Hope each of you is safe and healthy.
I have four topics this month, including a new ‘HoMM3 Recollection’.
As for existing community emails and questions, I am still working to close the handful remaining in my queue. Concerning the future, I have decided to indefinitely withhold publishing the ‘questions and comments’ email. Properly responding to community inquiries takes time and effort, and my personal ‘bandwidth’ is an issue. With my continuing bad health, work hours have become a precious commodity. I would rather spend time chipping away at the game’s vertical slice than clarifying ‘why this’ or ‘why that’. I hope you understand.
Moving forward, I plan to continue showcasing new concept art, new
‘HoMM3 Recollections’, and eventually other media, while working through the accumulated community questions.
As always, ‘thank you’ to everyone who wrote, especially those with positive sentiments.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Cultist
Cultists have chosen to compromise their humanity for short-term arcane empowerment. This self-destructive path of darkness and corruption gives them exceptional arcane skills, and the ability to assault Enemy Troop Divisions from a distance. Utilizing an 'arcane heart', pulled from their own bodies, the assault from Cultists may cause Enemy Troops to explosively 'combust' and injure other nearby Enemy Troops. Additionally, upon death, Cultists themselves will occasionally 'combust', creating an explosive effect harming nearby Enemy Troop Divisions. This unique trait not only makes Cultists risky to assault in hand-to-hand melee combat, but it also makes them a tempting target to sacrifice for tactical advantage.
Less distinct Troops are actually more difficult to conceptualize than say... a Minotaur or Medusa. For this Troop, after the initial round of thumbnails, I basically crossed my fingers and put my faith in Justin. Once again, he came through. :-)
No VOD this month. However, there is always his Twitch stream if you want to watch him work on something else.
Fanstratics Question: I always enjoyed how all the non-human species (such as minotaur, lizardmen, goblins and so on) were part of some societies one way or another in the RPG series and in HoMM3-4. Like in MM8 you could see minotaur and trolls included in other societies such as dark elves (and dark elves in MM didn't hit the stereotypical "elf but evil" concept), in HoMM3 and HoMM4 you could see different species take up positions of heroes and some of them were equals. Like say the same minotaur heroes in HoMM3 who coexisted with the warlocks of the Dungeon town, how human coexisted with lizardmen and Gnolls. It seems to be unique enough and nowadays I don't see anything similar being done nowadays with fantasy. Like Ubisoft more or less gave up on this and this is one of the aspects that made Might and Magic really unique for me. Different creature species acting like people and being accepted as such to an extent. Heck, you could even see the undead function as a society in MM8 with their own ambitions and passions that wasn't just being an evil necromancer (the lich who just really wanted to adventure comes to mind). Will there be similar concepts in Fanstratics?
The short answer is ‘Yes’. Might and Magic had a tradition of integrating ‘creatures’ into a broader society, but I personally don’t know the reasoning behind it. As for Fanstratics (FST), I can tell you this concept will be prevalent.
When it comes to my primary fantasy foundations, I reference Dungeons & Dragons, The Hobbit, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Of these three, for myself, The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe is arguably the most influential. Within Narnia, animals and fantasy creatures talk, have personality, and cultural allegiances. I like this and it is one of the reasons why FST is leaning into anthropomorphic Troops. Within FST, as it is conceptualized, it makes logical sense for men, beasts, and man-beasts to all be physically, intellectually, and culturally competitive.
HoMM3 Question: I always enjoyed how the interface was clear - of course skeuomorphic design was current standard then, but HoMM managed to separate itself from looking like a business program (it's something at Sierra games (like Pharaoh or Caesar 3) failed a bit with their "File..." bar at the top). The adventure map was magically coherent and usable - I say magically because it is immediately, or almost immediately which parts are interactable (there are few non-obvious skeletons or something but those are exceptions) and yet everything was fluidly fitting with each other without using artificial highlights etc. Variety of content - both in maps with a lot of detail and unique shapes to never look like glued from prefabs (it blew my small child brain when I ran the map editor for the first time and realized that in fact, yes, there was a finite amount of forest sprites etc.) but also in the cities and unit rosters - 7 cities and each very different with look and feel - unthinkable in this day and age.
A logical interface, via either the UI or Map Elements, is not easy to create. Most people simply do not see it.
HoMM3 Recollection: Minimum Wage Slave.
From the time I started working at New World Computing (NWC), 3DO already had an ‘unofficial policy’ of 60-hour work weeks. In fact, I remember the company-wide email from Trip Hawkins saying, “If you aren’t putting in 60 hours a week, you aren’t doing your part.”
Most of us at NWC ignored this ‘unofficial policy’, as we tended to work extra hours when needed. Still, the last quarter of 1998 was quickly approaching, and 3DO believed Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3) could meet a Christmas deadline. We were told to start ‘crunching’. Initially, we were told to start working 10-hour days. Soon thereafter, Saturdays were added, followed by Sundays.
On one specific Sunday, everyone on the HoMM3 team came to work, but very few were in the office by 9:00AM. Most chose to treat the day, rightfully so, like an atypical workday. I came in roughly an hour ‘late’.
After lunch, everyone from the team worked away in their specific office. This was the point where Mark Caldwell sent a scathing email to the entire team. I don’t recall the exact details of the message, but Mark was furious. He basically said, “Get into work on time or resign.”
Later in the day, while taking a break from work, I wandered into the office of David Mullich. I took a seat in a guest chair, across from David’s desk. David was eating a late lunch, pulled from an insulated lunch bag he had brought to work. While one hand gripped his sandwich, his other hand worked his computer’s mouse. To make his multitasking more complicated, I couldn’t help but bring up the subject of Mark’s email.
Me, “Have you seen Mark’s email?”
David, “Yes, I have.”
David shook his head disapprovingly, “Well, I think Mark was angry everyone was arriving late, and wasn’t treating today like an average workday.”
Me, “I was late because I had to drop off laundry and visit the post office. I don’t have a girlfriend or spouse to help me with basic living chores.”
David, “I know.”
Me, “Threatening the team isn’t going to help. It’s not like he can afford to fire any of the leads.”
David, “I know. It’s an empty threat.”
Me, “Doesn’t he understand we can only work so fast?”
David, “I don’t have any proof, but I suspect 3DO dangling a large bonus in front of Mark to make the Christmas holiday.”
Me, “Just him? Not the rest of us?”
David, “Like I said. I don’t have any proof. It’s just a suspicion based on his recent behavior.”
Mark’s email outburst was the turning point where my relationship with him began to sour. A good Executive Producer assists and supports a team in their efforts. Mark’s instinct was the opposite. Mark’s instinct was to lash out. Doing this was incredibly risky, as yelling at a team doing its best can quickly motivate the team to ignore you.
I was working hard and doing my best, yet deep down I didn’t feel respected or welcome. As a company, NWC was lethargic, lacking ambition, and arguably stuck in the past. Getting anyone to heed anything remotely in touch with the current PC landscape was an uphill battle.
3DO was debatably worse. With the failed launch of the 3DO console, they were an industry joke, possessing a mysteriously inflated sense of self-importance, with no self-awareness and no humility. Furthermore, in all my interactions with 3DO, I never once got the impression anyone there thought of video games as anything more than ‘widgets’ to be shoveled into a box.
On top of all this was the continuous stress created by the newly mandated ‘crunch’. Following Mark’s rage-filled email, for the first time, I began to wonder if my employment at NWC was genuinely worth it.
Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t ready to resign and walk out the door, but I began to wonder about my work hours. How much of my life was I giving to this company in exchange for a salary? Specifically, my concern was the overtime. I honestly didn’t know how many extra hours I was accumulating. In fact, no one was tracking anything. So, one Saturday, I opened up Microsoft Excel, saved a new spreadsheet to my computer’s desktop, and began tracking my time. I recorded what days I worked, when I started, and when I left. This included weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays, most of Christmas vacation, and New Year’s Day.
On a side note, 3DO expected everyone at NWC to work on Christmas Eve, but Jon Van Caneghem and Mark, in opposition to 3DO, had given everyone Christmas Eve off. In an attempt to figure out who came into work and who did not, 3DO sent an email to everyone at NWC, instructing them to reply. Knowing 3DO had this ‘email scheme’ up their sleeve, Jon and Mark came into the office, booted up everyone’s computer, opened each person’s email, and responded for them.
At this point in the past, my recollection is fuzzy, but I remember it was a Saturday, and I had spent my day working at NWC. It was time to leave and go home. Opening my spreadsheet, I input my ‘clock out’ time, and noticed I had accumulated well over 300 hours of overtime. Thinking I had enough data to draw a conclusion, I quickly did the needed extra math and determined... I was making approximately $5 an hour. In hindsight, while I remember this number, I suspect my memory is incorrect. More than likely, with overtime, I had cut my hourly rate in half. Bottom line, while my salary was well above the national average, my hourly rate was little more than minimum wage.
With this realization in my head, upon leaving NWC, I stopped at the nearby Jack in the Box for a late dinner (not sure about this particular detail, as it may have been McDonalds). Knowing what I would order (1 Sourdough Jack, 2 Tacos, 1 Chocolate Fudge Cake, and 1 Medium Coke), I waited in line. Looking at the young lady processing the customer's order ahead of me, I pondered her work situation versus mine. On a yearly basis, I was confident I made more money than she did. On an hourly basis, I suspect she made as much, possibly more than me... while working normal hours... with a better work-life balance. For a brief instance... I envied her. It would be a moment I would never forget.
Fast forward to roughly a month after HoMM3 had shipped. Everyone had returned from their break and was back to work when I saw Ben Bent walking through our area. He held in his hands a collection of sealed envelopes. He was handing them out, ensuring to match the name on the envelope with the person receiving the item. When Ben got to my office, I was standing in the doorway, waiting to receive my mysterious gift.
As Ben handed over my envelope, I asked, “What’s in the envelope?” Ben, “Bonus check, I think.”
Then with a laugh, Ben added, “Or your termination notice.”
I doubt I was about to be fired, so I chuckled and took the envelope.
In late 1998, there was a company-wide ‘news email’ discussing several topics related to 3DO. One of the topics detailed a potential bonus program. Conceptually, the idea was simple. After a project had recouped its costs, 15% of the ongoing profits would be put into a ‘profit sharing’ pool to be distributed to the development team. I had heard Mark openly discuss it once before, and he claimed a person could make as much... if not more... than their annual salary. This sounded great to me, but I never heard him discuss it again.
Stepping into my office, I sat at my desk, grabbed a pair of scissors, and sliced open the short end of the envelope. From within, I pulled out what I hoped would be the first of many bonus checks from the ‘profit sharing’ pool. How much was it? $1000. $700 after the government withholding taxes. I was confused. Was this it?
Getting up from my desk, I walked to David’s office. His door was open, so I politely knocked on the door frame. Sitting at his desk and working on his computer, David looked up.
Me, “Got a minute?”
David, “Sure. What’s up.”
Walking into David's office, I sat in one of the guest chairs before David's desk. As I sat down, I saw David’s own bonus check envelope, laid on his desk... opened.
Me, “I see you got your bonus check.”
David, “Ah... yes. I did.”
Me, “Are these checks part of the royalty program?”
David, “Royalty program?”
Me, “Remember a couple months ago? Trip sent out that company-wide email where he mentioned 15% of a project profits going into a royalty pool?”
David, “Oh, yeah. Uh... no. This is a one-time bonus.”
Me, “A one-time bonus?”
David, “Yeah. I don’t think anything came of the royalty program.”
Me, “So this bonus check is all were getting for the all the overtime we worked?”
David paused, “Uh... yeah.”
I was stunned, but my anger was quickly replaced by my bewilderment, “My bonus was $1000. After taxes... $700.”
David smirked, “I got the same.”
Me, “We put in hundreds of hours of overtime. I tracked it.”
David, “I know.”
Me, “And this is all were getting?”
Me, “It’s insulting.”
David, “I know.”
Without another word, I got up and left David’s office. Walking the short distance to my office, I could tell the mood in the office had changed. How? Everyone had seen their bonus checks. Stopping in the doorframe to my office, I saw Gus Smedstad standing in the doorframe to his office. He was scowling.
I couldn’t resist asking, “Not happy with your bonus check?”
Gus shook his head, “Nope.”
Me, “Mine was $1000. After taxes... $700.”
Gus, “Me too.“
From her cubical, Jennifer Bullard easily overheard our exchange, “Same here.”
A couple of the other Map Makers also jumped in. It seems everyone on the team had gotten the same bonus and everyone was disgusted.
After a purposefully long lunch, I returned to my office and checked my email. Sitting in my Inbox was an email from Trip Hawkins. It may have been to all of NWC, or limited to just the HoMM3 team, I don’t specifically recall. Regardless, word had somehow gotten back to 3DO concerning the HoMM3 team and their lack of enthusiasm for their bonus checks. This email was an attempt to address the issue. In a very roundabout way, Trip said, “Be happy you got anything.” Trip then reminded us, in the near future, we would be getting new options on 3DO stock. Thus, it was in our best interests to continue making good products, to boost the price of 3DO stock, so we all could profit accordingly. After reading the email, I shook my head and filed it in the Trip Hawkins folder.
A moment later, Gus appeared at my office door, “Did you read Trip’s response?”
Me, “Yeah. Typical Trip. Aloof. Tone deaf. Out of touch.”
This wasn't the point where I decided to leave NWC, but it was the first step on the road leading to my eventual resignation. Specifically, I remember thinking, “I can get treated just as badly elsewhere, for more money.”