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Newsletter #30
February 2023

Hey, All.

Welcome.  Hope each of you is safe.


This month I have four topics, with the Recollection being part 1 or 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.  When I’ve wrapped up at least 75% of the outstanding messages, I'll repost the correspondence email (hopefully soon).


Until next time.




Fanstratics Game Director & Designer







Fanstratics Troop: Reaper.


Only the Necrotics enlist a Troop considered to be ‘death incarnate’.  Draped in ethereal robes, this skeletal Reaper wields a two-handed scythe and seeks Enemy Troops to 'harvest'.  Able to diminish Enemy Troop Health with a cutting assault, the Reaper can also empower itself by 'reaping' the spirits of Enemy Troops upon their death.  Its presence discourages enemy armies and creates misery among the living.  Unironically, upon its own demise, the Reaper does not leave a corpse.


This one turned out to be mildly more challenging than anticipated.  While the thumbnails were fine, when it came to the initial rough, the Reaper didn't have enough 'personality'.  After a bit of back-and-forth with Justin, he tweaked a few things (head tilt, hand position, scythe position, etc.), and it all came together.  It's surprising how a few minor adjustments could have such a significant impact.


Justin has managed to survive the holidays.  For those who want to see Justin create the drawing, you can always watch a VOD of his Twitch stream.




HoMM3 Question: I have got to ask, Why has no one ever tried to remake The HOMM 3 with hires graphics and modern Computers in mind?


Well, Ubisoft did make an HD Edition, but I suspect you are asking for a 'true remake'.  A 'true remake' would involve recreating the game from top to bottom, much like Blizzard recently did with Diablo 2: Resurrected.  Firstly, this would take a considerable amount of time and money.  Secondly, what could the ‘remake’ possibly offer you couldn’t already get with the community version of HoMM3?


With Fanstratics, I know I can embrace the spirit of the original while delivering something new, different, and more.  With a remake, Ubisoft is strictly limited to embracing the original.  From a business perspective, if you are charging $40 a copy, it's risky.




Fanstratics Question: What I didn’t quite like after many years in Heroes 3 the lack number of skills for me and also the lack number of really useful skills.  In that way I think Heroes 7 is may be the best from the series.


While I know where you are coming from, for me, as FST’s game designer, this particular subject is a no-win situation.  If I maintain the H3 system, people complain, “Not enough useful skills.”  If I adopt the H5, H6, or H7 system, people complain, “Too complicated.”


In the end, I must remind people, I didn’t design H4, H5, H6, or H7.  I designed H3, and I’m making a spiritual successor to H3.  So, at this time, my intention is remain relatively close to home.




HoMM3 Recollection: The Game Manual (part 1 of 2).


I estimate it was early November 1998.  It was morning, and I was working away in my office when David Mullich called.


David, “Hi.  Someone’s coming in today at 10:30 to talk about printing the manual.  I’m going to be there.  Phelan’s going to be there.  You should be there as well.”

Me, “Your office?

David, “No.  The Meeting Room.”


In what encompassed the video gaming world, in 1998, game manuals were considered necessary reference tools but, ultimately... bothersome.  After tearing open their boxed copy of a game, most players disregarded the manual, quickly installed the game to their hard drive, and immediately dove headfirst into the deep end.  Even today, most players prefer to learn a game by trial and error.  Some would argue... it’s part of the fun.


In the years since, screen resolutions and hard drive capacities have increased, allowing tutorials, tooltips, and in-game encyclopedias to gradually replace game manuals.   Ironically, the people who remember those old game manuals now miss them, despite rarely reading them.  Why?  They were fun to flip through, scan the various images and, if necessary, refer to when a game left you confused.  Today, game manuals are something of a lost art, having been replaced by the internet's depth, breadth, ease, and speed.

When I stepped into the Meeting Room at the front of New World Computing (NWC), David and Phelan Sykes were sitting with a man named Edwin Steussy.  Ed owned Mars Publishing, which developed user manuals and strategy guides, primarily for video game companies in the Los Angeles area.  After shaking hands with Ed, I sat at the Meeting Room table, and we got right to it.


David, “Well, what do you need from us?”

Ed, “Cover art.  Concept art.  Background art if you want it.  Icons.  Screenshots.”

Phelan, “Basically, you need everything.”

Ed, “Basically, yes.  I have someone to assemble the graphics for the final PDF, but I need the graphics.”

Phelan, “Okay.  I’ll put together everything we have, but there’s a lot that’s unfinished.”

Ed, “Just send what you have.  It’ll get us started.  When the rest is ready, send it along.  We’ll have time.  We still have to write it.”

Me, “I assume I’m writing the game manual?”

Ed, “Oh, no.  No.  I’ve got someone in mind to write the manual and the strategy guide.  He’ll need whatever design materials you want to include, along with a general direction.  He may stop by, introduce himself, ask any questions, if necessary.”


This was good news, as writing the Game Manual was the last thing I wanted to do.  If the task had fallen to me, I suspect I would have tried giving it to Christian Vanover.


Me, “Okay.  I’ll put something together.  Do I send it to you?”


Ed looked at David.


David, “I've got Ed's email.  Just send it to me."

Me, “Okay.”

David, “Do you have any ideas on a direction?”

Me, “It’d make sense to stick with the template set by Heroes2.  It’s what players would expect.”

Ed, “Okay.”

Phelan, “What about paper weight for the cover and interior pages?”

Ed, “I can send over a bunch of samples.  You can pick what you want.”

Phelan, “Okay.  Good.  Is there a page limit?”

Ed, “144 pages.  Anything more than that, and you’ll probably go over your ‘cost of goods’.  If 144 pages isn’t enough, we can try playing with font size.  Also, the cover is color, and the interior pages are black and white.”


A couple of weeks later, David told me the ‘manual writer’ would be visiting, and in the second half of my work day, he brought by my office, Tom Ono.  Tom had been hired by Mars Publishing to write the HoMM3 Game Manual and the Prima Strategy Guide.  Like most people at NWC, Tom was relatively quiet and introverted.  So... he fit right in.


David, introducing Tom, “Greg, this is Tom Ono.”


From my office chair, I shook Tom’s hand.


Me, “Hi.”

Tom, Hello.”

David, “Tom is writing the Game Manual.  He’s here to ask some questions.”

Me, “Okay.  I’ll help... if I can.”

David, “I’ll leave him here with you.  Let me know if you need anything.”


As David departed, I offered my guest chair to Tom.


Me, “Have a seat.”

Tom, sitting down, “How are things going?”

Me, groaning, “There's always someone mucking up the works or trying to be 'helpful'.


In what could have left a bad first impression, I complained for the next few minutes... much to Tom’s amusement.  Previously, I stated this conversation took place over the phone, but in hindsight... I’m not 100% sure.  I could have sworn it was in my office.


Tom, smiling, “I wouldn’t complain too much.  Some people would give their eyeteeth to be in the game industry.”

Me, half joking, “Who are these people, and why haven't they been beaten for their own good?"

Tom, laughing, “Well, I’ll try to not make things worse for you.”

Me, “Did you get the documents I put together?”

Tom, “Yes.  I got them from David.  They were very helpful.  Saved me a lot of work.”

Me, “Do you think we can squeeze everything into 144 pages?”

Tom, nodding, “I think so.  We’ll need to use a smaller font than the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 manual, but we should be okay.”

Me, “Okay.  Good.  I was a little worried.”

Tom, “There was one thing I didn’t see in the documents you sent.  Maps.”

Me, “Like a campaign flow chart or a list of maps?"

Tom, “Yes.  That kind of stuff.  I’m also writing the strategy guide.  So, I could use a list of maps.  Pictures.  Etc.”


I reached for my office phone, grabbed the receiver, and dialed the extension for Christian.


Me, “Hey, Chris.  Greg calling.  I’m sitting here with Tom Ono.  He’s writing the Heroes3 Game Manual and Strategy Guide and needs to talk to someone about game maps.  Okay.”


Hanging up the phone, I turned back to Tom.


Me, “I conceptualized the campaign maps and storyline, but Chris is the one who really built them.  He’s the one you want to talk to, so I’ll just hand you off to him.”

Tom, “Okay.  Also, before I go, if you want any help with the story, dialog, readme files, or help files, I’m available to do that sort of work.”

Me, “Okay.  I’ll keep it in mind.”


At this point, Christian appeared outside my office door.


Me, motioning to Chris, “Tom, this is Chris.”

Chris smiled, "Hello."


Both Tom and Chris shook hands.


Tom, “Hello.”

Me, “I’ve given Tom everything he needs for the manual, but he still needs more information on Campaign Maps and Single Player Maps.”

Chris, “Well, I can tell you what I know.  There’s also a guy named Dave Botan you should talk to.  Once you are done with us, I could have you talk to the different testers.  They’ve made most of the Single Player Maps.”

Me, turning my attention to Tom, “You may be here longer than you thought.”

Tom, getting up from his chair with a smirk, “Not a problem.”

Me, “If you need anything from me, I’ll be right here.”


With a wave goodbye, Chris took Tom away, and I returned to my work.


In early December, David called my office phone.  We were ‘crunching’, and I wasn't in the best mood, as I was developing an awful case of influenza.


David, “Got a minute?”

Me, “Sure.”


Leaving my office, I walked into David’s and sat in his guest chair.


David, “Have you given any thought to the Help File for the game?”

Me, “None.”

David chuckled, “Well, we need one.  Tom Ono just turned in the final Word doc of the Game Manual to Mars Publishing.  Converting it shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”

Me, sighing, “Okay.  Send it to me.  I’ll get to it when I can.”

David, “I don’t have it.  You’ll need to call Tom and get it from him.  Do you have his number?”


Thinking back to my conversation with Tom, I remembered him mentioning ‘Help Files’ as one of the things he routinely did for extra money.  In dropping this ‘hint’, Tom clearly wanted... or expected... the extra work.


On the one hand, it made sense.  If Tom wrote the Game Manual, it would be logical for him to create the associated Help File.  On the other hand, David, Christian, or I could have just as easily created the Help File.  While I wanted to toss the extra work to Tom, it would require convincing David, and I knew he wouldn't do it.  Hiring Tom was an unnecessary extra expense.


Unknowingly, David had dropped me into a potentially tense situation.  Calling Tom and asking him for the Word version of the Game Manual would make him suspicious... possibly angry.  I would be asking him to assist me in doing work... he had hoped would come his way.


For a hot second, I thought to ask David to call Tom or Mars Publishing, but it felt cowardly.  Over the few sessions in which we worked on the Game Manual, I’d quickly grown to like Tom, and I could easily see this whole thing going sideways and destroying any friendly relationship we had.  Ultimately, I'd been the one working with Tom, and I should be the one delivering the bad news.




Returning to my office, I refused to dither, picked up the phone, and called Tom.  A couple of rings later, Tom picked up.


Tom, “Tom Ono.”

Me, “Tom.  This is Greg Fulton from New World Computing.”

Tom, “Oh.  Hi, Greg.  What can I do for you?”

Me, "I called to ask if you would email to me the Word document for the Game Manual."


There was a moment of silence.  I waited, not saying a word.


Tom, "Why do you need the Word document?"

Me, “I just got out of a meeting with David Mullich.  We need to put together a Help File for the game, and the job has been given to me.”


There was another moment of silence.  Again, I waited, not saying a word.


Tom, frustrated, “You know... I only got $3000 for this job.  Both the manual and the strategy guide.”


Technically, what Tom earned from Mars Publishing had nothing to do with me.  Considering the amount of work and the tight deadline, he was obviously underpaid.  Still, more to the point, I suspect Tom was struggling to find work... and needed the money.


Me, “Have you spoken to Ed?  I mean, if it was more work than expected, he might give you something.  It’s not an unreasonable request.”

Tom thought about it for a second, "That's a good point.  I hadn't thought to ask."


There was a third moment of silence.  Again, I waited, not saying a word.


Tom, "Give me half an hour to find and email the document.  Let me know if you have any troubles with it."

Me, “Okay.  Appreciate it.  Bye.”

Tom, “Bye.”


I don’t know if Tom ever asked Ed about additional compensation, but Mars did give him extra work writing the Might and Magic 7 (MM7) Game Manual and Prima Strategy Guide.  In doing this work, he interacted with Paul Rattner, who eventually hired him to work at NWC.


When I last saw Tom, he was participating in a ‘stand-up meeting' in the artist's area.  I walked over and shook his hand.


Me, “I heard you were an employee now.”

Tom, “Yeah.”

Me, “Should I say congratulations?”

Tom, chuckling, “I think so.”

Me, “Settling in?”

Tom, smirking, “Kinda.  Hitting the ground running.  Lots to learn.  Apparently, Trip Hawkins has some ideas for the next Might and Magic.”

I rolled my eyes and groaned, “Better you than me.”


Tom laughed as I waved ‘goodbye’ and went about my business.  I was happy to see he’d found his way ‘inside’.

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