Welcome. Hope each of you is safe.
This month I have four topics. 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).
One other item. Heroes3wog.net is having a 10th Anniversary Contest (link). Create a HoMM3 miniature in the HeroForge editor, submit your entry, and possibly win one of several possible rewards. Winners will be chosen by Liso1, David Mullich, and myself.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Hellion.
There is no Troop quite like the Hellion. Often regarded as the demonic opposite of the Pegasus or Unicorn, anyone who has fought a Hellion, knows they are much more. Quick to fly about the Battlefield, they tend to focus on Enemy Troops they consider ‘lesser’ or ‘easy to kill’. This choice is not cowardly, but strategic. How so? At the moment of death, Hellions can cause Enemy Troops to explode, and injure other Enemy Troops in the immediate area.
When Justin picked the Hellion from the choices for this month, I was a touch wary. This was something unique, and thought it may take a couple of drafts to hash it out. So, I insisted he do a round of thumbnails before he attempted a rough. Well, Justin did both. He delivered a couple of thumbnails and a rough. I must have poured over the delivery for 10 to 15 minutes. I found three small items; otherwise he’d nailed it... again.
HoMM3 Question: In Heroes of Might and Magic III ogre magi possess an ability of casting bloodlust, although in D&D they have no such or any comparable magic ability among their special abilities. At the same time in Warcraft II ogre-magi have an identically named ability, which makes this coincidence peculiar. Were both cases based on some common source? Where did the ability to cast bloodlust come from if it is not in D&D?
In HoMM3, I gave the Ogre Magi the ability to cast Bloodlust, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was a big fan of Warcraft 2 (WC2), and this was a clear acknowledgement of my admiration for the game. Secondly, because WC2 was extremely popular, it was redefining various fantasy stereotypes. As I believed embracing popular fantasy stereotypes was an important aspect of HoMM3, in this case, I designated the HoMM3 Ogres could be magi, and Ogre Magi could cast Bloodlust... just like WC2.
Fanstratics Question: How do you feel about the experience of the Heroes 4, where neutral creatures were able to move independently?
This was a feature originally seen in King’s Bounty. Personally, I prefer the neutral armies remain in place, and will be sticking with this approach for Fanstratics.
HoMM3 Recollection: Journalistic Encounters.
In my early years in the video games industry, I met several wonderful games journalists. Stephan Heaslip, from Blue’s News, immediately comes to mind. There is also Elliot Chin, then employed at GameSpot, who arranged my original Designer Diaries. Yet, there was also a fair number of games journalists who were ‘not so wonderful’.
For example, when I worked at Activision, the Editor-in-Chief from one of the biggest PC computing magazines, along with a Staff Writer, made a planned visit. While the Staff Writer interviewed a specific team about their forthcoming product, the head of Activision PR took the Editor-in-Chief into a nearby meeting room. Once they had achieved ‘privacy’, she flat out told the Editor, when the preview was published, she also wanted the magazine’s accompanying cover. Of course, the Editor told her several other games, from several other companies, were being considered for the cover, and he would be happy to include Activision. She then took it to the bottom line and asked ‘How many ads do we need to buy to get the cover?’
I don’t know the details of the subsequent arrangement... but Activision got the cover. When this particular story was relayed to me, I was taken aback.
Upon seeing my reaction, the storyteller rolled his eyes, shrugged, then asked, “Are you really surprised?”
If you are curious, go back and look through older Console and PC magazines. If a specific game received a featured preview, don’t be shocked if the magazine also featured a quantity of advertisements, from the associated publisher, well in excess of its normal amount.
Another odd incident occurred when I was working on Command & Conquer: Renegade. During production, we had a freelance games journalist visit Westwood Studios. He did the rounds, visiting each team in the building, but he traveled specifically to Las Vegas to craft a preview concerning Renegade. In the process of chatting with Mike Ward, our Producer at the time, he pulled out a business card and pushed it into Mike’s hands.
He then proceeded to ‘pitch’ himself, “I also do other freelance writing. If you need help with the story, in-game dialog, or the manual, I’m available at a reasonable price.”
After he left, Mike looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.
Mike, “What am I supposed to do? Is he going to give us a slanted write-up if I don’t throw him a bone?”
While the first incident involved journalist corruption, and second involved questionable ethics, the third... which occurred at New World Computing (NWC)... was pure ego.
If you remember the incident involving Nick Ferrari, you understand how early builds of Heroes3 were delivered to game journalists for previews and reviews. This was a widespread practice as games can take a long time to play, and written reviews can take a long time write. Additionally, magazines wanted to schedule a game’s review to coincide with the associated game’s release.
On one particular occasion, prior to code lock for Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Jon Van Caneghem (JVC) caught me in the hall.
JVC, “There’s a PR Lady from 3DO visiting tomorrow, and she’s bringing a journalist. We sent him a build of Heroes several weeks ago, and he’ll probably want to meet with you. He’s reviewed all the Might and Magics, going back to one.”
Me, “How long do they want to meet?”
Jon shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Me, “Does he want an interview?”
Jon shrugged again, “I don’t know. Talk to him and find out.”
I must admit, I was perplexed as to the nature of this visit, but I was confident I could answer any questions he could formulate.
On the following day, just before lunch, I was in my office when I got a phone call from the front desk. 3DO’s PR Lady was waiting for me in the NWC Meeting Room.
Dropping everything I was doing, I immediately left my office and walked to the Meeting Room at the front of NWC. Once inside, the 3DO PR Lady introduced me to a games journalist I had never before met.
While I don’t recall his name, I haven’t forgotten his appearance. He was older, small, thin, balding, with a full beard, wearing what looked like secondhand clothing. He also had a weatherworn leather satchel he had laid on the Meeting Room table.
We shook hands, and I took a seat adjacent to him at a corner of the Meeting Room table. Reaching into his satchel, the Balding Journalist pulled out a plastic CD case holding a burned CD-ROM.
He held it out to me, “I’m done with this. I didn’t know what to do with it.”
I took the disc and looked at it. It was an early build of HoMM3, just for journalistic review. Scribbled on the disc, in Mark Caldwell’s handwriting, was ‘Heroes of Might and Magic 3’ and the name of this intended journalist. Because of the Nick Ferrari incident, Mark was still customizing builds for specific journalists.
Me, “I’ll take care of it.”
At this point, our ‘meeting’ began, as the Balding Journalist began speaking, “I didn’t play all of it. There’s a lot there. I played mostly single scenario maps and some of the first campaign. I liked it. I’m giving it an 85.”
Me, “Uh... okay.”
Anyone who knows anything about formal game reviews, knows an 85 (4.25 stars) means ‘very good to excellent, but not great’. It is typical for a game reviewer to give an 85 if they like the game, but are not blown away by it. An 85 also gives a publisher the ‘recommended’ mark they desire, while preserving any good will between the publisher and the game magazine.
Balding Journalist, “I was disappointed there was no option for opera music.”
Me, “A lot of fans didn’t like the opera music. That’s why there was an option to turn if off in Heroes2. For Heroes3 we thought it was best to just avoid it.”
Balding Journalist, “I really liked the music. I thought I detected a lot of Mozart in the compositions.”
I shrugged, “I wouldn’t know. I’m not a composer. You’d need to talk to Rob or Paul.”
After nodding his ‘understanding’, the Balding Journalist looked to the 3DO PR Lady, “I’d like to talk to Jon now.”
3DO PR Lady, “Ok.”
After shaking my hand again, the Balding Journalist grabbed his satchel, and followed the 3DO PR Lady out of the Meeting Room. I assumed she was taking him to JVC’s office. For a moment, I sat there... alone... in the Meeting Room.
Do I leave?
Should I wait?
Before I could decide what to do, the 3DO PR Lady returned, closing the Meeting Room door behind her.
3DO PR Lady, “Sorry about all of this. I know you have work to do.”
Me, “It’s not a big deal... but I am kinda confused.”
3DO PR Lady, “About what?”
I played with the CD-ROM I’d taken from the Balding Journalist, “Am I supposed to do an interview or something?”
3DO PR Lady rolled her eyes, “Oh, no. No interview.”
Me, “Then what am I supposed to do? Just take this disc from him?”
3DO PR Lady smiled, “In exchange for reviewing the game, he requested we fly him to New World, to meet with JVC, and the Heroes3 game designer. We also were asked to put him up in a hotel for the night, and pay for all his meals. He changed rooms four times before he found one he liked, and it’s a four-star hotel.”
I suddenly realized what was happening, “Oh.”
3DO was stroking this guy’s ego, giving him the royal treatment, and making him feel important... to get the best review possible.
3DO PR Lady smiled at me, “This isn’t about you. It’s all about him.”
After a small bit of ‘chit-chat’ to pass the time, the 3DO PR Lady excused herself from the Meeting Room. A couple of moments later, the Balding Journalist walked down the hallway, his satchel slung over his shoulder, with the 3DO PR Lady close behind.
3DO PR Lady waved to me through the glass walls of the Meeting Room, “Thank you for your time.”
I waved back and the Balding Journalist nodded ‘goodbye’.
I never saw him again. Perhaps, in our one-to-one exchange, I scored less than an 85.