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 (email@example.com). 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: Faith Archer.
Upon initial inspection, Faith Archers appear to be rather typical, until they tie on their blindfolds and raise their runic long bows. Given special regard amongst the Allegiant, the faith infused arcane arrows of these battlefield specialists, have a chance to execute Demonic or Undead Enemy Troops... from range. It is rare to see low-level Troops strike fear into top-level Troops, but if Faith Archers are present in your Army, every Necrotic or Infernal Enemy Troop is vulnerable.
Visually and mechanically, it isn’t easy finding ways to distinguish the various ranged troops, so the Faith Archer was something of an experiment. At first, the Nun elements were too prominent, but after a quick adjustment, we had something. Another favorite. :-)
Unfortunately, for this month, Justin has been fighting illness, so there is no VOD. However, there is always his Twitch stream if you want to watch him work on something else.
Some of you may remember, in early November of last year, I contracted Covid for the second time in two years. I suspect it was the Omicron variant, as it was going around at the time. After eight weeks, I thought I had shaken the illness, but two weeks later... it returned. Since then, I have remained ill, and have what is typically called Long Haul Covid or Long Covid.
April 2022 marked my fifth month of persistent symptoms. November 2022 will be twelve months, and my symptoms continue with little to no improvement. In short, my current health is rather poor.
While my symptoms are numerous, the biggest offender is ‘chronic myocarditis’. Myocarditis is caused by a viral infection (Covid), and leads to an inflammation of the heart muscle. My persistent symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, rapid heart rhythm, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, and shortness of breath. Taking vitamins and pain killers (two or three times a day), while sticking to a low carb diet, helps blunt my symptoms, but there is no ‘cure’ (at least not yet). Considering all of the aforementioned, I can function ‘normally’ for about 1 to 3 hours at the start of each day, depending on a number of factors.
I don’t know when this illness will end. On the Reddit Covid Long Haul forum, there are individuals who are marking 2+ years, with no end in sight. Truthfully, if it wasn’t for family support, I don’t know what I would do.
Does this mean Fanstratics is on hold or canceled? As I have stated before... absolutely not... but development has suffered significantly. So, when it comes to screenshots, videos, demos, and crowd funding, there will be no hard deadlines. We will publish the respective materials, and announce the respective events, when they are ready. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.
What I wanted to ask you - will you add gods to your game, mention them, or even gods in the form of bosses? I would really like to see gods in your game, in the form of bosses or at least text mentions from time to time, statues that give some kind of bonuses. I haven't fully figured out how your game will play out, but I would also like to see some kind of villain like Hexis from Heroes 4 who wants to destroy the world and has an army of unique units that cannot be hired just like that.
This is a difficult question for me to answer for one very simple reason. I have hashed out loose storylines for two different campaigns. In each campaign, there is a fair amount of mystery involving the respective protagonists and the nature of the Fanstratics world. If I were to answer your question, I would effectively reveal each story’s ending.
Think of it this way. Imagine a fan who hasn’t played Might and Magic asking Jon Van Caneghem, “Are there any ‘gods’ in your game?” Jon replies, “No. When you get to the end, you find out it’s all science fiction involving spaceships, super computers, and a malfunctioning android. There’s really no magic or mythology at all.” Such a public response would effectively kill the ‘twist’ ending.
At this stage, I don’t want to publish any deep lore or story details, so I must respectfully decline to answer your question. I hope you understand.
HoMM3 Recollection: Stumbling Out of the Gate (part 2 of 3).
In our first days at New World Computing, David and I were arguably thrown into the deep end. There was no ‘freshman orientation’ pointing out the location of office supplies, the kitchen, the communal printer, etc. It seemed Mark’s instruction regarding the office phone system was the best it was going to get. When I went looking for David to discuss potential priorities, he was noticeably absent from his office. Where he was and what he was doing... was a mystery.
On the morning of the second day, I sat at my desk wondering, “What should I do?” One part of me wanted to seize the design reigns, but another part of me urged caution as I was still figuring out New World Computing’s (NWC) nebulous cultural and political landscape. Myself, David, and Wario had an ‘official’ team meeting with Jon Van Caneghem on Wednesday. Until then, my hands were somewhat tied. With this in mind, I went about preparing for the meeting.
In general, when possible, I prioritize the ‘easy stuff’ first. It allows you to get started, relatively easily, and build momentum to tackle the more difficult stuff at a later time. So, my first tasks involved re-organizing my ‘brainstorm’ notes, from my interview, and reading the ‘community suggestions’ assembled by George Ruof. It didn’t take long to finish these two tasks, leaving the Astral Wizard website.
Up to this point, in 1997, I had experienced two types of internet speed: consumer and business. At my apartment, I had ‘consumer’ internet, where I was able to download content at a sluggish 56Kbps via a dial-up connection. At Activision and Dreamworks Interactive (DWI), I experienced ‘business’ internet, where I was able to download content at a blazing fast 45 Mbps via a T3 internet connection. To understand the difference, consider this. Downloading a 10MB file, on a 56Kbps connection, took ~26 minutes. On a 45Mbps connection, it took ~1 second.
Thankfully, NWC had every office computer hooked up to the internet and it was fast. With such a speedy connection, webpages appeared in a blink of an eye. This was especially useful when I began absorbing the Astral Wizard website.
With the advent of HTML and server hosting, people were beginning to migrate from Usenet, to specialized websites dedicated to a single title or series. While these communities were few and relatively small, for obvious reasons, they were passionate. Only the most active people had internet accounts, and only the most active people established and grew their interests on the internet. Amongst these groups, was the rapidly growing Quake community, with ‘machinima’ and numerous mods like Capture the Flag, Team Fortress, and my personal favorite Painkeep.
When Wario made me aware of the Astral Wizard website, I must admit I was genuinely surprised by the presence of the Heroes of Might and Magic (HoMM) community. Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (HoMM2) didn’t possess the same ‘mindshare’ as Civilization 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Tomb Raider, or Quake, yet here was an established, dedicated, and growing fanbase. This wasn’t something I could ignore.
In 1997, as I mentioned, any fansite dedicated to any game was uncommon... for good reasons. First, a person was expected to pay over $100... each month... $2400 year... to run the website (~$4150 in 2022 USD). Second.. while there were WYSIWYG editors available, they weren’t free and they weren’t friendly... meaning, one some level, a person had to know HMTL to build the website. Bottom line, running a fansite was true passion project, as it typically was a one-way burn of your money and time.
Astral Wizard wasn’t the only Might and Magic fansite, but it was arguably the most prominent. Built and run by a man named Phil McCrum, Astral Wizard covered everything HoMM.
HoMM1: stats, strategies, and maps.
HoMM2: stats, strategies, and maps.
As I began to ingest each section of the website, I took the first steps toward a critical realization. Community was a factor. Only later would I realize, like so many other game companies, we were on the bleeding edge of company/community relations.
On Wednesday morning, John Van Caneghem (JVC) came into the NWC office around 10 AM. Soon thereafter, he appeared outside of the offices of both myself and David. We both spun around in our respective office chairs, and spoke with him through our open office doors. Almost identical to Mark Caldwell, Jon leaned up against the opposite wall, in the hallway, so he could simultaneously address both David and myself.
Jon, “Settled in?”
David, “Getting there.”
Me, “I’ve got my system set up. Been reading the Astral Wizard website.”
Jon nodded, “That’s good site.”
After a momentary pause, JVC continued, “In about half-an-hour, why don’t we meet in my office, and go over the community requests for Heroes3.”
Jon stood up, “Good. I’ll go tell Wario to be there.”
As general rule, I think ‘design meetings’ involving more than 2 people is a very bad idea. In any communal, creative endeavor, there is only room for one vision of the final product. When you have ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’, conflicting egos and agendas create confusion, disharmony, and a mediocre result. In game development, typically, the singular person shouldering the burden of the ‘game vision’ is either the Lead Game Designer or the Game Director.
As Lead Game Designer, I assumed it was my job to fashion the ‘game vision’ for HoMM3, while giving deference to JVC, Mark, and David. So, at first blush, I was mildly annoyed there was a meeting to discuss community suggestions. I assumed most of the suggestions would be ‘design related’, but on second thought... there might be plenty of other issues relating to production and programming. So, I bit my tongue.
Five minutes before the meeting was to begin, I grabbed a yellow notepad, pen, my brainstorm document from my job interview, and the list of community suggestions. Walking next door to David, I knocked on David’s open door.
David spun around in his chair, “Yes.”
Grabbing his own yellow notepad and pen, he picked up his copy of the community suggestions. Together, we walked to Jon’s office. JVC’s door was open, and inside, Jon was at his desk, working on his computer. He looked up and smiled as David and I stepped inside.
Jon, “Take a seat.”
A medium-sized round table, basically a card table, had been pulled from the corner and sat in a more central location. I took a seat on the far end, and David took a seat on my left. At this point, Wario appeared in the doorway, with a notepad and community suggestions in hand. He walked inside and took a seat next to David. Seeing Wario, Jon grabbed his copy of the community suggestions, got up, walked over, and took the last seat at the table.
Jon, “Shall I just start at the top.”
Wario, “Might as well.”
I don’t vividly remember much from this specific meeting. As for the list itself, I was told George Ruof had assembled various requests from Usenet and the Astral Wizard website, and truthfully, there wasn’t much to it. Most of the suggestions were obvious, very general, focused on ‘quality of life’ issues, and barely filled the page. Going over the list, we discussed what we considered ‘required’.
Keep specific heroes from HoMM2, like Sandro the Necromancer, Halon the Wizard, Lord Haart, Crag Hack the Barbarian, Gem the Druid, Yog the Barbarian, and Alamar the Warlock.
Upgrades for all Troops.
Ability to seat a Hero in a Town’s Garrison.
‘Right click’ support for all game objects.
Better network and internet support.
Make the Map Editor in Windows, using Windows conventions, and avoid making it a completely custom application.
For me, what stood out from this meeting, was the interaction between Jon and Wario. At every opportunity, Wario proactively debated Jon’s assumptions and decision making.
Jon, “Well, I think 800x600 is a must.”
Wario, “Do you want 640x480 and 800x600?”
Jon, “No. Just 800x600.”
Wario, “Are we going to abandon 640x480?”
Jon, “In a year-and-a-half, people are going to have faster computers.”
Wario, “Not everyone. There are still going to be plenty of people with slow computers and there will be potential frame rate issues.”
Jon, “It’ll be fine. Just assume 800x600, and only 800x600, for now.”
Wario, shrugging, “If you say so.”
This passive-aggressive back-and-forth repeated itself with almost every item on the suggestion list.
Jon, “Okay. We should add at least one new town type.”
Wario, “You want more than one?”
Jon looked at me, “We’ll figure it out.”
Wario, “Are you going to keep the same number of monster tiers.”
Me, looking at Jon, “I’ll need to do some research first. Figure out what makes sense.”
Wario, “Well then, you have a lot of work to do.”
This whole ‘scene’ was suddenly very odd, and something about our emerging team dynamic was very wrong. Wario was proactively bullying Jon on almost every issue regarding the game, and was acting like he was in charge of the project. He was derailing the meeting and sidelining both myself and David.
While I had my list of ‘brainstorming’ notes, I didn’t bother bringing it up. What was the point? It would simply create more passive aggressive conversation. Instead, I kept my contributions relatively concise and played a waiting game.
After a quick thirty minutes, Jon declared we had covered enough. Unsure as to my ‘marching orders’, I spoke up, directing my question toward Jon and David.
Me, “Okay. I’ve got a list of stuff I need to flesh out, but I’m not sure where I should start. I’m thinking interface. It’ll need to change for 800x600.”
Wario, “Not necessarily.”
Me, “More than likely. I’ll work it out. When it’s ready, I’ll let everyone know.”
Wario, “Fine. I’m still going through Phil’s code. Just let me know when you are ready to show it to me.”
There it was again... the natural assumption of his authority... when ‘it’ was ready to show to ‘him’... not the ‘team’. Purposely discounting my interaction with Wario, I continued my conversation toward Jon.
Me, “I searched the network, but couldn’t find any design documentation for Heroes2. Where do I look?”
Wario smirked as he left Jon’s office.
Jon, smiling, “Well, we kinda designed Heroes2 on the fly. There’s spreadsheets with data, but no real design documents. You could talk to Paul Rattner, he might have some documents you could look at. Besides, you should talk to him about story.”
Me, “Okay. Where’s his office?”
Jon pointed to his office back wall, “Adjacent to mine. Other side of this wall.”
Jon then directed a question toward David.
Jon, “Any luck?”
Jon smiled, “Your search.”
David, chuckling, “Oh. I’m still interviewing people. Probably until the end of the week.”
Departing from Jon’s office, David took a left and returned his office, while I took a right and began looking for Paul Rattner.
JVC’s office was bookended by two other offices. One belonged to Ben Bent, who was producing Vegas Games 2000, while the other was occupied by Paul. Positioned opposite the supplies room, Paul’s office was typical; rectangular and gray. Like most at NWC, Paul sat at his desk, with his back to an opened door. I politely knocked and Paul casually spun around his office chair.
Me, “I’m looking for Paul Rattner?”
Paul, easy going, smiling, “That’d be me.”
Me, “I’m Greg. I’m designing Heroes3.
Paul’s smile broadened. Getting up from his chair, he put out his hand.
Paul, “Jon told me they’d hired a designer for Heroes.”
I returned the smile and shook Paul’s hand. He gestured to his only ‘guest’ chair.
Paul, “Take a seat.”
I happily sat down and settled in.
Me, “Jon said I should talk to you about story.”
Paul, “Ah. Yes. What exactly did he say?”
Me, “Talk to Paul about story.”
Paul, chuckling, “Well. Did he tell you we’re trying to string together the story from one game to the next?”
Paul, “Ah. Okay. Basically, we want the story in Heroes3 to pick up where Might and Magic 6 (MM6) leaves off.”
At this stage, MM6 was still in production, and wouldn’t land on retail shelves for another eight months.
Paul, laughing, “But, I haven’t finished the story yet.”
Me, “Oh. Okay.”
Paul, “You could follow Queen Catherine.”
Me, “Who’s Queen Catherine?”
Paul, “She’s Roland’s wife. She’s on a ship, on her way back home to visit her father. I haven’t done anything on her story, so it’d be wide open. You could do something with her, and you wouldn’t have to worry about what I’m doing on Might and Magic.”
Me, nodding my head, “Yeah. I like that. Sounds good.”
Paul, “Yeah. You’d have a blank slate. Just keep me in the loop, so we don’t end up painting ourselves into a corner.”
Me, smiling, “Not a problem. Also, I wanted to ask you about Heroes design documentation. Is there any?”
Paul, chuckling, “Not really. There’s game data in spreadsheets on the network, but no real formal documentation. We just kinda did it as we went.
Me, exhaling, “Okay. Well, I’ve got Heroes2 and the Astral Wizard website. I’ll figure it out.”
Paul, “The Astral Wizard has some good information there.”
Me, “There is some, but not what I was hoping to see. The forums were the most interesting.”
Paul, shaking his head, “Yeah. World’s changing. With Might and Magic 3, 4, and 5, we really had no idea if people liked the games or not. All we had to go on was sales. Now, if fans like it or don’t like it, we know within days via emails or forum posts.”
Me, “Yeah. This whole internet thing is both exciting and terrifying”
With our conversation at a natural conclusion, I said ‘goodbye’ and departed Paul’s office.
On Monday morning, of my second week, I poked my head into David’s office before entering my own. While the overhead lights to David’s office were illuminated, David was once again... missing. Because of David’s sporadic absence, we hadn’t spoken as much as I would have liked, and I simply wanted to keep him up to date regarding my tasks.
Returning to my office, I started up my computer and unpacked my black briefcase bag. As I sat down to my computer, David walked past my door, on his way to his office.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I quickly got up and retuned to David’s office. He was sitting down as I stepped back inside.
Me, “Morning. Got time to talk?”
Me, “Just wanted to keep you in the loop as to what I am doing.”
David, “Sure. Actually...”
David pointed to his door.
David, “Close the door.”
I casually closed the door and took a seat in David’s guest chair.
Me, “Since our meeting with Jon, I’ve been working on the revised interface for the Adventure Map, using the new 800x600 resolution. As you may recall, there’s no formal Heroes2 design documentation, so I’ve been simultaneously reverse engineering Heroes2 and designing Heroes3. I’m thinking I’ll have a mock-up I can show you and Wario by Wednesday morning.”
David, “Good. You can also show it to our new art director.”
Me, “We have an art director now?”
David, “Well. You may have noticed, I’ve been out of my office a lot.”
Me, “Yeah. I’ve noticed.”
David, “Remember how I told you Jon and Mark weren’t happy with the art on Heroes2, and wanted me to try finding a new art lead within the company before looking outside?”
David, “Well, I’ve been interviewing the artists.”
Me, “Oh. Okay. Any luck?”
David, chuckling, “From Monday to Friday, I talked to almost all of the artists in the company. I kinda framed it as a meet and greet and spoke to them in their cubes. Most of them were satisfied with New World’s overall art quality, and thought it was easy working at the company... except for one. She was almost the last one I spoke with, and she was not happy. She thought everyone else was lazy and the art quality could be significantly better. You might have seen her about. Her name is Phelan Sykes. She’s somewhat short. Longish brown hair.”
Me, “You mean the girl wearing the rollerblades around the office?”
David, “Yeah. That’s her.”
Me, curious, “Did you ask her why she’s been wearing rollerblades around the office?”
David, “I did. She said she wanted to learn how to rollerblade, and thought the fastest way was to wear them as much as possible. Which included wearing them around the office.”
Me, smirking, “Oh-kay.”
David, “I just spoke to Mark this morning, and he approved of my choice. Phelan still has some work to do for Might and Magic 6, but she has already accepted.”
By Tuesday evening, I had put the finishing touches on my revisions to the Heroes3 Adventure Map GUI. Using H2 art, from screenshots I’d taken, I used Photoshop to create a ‘mock-up’. It looked very much like the Adventure Map you can currently see in the Succession Wars mod for Heroes3.
I’d considered holding the ‘meeting’ in my office, but fitting three additional people into my area would have been a tight squeeze. So, I sent an email, telling David, Phelan, and Wario, to meet me in the central NWC Meeting Room.
On Wednesday, just before 10:30 AM, I walked to the NWC Meeting Room. There, I turned on the room computer, with its 17” monitor, and copied a single BMP file from the network to the desktop. I was installing a copy of ACDSee when David walked into the room, followed shortly by Phelan. As this was the first time, I had formally met Phelan, David introduced us.
David, “Greg, this is Phelan, she’s going to be our art lead.”
Phelan and I shook hands.
Me, smiling, “Hello.”
Phelan, nodding, “Hey.”
As Phelan and I exchanged our greetings, Wario walked into the room. With everyone present, I began the meeting.
Me, starting with Phelan, “If David didn’t tell you, we’re moving Heroes3 to an 800x600 resolution. So, I spent last week revising the interface for the Adventure Map, and I wanted to show everyone what it looked like.”
I selected my ‘H3_Interface.bmp’ file, and dragged it onto the shortcut for ACDSee. It opened and I expanded the image to fill the screen, displaying my mock-up for the Heroes3 Adventure Map interface. David and Phelan gave it a quick look.
David, smiling, “I like it.
Phelan, “Yeah. Looks good.”
I started pointing out the various features.
Me, “I tried to keep the overall scheme the same. The Mini-map, Heroes, and Town buttons are essentially the same. Context Window is bigger. Resources are now along the bottom and always visible. You don’t need to select a Town or go into it to see what you have. Same for the Date. I made the Next Hero and End Turn buttons bigger as you tend to use them more. As for the others, I basically tried to take as many keyboard commands and turn them into buttons. Things like the Treasure Map, Dig, and Adventure Options.
Wario leaned over, looked at the monitor and squinted.
Wario, “Everything’s too small.”
Me, “Well, you’re standing away from the computer, not sitting at your keyboard, in front of the monitor.”
Wario, “You didn’t scale up the tiles?”
Me, “No. I kept the existing dimensions and just utilized the new space.”
Me, puzzled by the question, “To see more of the Adventure Map.”
Wario, “What are the extra buttons?”
Me, “Those are placeholders for new features. Things like an Underground Map, Quest Log, and the ability to put a Hero to Sleep.”
David and Phelan didn’t say anything, but Wario scrunched up his face, like I’d just farted in his general direction.
Wario, “Underground Map? Quest Log?”
Me, “Yeah. Those are some features I want to put in.”
At this point, Wario, unexpectedly, raised his voice... toward me.
Wario, “A Quest Log? THIS ISN’T MIGHT AND MAGIC. THIS IS A STRATEGY GAME.”
As much as Wario’s tone was elevated, it was also disrespectful. Immediately, my anger surged, but I did my best to internalize it.
Me, “It’s a strategy game with role-playing elements. Optional quests and a quest log are perfectly reasonable.”
Up to this point, there was something about Wario I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but here... with my proactive design work... I had flushed it out into the open.
Wario, “Have you talked to Jon about this?”
And there it was... his power play.
Who was going to define the vision for the game... him or me?
More importantly, who had Jon’s ear... him or me?
Me, “Not yet, but I will.”
I had called this team meeting as a courtesy, attempting to relay the initial vision for the game’s GUI, attempting to get everyone on the same page. This gathering wasn’t required, but I was trying to be an inclusive team player. David and Phelan were open and welcoming... Wario was not. Clearly, Wario was attempting to bully me in a fashion similar to what he had done with Jon when we discussed the list of community suggestions. Wario assumed he had some sort of ‘veto power’ regarding my design decisions, and I strongly suspect he thought something similar of David’s production decisions. Wario expected me to submit to his theoretical authority. My answer?
I wanted to cut loose. I wanted to yell at him and have it out, but I managed to contain my rage... to a degree.
Me, burning with anger, growling, “That’s it. That’s all I wanted to show.”
I closed ACDSee and my interface mock-up. Leaving behind David, Phelan, and Wario, I stormed out of the Meeting Room and entered into the hallway. Wario’s disrespect had made me furious.
Up in front of me, to my left, quickly coming closer, was the door to JVC’s office. It was closed, which implied Jon was busy and didn’t necessarily want to be disturbed.
I don’t know what came over me, but I did not want to work at a company where someone like Wario had the power to govern my design decisions. In a split second... I decided I was ready to walk away. It was bold, pure, and honest. So, I put it all on the line.
I stopped at JVC’s door and peered through the door frame’s side window. Jon was sitting as this desk. Half-sitting on the corner of JVC’s desk, conversing with Jon, was Mark.
I grabbed the door’s lever, pushed open the door, and stepped into JVC’s office. Both Jon and Mark glanced up and toward me. Immediately, they were taken aback. While I didn’t have a mirror, I suspect I wore an intensely angry expression.
Me, growling, “Am I designing Heroes3 or not?”
JVC and Mark both looked at me... puzzled.
JVC, “Uh... yes. That’s why we hired you.”
Me, demanding, “Who do I have to worry about when it comes to my design decisions?”
Mark, suspecting a power play was occurring, smirked, “When it comes the Heroes3 design, the only opinion you have to worry about is Jon’s.”
Mark looked up and to the side, thought about it a second and chuckled, “Maybe me.”
After less than two weeks of employment, I had just walked into Jon’s office, put my employment on the line... and got the answer I wanted.
Looking at JVC and Mark, still tight with anger, I tried my best to be courteous, “Thank you.”
As I backed out of Jon’s office, both he and Mark acknowledged my gratitude with a nod. I pulled the door to JVC’s office shut, and continued on to my office.
Once in my office, I took a seat at my desk and tried to cool down. A moment later, David appeared and rapped on my opened door. I spun around in my chair.
David, casually, “Everything alright?”
I looked at David, “No more design meetings. From here forward, it’s just me and Jon. Unless you want to be there.”
Thankfully, David was gracious. In hindsight, I suspect he was happy I had seized near complete control of the design process.
Seemingly amused by my subsiding anger, David smirked, “Nah. You take care of it. Just keep me updated.“
Behind David, I saw Wario walk past my door, on his way to his office.
He didn’t stop.
He didn’t look.
Chin up, arrogant, he ignored David and I... and kept walking.