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Newsletter #41
January 2024

Hey, All.

Hope each of you is safe and healthy.


This month, I have four topics concerning the Ogre Mage, Hero spell casting, the name for the HoMM3 Dendroid, and the first part of three HoMM3 Recollections relating to E3 in 1998.


I also have an update regarding the frequency of these Newsletters.  Going forward, they will no longer be monthly, but quarterly (January, April, July, and October).  Why?  My ‘personal bandwidth’ continues to be limited, stemming from my ongoing health issues.  Doing this will free up more time to focus on Fanstratics development, while overlapping nicely with the HoMM3 Recollections.  Previously, I touched upon this subject in Newsletter #38.


Until next time.




Fanstratics Game Director & Designer







Fanstratics Troop: Ogre Mage


Amongst Ogres, the Ogre Mage is revered.  Amongst all other wizards, the Ogre Mage is disregarded.  With knowledge and limited castings of only one spell, the Ogre Mage has the ability to Enrage a separate Allied Division.  At first, this may not seem significant, but the effect is cumulative and persistent for the remainder of Battlefield Combat.  Furthermore, under specific Battlefield conditions, this effect can be applied to an entire Army, making the Ogre Mage a surprisingly effective, albeit limited, caster.


This was a fun one.  Initially, Justin rendered his typical four thumbnails for me to choose.  All were excellent.  I picked a foundation, and a couple of elements from the others.  After a second-round line drawing, I found myself gravitating back to one of the original thumbnails, and told Justin to put it in reverse, and run with foundational thumbnail.  Very happy with the end result.


Just like last month, there is no VOD from Justin.  Christmas commitments took priority.  So, no stream.  Maybe next time.




Fanstratics Question:  Will a hero be able to cast more than one spell per turn?


In Fanstratics, like HoMM3, Heroes can only cast one spell per 'turn' unless special circumstances dictate otherwise (like an artifact).




HoMM3 Question:  Why are Dendroids called Dendroids?


During one of my sessions with Jon Van Caneghem (JVC), we were finalizing the roster for the Rampart.  At the time, Dendroids were named Treants, as derived from Dungeons & Dragons.  At the time, I did not know there had been a copyright issue between Dungeons & Dragons and the Tolkien estate, as Treants were originally named Ents (referring to anthropomorphic tree creatures from Lord of the Rings).  Regardless, JVC didn’t like the name Treant.  I offered up ‘Ent’.  Didn’t like it.  Treefolk?  Nope.


After retrieving a paperback Thesaurus from my office, I sat in front of Jon and read all the synonyms for Treant, Ent, etc.  Woodfolk?  Nah.  Grove Giant?  (shakes head).  Tree Spirit?  No. 


Me, “Dendroid?”

JVC, “What’s a dendroid?”

Me, after retrieving a paperback Dictionary from my office, “Dendroid... resembling a shrub or tree.”


JVC shrugged his shoulders.


 Me, “I like Treefolk, but I could live with Dendroid,”

JVC, “Let’s go with Dendroid, until we think of something better.”


Well, we never thought of anything better, and to be perfectly honest, the name grew on me.


As a bonus, in hindsight, we probably avoided a potential copyright issue with Dungeons & Dragons.




HoMM3 Recollection: E3 1998 (part 1 of 3)


Before 1995, in the USA, video games were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  Along the way, at some point, consumer and computer game companies got tired of being treated like third-class citizens in relation to televisions, radios, and VCRs.


Via the Wikipedia summary, according to Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega America, "The CES organizers used to put the video game industry way, way in the back.  In 1991, they put us in a tent, and you had to walk past all the porn vendors to find us.  That particular year it was pouring rain, and the rain leaked right over our new Genesis system.  I was just furious with the way CES treated the video game industry, and I felt we were a more important industry than they were giving us credit for."


Eventually, Pat Ferrell, the creator of GamePro magazine, birthed the idea for what would eventually become the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).  In the beginning, in 1995, E3’s primary purpose was to pre-sell hardware and software to visiting retailers.  Later, as the world became more connected with cell phones, fax machines, and the rising 'internet', E3 became a technological circus where the big companies tried to out-muscle one another for media coverage.


As a game developer, attending E3... was exhilarating.  Attendance was limited only to retailers and developers, and this convention was the center of all things video games.  You saw what was presently available, and what was appearing on the horizon.


Fast forward to mid-April of 1998, at New World Computing (NWC).  David Mullich, John Bolton, Phelan Sykes, and I were scheduled for a meeting in Mark Caldwell’s office.  It concerned E3.


When the four of us arrived in Mark’s office, there were only two chairs.


Mark, chuckling, “I guess you guys need two more chairs.”


You would think, seeing as Mark scheduled the meeting, there would have been four chairs ready and waiting.  Instead, John and I looked at one another, then stepped outside the office, looking for available furniture to make up the shortfall.  John grabbed a chair from the vacant office across the hall.  Next door to Mark's office, was Scott White, who I visited on a semi-regular basis.  Knocking on his door frame, I stepped inside.  Scott turned about in his desk chair.


Me, putting a hand on his guest chair, “Can I borrow your chair?”

Scott, perplexed, “Why?”

Me, “We’re having a meeting with Mark, and were short.  I’ll bring it back, right after.”

Scott, chuckling, “Okay.”


Dragging Scott's guest chair into Mark's office, I closed Mark's office door and sat down.


Mark, “E3 is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, from Thursday, May 28th to Saturday, May 30th.  We'll fly out the day before, and we'll be there, part of the 3DO booth.  Everyone is presenting.  Keith (Francart) is showing Might and Magic 6, Ben (Bent) is showing Vegas Games, and one of you is showing Heroes.”


Phelan, John, and I looked at David.


David, “My wife is expecting sometime around the end of May.”


David, Phelan, and John looked at me.


Me, exhaling, “Yeah.  I’ll do it.”


Truthfully, despite my mild protest, I wanted to be the one showcasing Heroes.  Of everyone on the team, I knew the game best, and I actually cared about the end product.  I wanted our E3 to be a success.


Mark, “Well, you’ve got six or seven weeks to put something together.  What can you put together?”


David, Phelan, and I looked at John.


John, clearly irritated, thinking out loud, “I can have a Hero walking on the Adventure Map, but nothing will be interactive.  I can show the Town Screen, Hero Screen, and something on the Combat Screen.  Maybe auto-combat.”

Me, “Combat is a must.”

David, speaking to Phelan, “Do we have enough for a Town Screen.”

Phelan, “The Fortress is almost finished.  Should have plenty of time to finish the Castle.  We have several creatures for combat already finished.  Hero Screen is ready.  We’ve also got the intro movie.”

Mark, looked at John and chuckled, “Guess it’s all up to you.”

John, “It’s all going to be fake.”

Mark, unphased, “That’s okay.”

John, “Is Greg going to be the only one touching the mouse and keyboard?"

Me, interjecting, “I’ll make sure I’m the only one.”

John, yet again, showing his irritation, “Okay.”

Me, addressing Mark, “Are you coming along?”

Mark, “Of course.  Scott (McDaniel (marketing)) is also coming along.  I’ll take care of all the travel and hotel arrangements.  We’ll be flying out of Burbank.  JVC’s flying in, on his own, for the first day, then flying out.”

Me, “What about dress code?”

Mark, “I think they’re going to be handing out polo shirts at the show.”

Me, “Are blue jeans and a nice pair of shoes okay?”

Mark, “Sure.”


With the meeting at its logical end, everyone got up to leave.


After returning Scott’s guest chair, I walked down the NWC hall to my office.  As I was bringing up the rear, I could see and hear well ahead of me.  Phelan was far out front, with David and John midway.  I could hear the tail end of their mildly terse conversation.


John, “But we’re spending time not building the game.”

David, “I know, but we need to do this."


Clearly, John was annoyed... for a couple of reasons.  First, he knew he was being put in the hot seat.  It was basically up to him to deliver the E3 demo, which happened to be fake... not necessarily a lie, but most certainly a half-truth.  Second, working on the demo would add four to eight weeks to the programming schedule, and John knew, in the end, the people above him would not extend the game's final delivery date.  Instead, they would expect us, specifically John, to do the same amount of work in effectively a reduced period of time.  It was a tough situation, but we needed to market the game.  We needed a demo for E3.


Seven weeks later, my office phone rang.


John, on the other end of the line, "Hey.  The demo's as finished as it's going to be.  Could you drop by?”

Me, “Sure.  I’ll be right there.”

John, “You might want to bring a yellow pad.”


Stepping into John's office, yellow notepad in hand, I pulled his guest chair about to watch his computer monitor.  John proceeded to demonstrate what he had accomplished.


John, “Okay, when you start the demo, it automatically plays the intro movie.  When it’s finished, you can ‘start a new game’.  This will automatically take you to the Adventure Map put together by Phelan.  Once you are on the Adventure Map, you can move a Hero about, but visiting any location doesn’t do anything.  Double-clicking the Hero Button displays the Hero Screen.  Pressing the F3-key, displays the Town Screen for the Castle.  Pressing the F2-key, displays the Town Screen for the Fortress.  Pressing the F1-key, displays the Battlefield.  There’s a good collection of Creatures.  Clicking the Auto-combat Button, starts Ai combat.  When it’s finished, it returns to the Adventure Map.  Then you’ll need to restart the demo for another presentation.”


John then gave to me a hand-written list of buttons ‘not’ to click.


John, “Also, don’t click any of these things.  They’ll either do nothing, or crash the demo.”


Looking over the list, I saw... Credits, High Score, Load Game, Kingdom Overview, Elevation, Hero Sleep, Hero Spell, Adventure Options, Quest Long, Wait, Defend, anything on the Hero Screen except the Exit Button, and lastly... don’t click on any of the Creatures on the Battlefield.


Me, “No music or sound effects.”

John, chuckling, “No.”

Me, inhaling, “Okay.”

John, reading my mind, "I know it's not much, but it's the best I could do given the time I had."

Me, trying to be positive, “The graphics should do a lot of the heavy lifting.  If I can talk over the different segments long enough, I think we’ll be okay.”


Returning to my office, I copied the demo from the network to my computer.  After playing with it, I figured out what I could and could not click, without crashing the demo.  As I tinkered, I went back and forth on how and what to narrate for the demo.  Ultimately, I decided to focus on the ‘evolution’ from HoMM2 to HoMM3.


Higher resolution.

16-bit colors.

Pre-rendered sprites (not hand drawn).

More creature animations.

More Adventure Map to see.

Subterranean level.

Bigger Battlefield.

Updated GUI.

Individualized Heroes with special abilities.


Six mini-campaigns.

Dozens of single-player maps.

Map Editor.

New and different Town types.

New and different Adventure locations.

New and different creatures with unique-looking upgrades.

New and different Hero classes.

New and different Artifacts.

New and different Spells.

Improved multi-player.


Using these features as an outline, I made a two-column 'demo script'.  In the first column, I wrote what action to take (click this, don’t click that).  In the second column, I wrote in more detail what to say as I took the corresponding action.  After factoring in the opening movie and automatic Battlefield combat, I was able to stretch the demo to a good five minutes.  It felt right.  Not too long, not too short.  Plenty of information (perhaps too much), with plenty to see.


In the final days leading up to E3, I re-read the demo script to myself, repeatedly, until I had memorized all 500 words.  Each day, I spent some time in my office, with the door closed, and verbally spoke aloud as I gave the presentation to an imaginary person.  I also did my best to be conversational, as I didn’t want to come across like a newscaster reading from a teleprompter.  I also wanted the demo to be instinctual... second nature... easy to stop and start at any point.


Much to my surprise, during this time, not one person asked to see what I had written, not one person asked to see my presentation.  Not David, or Mark, or Scott, or JVC.  I could have elicited their feedback, but after thinking it over... there was really only one way forward.  In the end, it was all on my shoulders, I was completely on my own, and we were flying out of Burbank Airport the next morning.

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