Welcome. Hope each of you is doing well.
This month I have five topics, followed by part five of my interview with Behemoth Cave (Webpage & Facebook).
As always, ‘thank you’ to everyone who wrote, especially those with positive sentiments. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please keep in mind, it may take at least 21 days before I reply (it’s taking longer-and-longer as production continues).
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Mammoth Bone Crusher.
No other Troop enjoys up close and personal melee combat more than the Mammoth Bone Crusher. Disgusted with the idea of traditional weaponry, their iron ‘knuckle dusters’ give additional mass and momentum to their assaults, while serving to protect their heavy hands. In their presence, few opponents can mount a sustainable defense.
Just as Fanstratics (FST) has Factional parallels to HoMM3, FST also has Troop parallels. When it came to replacing the Behemoth, I needed a massive monster embodying brute force. My first thought was ‘elephant’. My second thought was ‘mammoth’. My third though was, “This one’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Once again, Justin nailed it. VOD of his Twitch stream.
Fanstratics Feature: Battlefield Artifacts.
While this is another old and somewhat logical idea, I am a touch embarrassed to admit it didn’t occur to me until I started preliminary work on HoMM4.Initially my thoughts were... ‘more war machines... different war machines’. After thinking it through, the concept quickly evolved into ‘Battlefield Artifacts’.
While War Machines are the Ammo Cart, Ballista, Catapult, and Medical Tent... Battlefield Artifacts are unique. Their individual effects only trigger when specific conditions are met on the Battlefield.
Please keep in mind, this particular feature is a work in progress, and if the result isn’t as envisioned... it will be removed. In my brainstorming for Fanstratics, I have created numerous Hero Attributes, Hero Skills, Hero Spells, Troop Attributes, and various Artifacts. When one of the aforementioned doesn’t ‘make the cut’, I try to work it into the game as a Battlefield Artifact.
We’ll see what happens. I’m relatively hopeful.
Question: I have one question about one of the heroes from HoMM3...Kyrre. What gender this hero is supposed to be? Kyrre looks like he is a man, name Kyrre is a common Norse male name, there is a standard scenario in the Shadow of Death expansion - Battle of the Sexes, where male heroes play against female heroes, and Kyrre on this map represents the male side. Also in HoMM4 there is also Kyrre, a man. But at the same time, technically in the game this hero is female, and in the description of the hero there are words "Her ability to navigate...".So, Kyrre became a woman by a mistake, or there is no mistake?
Regarding ‘Kyrre’... there is a mistake.
This particular memory is rather fuzzy, but if remember correctly, I originally specified the Hero as Male. Soon thereafter, Chris Vanover wrote the Hero’s biography and I named the Hero. After this was accomplished, the Hero’s portrait, as rendered by George Almond, was put into the game.
When I saw Kyrre’s portrait, it created some confusion, as myself and others thought Kyrre didn’t look male. I did a quick survey amongst the HoMM3 staff, and more people, at first glance, thought Kyree looked female. So, I went with the majority opinion and made Kyree female (as defined by the manual). In hindsight, I should have also changed Kyrre’s name as well.
So, yes, it appears there is an error/bug, which carried over into HoMM4.
HoMM3 Recollection: Lobstrosity?
In Newsletter #09, I addressed a question from Behemoth Cave, where they asked about the ‘Lobstrosity’. At the time, my reply was, “this concept drawing.
While I never saw the modeled Lobstrosity, and never knew it was in the game as a ‘secret’ Troop, I do recall seeing the concept art. As it is now commonly called, the Lobstrosity was George Almond’s first attempt at the Behemoth (the concept art file is appropriately named).
After Phelan showed the sketch to me, I told her, “No.”
She then shrugged and asked, “Well? What’s it supposed to look like?”
I told her, “Something like the Rancor from Return of the Jedi.”
With this new information, she departed and spun up the game’s final result. As for the Lobstrosity, I had no idea the creature had been modeled and I never saw the final result. This would explain why I didn’t remember it.
HoMM3 Recollection: 3500 Naga Queens.
We were in the process of making Armageddon’s Blade (AB).The Forge had been cut and the Map Makers were building their campaigns.
At the time (1999), online ‘forum interactions’ with the community were a relatively new thing. While we had learned a harsh lesson with the Forge, there were still other lessons to learn. Specifically, there had been online complaints concerning Restoration of Erathia’s (ROE) difficulty, with numerous posters claiming ‘it was too easy’. Unfortunately, we had no reason to believe 3DO’s HoMM forums didn’t represent the overall community. What we didn’t know then, what most everyone understands now, online public forums typically represent vocal minorities... and little else. In hindsight, we didn’t know enough to ignore the trolls, so the Map Makers were given the green light to make AB’s campaigns tough.
In a Map Maker’s meeting, in my office, someone asked, “How will we know if the map is too tough?”
I replied, “If I can’t find a way to beat it... it’s too tough.”
So, one day, Ryan Den came to office. Ryan was working on the Dragon Slayer campaign, and there was one specific battle on the ‘Faerie Dragon’ map he couldn’t win. Ryan didn’t want to alter his map, but all the other Map Makers had failed to beat the battle. I was his last resort.
I told Ryan, “Set it up. Let me know when it’s ready.”
Ryan asked, “You want to play it on my system?”
Me, “Yeah. It’s faster than moving files about.”
After roughly 5 minutes, Ryan reappeared in my office door, “It’s ready.”
I left my desk, walked to Ryan’s cubicle, and sat in his chair. Ryan leaned over my shoulder and pointed to a specific Neutral Monster on his monitor.
He pointed to a stack of Naga Queens on the Adventure Map, “Attack this one here.”
I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t right click on the stack to discover their quantity. I merely trusted Ryan... and attacked with the provide Hero.
After a brief second, the Battlefield appeared. On the left side stood my Army. It was relatively unremarkable, except for a moderately sized Division of Enchanters and a large Division of Titans. On the right side stood 7 Divisions, each with a population of 500 Naga Queens. Yep... a total of 3500 Naga Queens.
Looking at the Battlefield, I remembered crossing my arms and thinking, “What am I going to do?”
I was initially stumped, then thought, “Spells. What spells do I have?”
Upon opening my Hero’s Spell Book, I flipped through each page, looking for something significant. Most of the Spells would only delay an inevitable loss, but I had Expert Slow (Mass Slow) and... Expert Force Field.
I had plenty of Spell Points, and I remember seeing the Ammo Cart and blurting out, “Ah. I have an Ammo Cart.”
My Titans would have unlimited shots.
Closing the Spell Book, I looked at the Battlefield. There were natural bottlenecks at the top and bottom, with the middle completely blocked. I had a chance... if I didn’t screw it up.
Immediately, I cast Expert Slow. Over the first round, my Enchanters and Titans fired away, while the Naga Queens made their initial moves. Starting with the second round, I placed a Force Field in the lower choke point. With no other avenue to the other side of the Battlefield, all of the Naga Queens moved up toward the unblocked upper choke point. My Enchanters and Titans continued firing away. When the Naga Queens got close to the top choke point, I placed the upper Force Field, just as the lower Force Field disappeared. This motivated all of the Naga Queens to move down toward the unblocked lower choke point. And so it went... round-after-round.
Depending on which choke point was open, my Enchanters and Titans whittled down each Division of Naga Queens, as they seesawed between the upper and lower bottlenecks. It took a little time, but in the end, I won and my army didn’t lose a single Troop.
When I turned around to address Ryan, to my surprise, I saw a loose group had formed behind me. All the Map Makers (Jennifer Bullard, Ryan Den, Walt Johnson, Marcus Pregent, Dave Botan, and Mike Wolf) had been watching me play (obviously wondering if I could win). Even Gus Smedstad (Ai Programmer) had left his office to see what was commanding everyone’s attention.
Ryan stood, staring at me, his mouth agape. Everyone was somewhat taken aback. They couldn’t believe I beat it on the first attempt... without any loses. Truthfully, I felt a little bad for Gus. I had just abused his Ai, but as most people should know, outsmarting the Ai is part of the game, and Gus’ Ai had played its part perfectly. As I stood up to return to my office, I told Ryan to force availability of the Ammo Cart, Slow, and Forcefield, otherwise the map was fine.
A day or two later, Jennifer was happy to tell me a story. In Quality Assurance (QA), we had one particular loudmouth tester. Most everyone knows the type, which are unfortunately quite common: high confidence, above average charisma, average intelligence. To protect his identity, I’ll call him Luigi. When the Dragon Slayer campaign got to QA, Luigi played the Faerie Dragon map and lost the Naga Queen battle.
When he complained about the battle being impossible, Jennifer told him, “Greg beat it on his first attempt without any losses.”
Armed with this information, he went back, played it again, knowing there was a ‘trick’ involved. He figured it out, but was socially humbled. In the time since AB shipped, I have seen players beat this ‘puzzle battle’ using a couple different methods: Berserk, Slow + Blind + Ammo Cart, etc.
In retrospect, for me, this specific event was a big ‘political risk’ I managed to overcome. As a Lead Game Designer, everyone on the team expects you to be generally good at all video games. Specifically, you need to be accomplished at the very game you are designing. Had I lost the Naga Queen Battle, it could have easily created a wealth of doubt in my abilities. Thankfully, because I beat it on the first attempt, without any loses, it inspired confidence.
Behemoth Cave Interview
Questions 11-14, 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 11 to 14, of 18.
11. We’ll now ask you some quick questions: Did you plan on creating an introduction film to Shadow of Death, similar to Restoration of Erathia or Armageddon’s Blade?
Originally, after the Restoration of Erathia, three expansions were planned.
Armageddon’s Blade. Forge faction. New campaign. New solo maps.
Unnamed expansion. Conflux faction. New campaign. New solo maps.
Unnamed expansion. No new faction. No new campaign. New solo maps. This expansion eventually became Shadow of Death.
After the Forge was canceled, the story was revised to utilize the Conflux as the substitute faction. This effectively eliminated the planned second expansion, and moved the third expansion up. Shortly after Armageddon’s Blade was shipped, I left New World Computing, and when I left, the Shadow of Death expansion didn’t have a name, and there were no plans for an introductory cinematic.
12. Which town / hero / creature in Heroes III is your favorite?
I don’t really have favorites, but specific towns, heroes, and creatures do stand out as iconic. Castle, Dungeon, and Tower towns are all beautiful. Astral, Crag Hack, Dracon, Sandro, Solmyr, Tazar, and of course... Sir Mullich... all stand out. I never thought Ancient Behemoths, Gorgons, and Troglodytes would become fan favorites.
13. What was the biggest challenge in the development of Heroes III?
In ‘project’ terms, art was the biggest challenge. Thankfully, David Mullich and Phelan Sykes shielded me from the perpetual tug-of-war with the art staff.
In ‘personal’ terms, the biggest challenge was dealing with the constant second guessing from anyone who thought they knew what was best for the game design. This included everyone from management to testers. From the outset, it was tough, as I had to prove myself, but as production moved forward, most people chose to leave me alone. Only occasionally, did I feel compelled to put someone in their place. Most of the time I was gentle.
14. After all these years - is there anything you would like to change in Heroes III?
In general, “No.” By the time Armageddon’s Blade was published, everything I wanted, with the exception of the Forge, made it into the game. It felt complete. Only with Fanstratics, after 20 years of reflection, am I able to find undiscovered areas for improvement.