Welcome. Hope each of you is safe.
This month I have four topics, followed by a new interview conducted by Marko Vidučić of GoodGame.hr from Croatia.
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 1 month before I reply (it’s taking longer-and-longer as production continues).
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Elven Centaur.
While the Elven Centaur is the Thornwood’s only true ‘heavy’ Troop, it is relatively fast and agile when compared to other ‘heavies’ from other factions. Wielding a two-handed axe, this Troop has a Killer Instinct and a Slayer’s Instinct, and frequently chains together multiple Assaults before an Enemy can Retaliate. With high Luck and high Morale, the Elven Centaur’s ‘instincts’ can be surprisingly powerful.
I’ve said this before, but I really like seeing Justin tackle a common mythological stereotype. He could have delivered an Eleven Centaur looking like so many others... but he didn’t. This is why I’m so happy having him design these Troops. His interpretations are simply refreshing, and it’s getting harder-and-harder to pick a favorite.
For those of you who want to see Justin actually create the drawing, you can always watch a VOD of his Twitch stream.
Fanstratics News: Art Mock-up and COVID update.
Some of you may remember, in December of 2021, I wrote an item discussing the attempted creation of an Art Mock-up, and subsequently contracting COVID for the second time in two years. TLDR... the Art Mock-up is still on hold and my COVID has evolved into Long COVID (or Long Haul COVID).
Starting with the subject of Long COVID, I’ve taken different anti-biotics, different steroids, and used different inhalers. Nothing has worked. I’ve had blood tests, EKG’s, chest x-rays, and CT scans. All tests have come back ‘clean’. My doctors have only managed to rule out other causes, thus confirming the Long COVID hypothesis. At this time, there’s no ‘cure’ for Long COVID, there’s nothing my doctors can do for me, and I’ve grown tired of the office visits, dead ends, and lost funds. So, I’ve resigned myself to living with it.
April will mark the fifth month of symptoms, and I continue to have a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pains, heart palpitations, headaches, low grade fevers, and worst of all... fatigue and brain fog. On good days, I have about two... three... maybe four hours... before I am overcome, and I’ve read accounts from people still dealing with symptoms after 6... 9... 14... and 18 months. When will it end? I honestly don’t know.
Does this mean Fanstratics is on hold or canceled? Absolutely not. While development has slowed significantly, we continue to work. Will we crowd fund this year? Highly unlikely, but I’m crossing my fingers for next year.
As for the Adventure Map Mock-up, I have had difficulty finding a qualified replacement for the artists who stepped aside last year. I was talking to a strong candidate, from Russia, but he disappeared when the war in Ukraine broke out.
It wasn’t my intention to build a video game during a worldwide pandemic or potential world war... but this is the strange reality in which we find ourselves.
Fanstratics Question: What factions are planned in the event of the release of additions (or how they will look approximately)?
Assuming FST is successful, there are at two or three other factions I would like to add. As to the factions themselves, I have a concept for each, but I haven’t done any deep work on them (i.e. rosters, heroes, etc.).
HoMM3 Recollection: Cheat Codes.
If I recall correctly, it was on first day of E3, 1998, in Atlanta, Georgia. I was sitting on a stool, at my kiosk, waiting for anyone seeking a demonstration of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3). Jon Van Caneghem (JVC) was there for all three days, and at some point, he escorted over to me, Elliot Chin. Elliot was the first real ‘game journalist’ I’d ever met.
Previously, Elliot had been an editor at Computer Gaming World, where he had reviewed Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (HoMM2), and given it 5 stars out of 5 (CGW #151). When I met him, Elliot was an editor at GameSpot. Later, he transitioned out of game journalism and went to work at Blizzard, Sega, Logitech, Perfect World, and Cloud Imperium.
Elliot and I shook hands and greeted one another. He handed over his business card, and I added it to the growing pile I was collecting. Several people, who sat for my demo, offered their business cards, but I had nothing to give in return. While I did have a New World Computing (NWC) business card, I hadn’t thought to bring any as I didn’t think anyone would want one. Afterall... I was a nobody.
Elliot sat down for a demo and quietly watched as I gave my presentation. When I finished, he asked a couple of questions, thanked me for the demo, then departed. I watched him as he sought out JVC, said his goodbyes, then departed from the 3DO Room. My first impression of Elliot was, like myself, he was good guy and a core gamer.
After E3, once we had an actual ‘playable’ demo, Mark Caldwell built the infamous ‘Nick Ferrari’ press demo we mailed to numerous games journalists. Elliot was one of those journalists. A couple days after the demo was sent, I was in my office when my phone rang. It was Mark.
Me, “Greg Fulton speaking.”
Mark, “Elliot Chin is on hold. He has some questions about the demo.”
Me, “Uh.. okay.”
Before I could ask any follow-up questions, Mark disconnected. Not wanting to awkwardly call Mark back, I simply connected to Elliot.
Elliot, “Hi, Greg.”
Me, “Mark said you had some questions about the demo?”
Elliot, “Yes. Do you have any cheat codes?”
At some point, we were going to need cheat codes, but I had yet to give them any thought. We were still building the game, and while the Map Editor was functional, it was unfinished. At this stage, there was no pressing need for any cheat codes as not a single map was ready for testing.
Me, “Not yet. At least, not for this demo.”
Elliot, “Do you know when they’ll be implemented?”
Me, “No. Not off the top of my head. We don’t have anything ready for test. At least, not yet.”
Elliot, “When they’re ready, could you email them to me? We get a fair amount of traffic from cheat codes.”
Me, “Yeah. Sure. Shouldn’t be a problem. I think I still have your business card from E3.”
Elliot, “Don’t bother. I’ll send you an email. Just reply back to it.”
Almost every gamer understands the self-explanatory purpose of a ‘cheat code’; a specific command altering the normal operation of a video game. Originally, cheat codes were strictly an internal tool created by programmers to facilitate game testing. If you want to test level 5, why grind to level 5? Just use a cheat code and ‘warp’ to level 5.
Specifically, ‘cheat codes’ became mainstream with the Konami Code (also called the Contra Code). While porting Gradius to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Kazuhisa Hashimoto forgot to remove the cheat code from the shipped game. Players quickly discovered, this unintentional easter egg gave them all power-ups at the start of the game. For obvious reasons... it became quite popular. Soon thereafter, developers began including cheat codes as easter eggs in most of their games, but things changed in 1993.
With the publication of Doom, id Software altered the video game industry on a number of fronts, and cheat codes happened to be one of them. Prior to Doom, cheat codes were cryptic, hidden, and typically gleaned from the pages of magazines like Nintendo Power. Id made Doom’s cheat codes freely available online, easy to remember, easy to trigger, and above all else... fun and creative.
Want a chainsaw? The cheat code was IDCHOPPERS. Invulnerability? IDDQD. An inside joke referring to a fake fraternity named Delta Quit Delta. Want to walk through walls? IDSPISPOPD... Smashing Pumpkins Into Small Piles Of Putrid Debris. Another inside joke.
After Doom, it wasn’t enough to have cheat codes. After Doom, a game’s cheat codes needed to be comprehensive, creative, and fun.
When Elliot told me cheats generated a fair amount of traffic for GameSpot’s website, I was surprised. Why? Personally, the first time I ever remember using a game cheat code was... Doom. Prior to this, I’d never actively sought out cheat codes, and apparently, I was in the minority.
After Elliot and I said our ‘goodbyes’, I sat in my chair for a moment. Well... now I needed to create some cheat codes, and I started by looking at the cheats for HoMM2.
A quick web search turned up a list of 11 HoMM2 codes (including Succession Wars). Each code was a string of numbers, and the length of each code varied. Using the HoMM2 functions as a foundation, I first consolidated the existing cheats, before expanding them into the codes HoMM3 players use today.
I could have stopped there, and created a list of purely functional cheat codes, but I wanted to follow the new tradition established by id Software. So, I adopted their template. To start, I decided to use the ‘nwc’ prefix. As for the suffix, I also liked id’s idea of using ‘inside jokes’, but I didn’t want them to be too cryptic.
In the end, for The Restoration of Erathia, I decided to use references to the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Why this specific movie? Gus Smedstad, our AI Programmer, was also a fan of the film, and over the course of making HoMM3, he and I frequently quoted various lines from the movie. In using The Holy Grail, each individual cheat became an inside joke to anyone who had seen the movie. Concerning the rest of the HoMM team, the cheats became an inside joke between Gus and myself. If you want a good explanation as to the individual cheats, I’d suggest looking here.
Of all the cheat codes created, only one wasn’t mine: nwcphisherprice. This was the work of John Bolton, our Lead Programmer. He told me about it, after he’d put it into the game, and it’s an allusion to Fisher-Price, an American company specializing in toys for small children. As the code brightens the game’s colors, I assume it was his commentary on the appeal of HoMM2’s fairy tale art style.
When it came time to create Armageddon’s Blade, I wanted to rename all of the cheat codes. Why? Honestly, I did it as a favor to Elliot Chin. As Elliot pointed out, it was a money maker for their website. Creating new cheat codes gave players a new reason to look-up the new cheats, thus driving traffic to a webpage.
For Armageddon’s Blade (AB), the origin of its specific set of cheats began on November 13th, 1998, when the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (TPM) was attached to opening of Meet Joe Black. Many fans paid for a full priced movie ticket, watched the trailer, then left the theater before the actual film started. This same phenomenon occurred again, on March 12th, 1999, when the second theatrical trailer was attached to Wing Commander.
A day later, on March 13th, 1999, I saw the online version of the TPM theatrical trailer and couldn’t wait to see the next installment of Star Wars. In fact, I was so excited, I confidently decided the cheats for AB would stick with the ‘movie’ theme I’d established with RoE, and derive its theme from The Phantom Menace. There was however... one problem... I had yet to see the movie.
One week before the opening of TPM, Mark sent a broadcast email to all NWC employees. He’d reserved tickets for a matinee showing of TPM, on Friday, May 21st, at a local theater. Friday would also be a half-day, and everyone was welcome to either show-up and see the movie, or go home and start their weekend early. We could bring one guest. I immediately thought of Dustin Browder.
On the week before the release of TPM, I drove to Van Nuys to spend the evening playing games with Dustin while his wife worked on her PhD. Before we began, sitting in their family room, I broached the subject with Dustin.
Me, “New World’s reserving tickets for a matinee showing of The Phantom Menace. I can bring a guest.”
Dustin’s wife laughed as Dustin rolled his eyes, “Including you, I have invites to see the movie Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”
Me, “So, you’re saying ‘no’?”
Dustin looked at his wife, “I really wanted to see it with my wife, but she’s going to a conference over the weekend.”
Dustin’s wife smiled at him and sympathetically said, “I’m sorry.”
Me, “I was thinking I’d pick you up, we’d go see the movie, grab some food on the way back, then spend the night playing online.”
Dustin’s wife addressed Dustin, “If you want to go... go. It’s not like you’re doing anything that day. And we’ll see it eventually.”
Dustin soured, “Yeah, but I’ll have seen it like... three times, before we get to see it.”
Dustin’s wife responded, “It’ll be new for me, as long as you don’t spoil it.”
Dustin relented, “Ok. Fine. I’ll go.”
Me, playfully, “Hey, don’t make me twist your arm or anything.”
Dustin’s wife laughed (again) as Dustin rolled his eyes (again), “No. It’s fine.”
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace opened nationwide on Wednesday, May 19th, 1999. On Friday, May 21st, 1999, when lunch rolled around, I drove from NWC to Van Nuys to pick-up Dustin. On the trip back to Agoura Hills, Dustin and I couldn’t help but discuss the elephant in the room.
Reviews of TPM were all over the internet... and they were mixed. We both dreaded the thought of a ‘bad’ Star Wars movie. Trying to be optimistic, I reminded Dustin, when Star Wars was first released, back in 1977, it originally received mixed reviews.
Not too far from NWC, at the strip mall where I bought my comic books, was the theater where we would be seeing TPM. After giving my name at the ticket booth, Dustin and I walked inside. We were early, so picking a pair of seats near the front of the theater wasn’t an issue. As NWC employees and random ‘civilians’ trickled into the theater, Dustin and I sat there, passing the time with conversation. In the back of my mind, I feared the worst and began tamping down my expectations. Finally, the lights dimmed, and the show began.
After 2 hours and 13 minutes, excluding the trailers, Dustin and I walked out of the theater. Without a single word spoken, we walked to my car, got inside, and drove off to the Northridge Fashion Center shopping mall. While enroute, I took the first step and broke the silence.
Me, “I take it you didn’t like the movie?”
Still chewing on his opinion, Dustin replied, “Did you?”
Me, “I liked it for what it was. Clearly it was aimed at kids.”
Dustin, “I didn’t like it, but I’m still trying to figure out why.”
At the Northridge Fashion Center, Dustin and I made our way to the food court. We split up to grab some food. Dustin selected a noodle dish from Chan’s Mongolian, where I grabbed a couple of chili dogs from the Orange Julius. After sitting down to eat, between bites of food, we both noticed a couple of exasperated mothers attempting to herd a collection of small, excited children. A couple of the kids were wearing Star Wars branded t-shirts, so we assumed they were being taken to see TPM.
Me, “Do remember the first time you saw Star Wars?”
Dustin sighed, longingly, “Yeah.”
Me, “Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater. Since then, it’s been pretty much downhill.”
Still pondering TPM, Dustin was frustrated, “I’m just... I mean... Jar Jar Binks? Darth Vader built C-3PO? As a kid?”
Me, “Like I said, overall, I liked it, but it wasn’t perfect. The only thing that really irked me was the whole midi-chlorians thing. They kinda robbed the Force of its spiritual quality.”
Dustin shook his head and snorted a laugh, “Midi-chlorians. Force fungus.”
After finishing our food, Dustin and I went to GameStop. We were looking for something new to play, and... ironically... spotted Star Wars Episode I: Racer. It promised competitive multiplayer racing, so we both purchased copies. Back at Dustin’s place, after admiring the game’s packaging, we played it for an hour or two. It was enjoyable, but in the end, we returned to our touchstones: Diablo, Team Fortress, and Starcraft.
On the following Monday, after I set my satchel in my office, I stepped to Map Maker’s cubicles. I couldn’t help myself from asking.
Me, “So? I assume everyone enjoyed The Phantom Menace?”
There was a ripple of groans accompanied by a couple of cold stares, one almost certainly from Dave Botan.
Me, “I was okay with it, but I went in with low expectations.”
Jennifer Bullard, “It was okay.”
Marcus Pregent, “No. It was bad.”
Walter Johnson, “I wouldn’t say it was bad.”
Dave Botan, “It wasn’t good.”
Me, “Alright-Alright. Well, I’m using it for the Armageddon’s Blade cheats.”
There was another ripple of groans from Dave and Marcus.
Me, “Do you have a better idea?”
Jennifer stepped up, “What about The Matrix?”
Marcus chimed in, “Yeah. The Matrix is good.”
I furrowed my brow, “The Matrix?”
I hadn’t seen The Matrix. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of The Matrix. I’d been so busy crunching at work, video games and comic books had pushed movies into a distant third place priority. In fact, other than TPM, the only movie seen since the start of 1999 was The Mummy, which I saw with Dustin and his wife.
Jennifer, “Yeah. It’s a science fiction movie with Keanu Reeves.”
Me, “Haven’t seen it. Haven’t had the time to see much of anything.”
Marcus, “It’s really good.”
Me, “Well, maybe for the next expansion.”
When we started work on Armageddon’s Blade, one of my primary goals was... no crunch. In trying to re-establish a normal work life balance, I had the opportunity to do a couple things. One of them was moving from my apartment in West Los Angeles, to a new apartment well outside of Los Angeles in Thousand Oaks. My West Los Angeles apartment was old, small, in the middle of a crowded area, with a 30-to-60-minute one-way drive to work. In Thousand Oaks, my new apartment was newer, larger, in a relatively uncrowded area, and only five minutes away from work. Best of all, Thousand Oaks had broadband internet.
After moving to my new apartment, I had the opportunity purchase some new toys. One night, after work, I stopped at the local Best Buy, to purchase a large CRT television, specifically for my PlayStation. In the television section of Best Buy, I was confronted by a wall of 50 or more purchase options. All of them were playing... on a loop... in sync... the theatrical trailer for The Matrix.
In trying to select a television, I tried to focus on the various positives and negatives of the presented models, but I couldn’t help but watch... again-and-again... the trailer for The Matrix. I had no idea what it was about, but I was intrigued by what I was seeing. On top of this, it had the recommendation of Jennifer and Marcus.
After what seemed like an eternity of comparison shopping, I finally selected and bought a 32” Sony Trinitron television. On the way home, with the television loaded in the back of my car, I stopped for food at a local Jack In The Box. At my apartment complex, I hoisted the large television out of my car, and slowly carried it to my apartment. After retrieving my evening meal, I pulled the television out of the box, set it all up... and promptly sat down at my computer to eat my Sourdough Jack and surf the web. Between bites of my burger and fries, I searched for a local movie theater showing The Matrix. I simply could not get the trailer out of my head. Despite not making any logical sense, it was mysterious and looked like fun.
As I now had the time to try and enjoy my weekends, on the next Saturday afternoon, I drove to the Janss Marketplace. After walking to the Regal Cinemas, located in the back, I bought a matinee ticket, went inside, took a seat, and waited. By the time the movie started, several others had taken seats, but overall... the theater was relatively empty. This wasn’t a big surprise.
The Matrix had released nationwide on March 31st, 1999, more than a month before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Roughly eight weeks after its premiere, I was seeing The Matrix for the first time. My only knowledge concerning the movie was the trailer I’d seen in Best Buy. I was going in... for the most part... completely cold.
Once The Matrix began, like most people, for the first 30 minutes of the movie, I was mostly puzzled, but when Neo is pulled out of the Matrix, I was caught completely off guard. What was going on? From this moment forward, I was completely engrossed, as the film moved from strength-to-strength, before ending on a perfect note. Walking out of the theater, I was stunned.
On the following Monday, when the opportunity presented itself, I stepped to Map Maker’s cubicles.
Me, “I saw The Matrix over the weekend.”
Marcus, “Where did you find a theater still playing The Matrix?”
Me, “The local mall in Thousand Oaks was still showing it.”
Jennifer, “Did you like it?”
Me, “I did. I thought it was great.”
Dave scowled at me, “Better than Star Wars?”
Me, “Yes. Easily better than The Phantom Menace.”
Jennifer, “Are you going to change the cheat codes?”
Me, “No. We’ll stick with Star Wars for Armageddon’s Blade, but we’ll use The Matrix for the next expansion.”
There were a couple disappointed looks and shrugs, but as I had planned, when I created the cheats for Armageddon’s Blade, I referenced Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. As for the cheats referencing The Matrix, I must admit my recollection is fuzzy. Either I wrote them up and put them in the design documentation for later use, or Jennifer Bullard created them. I honestly don’t remember, because... in less than a year... when Shadow of Death released on March 31st, 2000... I was working in Las Vegas, at Westwood Studios, on Command & Conquer: Renegade.
Questions 1-4, of 11
This interview was conducted by Marko Vidučić of GoodGame.hr from Croatia, and was originally published in December 2021. It’s comprised of 11 questions. Below are questions 1-4.
1. First, we would like you to describe your upcoming game, Fanstratics, in a few sentences.
Fanstratics is a true spiritual successor to Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3). While it will be different, anyone who played HoMM3 will find it familiar, and firmly rooted in the present video game market.
2. How will you try to reach younger audience?
This is a tough question to answer.
Most turn-based strategy games have a steep learning curve, and this tends to discourage inexperienced newcomers. To incentivize a player’s time investment, the best thing a developer can do it showcase art and music. When a game looks good and sounds good... players will give it a chance. In the days of coin-operated video games, this was called the ‘attract mode’.
We’re doing our best to make Fanstratics... at a glance... beautiful, attractive, and engaging. Hopefully, should any player spend a little time with it, they will find it rewarding and continue to dig deeper.
3. Heroes of Might and Magic has a really big fan base in Central and Eastern Europe, are you planning on putting out localized versions of the game?
My plan is to create as many localized versions of Fanstratics as we can afford, with priority given to Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia.
4. How many people are working currently with you on the game?
Please keep in mind, at this stage, we are technically an indie project. While people come-and-go, we have three dedicated individuals working on design, programming, and art. In the next year, to get us to the crowd funding campaign, I hope to add a couple more developers. Should the crowd funding campaign be successful, we will assemble a full team.