Welcome. Hope each of you is doing well.
This month I have five topics, followed by the first four questions of a new interview conducted by Andrew Gasz of HoMM Hungary (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 (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: 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.
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.
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.
HoMM Hungary Interview
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.