Welcome. Hope each of you is safe.
This month I have four topics, with a new ‘HoMM3 Recollection’ being part 1 of 3.
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, I will get around to answering your email, but it may take at least 2-3 months before you receive a response (it’s taking longer and longer as production continues).
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Basilisk.
With an origin shrouded in a mysterious evolution of serpent scales and hen feathers, the Basilisk is the only non-Chimeran Troop able to turn Enemies into stone. Lithe and lethal, it is faster than the snake-like Medusa, but less focused when attempting to turn Enemy Troops into stone. Able to engage multiple targets, in specific occasions, the Basilisk’s smoldering stare is a quantity over quality Assault.
I put the Basilisk in front of Justin at least twice before, and each occasion, he nudged it aside as he just wasn’t ready to tackle it. This month, he was ready. We tried playing around with the eyes, but different iterations simply got in the way of his overall design. So, as is somewhat common, less was more, and I’m very happy with the final result.
Fanstratics Question: I really really love the way the Rampart town was made graphically (green forest, nice cottages, a well/spring, mountains with green dragons and white fog in the distance, all a happy place filled with fresh nature, such a joy to watch. Reminds me of my mountaineering trips. And that music for the town, beyond real. Such a great masterpiece overall. So, my wish about this is maybe in this new game you could do something similar with a town. Capture that feeling that I described as true to the original as possible if you can. As you said in the newsletter that as a game designer you have to understand other people`s ideas even they don`t express them in a clear way (as you did with the guy who did not like the game`s main screen with the angel but was not sure what he did not liked) so I believe you can capture the feeling of Rampart and understand more than anyone what I am trying to say here.
I think you will like the Thornwood faction, as they are the Fanstratics parallel to the Rampart. Generally speaking, I try to give the artists a broad direction and let them run, so the Thornwood won’t be exactly the same, but its theme is very similar: enchanted forest.
Fanstratics Question: You mentioned that the game will not have science fiction like in HoMM3, referring to the large number of players who do not like it. There are very few such players in Russia and no one takes them seriously. Now the main complaint about Fanstratics among HotA players is that the game will not be techno-fantasy (mixing of sci-fi and fantasy). While the game is at an early stage of development, it may be worth making a vote about it among subscribers?
Firstly, while I want Fanstratics to be thought of as spiritual successor to HoMM3, I don’t want it to be viewed as a Might and Magic ‘rip off’. Incorporating a heavy-to-moderate science fiction element, into a fantasy universe, would certain open it up to this criticism. Secondly, I have already laid the creative foundation upon which the Fanstratics world is based. I am happy with what I’ve done, and look forward to its gradual reveal. While it is not science fiction... it is not stereotypical fantasy. Hopefully, you will like it, and enjoy it. :-)
HoMM3 Recollection: Stumbling Out of the Gate (part 1 of 3).
For my first day at work, I packed my black briefcase bag with a couple of ‘necessary’ items.
A yellow pad.
Pens and pencils.
My personal copy of Heroes2.
A smattering of White Dwarf issues, Warhammer rulebooks, and Citadel Miniature catalogs.
Lastly, from my job interview, my ‘brainstorm’ list of potential changes for Heroes3.
I couldn’t help but smile to myself. How many people would consider this collection of items to be ‘work materials’? I liked and was proud to be a computer game developer.
Dropping my bag onto the passenger seat of my red, two-door, ’95 Honda Civic, I departed from my run-down apartment and started my drive to Agoura Hills. As Los Angeles traffic is notoriously unpredictable, I left exceptionally early, as I didn’t want to be late on my first day. My car had zero air conditioning (I couldn’t afford it), so I drove with driver and passenger windows cracked. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be a sweaty mess by the time I reached New World Computing (NWC).
Upon reaching the NWC office building, I parked and subsequently I exited my car. Immediately, I noticed the relative quiet of Agoura Hills, compared to the persistent racket of West Los Angeles. It was nice.
With my briefcase bag slung over my shoulder, I walked to the office building where I’d previously had my interview with Jon Van Caneghem (JVC). On the second floor, I opened the door to NWC... and stepped inside.
Right away, I caught the eyes of the Receptionist, “Hello.”
Receptionist, smiling, “Hi.”
At her front desk, I cheerily informed her, “Today’s my first day.”
Continuing to smile, she picked up her phone, “Have a seat. I’ll call Mark.”
Within a minute after I took a seat, in one of the ‘waiting’ chairs, Mark Caldwell was speedily walking down the hallway alongside the NWC Meeting Room. As always, he was caffeinated and walking relatively quick.
Stepping into the reception area, Mark put out his hand, “Good morning.”
Standing up, I shook Mark’s hand, “Morning.”
Mark, “Follow me.”
Navigating around the Meeting Room, we walked deep into New World. Passing Jon Van Caneghem’s (JVC) office, the Tester’s Room, and the company Kitchen, we stopped at the near end of the entire office. Standing outside a small office, Mark nodded toward the inside. Stepping next to Mark, I looked inside. A middle-aged man with short, dark brown hair, and a goatee, was seated at a gray, particle board, desk. He casually spun around in his office chair to greet Mark and myself.
Mark, “This is David Mullich. He’s the Heroes3 game Director slash Producer. Until we find a producer.”
I nodded toward David, “Hello.”
David, smiling, replied, “Hello.”
Mark pointed to the empty office, adjacent to David’s, “You’re next door. Go ahead, get acquainted. I’ve got some things I need to do, but I’ll be back later to show you how to use the phone system.”
Leaving me alone, standing, looking at David... Mark darted off.
Me, “Let me drop my things in my office, then I’ll be back.”
Stepping into my office, I quickly looked around. It was small, sparse, rectangular, gray, white, and sterile. Like David’s office, it had a gray, chipboard desk up against the long side and back wall. Luckily, I had a window, and it allowed me to look upon the distant ‘hills’ of Agoura Hills.
Under my desk, waiting to be powered on, was a mid-tower computer. There was no obvious indication as to its Mhz, or 3D card (unlikely). On top of my desk was a 17” monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
Spanning the wall, opposite my desk, was something I was happy to see... a very sizable white board with colored markers. When brainstorming, I preferred to pace, and having this particular tool allowed me to quickly jot notes, on the board, while doing exactly this.
Dropping my briefcase bag on my desk, I returned to David’s office. Once again, he spun around in his chair to greet me. I put out my hand, and David shook it without getting up.
Me, taking a seat in his ‘guest chair’, “I’m a little surprised I didn’t meet you when I did my job interview.”
David put up his hands in a hapless manner, “Today’s my first day.”
Me, surprised, “Oh.”
David chuckled, “Yeah. I had no idea they’d hired a game designer.”
Me, “Well, a little bit about myself. I was getting a masters in screenwriting from UCLA, but spent all my time playing games. Eventually got an opportunity to do some design, for peanuts, at small SNES developer. I took it. They’re out of business. Got an opportunity to work at Activision on a point-and-click version of Planetfall. It was canceled. Got a job at Dreamworks Interactive. I recommended they cancel the project. They did. Interviewed here... and got the job.”
David laughed, “Sounds a lot like my career. I’m probably best known for are creating an Apple 2 game based on the television show The Prisoner. I also produced Darkseed 2, based on the works of H.R. Giger. And I produced I Have No Mouth and Must Scream based on the story by Harlan Ellison.”
I chuckled, “I actually spoke to Harlan on the phone once.”
David looked perplexed, “Really?”
Me, “Yeah. A friend and I were trying to break into comics. I did a spec story for Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor, for Dark Horse comics, based on one of his short stories. Apparently, the editor was doing a crap job, and Harlan was cleaning up his mess when he ran across my script. They weren’t going to use the story, but wanted to tell me ‘I did good stuff’.”
David laughed, “That’s high praise coming from Harlan.”
Me, “So? Do we have any marching orders?”
David, “Well, they essentially told me two things. First, maintain the success of Heroes2. They want a five-star game. Second, fix the artwork.”
I nodded in agreement, “Yeah. The artwork has charm, but... it’s a war game.”
David got up from his chair and fetched a couple of hard cover Dungeon’s and Dragons books from his small bookshelf. He proceed to lay out and show me covers from his collection of 1st and 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books: Dungeon Masters guide, Monstrous Manual 2, Player’s Handbook, Legends and Lore, Unearthed Arcana, and Manual of the Planes. It was basically a showcase of work by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.
David, “I was thinking something along this line. Classic D&D.”
Me, “Ah. I have something else for you to look at.”
Quickly, I walked into my office, retrieved my Games Workshop books, and returned. Handing an issue of White Dwarf to David, I pointed out some color pictures of Warhammer miniatures and made my pitch.
Me, “These are miniatures for a tabletop wargame called Warhammer.”
Flipping through the pages, David was obviously intrigued, “Wow. I’ve never seen these before.”
Me, “Yeah. This stuff’s great. Lots of creativity. Lots of energy. I’d call it extreme fantasy, or heavy metal fantasy. This is basically where Blizzard got its inspiration for Warcraft 1 and 2. I’m not saying we should also rip off Warhammer, but we can’t ignore its popularity.”
David smiled, “I think we’re both in agreement on where the art should go. I just need to find a lead artist.”
Me, “We don’t have an art director?”
David, “No. When I did my interview, they asked me what I thought of Heroes of Might and Magic 2. I told them I really liked the game, but thought the art was dated. Mark and Jon agreed, and made it clear they weren’t happy with the art. So, I need to find an art lead. They wanted me to try recruiting from within, before looking outside the company.”
At this point, a NWC employee appeared in David’s doorway. To keep his identity secret, I will henceforth refer to him as ‘Wario’.
David and I turned around, mildly puzzled.
Wario, “One of you must be the new director for Heroes3.”
I pointed to David.
David, “I am.”
Me, “I’m the Lead Game Designer.”
Wario, “It’s nice to meet both of you. I’m the Lead Programmer for Heroes3.”
David smiled, “Oh, okay.”
Me, curious, “Is this your first day?”
Wario chuckled, “No. I’ve been here awhile. Perhaps too long.”
David and I chuckled.
Wario, “At some point, I’m sure Mark or Jon will get us all together. Until then, I’ll be in my office if you have any questions.”
After Wario had departed, I turned to David.
Me, “Did they tell you anything about your Lead Programmer?”
David, “They told me they had someone in mind. That’s all.”
At this point, Mark reappeared in the doorway, now with a Coca-Cola in hand (not his first of the day, I suspect).
Mark, “I just passed Wario. Did he introduce himself?”
Me, “He did.”
Mark, “Alright. Time to learn the phone system. Follow me.”
Like a short line of lemmings, myself and David got up and followed Mark. Along the way, we picked-up Jeff Leggett, who was also starting his first day at New World Computing. Jeff was hired to work on Vegas Games 2000, and toward the end of production, moved over to Heroes3 to finalize the online and network elements of the game.
As we walked, Mark introduced Jeff, “This is Jeff. He’s programming Vegas Games.”
Jeff put up his hand and waved, “Hello.”
Walking into the NWC Meeting Room, we watched and waited as Mark stepped to the other side of the room. Up against the wall was one of the standard gray office desks, with a standard padded office chair, and a standard office phone. After picking up the black phone, Mark fished the phone line out from behind the back of the desk, pulled on it to get some slack, and placed it on the Meeting Room table.
Mark, “Gather ‘round.”
I stepped to and took up residence on Mark’s immediate left. David settled in at Mark’s immediate right, with Jeff on David’s right. There, standing alongside Mark, we all looked at the overly complicated office phone.
I’d worked with similar phone systems at Activision and Dreamworks Interactive (DWI). If I properly recall, it was a Nortel M7208 office phone. It was a big, black, plastic brick. On the left was the handset, with a tightly wound cord. On the right was a gaggle of mostly gray buttons: 0-9, *, #, Hold, Transfer, Feature, Release, Link, Pick-up, Page, Conf/Trans, Intercom, Handsfree/Mute, Self-destruct, etc.
When you got a call, it was simple. You picked-up the handset and spoke to the person on the other end of the line. When you were done, you hung up the receiver.
Every now and then, when speaking with someone, they would ask you to transfer them to another person within the company. This is where the conversation would screech to a panicked halt. Most of the time I would shrug and confess my ignorance to the person on the other end of the line
Me, “I don’t know how to transfer a call, so you might get cut off.”
I’d then press the HOLD button... dial the extension... press one of the other buttons(?)... and hang up. I never knew if anyone ever made it to their requested destination. In fact, I never met anyone who actually knew how the phone system worked.
At DWI, I asked Steve Herndon, a programmer at the company, “Do you know how to transfer a call to someone else in the company?”
Steve, “No. I tell them to call back and ask the front desk.”
This was the only time, anyone, from any company, tried to explain how this specific phone system worked. Unfortunately, it was from a highly caffeinated Mark Caldwell.
Mark pointed to the small LCD window above all the buttons, “YourExtensionNumberIsAtTheTop.
Mark waved to the Receptionist, who appeared to be waiting for his signal, who then called the Meeting Room phone. It rang, and Mark picked up the receiver.
Mark pressed the Hold button, “WhenSomeoneCalls,AndAsksToBeTransferred,YouPutThemOnHold.
Mark then dialed his own extension, “DialThe4-digitExtensionOfThePersonYouWantToTransferTheCallTo.
Mark put the phone receiver to his ear, “ListenForTheRing.”
Mark then hung-up the receiver, “IfItRings,YouCanHangUp.IfYouGetABusySignal,YouCanDoOneOfTwoThings.EitherHangUpAndLetItGoToVoiceMail,OrPressHold,AndTalkAgainToThe PersonYouPutOnHold.GotIt?”
Mark looked around at myself, David, and Jeff. Clearly, he could see we were all confused. Mercifully, Mark ran through the instructions again, but after a second round... everything was still fuzzy. Becoming impatient, and unwilling to run through the instructions a third time, Mark looked again at myself, David, and Jeff.
For some reason, Mark rested his gaze on me. Why was I singled out? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps he was simply hazing the youngest guy in the group. Perhaps he wanted to test my resilience under pressure. Nevertheless, I took a breath and stepped forward.
Now... some of you may be wondering. Why am relating this particular event involving the NWC office phone system?
Firstly, when it came to telephones, in 1997, the ideas of multiple lines, voice mail, holding a call, transferring a call, call forwarding, etc... were relatively new. Previously, these tasks were performed by a receptionist, and to ease their burden, these relatively new concepts were foisted upon the typical office worker. Like the personal computer... most people were just beginning to grasp this new and additional complexity.
Secondly, in the initial days of starting a new job, in a corporate environment, first impressions are paramount.
Are you easy to work with?
Do you work hard?
Do you know what you are doing?
Are you smart?
This final item is especially important. In your first days on the job, the last thing you want to do, is look like an idiot. Well... here was the perfect opportunity to... well... look like an idiot.
Mark waved to the Receptionist, and she called the Meeting Room phone. It rang.
I picked up the phone receiver and answered, “Hello.”
Me, “I guess I’ll transfer you now.”
Receptionist, chuckling, “Okay.”
I pressed the Hold button, dialed Mark’s 4-digit extension, listened for the ‘ring’, then hung up the receiver (I think I did it right).
Mark looked at me, smiling, nodding, “Alright,Good.”
Next, Mark turned and looked at David and Jeff, “Who’sNext?”
Being next to Mark, David felt obligated to step up... so he did. By-the-way, Jeff was smirking, happy to go last.
Mark waved to the Receptionist, and she called the Meeting Room phone. It rang.
David picked up the phone receiver and answered, “Hello. I’ll transfer you now.”
David pressed the Hold button... then almost hung up the receiver, but stopped himself. He then dialed Mark’s 4-digit extension, and quickly hung up the receiver. Success.
Jeff was next, and with the benefit of additional examples from myself and David, Jeff performed the task without a hitch. We all passed.
Mark, smiling, “Alright.That’sIt.”
Mark, pointed to Jeff, “Jeff, you can go if you want.”
Mark pointed to David and myself, “I spoke to Jon. You two, and Wario, have a meeting with Jon, on Wednesday morning, at 10:30am.”
Me, “Got it.”
Jeff, David, and myself departed from the Meeting Room, and returned to our respective offices. I felt like I’d leapt a social hurdle, but this first day wasn’t over.
Returning to my office, I began familiarizing myself with my office computer. It wasn’t high end, but it wasn’t low end either. Faster than average processor, typical RAM, good amount of hard drive space, cheap keyboard and mouse... no 3D card (ugh). Word, Excel, and Outlook were preinstalled, and a quick look at the network yielded a ‘software’ folder, where I found and installed business copies of Photoshop and ACDSee. What I needed, what I couldn’t find, was a copy of Visio.
I was introduced to this program by William Westwater, back when I worked at Activision, and I still use it to this day. It’s a vector graphics program, good for a variety of things, the most obvious being GUI mock-ups. Knowing this specific piece of software would require a special purchase, I got up and walked next door to David’s office. Looking in, I saw David was... well... absent. Perhaps he went out for an early lunch?
As I didn’t bring a lunch, the thought going out for an early bite to eat, to avoid the rush, sounded like a good idea. About this time, Wario happened to stop by.
Wario, “Looking for David?”
Me, “Yeah. I need a copy of Visio.”
Wario, “Isn’t that a flow chart program?”
Me, “You can use it for that, but right now I want it to make GUI mock-ups.”
Wario nodded his understanding, “Well, I saw David talking to a couple different artists.”
Me, frowning, “Okay.”
Wario, “Did Mark tell you about our Wednesday meeting with Jon?”
Me, “Yeah, he did.”
Wario, “Well, I stopped by to tell you, I put a document in the Heroes3 design folder. Jon wants to go over it on Wednesday. It’s a list of community requests, taken mostly from Usenet and the Astral Wizard website.”
Me, “Astral Wizard?”
Wario, “It’s a fansite. Astral Wizard Dot Com. It’s run by a guy named Phil McCrum. You might want to check it out.”
Me, nodding, “Okay. I’ll look at both after lunch. Speaking of which... could you recommend a place for lunch?”
Wario, “I was just about to go to lunch with Peter Ryu. He’s the producer of Might and Magic 6. You can join us if you want.”
Walking to the other end of NWC, Wario and I stopped at the office of Peter Ryu. Peter, looking rather weary, was sitting at his desk when he looked up and saw Wario and myself.
Wario, “Ready for lunch?”
Peter, “Uh... yeah.”
Wario, “Peter this is Greg. Greg... Peter.”
Wario, “Greg’s the designer for Heroes3. He’s going to join us for lunch.”
Peter, “Oh. Okay.”
Exiting the office, on our way to Peter’s car, we decided to eat at a nearby Chinese-American place. Once there, we were quickly seated, and soon thereafter, each of us ordered a ‘lunch plate’; rice or noodles, with mixed vegetables, and a ‘meat item’. Sweet and sour shrimp for me.
Most of the time, when I was working at Activision and DWI, I went out for lunch with people from work. While some people might consider such an activity irrelevant, I thought it was especially valuable. Lunch was the perfect opportunity to learn about, and become friends with, your teammates. Eventually, over the course of production, I would get into a rhythm, and eat with different members of the Heroes3 team on different days of the week. Some of my fondest memories occurred when going to lunch with Jon, David, Phelan, John Bolton, David Richey, Christian Vanover, Jennifer Bullard, and the Map Makers. Here, in this conversational moment, while we waited for our food, I would learn a little more about Wario and Peter.
Wario, noting Peter’s weariness, “Didn’t get enough sleep last night?
Peter, sighing, “Had a meeting with Julia and some artists this morning.”
Wario, chuckling, mocking, “I’m sure that went well.”
Peter shook his head, “Their work doesn’t look good. When I tell them it doesn’t look good, they want to wait for Jon to make the final decision.”
Wario, “That’s assuming Jon can make a final decision. Wasn’t Mark there?”
Peter, “Mark had a phone meeting with 3DO this morning.”
Wario, chuckling, mocking, “Well, I’m sure Mark put Trip in his place.”
I must admit, it was odd to hear Wario, a seemingly nice guy, take respective digs at Jon and Mark. While my collective encounters with both were brief, I had yet to experience any ‘red flags’. Despite Wario’s words giving me pause, I didn’t give the incident too much thought. Everyone bickers about their bosses, and I’m no exception. Complaining about ‘the people in charge’ is a worldwide pastime, and anyone who reads these Newsletters knows my opinion concerning Trip Hawkins.
Regardless, at this point, I suspect Peter realized it was a ‘bad look’ for Wario to be openly bad-mouthing Jon and Mark in front of the new guy. So, he changed the subject, and asked about me, my past work experience, where I was from, etc. Eventually, we got our food, ended up talking about relatively neutral subjects, like the newest game releases, and returned to the office.
After lunch, on our way back to our individual offices, Wario and I ran into David in the hallway. He was carrying a yellow pad and pen.
David, “There’s a company meeting at 2:00pm.”
Me, “What about?”
David, “I don’t remember. It’s in your email.”
It didn’t take long for 1:55pm to roll around. Getting up from my office chair, I went next door and looked in on David. He was there, at this computer, eating a white bread sandwich he’d brought for his lunch.
Me, “Meeting time?”
David, stuffing another bite into his mouth, “Yep.”
Together, David and I returned to the Meeting Room, where earlier we had undergone our company phone training. At its peak, NWC employed around 75 people, and I suspect the head count at this particular time was around 55 or 60.
While the Meeting Room was the biggest room in the office, it could barely hold 60 people. So, David and I were stopped short of the Meeting Room, as there were people lined up to get inside. From the hallway, I could hear Mark above the gathering crowd.
Mark, “Squeeze in. There’s more room by me.”
Eventually, David and I made it into the Meeting Room, but barely. I stood just inside the doorframe, with David next to me, but further inside. About this time, I heard... clopping... coming down the hallway. It was a young woman, wearing roller blades... indoors.
With her arms outstretched, she slowly made her way down the hall, unsteady, occasionally reaching for a wall or doorframe to keep herself from taking a spill. She was small, short, somewhere between 5’1” and 5’4”, with long hair, wearing burgundy leggings, and black roller blades. Among the women at NWC, she was easily the prettiest, but keep in mind, NWC wasn’t exactly a parade of runway models... female or male.
I did my best not to stare, and wondered what the most appropriate action would be should this young lady take a tumble. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Gingerly, she made her way into the Meeting Room and took a seat in an isolated chair next to the floor-to-ceiling bookcase.
With the young lady sitting relatively out of sight, Mark began the meeting. I vaguely, remember him talking about ‘no crunch’ for the remainder of the year, and vacation time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. He then, individually, introduced David, myself, and Jeff, telling everyone our respective names and project roles. It was a quick meeting... and it was over.
As everyone filed out of the Meeting Room, David and I stood and waited. We were almost last to exit... except for the young lady wearing the roller blades. As David and I walked down the hall, back toward our offices, I could hear her ‘clopping’ along behind us. At the time, I didn’t know who she was, but this young lady was Phelan Sykes... the eventual Lead Artist for Heroes3.