do exist, I suspect they are in an unfinished form.
As for my personal thoughts… I think the cancelation of the Forge content, and its subsequent replacement by the Conflux content… was a blessing in disguise. My answers to subsequent questions reveal my reasons as to why.
17. David Mullich has mentioned different versions of the Forge town being pitched during the development: We did have some debate about what visual form this technology would take. I advocated more of a Jules Verne glass-and-brass look; others wanted a WWII look. Can you provide more information on these?
I vaguely remember the initial conversation I had with David Mullich as to the competing visual styles. At the time, year 1999, when David dropped the name Jules Verne, I immediately thought of 20K Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, etc. What was being proposed was art deco, and I had envisioned the Forge being a horrifying, corrupting, evil faction. To me, the WW2 option made more sense.
Later, Phelan Sykes (HoMM3’s Lead Artist) showed to me a number of different books with ‘oppressive’ art deco architecture. Where David pointed to Jules Verne, Phelan pointed to the movie Metropolis. Phelan wanted a very gritty, very grungy, very squalid conception of what we today commonly call ‘steampunk’. After my conversations with her, I was sold on the direction.
Weeks later, I began to realize, what Phelan had envisioned, and what the NWC art staff could deliver, were two very different things. Initial work on the Forge was not promising. After the Forge was canceled, I told David I had doubts about the ability of the NWC art staff to deliver on what Phelan had in mind. David thought, as it was with HoMM3, it would take a lot of effort and numerous revisions to get what we wanted, but he thought it could be done.
18. What is your opinion: would Forge work in HoMM3?
I believe so, but it would not be a trivial task. The Forge can work as a high power, high maintenance, low population, steampunk faction, but artistic execution is absolutely critical and the troop line-up could use conceptual revision. Provided the town and troops were visually exciting and inventive, and fit within the existing HoMM3 art style, I would hope most people would put aside any ‘cross genre’ reservations and simply enjoy the outrageousness.
19. Looking back on it after all these years, was it a concept that could have been realized well?
In hindsight, was NWC capable of realizing the Forge concept? I have my doubts. I could have easily revised the troop line-up to deliver something more traditional, but in the end, my biggest concern was art.
Phelan Sykes gets nowhere near enough credit for the work she did as Lead Artist. With David Mullich’s assistance, she, Scott White, Adam McCarthy, and George Almond, carried the NWC art staff to a level of quality they simply hadn’t reached before. With HoMM3, the NWC art staff overachieved. Unfortunately, when it came to the Forge, I think we simply asked of them something they simply could not deliver.
20. And can it still potentially be done well by modders?
As for the modders, a small dedicated team with a clearly defined vision could certainly pull it off. My suggestion? Embrace the basic concept, but don’t be afraid to deviate from the original idea, or play around with the troop types. For artistic inspiration, I would point to Ubisoft’s April Fool’s concept art and the miniatures game Warmachine.
21. Conflux was originally supposed to be the new town in the second expansion. What was the original idea for Conflux’s backstory and the expansion itself?
Originally, the Conflux was little more than a high concept; Elemental troops in an Elemental town. Prior to Armageddon’s Blade, there was never any unique lore developed for it.
Like the Forge, the Conflux was supposed to be a relatively self-contained endeavor, and I did not expect to address it until after the first expansion was finished. After the Forge was cancelled, the work on the Conflux was simply moved forward.
22. The released version of AB establishes the Great Conflux as the union of armies from the four Elemental Planes (plus the fifth and sixth element, thought and magic) that was sent by the Elemental Lords (called the elemental gods by Roland in the campaign) to help stop Lucifer Kreegan from using Armageddon’s Blade to burn the world of Enroth.
The Conflux itself is shown to be composed of elementals who respect mortals, but the reasons of the Elemental Lords themselves for sending them to Erathia’s aid are not made clear (which is highlighted by characters), only hinted at in AB and MM8 (the latter revealing that the Elemental Lords created the planet long ago, and that it’s destruction would victimize their plane), Roland wondering about it and harboring some distrust towards the Conflux heroes.
Can you tell us more about the forming of the Conflux and it aiding Erathia against the Kreegans?
My conception of the Conflux was relatively straightforward. Conflux Heroes and the associated Elemental troops were defenders of the natural world. When there is a threat to its continued existence, they make their presence known, assert themselves, and attempt to eliminate the threat. They have no allegiance to anyone or anything, other than the preservation of the world.
Anything beyond this was developed after I departed NWC.
23. A key leader of the Conflux is Tamar the Wanderer, one of the Elemental Lords of Air, who seeks to gain knowledge and help those in need. He and his compatriots aid Erathia against the Kreegans, and Tamar uses his gift of premonition to warn her about important things regarding Roland, Gelu and Armageddon’s Blade. However, Tamar’s face is described as hidden, only his beard being visible, and it isn’t clarified whether he’s an air elemental, a human, a genie or something else. Can you tell us more about him?
Human. This webpage gets the essentials correct.