Hope each of you is safe.
I have four topics this month, with the Recollection being part 2 of 2.
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. I've been chipping away at it and aim to conclude my efforts in May (fingers crossed).
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Mandrill Berserker.
Small, quick, and deadly, few Troops relish melee combat as much as the Mandrill Berserker. Quick to leap into a skirmish, their lack of fortitude is easily offset by their high lethality. When surrounded by multiple Enemy Divisions, Mandrills become more dangerous. Couple this elevated savagery with an ability to Bleed their enemies, these Berserkers are the personification of frightening.
This one went relatively smooth, and Justin nailed the aggressive personality of the Troop. In the thumbnail stage, my only genuine concern was seeing enough of the Troop’s colorful face, but after a minor adjustment, my apprehensions were dispelled.
Fanstratics Question: Do you consider adding real life animal units? I think it would be a good idea to add some real-life animals like bears, bisons, lions, wolves or maybe deers. I think they would add climate to some forest or desert maps and are great, easy to make (there are many photos, descriptions etc of them) neutral units. I imagine they would be used a lot by map makers for some nature, history or adventure themed maps.
While I do have notes to 'add more animal life' to the Adventure Map (i.e. birds flying overhead, rabbits along the ground, etc.), there are no plans to have 'real-life animal units'. Doing so would definitely make the Adventure Map more 'alive' and interesting, but I suspect it would create confusion, controversy, or both. If players could not attack and kill these animals on the Battlefield, they would wonder, "Why not?" If players could attack and kill these animals, on the Battlefield, I could easily imagine a portion of the fandom calling me a heartless monster for advocating the murder of innocent (virtual) animals. However, where lions, tigers, and bears might be off limits, I must admit... I do like the idea of Dinosaurs.
Fanstratics Question: Do you consider adding historical units? If you don't plan on making historically inspired/themed maps like "Viking We Shall Go!", then these ones would probably not spawn on normal maps, but would be available in the map editor. I think it would be good to have like a few of them. Here are some examples: Conquistador, Redcoat, Jaguar Warrior, Roman Legionary or maybe even a Soviet soldier.
Back when I was working on HoMM3, I do remember one fan suggestion for a 'historical' version of the game. As you point out, it would make little sense for historical troops to appear in a fantasy game, but there is no reason why a 'historical' mod couldn't be crafted by the community. Truthfully, if the art was appropriate, a 'historical' conversion could work. I don't know how successful it would be, but it would definitely be interesting. At this stage, I can't say how far I plan to open up Fanstratics to customization. Still, giving the community the tools they need to create complete conversions is tempting. We'll see.
HoMM3 Recollection: The Game Manual (part 2 of 2).
In mid-December, 1998, New World Computing (NWC), as a company, stopped working for two weeks. On the Saturday before we officially started our ‘Christmas break’, there was a company Christmas party. I didn’t go. Why? I spent all day, every weekday, with these people. What I needed was time away from my co-workers, not more time with them.
Ironically, as work had completely nullified my social life, I didn’t have much to do over my Christmas vacation. So, over Christmas break, I took home with me a second draft copy of the Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3) Game Manual. Between eating and gaming, I proofread successive chapters and was horrified to discover it was riddled with errors.
Two weeks later, I was back at NWC. After I delivered my ‘corrected’ copy of the Game Manual to David Mullich, he quickly turned it around and delivered to me a third draft. According to him, this was our ‘last chance’ to make corrections. Understanding this urgency, David and I spent the entire workday re-reading the entire 144-page Game Manual. When the workday ended, I walked into David’s office and handed over my ‘corrected’ copy.
Me, “I found more errors.”
David, “So did I.”
Me, “When are the corrected pages due?”
David, “Tomorrow morning.”
I thought about it for a second. Publishing a Game Manual with any errors was an unnerving thought.
Me, “Well... I guess I could stay the night and read it a couple more times. I might find more errors.”
David, “Your choice.”
I held out my hand, silently asking David to return my copy of the Game Manual, which I had just handed over.
Me, “I’ll stay.”
Following a quick run to the nearby Jack In The Box, for a Sourdough Jack and a couple Vile Tacos, I returned to my office. After eating, from dinner to midnight, I drank Coca-Cola-after-Coca-Cola to keep myself focused and energized. Re-reading the Game Manual yet again, a part of me thought, if I found nothing more, I could go home. Of course, by the midnight hour, I had discovered more than a couple new errors.
Thinking I needed to read it yet again, I knew I would probably see the sunrise, but for the moment... I need a break. Specifically, I needed a bathroom break as I had more than a couple of ‘free’ Cokes in my system.
Walking through the office, before I turned to exit and venture to the outside bathroom, I peered down the hall and saw Mark Caldwell’s office was illuminated. Outside the NWC office, at the communal building bathroom, I pushed open the door. It was pitch-black inside. From past experience, I knew the lights were tied to a motion sensor, and I fully expected them to light up when I stepped inside. They didn’t.
Standing in complete darkness, with the door closed behind me, my hands fumbled across the cold wall and found the light switch. When I flipped it ‘on’... nothing happened. I flipped it again... nothing.
Bumbling about some more, I found the bathroom door handle, opened the bathroom door, and exited.
Returning to the NWC office, I strode to Mark’s office. I found him at his computer, studying program code displayed on his computer’s monitor.
Me, “The bathroom lights won't turn on."
Mark, looking up, “Yeah. The bathroom lights don't turn on after midnight."
Me, "How do you go to the bathroom with the lights off?"
Mark, chuckling, “Usually, I just feel my way along the inside wall, to the sink, then to the urinal.”
Me, “I need to take a crap."
Mark, laughing, “Hey, I wouldn't know anything about that. Get the flashlight from George (Ruof)."
Me, "I need a flashlight?"
With bladder pressure building, I hurriedly walked to the other end of the building and into George’s darkened office. Sitting hunched over, in front of his computer, reading Usenet posts, his face was illuminated by his monitor. He looked up and toward me.
Me, "Could I borrow your bathroom flashlight?"
Without a word, but with a chuckle, George opened a desk drawn and fished out a small pocket flashlight. It wasn’t much bigger than a well-used pencil.
George, handing the flashlight to me, “I think the batteries still have a charge.”
Not wanting to make the trip for nothing, I pointed the flashlight toward a nearby wall and turned it on. Its batteries were obviously drained, as It didn’t emit much light, but it was better than nothing.
Me, “Alright. Thanks.”
With miniature flashlight in hand, I returned to the communal bathroom.
Inside, in the dark, I turned on the flashlight. As the batteries were weak, the flashlight could not project an intense beam. It had virtually no effect. It helped... a little... but not much.
Envisioning the bathroom, in my head, I knew there were three sinks to my immediate left. Adjacent to the sinks were three urinals. Adjacent to the urinals were three stalls housing toilets, and the stalls extended to the end of the bathroom.
Turning left toward the sinks, I moved the flashlight about, trying to find the countertop. Carefully, through a combination of feeling about and the diminished flashlight beam, I found the countertop, then the urinals, and finally... the first toilet stall.
Inside the bathroom stall... I... well... needed both hands. So, I set the flashlight on the toilet paper dispenser, and through trial and error, managed to situate myself onto the toilet. In the end, I successfully ‘did my business’ and was able to wash my hands before I exited the restroom. Walking back to George’s office, I returned his flashlight and couldn’t help but think, “I guess I now understand how a blind man wipes his backside.”
On my way back to my office, I grabbed another Coca-Cola from the NWC soda machine and started in again. This final read was challenging as I was beginning to tire. To manage my tiredness, I would read a ‘section’ of the manual, then take a break. During my ‘break’, to pass the time, I would browse the internet, then return to proofreading. All things considered, it was going relatively well. Then, around 1:00AM or 2:00AM... the heat automatically turned off.
For those who need help understanding, Los Angeles does not have a 'true winter season'. It doesn’t get snow, but it's built on a desert, and the ground doesn’t retain heat. In December and January, the area tends to warm during the day, but turns surprisingly cold during the mornings and night. At 2:00AM, it must have hovered around 45°F or 7°C. For California, this was cold, and it was getting chilly in the office. Thankfully, I had a jacket.
Sitting in my office, wearing my jacket, with arms crossed and my hands tucked under my elbows, I continued proofreading. Trying not to ponder the next possible obstacle, like the lights automatically turning off, I got into a decent back-and-forth between the Game Manual and my internet browsing. Around 5:00AM, I decided enough was enough.
Setting aside the Game Manual, I quickly wrote an email to David. I explained how I had read the manual twice more, but suspected there were still errors I’d missed. To be safe, I suggested he read it one last time before delivering the corrections to Mars Publishing.
After sending the email, I shut down my computer, picked up the Game Manual proof (with my corrections), turned off my office lights, and walked into David's office next door. Dropping the printed manual on his desk, I exited NWC, being sure to lock the front doors behind me.
Stepping down the building’s interior stairs to the first floor, I felt... ‘sluggish’. I was exhausted and wondered if I had enough energy and mental focus to safely drive home.
Earlier in the year, Jon Van Caneghem (JVC) and Mark had made it clear, if anyone was ‘crunching’, and didn’t feel well enough to drive home, they could go to the Radisson Hotel, on the hill, and stay there for the night. New World Computing would cover the expense. At this moment it time, I felt I qualified.
Exiting the office building, I walked to my car, which happened to be the only car in the parking lot. I squinted at the sun rising in the East. Being at the office in the early morning was a curiously novel experience.
Unlocking my car, I dropped into the driver’s seat, shut the car door, and started my car. Pulling out of the parking lot, I drove the short distance to the Radisson. If I slept until lunchtime, it would be worth it.
After parking outside the Radisson, I walked inside the hotel, but... there was no one around. No one was in the lobby. No one was at the desk. I walked about... looking for someone... anyone... but not a single soul could be found.
There was no service. There was no way to check-in. There was no way to get a room.
For a brief moment, I thought about taking a seat in the lobby and waiting it out, but after walking about... I felt cautiously reinvigorated. Perhaps, I had caught a second wind. Typically, a drive from NWC to my apartment would be 30 to 45 minutes, but it was early in the morning. Thinking it would be a shorter drive, I decided to take the chance. Walking out of the Radisson, I got into my car and drove onto the 134 (Ventura Freeway), heading East.
For a while, everything was fine. I was alert, the sun was in my eyes, and traffic was no worse than a typical drive home after work. Settling into the non-passing lane, I drove to the off-ramp taking me from the 134 to the 405 heading South. This is where I ran into typical Los Angeles traffic.
I couldn’t believe it. It was 5:45AM, and cars were already bumper-to-bumper. I had gone from a stimulating drive to a boring drive. Almost immediately, I began to yawn and blink very slowly.
My suddenly sluggish drive was making me lethargic, and I was struggling to stay alert. Needing stimulation, I rolled down my driver’s side window, but it didn’t help much. Then it happened. For a split second or two... I nodded off. In a panic, I awoke just in time to stop my car from rear-ending the vehicle in front of me.
I wasn’t going to make it home.
I thought about pulling onto the 405’s shoulder and taking a nap. Doing this would no doubt draw the attention of the Los Angeles Police... and a possible ticket. I wasn't sure what to do, but I knew I needed to get off the freeway. Thinking surface streets would be stimulating enough to keep me awake, I took the next exit and quickly found my way to Sepulveda Boulevard.
Sepulveda ran largely parallel to the 405 and had plenty of traffic lights. With my window down, the Los Angeles surroundings would provide plenty of stimulation to keep me awake. This route would also take me close to my neighborhood and my ultimate destination. It was just what I needed, and roughly 45 minutes later, I pulled into the driveway of my small apartment building.
I’d made it.
After parking my car, with my briefcase bag slung over my shoulder, I was numb from head to toe. Trudging to my apartment door, I entered, locked the front door behind me, and tossed my bag onto my futon couch. Shambling to my bedroom, I stripped down to my boxers as I went, tossed my glasses onto my desk, and fell into my bed. Less than a minute later, I was slumbering.
When I eventually woke, it was dark outside. Squinting at the clock on my desk, I deciphered the blurry, illuminated red LEDs... 7:30PM. I’d slept for 12 hours, and I was hungry.
Throwing on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, I called a local Thai restaurant and placed a large order for delivery. A couple of hours later, after eating and watching WWF wrestling, I stumbled back to bed for another 9+ hours of sleep.
When I returned to NWC the following day, I was still foggy. Depositing my briefcase bag in my office, I turned on my computer and walked to David's office next door.
Knocking on the frame of his opened door, I stepped inside and plopped myself into the guest chair. David spun around in his office chair.
David, smirking, clearly amused by persistent exhaustion, “You look tired.”
Me, slouching in the guest chair, “I am.”
David, “How’d it go last night?”
Me, “I’ll tell you about it over lunch. Did you get my email about the manual?”
David, "I did. I read it again and found some errors you’d missed.”
Me, sarcastic, “Wonderful.”
David, “I called Ed and told him about the errors we found. He was able to juggle some things and get us two extra weeks.”
Me, relived to know we weren’t shipping a ‘buggy’ manual, “Okay. Good. But I’m not reading that thing again.”
Me, “We probably should have done that from the start.”
David, smiling, “Probably.”
Me, “So... basically... my working through the night, in my office, was pointless?”
David, “I wouldn’t call it pointless. Unnecessary, perhaps, but we didn’t know that until today.”
Me, “Well, I’m going to take it easy today.”
David, chuckling, “Okay.”
Months later, a couple of weeks after Heroes3 was released to retail, I was in my office when I caught out the corner of my eye, Ben Bent (Office Manager and Producer of Vegas Game 2000). He was in our development area, pushing a plastic office utility cart. Stacked on the cart were copies of Heroes3.
It was 3DO policy for every employee to receive a copy of every game the company developed. I remember receiving complimentary copies of Might and Magic 6 (MM6) and the first Army Men game, but at some point, this policy was abandoned, and I never received another ‘free’ 3DO game after Armageddon’s Blade.
Working at my desk, I couldn’t help but glance toward Ben. He went person-to-person, handing each a fresh copy of Heroes3. I must admit, I felt a sense of pride. After much trial and tribulation, we'd finished the game, and now we had actual physical evidence of our accomplishment.
Eventually, Ben stopped at my office. Continuing to sit in my chair, I rolled back to my opened door, quietly pleased to finally receive my complimentary copy. To my mild surprise, Ben grabbed two copies of HoMM3.
Ben, “And the Lead Game Designer gets two copies.”
Me, “Wow. Thank you.”
Ben, smiling, “You’re welcome.”
As I took both copies from Ben, I couldn’t help but notice the ‘weight’ of the boxes. For a PC game, it felt ‘hefty’. This was primarily due to the Game Manual. It put the weight of the box around ~500 grams or ~1.2 pounds.
From the Map Makers area, Ryan Den saw I had received two copies and called out to me.
Ryan, playfully offended, “You got two copies?”
I held up my copies and smirked at him.
Ryan sarcastically rolled his eyes and jokingly complained, “Not fair.”
Soon thereafter, taking a break from my computer, I wandered to JVC’s office. Along the way, I saw a copy of HoMM3 on each employee’s desk.
When I arrived at JVC's office, he was talking to Scott McDaniel, New World Computing’s marketing, public relations, and sales manager. Jon saw me outside his door.
Jon, “Come in.”
Stepping inside, I sat in one of the two chairs before Jon's desk. Scott, behind JVC’s desk, sat against a low dresser. JVC sat at his desk. To his side rested his two copies of HoMM3.
Jon, "Did you get your copies yet?"
Me, “Yes, I did.”
Directing my attention to Scott, I was curious to know what he thought of the box.
Me, “Are you happy with the final product?”
Scott got up and grabbed one of the boxes from JVC’s desk. He turned it about, looking at it.
Scott had been responsible for the box’s design, and while I wasn’t delighted with his decision to use the game’s 3D models for the art, it presented very well. Its blue and yellow color scheme was engaging and made it stand out.
Scott, “Yeah. I think it came out well.”
Me, “Yeah. I like it too. I was surprised it was so heavy.”
Jon reached over, picked up the remaining box, and felt its weight in his hand. He smiled broadly and turned to Scott, who was also feeling the weight of the box in his hand.
Jon, chuckling, “Do you remember that time we were pitching Might and Magic 3 to that retailer?”
Scott began laughing, “You mean that guy who dropped the box on the table?”
JVC and Scott both began laughing in unison. Of course, I was confused, so Jon began to explain (I am not exactly sure concerning the details of this conversation, but the gist is correct).
Jon, “Since Might and Magic 1, we’ve always included a notepad for mapping dungeons and taking notes. This always gave the boxes some heaviness and made them feel good in your hands. Felt like you were really getting something for your money. Anyway, this was before E3. I think it was at CES. We were showing Might and Magic 3 and met with this retailer. In addition to showing the game, we had a copy of the box with all the includes, like the map and the notepad. As we're talking to this retailer guy, he picks up the box, looks it over, feels the weight of it, then drops it on the table with a 'thud'. He then says, ‘“There! Now that’s a good game!’”
If only I'd known before we started development. Apparently, the big secret to making a good game... is an attractive box with a big block of paper inside... or a big thick Game Manual.