Hope each of you is safe and healthy.
This month I have four topics concerning the Toadish Intruder, Game Ai, HoMM3 gameplay, and a new ‘HoMM3 Recollection’ about HoMM2 Gold.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Toadish Intruder
Toadish Intruders are a difficult Troop to engage under any circumstance. Wielding a long, heavy rapier, doused with toxins derived from their wart-covered skin, the Toadish Intruder specializes not in killing, but in applying poisonous debilitation. If they are unable to pierce their targets and administer their contaminants, their own thick hide has a chance to apply a pollutant to any Troop brave enough to Assault them. As expected, this Troop is immune to the very contagions it produces.
Justin asked if he could conceptualize and render this Troop on his Twitch stream. I said, “Sure.” This put us on an accelerated timeline as Justin had the last two weeks of the month scheduled for other things. Considering how this Troop turned out, perhaps we should ‘rush’ more often. Another favorite.
Fanstratics Question: I really like HoMM III and HoMM V (as it close to third part), but I have one major problem with both of them. Mainly we play with my wife in hotseat mode with teams (humans vs AI). And at some level of our skills it becomes quite boring to play against AI (especially in HoMMV). AI becomes predictable or even stupid (for example, AI heroes run back and forth until the end of movement points). So, did you consider such a problem? As I understand, today machine learning can dramatically change the situation.
Regarding the Ai, I can only speak to HoMM3. Overall, for something programmed in 1999, I believe it does what it is supposed to do, and I think it does its job quite well. Is there room for improvement? I believe ‘yes’.
Where Fanstratics is concerned, I suspect we will take a traditional approach when building our Ai. Still, if time and budget permit, I would like to add additional 'Ai profiles' at a later date. This is where machine learning could possibly play a role. We'll see what happens. Ai is quickly becoming the newest frontier in game and technology development.
HoMM3 Question: Regarding the HoMM3 Board Game, they had a survey for fans asking about their favorite gameplay elements and what from the original PC game they'd most like to see featured in the board game. To me, this was nearly impossible to answer, because I think every part of HOMM3 works really beautifully in concert and removing or altering any one part might have cascading effects on the whole game, but being cornered, I thought that everything that works about HOMM3 ultimately stems from the exploration of the map in any given scenario... because that's what opens the doors to every other element of gameplay. Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts there?
From what little I’ve seen of the game, it appears they are attempting to touch upon all facets of HoMM3. So, I suspect this developer's 'question' was simply an attempt to engage their community.
As to your question, you are correct in how everything in HoMM3 works in concert.What would happen if you removed Adventuring, or Town building, or Battlefield combat?In the end, there really is no right or wrong answer, as it all comes down to the type of game you want to make.If you posed this question to the HoMM3 community, I have no doubt you would start a flame war as everyone has a different opinion concerning the relative importance of each element... and each person thinks their opinion is the right one.
HoMM3 Recollection: HoMM2 Gold and Long Overdue Credit.
When writing this recollection, my memory regarding the events seems correct, but the details are fuzzy. Please keep this in mind when reading it.
It was late 1998, during a typical workday, when my phone rang. It was David Mullich, calling from his office, situated next door.
David, “Got a second?”
Me, “Sure, I’ll be right over.”
After hanging up my phone, I left my office, walked into David's, and sat in his empty guest chair.
Me, “Feels odd you calling me on the phone, when I’m on the other side of the wall.”
David chuckled, “Feels odds shouting to you through the wall. Anyway, I have some mildly bad news.”
Me, looking at David suspiciously, “Oh-kay.”
Me, “Does this mean we can stop crunching?”
David laughed, “No. That’d be good news. Bad news is, 3DO still wants something Heroes related on the shelves for Christmas. So, Mark came up with an idea for ‘Heroes2 Gold’.”
Me, “Heroes2 Gold?”
David, “Yes. Heroes2, plus the expansion, plus 25 new maps. So, for the next 2 to 4 weeks, Christian (Vanover), Dave Botan, and the testers are being pulled off of Heroes3 and being put on Heroes2 Gold.”
I groaned. Pulling Christian and DaveB from Heroes3 map-making would add to our already delayed release date.
David, “I told him I didn’t like the idea, but I couldn’t come up with a better one.”
In the moment, I sat there, thinking. By this time, roughly a year after joining New World Computing (NWC), I’d become very familiar with the Astral Wizard fan site. Specifically, I'd become familiar with the website section named 'Magellan's Maps'. Divided into three sections, it ultimately archived ~470 Heores2 maps.
If you want a more current archive of 1000+ HoMM2 maps, I’d suggest starting with the Heroes3WoG Heroes2 Map Collection.
If you want a more current archive of 6000+ HoMM3 maps, I’d suggest starting with the Heroes3WoG Heroes3 Map Collection.
For each map, the website listed its Name, Size, Difficulty, Win/Loss Condition, Author, and surprisingly... the Author’s Personal Email Address. In the present day, posting your personal email address on the internet is considered somewhat irresponsible, as you open yourself up to a never-ending onslaught of email spam. In 1998, just prior to the internet becoming mainstream around the year 2000, there wasn’t enough email spam to discourage most people from posting their personal email address.
Armed with this information, I simply blurted out, "Why don't we just bundle a bunch of user-made maps?"
David looked at me... perplexed.
Me, “On the Astral Wizard website, there’s a section archiving user made maps. There’s a couple hundred listed, along with the email address of each author. I could pick 25 maps, contact each author, and ask for their permission to include their map in the bundle. We could pay them something like... I don’t know... $100 per map?”
David thought about it for a second, “We’d still need to test each map.”
Me, “Yeah, but it’d occupy the tester’s time, not Christian’s or David’s. They’d be free to continue working on Heroes3.”
Obviously liking the idea, David nodded, “I’ll go run it by Mark.”
With our meeting arriving at its natural conclusion, I returned to my office, while David walked off in pursuit of Mark. 10 to 15 minutes later, David returned and stood in my door frame.
David, “Mark liked the idea. He’s going to stop by later to talk to you about it.”
As David returned to his office, it suddenly dawned on me. In my attempt to keep Christian and DavidB focused on Heroes3, I’d actually created more work for myself. On top of my existing Heroes3 work, I now had additional Heroes2 Gold tasks. We were already crunching. What was I thinking?
Another 10 minutes later, just like David before him, Mark appeared in my office door frame.
Mark, “I ran your idea past 3DO. They don’t care where the maps come from, as long as they’re good. $100 a map is okay, but they want each map-maker to sign a waiver.”
Me, “So... what next? We send them a wavier?”
Mark, “After I get it from 3DO, I’ll email it to you. You email it to them. They snail mail it to us.”
Mark, “Going forward, if you have any questions, ask Pete (Ryu). He’s going to ‘produce’. John Bolton is putting everything together.”
Right on cue, Peter appeared behind Mark. Seeing my eyes look past him, Mark turned around to see Peter.
Mark, chuckling, “And here’s Pete.”
Stepping aside, Mark darted down the hall as Peter entered my office.
Peter, taking a seat in my guest chair, “Do you have the maps?”
Me, “Not yet, but I know where I’m going to get them.”
Turning to my computer’s monitor, I pulled up Netscape and navigated to the Astral Wizard website. On the Magellan's Maps web page, I pointed to the initial list of community-made maps.
Me, “Have you seen this?”
Peter, “Yeah. I’ve played a couple of them.”
Me, “I figure I’ll grab the top-rated maps. We can test those. If we run into any problems, we can move down the rating list.”
Acknowledging my reasoning, Pete nodded, “I’ve already made a Heroes2Gold folder on the network. It’s in the Heroes2 folder. Just put’em there.”
Me, “Okay. Give me an hour or two.”
Following Peter’s departure, I switched into ‘Heroes2 Gold mode’. Scouring Magellan’s Maps, I downloaded any map with a ‘rating’. In the end, I collected roughly ~120 maps. After renaming each file to include its associated rating, I had 30 'top tier' maps with ~90 alternates. 30 was the perfect quantity. It gave me the 25 maps I needed and 5 others for cushion.
Over the next week, Peter worked with the NWC testers to play the 30 selected maps. A few technical errors were discovered and quickly resolved, but overall... the maps were relatively clean and fun to play.
On my end, I emailed each map author. There were 12 individuals, and I explained the situation with HoMM2 Gold, and NWC’s desire to add 1 or more of their maps to the bundle. If they wanted to participate, they would need to ‘snail mail’ a signed copy of the waiver to me at NWC. Once everything was cleared with 3DO legal, they would get paid $100 for each map.
Over the next two weeks, letters trickled in, and we were good-to-go. Soon thereafter, Ben Bent was pushing around his plastic office utility cart, handing out sealed copies of HoMM2 Gold. Holding my personal copy, I looked it over, genuinely surprised by how quickly 3DO had turned out the physical product. It was essentially the same box as HoMM2, but gold, with illustrated front and back ‘banners’ mentioning ’25 Bonus Maps’.
I would have opened my copy of HoMM2 Gold, but I had plenty of Heroes3 work to do, so I set it aside and never got back to it. To this day, I still have my copy, still shrink-wrapped, sitting on my bookshelf.
Approximately 6 months after I resigned from NWC, I knew HoMM3: The Shadow of Death (SoD) was scheduled for release. At the time, while working at Westwood Studios in Las Vegas, I saw it on the shelves of a local Best Buy. Still somewhat bitter with my NWC experience, I passed on purchasing a copy. I simply didn’t want to give any of my money to NWC and 3DO. In hindsight, this was perhaps... a mistake. SoD was a HoMM3 expansion built on my HoMM3 design, and it deserved a spot alongside HoMM3: Restoration of Erathia and HoMM3: Armageddon’s Blade.
Despite everything, years later, long after the demise of NWC and 3DO in 2003, long after Ubisoft acquired the entire Might & Magic intellectual property, HoMM3 found a modern home on a new retail service. In 2008, Good Old Games (GOG.com) was established. With no DRM, on-demand digital distribution, and a price placing it within ‘impulse buy’ territory, HoMM3 gained new life and appeared to thrive. As of this writing, HoMM3 is GOG’s all-time best-selling game, even outselling Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3.
Like many, I desired updated digital copies to replace my existing physical copies, and eventually purchased the following from GOG.com...
Later, on Steam, I even purchased...
With each purchase, I naturally installed each game. Along the way, my curiosity got the best of me, and I checked the credits of each game. While my name was maintained for SoD, it was missing from ‘HoMM3: Complete’ and all of the ‘Heroes Chronicles’ games. This irked me, as John Bolton’s credit remained intact, and he had left NWC at exactly the same time as myself.
In the final leg of my ‘investigation’, I checked the credits of HoMM2 Gold. At the very least, I expected a ‘special thanks’.
There was nothing.
Not a single word mentioned me, John Bolton, Peter Ryu, or any NWC tester. In fact, I discovered something which riled me more than my missing credit.
While there was a brief section of 'Hints and Tips from the Map Creators', an actual list of the community-made maps and the associated map authors was utterly absent. It was embarrassing. At my behest, NWC and 3DO had solicited these individuals, used their work in a shipped product, and not given them proper recognition.
When it comes to ‘HoMM3: Complete’ and the ‘Heroes Chronicles’ games, I can easily live without the design acknowledgment. When it comes to HoMM2 Gold, I feel it is wrong to neglect the contribution of the community map authors.
While I can’t compel Ubisoft or GOG to update the HoMM2 Gold game credits, I can make a statement to those who are listening. A correction is long overdue.
After a fair amount of internet detective work, I was able to dig up the names of each community map author, with one exception. Listed below are all of the community-made maps included with HoMM2 Gold and their associated authors.
Thank you for your work and contribution.
Clouds of Xeen
Wong Sui Jau
Gates Of Hell
Ghost Planet v1.1
Go Ask Alice
Great War II
Plains Of Aekon
The Road Home
Riddle Me This...!
Roc 'Round the Clock
THUNK (Sequel To Last Hope)
Wizards Land 2
Wizards Land 3