Welcome. Hope each of you is doing well.
This month I have five topics, followed by the final questions of my interview with Behemoth Cave (Webpage & Facebook). It happens to be the part of the interview I enjoyed the most, as I get to list my personal game favorites.
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 (email@example.com). Please keep in mind, it may take at least 1 month before I reply (it’s taking longer-and-longer as production continues).
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
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.
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.
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.
Behemoth Cave Interview
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.
I heard the sounds of Space Invaders before I saw it. After I saw it... and played it... my life was different.
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 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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.