Happy New Year. 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. Regarding any new questions or comments regarding Fanstratics (FST) or Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3), I am still working to clear my queue of existing fan emails. Hopefully, within the next couple of months, I'll be able to repost the correspondence email (fingers crossed).
There is also one correction I would like to make. In last month’s Newsletter, I mentioned Magnus Alm as the Game Designer for Songs of Conquest (SoC). This was incorrect. While Magnus worked on the very early game design and designed a large part of the world and its lore, the actual ‘game designer’ for SoC is Carl Toftfelt. To Carl, I sincerely apologize.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Willow Wisp.
Arguably, the most enigmatic of the Thornwood army are the Willow Wisps. Ghostly and somewhat abstract, these small spirits of the forest appear to be adorable and relatively harmless, yet when compelled to combat, they transform into large, tumultuous, terrifying phantoms. While a Willow Wisp's ghostly form makes it immune to many 'status effects', its uniqueness is derived from its ability to Devour Energy from its enemies. In doing this, Willow Wisps can prevent or delay enemy Rally Assaults, while nurturing their own. This makes them an unusual 'lockdown threat', unlike most on the Battlefield.
When I fed the Wisp description to Justin, I asked for a specific composition to showcase the dual nature of the Troop. He hadn't done something like this before, but he clearly nailed it. I also have a new favorite.
For much of this month, Justin has dealing with the holidays, so there is no VOD. However, there is always his Twitch stream if you want to watch him work on something else.
Fanstratics Question: Will the units have new characteristics so that they have other options for dealing damage? For example, the mind or the amount of the soul.
Not really. There will be a new Energy attribute to trigger a Troop's Rally ability, but nothing in terms of alternative forms of damage.
Fanstratics Question: Will there be objects in FST like crypts or dragon utopias where the hero's army is surrounded? If so, do you plan to make a location for each such object, as if the battle takes place indoors?
There will be specific locations for ‘interior’ battles. However, a Hero’s Army will not be surrounded, as I have something else in mind.
HoMM3 Recollection: Fallout.
My first 'professional' video game job involved working for a start-up SNES developer in Monterey Park, California, in late 1993. It was all very sketchy, and ultimately tragic, but under their employment, I rendered the initial design for a fantasy RPG. While I eventually settled on conventional RPG mechanics, I did research a couple of different non-Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing systems. One of these systems was GURPS.
Created by Steve Jackson Games, and first published in 1986, GURPS is an acronym for Generic Universal RolePlaying System. As stated in its name, the system was designed to apply to any general setting or genre. After purchasing and browsing through different GURPS books, I came to appreciate what the system was attempting to accomplish. Ironically... I found it inapplicable for the video game I was designing. Eventually, the 'sketchy' video game company and its SNES RPG project collapsed, but when it was over, GURPS left an impression on me.
Later, in June of 1996, I purchased a copy of Next Generation magazine from the Village Center Newsstand in Westwood, California. On page 74 of Next Generation 18 (June 1996), I read an excellent article previewing a video game named 'G.U.R.P.S'. This was Fallout before it became Fallout, and because of my previous research into the GURPS system, I was curious about what Interplay was developing. Then, in early 1997, Interplay dropped the GURPS license for Fallout, apparently over 'creative differences', and developed its own role-playing system named SPECIAL. Despite these changes, I was still curious. When Fallout landed on retail shelves in early October, 1997, I was there on release day, at the Best Buy in Thousand Oaks, after work, purchasing a copy.
After enduring the 30-to-45-minute drive from Agoura Hills to my apartment in Westwood, I ate dinner as I installed the game. Starting it up, I had two goals. One... explore what Interplay had done with their converted GURPS/SPECIAL system. Two... determine if Fallout, a 2D RPG, could deliver a competitive experience in the middle of a growing 3D revolution. Like Fallout, Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3) was going to be 2D, and I wondered if there was still a market for non-3D game experiences.
From the outset, it quickly became apparent, Fallout was unlike any RPG I'd ever played before... either with pen and paper... or on a computer. Obviously, the genre was not fantasy. While I knew there were plenty of non-fantasy RPG's (Gamma World, Villains and Vigilantes (which would later fuel my love for City of Heroes), and Cyberpunk 2020)... I had never played them.
In games like D&D, the experience was mainly about monsters and adventure. Fallout was about the dangerous wasteland environment, the surviving people, and their precarious situations. With numerous branching storylines and natural consequences, you felt your decisions' moral and economic weight, making it the most dramatic RPG I'd ever played. Helping create this sense of 'drama', were two elements of the original Fallout which often go underappreciated.
First was the game’s music. Unlike the grandiose orchestrations of HoMM2, Fallout’s music was tense and moody, much like X-COM from Microprose.
Second was the game's animations. While I like Fallout's art style, the animations and accompanying sound effects were more impressive. In fact, I was so impressed with the numerous and unique death animations, I restarted my game just so I could begin with the perk: ‘Bloody Mess’.
In fact, because Fallout was so different, I must have restarted the game at least three times. With each restart, I learned something new about the game's scheme and mechanics, realizing my previous RPG experiences were inadequate. Eventually, I settled on a satisfactory character composition and trekked into the wasteland.
My main quest was finding a Water Purification Chip critical to the survival of Vault 13. Together with this necessary quest, I unconsciously determined I would play a ‘hero’ and pursue a good reputation path (eventually renamed Karma). I purposely chose to be the good man in a grim world swimming in amorality... and it was challenging. When I arrived in Junktown, everything changed, and... I couldn’t wait to tell Dustin Browder about it.
When the following Friday arrived, I drove to Dustin's condo in Van Nuys for another marathon session of network gaming. Before starting, we ate dinner, socialized, and caught up. This was also my opportunity to tell my 'Fallout story'.
Me, "Did you pick up Fallout?"
Dustin, “Almost. Wasn’t sure. I’ve got copies of CGW and PC Gamer I haven’t read yet. I think both of them have gave it good reviews.
For the record, these were the scores...
Computer Gaming World: 4.5 of 5 stars.
PC Gamer (US): 90%.
Next Generation: 4 of 5 stars.
After explaining my personal history with GURPS, and my justification for purchasing Fallout, we got to the real meat of the conversation.
Me, “Well, I bought it on release day. Blind. I’ve been playing it all week. Highly recommended.”
Dustin chuckled, “Okay.”
Me, “Are you going to buy it?”
Me, “There’s something I want to tell, but I don’t want to spoil the game.”
Dustin, “How far are you in?”
Me, “Not sure. 15%? 20%?”
Dustin shrugged, “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure we’ll have different experiences.”
Me, "Okay. I've been working through the game, doing all the quests, building up a good reputation."
Dustin, “It has a reputation system?”
Me, “Yeah. Do good things, get good reputation points. Do bad things, get bad reputation points. Your reputation influences how NPCs treat you."
Dustin, nodding his understanding, “Okay.”
Me, “Anyway, I arrived at this place called Junktown. I meet this guy who runs a store. He wants me to get a confession from this other guy who runs a local casino. I record the casino guy’s confession, return to the shop owner, and complete the quest. He then wants me to help him kill the casino guy. I take the quest. We pick up another NPC, then go to the casino. We have a shootout. Now, I’m probably under-leveled for this quest, so I spend a ton of Stimpaks to keep from dying.”
Me, “Health potions.”
Me, "So, we kill the casino guy, and end up back in the guy's shop. He thanks me and offers me a reward. It's like a shotgun, some leather armor, and a couple of Stimpaks. Well, I already have a shotgun, I already have leather armor, and I spent more than five Stimpaks to complete the quest. All I really got was a little experience. It was a net loss.”
Dustin laughed, “So? What did you take?”
Me, “I took the five Stimpaks. If I’d known the potential rewards before the fight, I’d have passed on it. I felt like I’d been ripped off.”
Dustin shrugged, smirking, “Okay.”
I looked directly at Dustin and squinted, "So..."
Dustin’s eyes widened, “What did you do?”
Me, "Up to this point, I'd been walking the straight and narrow."
Dustin covered his face with this hand, “Oh, no.”
Me, “But, I’ve got an entire vault of people depending on me to find a stupid Water Purification Chip so everyone doesn't die. What was I getting for being the good guy? Nothing but abuse. And once again, I was getting ripped off."
Shaking his head, Dustin asked, “Did you steal all of his stuff?”
Me, “Yeah... after I blew him away.”
Me, “I mean, I would have asked for more, but there wasn’t any method of doing that. He had an entire shop full of stuff, and my Steal skill was non-existent. He would have seen what I was doing and shot me anyway. So... I pulled out my shotgun... and blew him away.”
Dustin, “Did that fail the quest?”
Me, "No. It was after the quest was complete."
Dustin, “There weren’t any guards?”
Me, “No. We were the only two in the shop.”
Me, "Yeah. There's a ton of freedom in the game. I took as much as I could carry and left town without any issue. I sold everything I didn't need in the next town. It was very profitable."
Dustin, “So, you’re a bad guy now?”
Me, "Either that or anti-hero. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get the Water Chip, and the 'wasteland' seems to reward killers."
Dustin, “Sounds like a pretty cool game.”
Me, “Like I said. Highly recommended.”
Continuing to play Fallout, my singular goal was finding the Water Purification Chip within the roughly 150 days allotted by the quest. Making my way through the wasteland, I painted a bloody path as I embraced my character's amoral philosophy, where the ends justified the means. If killing an NPC got me closer to finding the Water Chip, I didn't hesitate.
Roughly 30 days before the conclusion of my quest to ‘Find the Water Chip’, I was able to locate and defeat the Master of the Super Mutants. Completing this ‘ultimate’ quest allowed me to set my companions free and return to Vault 13. It was time to finish the game.
At the entrance to Vault 13, I handed over the Water Purification Chip and ended the 'Find the Water Chip' quest. Immediately thereafter, as the Overseer spoke, a sense of dread washed over me. With the Water Chip now in his possession, he thanked me... and turned me away. I was stunned. I then LOL’d at what happened next.
Sitting there, I listened as the game narrated my impact on the world via a collection of pictures.
I was... affected.
Prior to Fallout, I had been 'touched' by various video game experiences, but the emotions were typically happiness or exhilaration. This was the first time I felt... sad. Keep in mind, this wasn't a story-driven sadness resulting from the death of a secondary, well-loved character. This was a sadness driven by 'personal rejection'. My character traveled into the dangerous wasteland, became a monster to save the good people of Vault 13, and for my successful efforts... I had been cast out.
When I returned to work at New World Computing (NWC), I wanted to share the uniqueness of my Fallout experience. I couldn't wait to discuss the game with someone... anyone. After broaching the subject to several different people, it became clear... I was the only person at NWC playing Fallout. I was genuinely surprised. Why wasn't everyone in this office playing Fallout?
When Wednesday arrived, I caught Jon Van Caneghem (JVC) in his office. There wasn’t any pressing game design to discuss, but I did want to talk about Fallout. It was laying the evolutionary groundwork for the future of RPGs, and if Jon wasn’t playing it, at the very least, I thought he should know about it.
Me, “Have you tried Fallout?”
Jon thought about it for a second, "Fallout? That's from Interplay, right?"
Me, “Yeah. Takes place after a nuclear war.”
Jon's face soured, and he waved his hand, "Meh."
Me, mildly taken aback, “Not interested?”
Jon, “Not a fan of the genre. Are you?”
Me, “Uh... yeah. Absolutely. It's a unique universe. There's also the GURPS-like role-playing system, a huge number of branching storylines, and a reputation system. There's a lot there to look at. It's... honestly... the best RPG I've ever played."
Upon saying this, I realized, a little too late... I'd just slighted Jon. I basically said, to his face, not a single Might and Magic was equal to the just-released Fallout. Might and Magic 3 (MM3) was and is still my favorite RPG, but Fallout had built upon it and was, in my opinion, the current reigning king of the RPG genre.
While I had only known Jon for a couple of months, this was the first time I saw a blind spot in his creativity. Jon's outright dismissal of Fallout was disconcerting. Other companies were not only evolving technologically, but they were also advancing gameplay design.
Might and Magic 6 (MM6) was still in development and did not have Fallout's design depth. Sure, it looked like a lot of fun, and to my understanding, in the years they were immediately available, MM6 actually outsold Fallout. Yet, NWC was quickly falling behind other developers regarding art, design, and technology.
It had been short two or three months since I joined NWC and 3DO. Already, a seed of doubt had been planted regarding their shared future... and my future with them.