Welcome. Hope each of you is safe.
This month I have four topics, with the ‘Recollection’ being part 1 of 2, and the last three questions from the 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 (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: Vulturian Scavenger.
Amongst the Krasadox, Vulturians are frequently looked upon with distain. Despite their vital role on the battlefield, their ‘light’ nature and cowardly ‘bleed tactics’, make them dissimilar. Add to this, their ability to scavenge Energy from both Allied and Enemy corpses, and you have a Battlefield efficient Troop who benefits from indirect conflict.
Originally, a different ‘bird-like’ Troop was planned for this month. When Justin emailed his first rough, in my opinion, I thought it looked less like the target Troop, and more like the Vulturian. So, I asked Justin to ignore the original plan, and push the concept toward the Vulturian. When the second rough was delivered, I was expecting an ‘adjustment’ to the original rough, but Justin sent an entirely new... but spot on concept. It made me smile.
For those of you who want to see Justin actually create the drawing, you can always watch a VOD of his Twitch stream.
HoMM3 Question: I was wondering what you think of Ubisoft's decision to make that "HD" edition of Heroes III. It's so weird because that HD mod which was available for free and made it possible to Play the original game in 4K (or any resolution) was around for years before then. I just remember seeing that video from Ubisoft of an artist who painstakingly painted over every single sprite to make it "HD". And I thought...yeah... were they trying to cash in on nostalgia or why did they decide to put it out there? It's subpar to the original in every way from what I understand.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect, behind the scenes, HoMM3 was continuing to sell well, as evidenced by its presence on GOG. As I write this, it is #1 on their all-time bestsellers list, competing with Cyberpunk 2077 and Witcher 3.
As with a lot of ‘remasters’, there is a new and pre-existing audience who continues to play the original, but doing so requires jumping through a number of technical hoops. In most ‘remasters’, the goal is to overhaul the graphics, eliminate any technical hurdles, and target new platforms.
Emphasis on the third point... ‘target new platforms’.
In my personal opinion, while HoMM3 HD was positioned as a ‘remaster’, I suspect it was really an ‘enhanced’ port made for the Apple iPad. This would go a long way to explaining Ubisoft’s approach; keep costs low, set a new price point ($15), don’t take any creative risks, and target the HoMM3 fans with Apple iPads.
Ultimately the PC HoMM3 community, for the most part, didn’t need the HD edition, but truthfully... I doubt they were the target audience. They were merely ‘bonus sales’.
Fanstratics Question: How many heroes will there be for each faction?
I expect the number will be the similar to HoMM3, with each faction having at least 16 Heroes.
Fanstratics Question: Will the Necrotics have a Death Rider?
Yes and no. For FST, the Necrotics do have a horse mounted ‘knight’ troop, but it’s not the literal Black Knight / Dread Knight from HoMM3. It’s something... else.
HoMM3 Recollection: Origin Story, part 1 of 2.
Like most kids growing up in the late 1970’s, it started with... Star Wars. I don’t think anyone, born after 1977, could possibly understand the impact Star Wars had on the world. It was a pop culture supernova.
Released on May 25, 1977, Star Wars stayed in theaters for almost a full year, and would be re-released the following Summer. In early 1978, my father decided my sister and I were old enough to see our first movie, and after talking with some friends, he decided Star Wars would be a good choice. I could go on to describe the smell of the buttered popcorn, the gigantic movie screen, and the very loud sound system, but when it was all over... I walked out of the theater... stunned. Simply... stunned.
Star Wars was a multimedia extravaganza unlike anything I had ever experienced, and like most young boys at the time... I was immediately obsessed.
Action figures and vehicles.
Soundtracks and music.
Even the infamous Star Wars Christmas Special.
If it had anything to do with Star Wars, I wanted to know about it. If possible, I wanted to own it.
One evening, in the middle of the week, in early 1979, my mother was tired and wanted a night off. Specifically, she didn’t want to make dinner. After discussing it with my Dad, they decided we would treat ourselves to Pizza Hut.
In 1979, Pizza Hut did not deliver. You had to either carry it out, or drive to the restaurant, sit at a table or in a booth, and order a pizza made by hand from scratch. After driving across town, we went in, sat down, ordered, waited, and eventually drank Pepsi as we ate our pizza. On this particular night, business was rather slow, and other than ourselves, there was only one other family in the restaurant.
All of the staff members were relatively young (college or high school age), and there was little work to do. So, collectively, the Waitress, Cook, and Manager disappeared into one of the ‘wait to be seated’ cubicles at the front of the establishment. From this cubicle, I heard something. Something, sounding like... Star Wars. I heard... THIS.
Curious, I asked my Dad if I could investigate. He gave me his approval, and as my family continued to eat, I wandered up to the front of the restaurant. There, I peeked around the booth half-wall, and saw the entire Pizza Hut staff, crowded around a cocktail cabinet of Space Invaders. It was the first video game I had ever seen.
Immediately, I was enthralled, and I completely lost sense of my social presence. As they played, I just stood there... staring. One of the staff, the Waitress, saw me and thought I wanted to play.
Waitress, “Did you want to play?”
I didn’t answer her question. I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know anything about video games. In fact, I didn’t know they were called ‘video games’. Before I could answer, the Cook, who had just finished a game, vacated his seat in front of the near side game controls.
Cook, “Here. Take my seat.”
Quietly, I sat down in the space he provided. I put my hands on the switch for moving the player’s ‘laser cannon’ and pressed the ‘fire’ button. Nothing happened... because... well... the game was in ‘attract mode’. I really had no idea what I was doing. This was an entirely new experience for me.
Waitress, “You need to put in money to play.”
Cook, “I don’t think he has any.”
Manager, “Here, I got a quarter for you.”
Pulling a quarter out of his pocket, the Manager dropped one into the coin slot. He then reached over my hands and pressed the ‘1 player’ button. Immediately, the Space Invaders assembled before me, and the heartbeat pulse of the background ‘music’ began.
Moving my laser cannon side-to-side, I shot as quickly as I could. In less than two minutes, I lost all three cannons, but managed to kill a few aliens and shred my protective bunkers.
Manager, “Wanna try again? We could do a two-player game?”
Excitedly, I nodded ‘yes’. Pulling two quarters out of his pocket, the Manager fed them into the coin slot. He took the opposite seat and started the game. While I went first, the two-player game afforded me the opportunity to watch the Manager play. When it was my turn to play again, I applied what I had learned and was able to clear the first board with 1 cannon remaining.
At this moment, with the evening’s Pizza Hut bill in hand, my Dad appeared next to me. My family had finished eating, and it was time to return home. Getting up from the red vinyl booth seat, the Manager addressed my Dad.
Manager, “Ready to go?”
My Dad held out the bill, “Yep. Time to go home.”
My Dad tapped me on the shoulder.
Dad, “Are you almost done?”
I nodded my head as I slipped out of my seat. Smiling and waving, the Waitress and Cook and called out to me.
Turning back, I returned the wave ‘so long’, and joined my Mother and Sister.
After paying our bill, my entire family pushed through the restaurant doors and stepped onto the parking lot. Walking to our green station wagon, with phony wood paneling, we separated into two small groups. My Mother and Sister walked out in front, with my Dad and I in back. I couldn’t keep the exciting news to myself. I had to tell someone.
Me, “Dad? That thing I was doing. It was like Star Wars.”
So... it began.
In a mere heartbeat, I had traded my Star Wars obsession for a video game obsession. From 1979 to 1982, at home and in the arcades, video games exploded across the country. Unfortunately, for video games in the USA, by 1983, the gold rush was over and the market became oversaturated. Regardless, in the creeping darkness of the Video Game Crash, there was one very small ember of hope. My next-door neighbor had purchased a ‘home computer’. It was the Apple 2e.
My neighbor’s Apple computer could do word processing and spreadsheet calculations, but I had only one question, “Could it play games?” ‘Yes’ was the answer, but what passed for a game on the Apple 2 was every different from the arcades or the consoles of the day. Because the Apple 2 was underpowered, its games had to engage a person’s imagination and deliver a deeper, enduring, non-arcade experience. I will never forgot the text based game named Zork, or the ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ type game named Wizardry. While I was too young and too impatient to dedicate myself to these games, they left an impression I could not shake. Despite the primitive presentation... deep down... almost anyone could sense the potential.
From 1983 to 1985, the mainstream video game industry in the USA contracted and became dormant. For me, personally, it was depressing as my most passionate hobby was dying. Arcades shut down. Old consoles and old games sold at clearance prices. New games were few-and-far-between, but... in late 1985, Nintendo brought the industry back from the brink when it launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
It is easy to point to Nintendo as the company who resurrected video games in the USA, but how Nintendo accomplished this is not often discussed. Nintendo pushed quality over quantity (in opposition to Atari), and tried to expand the definition of what a video game could be. Echoing the crude games already existing on the Apple 2, Nintendo showed video games had potential well beyond a repetitive 2-or-3-minute game loop purchased for $0.25.
Another underappreciated aspect of this early Nintendo-era was the ability to rent games. Since the Atari 2600, I had purchased few games, but rented dozens. When I finally got my hands on the NES, I purchased and obsessively played The Legend of Zelda, but rented everything else. I suspect I must have played 90% of the games released for the NES, via rentals. This economical approach was quite common, and gave me an opportunity to experience a vast array of games.
As I grew older, and started my first years of college, my video game experiences were largely driven by arcades and consoles (Atari 2600, Odyssey 2, Intellivision, Colecovision, Vetrex, Astrocade, NES, and Sega Genesis). While I was vaguely aware of home computers (Apple 2, Apple Macintosh, Commodore Vic-20, and Commodore 64), I didn’t know anyone who had a Commodore Amiga or an IBM PC. Significant video game innovation was occurring on these platforms... and I was oblivious.
After two years, of undergraduate work at a local university, I was struggling to find my direction, and decided to take a computer programming class. I’d played with BASIC in high school, on the Apple 2, but the classes were... well... uninspiring.
When I spoke with my College Advisor, she simply asked, “Why do you want to take a computer programming class?”
Deep down, I wanted to know more about how video games were made, but I knew... at this university... such an answer would be frowned upon. Computers were serious machines for serious applications... like going to the Moon. Video games were uncultured distractions made for children.
So, I simply answered, “I think its important to know something about how computers work.”
Advisor, “Well, why don’t you start with an easy programming language.”
Me, “What would you recommend?”
College Advisor, “COBOL.”
Me, not knowing anything about COBOL, uttered, “Okay.”
COBOL was designed for business use: retail companies, finance, governments, administrative applications, etc. To say I didn’t enjoy my COBOL class would be an understatement, but it did get me into the Computer Lab. There I was introduced to the University mainframe and its user terminals, but off in the corner... were a couple of newer IBM PC’s.
One evening, at the Computer Lab, while hacking my way through a Bank Balance Sheet program, I saw a buddy of mine, named Tom, off in the corner, playing a game on one of the IBM PC’s. It was Red Baron (1990) by Dynamix, published by Sierra.
While I had played a game in the arcades named Red Baron (1980), made by Atari, this was clearly something different. It was a World War 1 flight simulator, in 3D, in 256 colors, with a mouse and joystick interface. I was captivated. I, Robot (1983) was the last game I had seen with 3D raster graphics, but this game had SO MANY colors it made the digitized pictures look good.
After finishing my work, I wandered over to Tom, and pulled up a chair next to him.
Me, “What are you playing?”
Tom, “Red Baron. Did you want to give a try?”
Me, “Nah. You go ahead, I’ll just watch.”
For the next 30 minutes, I observed Tom’s play, occasionally asking questions. After repeatedly failing one specific mission, he decided to quit the game. Besides, it was getting late and he needed to get back to the dorm.
Tom, “Did you want a copy?”
Me, “This game? Sure.”
Tom grabbed a carboard box of 5.25” disks, on top of his used class books, and offered it to me.
Tom, “There’s some other games in here too. They’re all cracked. Just copy them to the hard drive, follow the config instructions in the text file, and bring the disks back when you’re done.”
Cluelessly, I took the box of disks, “Okay.”
Upon leaving the Computer Lab, I walked to the parking lot and got in my car. On the drive home (I didn’t live on campus), I contemplated my dilemma. Firstly, I had no idea how to operate an MS-DOS operating system. Secondly, and more to the point... I didn’t have an IBM PC computer with an MS-DOS operating system. I could have played at the Computer Lab, but it had hours of operation, and I wanted to play late into the night. In the end, I had one potential solution.
My father had an IBM compatible computer... at his office. What could possibly go wrong?
Questions 9-11, 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 9-11
9. Is there a release date on the game?
Truthfully, if the project was fully funded, I could give a general target date, but this is simply not the case. Many elements need to fall into place before I can give a relatively firm release window, and there more opportunities for things to fail, than there are opportunities for things to succeed.
What if critical personnel leave the project?
What if the crowd funding campaign fails?
What if a pandemic sweeps across the globe?
I know fans don’t want to hear this answer, but at this stage, the best I can say is, “Look at games like Bloodstained Ritual of the Night, Cuphead, Stardew Valley, and Valheim. You’ll find a general answer in their collective development lengths.”
10. If the project becomes a success, are you planning on expanding on your universe, by adding spinoff games (maybe something similar to Might and Magic RPG games, although they are older than Heroes)?
There at least three other game genres I would like to explore.No promises, but a Fanstratics RPG, in one form or another, would be a logical move.
11. Can you describe for us in a few words how it was like working on Heroes of Might and Magic 3?
Developing HoMM3 was a relatively intense, 18-month experience, with a collection of good team leads who weren’t satisfied with the existing state of affairs at New World Computing. It was unfortunate it didn’t last, but in hindsight, I tend to forget the negative aspects, and think only of the positive result.