Hope each of you is safe and healthy.
This month, I have four topics concerning the Unicorn, conceptual consistency, playing HoMM before making HoMM, and part two of the two-part ‘HoMM3 Recollection’ concerning the HoMM3 Demo Map and Map Makers. I also want to touch upon two interrelated subjects.
Over the past nine months, regarding my continuing health issues, there has been change. Still, the net result is virtually the same, if not mildly worse. While some of my Long Haul Covid (LHC) symptoms have faded, they unfortunately have been replaced by symptoms associated with ‘postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome’ or POTS. Apparently, the link between LHC and POTS has been known since 2020. Bottom line... my health remains a challenge, and my 'personal bandwidth' remains extremely limited.
To this end, I have labored to eliminate from my day-to-day life, all non-essential tasks. My goal is to focus, as much as humanly possible, on the development of Fanstratics (FST). So, this month's HoMM3 Recollection will be the last, until January of next year. I know the HoMM3 Recollections are a favorite for many, but in my current condition, they simply take too much time to compose. As for HoMM3 Recollections in 2024, we’ll see what happens.
Until next time.
Fanstratics Game Director & Designer
Fanstratics Troop: Unicorn
Beauty is a word rarely used when describing any Troop from any Faction. Concerning Thornwood Unicorns, the term is a perfect fit. While an arguably unremarkable fighter, this magnificent warrior has a chance to Blind an Enemy Troop with each Assault. Under proper circumstances, this ability is assured and able to turn the tide of any battle.
When we started work on this Troop, Justin forgot to make her anthropomorphic, leading to a sheet of thumbnails for a stereotypical Unicorn. Before I could correct his mistake, another sheet of thumbnails appeared in my inbox, along with Justin's self-realization. Nevertheless, she turned out great, making for one of the most unique Unicorns I've ever seen.
Fanstratics Question: I don't mean to be offensive, but what exactly made you decide to copy-paste the "skeletal structure" of HoMM3? What do I mean: 16 heroes for each faction with 8 hero cap on the adventure map, 8 (plus one) factions that can be loosely (or even strongly) associated with 8 existing original factions of Heroes 3, with probably 7 types of units.
With any 'spiritual successor', people will expect certain levels of familiarity. Deviating from the HoMM3 structure, without good reason, runs the risk of breaking the 'spiritual successor' promise made to the public. Hence, my decision to embrace consistency.
HoMM3 Question: Did you used to play HoMM before working for New World Computing or did you discover it while working there?
I did. Technically, I started with King’s Bounty on the Sega Genesis, but my first real ‘Heroes’ experience started with HoMM2. I completely missed HoMM1.
HoMM3 Recollection: Demo Map and Map Makers (part 2 of 2).
! Disclaimer: When writing a recollection, I do my best to recall events from more than 20 years ago. Generally, my memory regarding the events seems correct, but the details are often fuzzy. Please keep this in mind.
! Part 1 of this recollection can be found in Newsletter 37.
On the next day, early in the morning, David Mullich called, asking for the network location of the Demo Map I’d crafted. I didn’t give it a second thought. Later in the afternoon, David called again, asking if I’d pop into his office for a chat.
David, “So, I asked Phelan about the Demo Map. She liked it. Said it looked good.”
Me, “Nice to hear.”
David, “How’d it go with Chris?”
Me, “He seemed to enjoy himself.”
David, “Mark (Caldwell) wanted the map put through Test. So, I gave it to them this morning.”
Me, curious, “Any problems?”
David, “I don’t know. Jennifer called and said she had some questions. I couldn’t answer them, so I told her you would pay her a visit.”
Me, confused, “Who’s Jennifer?”
David, “Jennifer Bullard. She’s the Lead Tester.”
Me, “Okay. What does she look like?”
David, chuckling, "She's the only woman in Test. If you go in, through the side door across from the kitchen, her desk is on your right, in the back corner.”
Leaving David’s office, I took a quick detour to my office and grabbed a pen and a pad of yellow paper. Honestly, I didn’t know if I would need any notetaking materials, as I thought my Demo Map was bug-free, but you can never be 100% sure.
Exiting my office, I walked down the hall toward the New World Computing (NWC) kitchen. On the right side of the hall was the ‘back door’ leading into the Test Area. I opened it, allowing a blast of fluorescent hall light into the dimly lit room. Stepping inside, I noticed the Test Area was crowded with NWC Testers at smallish desks. Each stopped what they were doing and looked up at me with squinting eyes.
Without saying a word, I looked about and spotted Jennifer on my right, in the corner of the room. As David had previously mentioned, Jennifer was the only woman in the Test Area. In the corner, her desk was apart from the other ‘guys’. On her desk, aside from her computer monitor, was a collection of small, illuminated candles. I was a little surprised this was allowed, as it could be considered a ‘fire hazard’, but I was more curious about the purpose of the candles. Was it simply too dark in the Test Area?
I pointed in Jennifer’s direction, “Jennifer?”
Jennifer, responding with a smile, “Yes.”
Walking over, I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Greg. I’m the Lead...”
Jennifer, interrupting with a chuckle, “We all know who you are.”
Almost immediately, I knew two things. First, I wasn’t sure if my notability was a good thing or a bad thing. Second, I liked Jennifer and her no-nonsense personality.
Me, continuing, “David said you had a couple of questions about the Demo Map.”
Jennifer, “Yes. The map ends after four weeks.”
Me, “That’s intentional. Increases tension. Adds replayability.”
Jennifer, "Is it possible to win before the four-week deadline?"
Me, "I don't know. Probably. You'd need to play it a few times and know the map layout."
Jennifer, “Okay. I could let you know. I’m on my third play-thru right now.”
Me, taking advantage of the opportunity, “Mind if I watch?”
Jennifer, a little taken aback, “Uh.. sure.”
Grabbing a nearby, unoccupied chair, I pulled it in behind Jennifer’s desk and took a seat. Suddenly, I realized I had disrupted the social chemistry in the room. Everyone in the Test Area was clearly unaccustomed to having someone from a Development Team 'sit in' while they did their jobs. I’d unintentionally become an ‘invader’. Once I settled in, Jennifer instinctively tried to re-establish the altered Test Area chemistry.
Jennifer, continuing our conversation, “Do you have any questions for me?”
Me, attempting to ‘break the ice’, couldn’t help but ask the obvious, “Why do you have candles on your desk?”
Jennifer, elevating the volume of her voice so everyone in the Test Area could hear, “It’s because it stinks in here. Some people don’t shower in the morning.”
From the other side of the room, Dave Botan chimed in, “Yeah, Marcus.”
Marcus Pregent, “Hey, I shower every morning.”
Ryan Den, “Maybe you should try using soap.”
Marcus, alluding to the jacket hung across the back of his desk chair, “I told you before, it’s my jacket.”
DaveB, “Then try detergent.”
Jennifer, attempting to put a lid on things before they got out of hand, “Alright. That’s enough.”
Later, I would learn Jennifer had a couple of brothers. Younger or older, I don’t remember, but her experience with her male siblings made her especially suited to wrangle a room full of young men of similar age.
For the next fifteen minutes, I watched Jennifer play. We chatted, casually, and I didn’t take any notes. Instead, I spent most of my time observing the Test Area.
About 75% of the room was playing Heroes3, and at one point, Ryan encountered what he thought was a bug. Apparently, this specific issue was known, and this was Ryan’s first time experiencing it. Marcus quickly told him it was ‘user error’, and he could fix it by jumping through a few technical hoops. When Ryan did as Marcus said, everything returned to normal, at which point the rest of the room playfully echoed, “User Error!” I didn't know it at the time, but most of these individuals would become my Map Making team.
About one month later, we were wrapping up the ‘final candidate’ for Heroes3, effectively putting the team in ‘3DO limbo’. On our side, the NWC side, Hereos3 was finished, and we were waiting for 3DO to finish up on their end and release the game to manufacturing. As to ‘next steps’, the physical office construction bridging the Main Office to the Artists' Area was complete, and many of us had already moved into our new, bigger offices. During this time, David called me into his new office.
David, “Mark wants to move the old Testers out of the Test Area into the ‘Map Makers Den’.”
Informally, within the new office area, we were calling a collection of eight interior cubicles the Map Maker’s Den. This area was supposed to be the new home of the former Testers, soon-to-be Heroes3 Map Makers.
David, “He’s told me there’s eight people interested in becoming Map Makers.”
Me, “We only need five. With six, we’ll have people twiddling their thumbs trying to keep themselves busy.”
David, “Well, you’ve got five. Six if you want. You’ll need to cut at least two.”
Me, “Well, I figure I’d have each candidate make two maps. One ‘story’ map. One ‘free-for-all’ map. Jennifer double-checks the submissions. Top five or six make the cut.”
David, “How long would it take?”
Me, thinking aloud, “A day for a meeting. Two days for each map. One work week.”
David seemed pleased with the idea. Quickly, I relayed the plan to Jennifer and let her organize it. At noon the next day, anyone interested in becoming a Heroes3 Map Maker could join us for lunch, at which time I would relay the assignment. Truthfully, I was implementing the first step of a 'Bozo Check’ or a ‘Bozo Test’.
For those who don’t understand, a Bozo is a clown, specifically, a person of low intelligence who struggles with basic tasks. In this instance, at its most basic, I was attempting to figure out if any of the potential Hereos3 Map Makers were something other than what they appeared to be. When I was interviewed by Jon Van Caneghem, he gave me a written assignment to express my thoughts on Heroes of Might and Magic. It was a Bozo Test. Thankfully, it was a test I passed.
When the next day arrived, around 11AM in the morning, Jennifer escorted all eight candidates to my office. Seven were Testers: Jennifer, DaveB, Walter Johnson, Marcus, Ryan, Mike Wolf, and one other person I will simply name Toad. Candidate number eight was from elsewhere in the company, and to keep names confidential, will be called Kamek.
All nine of us filed out of the building and walked across the parking lot to my and Jennifer’s cars.
Me, “Where are we going for lunch?”
Asking this question aloud was a mistake, as several suggestions and complaints quickly arose. With no one able to agree on a restaurant, I called upon DaveB, the most senior Map Maker.
Me, “Dave. You pick.”
DaveB, shrugging his shoulders and muttering, “Uh. Why me. Fine. Tony Romas.”
Immediately, Marcus threw up his hands, “You always pick Tony Romas.”
DaveB, barking at Marcus, “Do you have a better idea?”
Marcus, barking back at DaveB, “Yeah. Not Tony Romas.”
Me, “No. It’s Dave’s choice. We’re going to Tony Romas.”
While I had been to Tony Romas before, I had no idea one was in the area. It was relatively close, but still required two cars to shuttle everyone from the office.
Once inside the restaurant, we were all seated together. After scanning their menus and choosing what to order, small talk rippled across the group.
For numerous reasons, I have always believed in team members going out to lunch together. Technically, it's an informal 'team building' exercise, and for better or worse, you can learn about one another on a personal level.
In this specific instance, only a deaf and blind person could not sense the emerging group dynamic. It wasn’t much different than the chemistry I’d witnessed in the Test Area... sibling-like bickering.
After several months testing Heroes3 as a group, this made perfect sense. It was Toad and Kamek who were the notable ‘outsiders’. Both were super quiet, observant, and clearly scrambling to figure out where they fit in.
Marcus, taking a shot at DaveB’s culinary choice, “Memphis Burger? You always order the same thing at the same restaurant.”
Dave, returning the shot, “What about you? You’re ordering the same thing.”
Marcus, “This is a rib place. You order ribs here, not a burger.”
While Ryan was amused by the continued bickering between DaveB and Marcus, Jennifer was moderately embarrassed and spoke up.
Jennifer, “Greg? Did you want to talk about the assignment?”
Me, smiling to myself, “Okay. For the expansion, we have five or six slots available for Map Makers. I’m leaning toward six. Eight is overkill. So, we're having a small map-making test. One story map. One free-for-all map. Both maps are due four days from now, which is plenty of time. Send all your finished maps to Jennifer for evaluation. Bottom two candidates will not be invited onto the team.”
DaveB, “Why are we making more maps? We’ve already made maps for the main game. Can’t you just look at those?”
Me, “Think of this as your first official assignment for the expansion.”
DaveB, grumbling, “Fine.”
Marcus, “If Jen’s evaluating the maps, then she’s already in, right?”
Me, looking at Jennifer, “Unless she self-destructs... basically... yes. She was the lead tester for Heroes. I thought it made sense for her to lead the Map Makers.”
With ‘business’ out of the way, the sibling-like bickering swiftly returned, with one notable change. While Toad sat and quietly listened, Kamek became ‘energized’. Commenting on every conversation topic, with an ongoing flurry of giggles and laughs, Kamek swiftly became excessively animated.
Was it weird? Yes. Did it put everyone else off? Yes. Did it disrupt the team’s chemistry? Yes.
As I have stated before, New World Computing’s company culture was broadly introverted. Contrary to this, Kamek was clearly showing traits of extroversion.
Enjoyed being the center of attention.
Enjoyed group work.
Liked to communicate by talking.
Looked to others and outside sources for ideas and inspiration.
Tended to act first before thinking.
Despite interacting with Kamek on previous occasions, I had yet to witness this extroverted behavior. So, I brushed it off. Perhaps, Kamek was happy to be out of the office with an actual development team. Perhaps, Kamek was excited to be taking a step toward possibly joining the team. Regardless, I gave Kamek the benefit of the doubt, when in hindsight, I should have been more wary.
Two days later, before the map delivery deadline, David Mullich rang my phone and asked I visit.
David, “I spoke to Jennifer this morning. She said everyone but Mike, Kamek, and Toad have delivered their maps.”
Me, unaware, “Oh, okay. That was fast. Did she give the delivered maps a thumbs up?”
David, “Yes. Mark wants to move them right away. I think he’s got new testers coming in and needs the desks.”
Me, “So, we’re waiting on the last three for the final spot?”
David, “Yes, but I think Toad wants to be on the Might and Magic team.”
Me, “Okay. Let’s move everyone but Mike and Kamek.”
By the morning of the following day, Jennifer, DavidB, Walt, Marcus, and Ryan were all in their respective cubicles. Walking into the office, entering the 'Heroes3 Area', and greeting the Map Makers in their Den... was nice. Unofficially, they were my subordinates, and I liked all of them. Despite their bickering, they were honest, hardworking, and took pride in their craft. I was happy to have them on the team.
One more day thereafter, was the final deadline for maps from Mike and Kamek. At the start of the workday, I walked into the Heroes3 Area, and saw the Map Makers in their cubicles. As we were still in ‘3DO limbo’, most were either browsing the web or doing loose map-making work.
Rounding the Map Maker’s Den, on my way to my new office, I caught the eyes of Jennifer. I was intent on saying ‘good morning’, but it was clear she was not happy. To be more specific, she was more... dreadful.
Jennifer, “Morning. Uh... could we talk?”
Stopping at Jen’s cubicle, I looked over her cubicle wall, “Right now?”
Jennifer, “It’s kinda important.”
Me, wondering, “Okay. Give me a second to unload.”
Opening my office door, I dumped my briefcase bag on my desk, and powered up my computer. Exiting my office, I began to wonder what was concerning Jennifer. We’d only just moved the Testers into the Map Maker’s Den. What could it possibly be?
Returning to Jennfier’s cubicle, I rested my arms across the top of her cubicle wall and looked down at her, “What’s the problem?”
Jennifer, from her seat, looked up at me and inhaled, “Kamek got an artist to help with one of the two submitted maps.”
Me, “Which artist?”
Jennifer, “[NWC Artist Name Redacted].”
Me, “Was it just ‘beautification?”
Jennifer, "No. Kamek wanted to make a picture map, so Kamek got the [NWC Artist] to paint the terrain. Kamek then finished it."
How Jennifer knew this information, I did not know, but I trusted her, and this news made my face sour. Determining the fundamental capability of each Map Maker was the entire purpose of the assignment. Enlisting the help of anyone else... in any capacity... was effectively... cheating.
Me, shaking my head, “No. The whole point of the assignment was to see what everyone could do on their own... without help.”
Marcus, from his nearby cubicle, listening in on our conversation, couldn’t help but blurt out, “Duh.”
Me, trying to ignore Marcus, “What about the second map?”
Jennifer, “Not good. It needs a lot of additional work, and it’s a small map.”
Me, finishing Jennifer's line of thinking, "In which case, you might as well start over from scratch."
Jennifer nodded, “Yeah.”
Looking up from Jennifer, I scrutinized the Map Maker’s Den. While I couldn't see DaveB, I could read the faces of Marcus, Walt, and Ryan. They had been listening to my conversation with Jennifer... and they were not pleased. Despite staring at their computers, attempting to look busy, their individual opinion on the matter was obvious, as each had a mild look of disgust. Kamek had gone from a potential Map Maker... to morale poison.
Jennifer, “There’s also Toad. Toad never turned in any maps.”
Me, “Toad wants to join the Might and Magic team. What about Mike?”
Jennifer, chuckling, “He did as you asked. Two maps. Both good.”
Me, breathing in, “Alright, I’ll talk to David after I clean out my morning email.”
Returning to my office, I opened Microsoft Outlook, and began processing my accumulated morning emails. In the back of my mind, I thought about Kamek. While not politically connected, or culturally significant, Kamek was well-liked within the company. Rejecting her attempt to join the Heroes3 team would generate, in my direction, plenty of dislike... or outright hatred. In my mind, this mattered little. In fighting for my vision of Heroes3... by refusing to settle for lackluster work... I’d already created my share of haters within NWC. As a result, it didn’t take me more than a second to dismiss any personal, political, or social concerns.
Closing Outlook, I got up from my desk, and walked to David Mullich’s office. As usual, his office door was open, so I knocked on the hollow, metal door frame.
David, at this desk, looked up from his computer with a half-smile, “Come in.”
Stepping inside, I sat in one of the two guest chairs, "Spoke with Jennifer a couple of minutes ago."
Me, “Toad didn’t turn in any maps.”
David, “Not surprising.”
Me, “Mike turned in his maps. Jen gave them a thumbs up. As for Kamek, one map is a complete rework. For the other map, Kamek got help from [NWC Artist] to make one half of the map."
David, looking at me, confused, “One half of the map?”
Me, “It was a picture map. Kamek doesn’t have the talent to draw a picture using the terrain tools.”
David, “Drawing a picture with terrain tools isn’t that hard.”
Me, “I know. I’m just irritated Kamek involved [NWC Artist]. This was supposed to be a demonstration of basic skill, the ability to follow instructions, etc. So... that’s a ‘no’ to Kamek. ‘Yes’ to Mike for the final spot.”
David, nodding his approval, "Okay. I'll talk to Mark and tell him we have our map team.”
Roughly a week later, I ran into Kamek. Since not making the Heroes3 team, Kamek refused to speak to me or look my way. I had been effectively ‘shunned’. Eventually, when we could not avoid one another, Kamek addressed the situation.
Kamek, “May I speak with you?”
Kamek, “Mark told me I didn’t make the Heroes3 team, but he didn’t tell me why.”
Mark should have told Kamek, but truthfully, I don’t know if Mark understood the circumstances. Regardless, it was now in my hands, and I didn’t sugarcoat it.
Me, “You didn’t do the work.”
Kamek, looking confused, “I turned in both maps.”
Me, “But you only made one. For the other, the picture map, you got [NWC Artist] to help you. The whole point of the assignment was to demonstrate what you could do. You didn’t. You got help.”
Kamek, somewhat unable to respond, fumbled for a reply, “I wasn’t good at drawing the land, so I got [NWC Artist] to help.”
Me, "Then you shouldn't have made a picture map. Getting help, not putting in the time and effort, isn't fair to everyone else."
Kamek didn’t respond. Instead, Kamek went back to ignoring me... right to my face. Realizing I’d been placed back in the ‘shunned’ zone, I moved on without a word.
For the remainder of my time at NWC, Kamek gave me the cold shoulder. I have no doubt my eventual departure from the company made Kamek smile.