top of page

Newsletter #37
September 2023

Hey, All.

Hope each of you is safe and healthy.


This month I have four topics concerning the Gargoyle, Multiplayer Turns, Zydar, and part one of a new two-part ‘HoMM3 Recollection’ concerning the HoMM3 Demo Map and Map Makers.


Until next time.




Fanstratics Game Director & Designer






Fanstratics Troop: Gargoyle


Born of the Stoutblud's unique variation of arcane arts, the Gargoyle is ultimately... a golem.  Expertly carved from specially quarried stone, the Gargoyle's authors crafted its visual appearance from a creative amalgamation of contrary influences.  Across its surface, the Gargoyle is etched with numerous runic inscriptions, giving it 'life' while codifying its behavior.  Additionally, their rugged stone structure and mysterious arcane essence give them many natural immunities and, occasionally... the ability to imbue their Allies with magical resistances.


I’ve mentioned this before, but conceptualizing stereotypical fantasy creatures can be more difficult than rendering original creations.  Such is the case with a Gargoyle.  After a quick page of exceptional thumbnails, Justin worked through two rounds of roughs and produce a big, bulky, magically animated, golem-like Gargoyle.  Good stuff. 


For those who want to see Justin create the drawing, check out a VOD from his Twitch stream.




Fanstratics Question: I have a question (or suggestion if you will) though.  In my opinion, the biggest problem with the Heroes franchise (and similar games) is the lack of things to do during the opponent's turn - especially when playing online multiplayer.  This results in lots of waiting time, if, for instance, the opponent has a long battle.  It is a problem I have thought a bit about, and other turn-based or semi-turn-based games struggle with (or have found solutions for).  Solutions could maybe be simultaneous turns (which would probably only work until players meet each other - due to the nature of the game) or maybe that other players can play the battles as the AI.  I'm sure other games have other solutions to the problem.  I hope this is something that you will look into for your game.


I know where you are coming from.  Minutes feel like hours when you are waiting for another player to complete their turn.  Limited simultaneous turns and unlimited simultaneous turns are something I'm strongly considering.  I am also looking at something more radical, but it needs testing.  We'll see.




HoMM3 Question:  I have a small question to you regarding your past as HoMM3 designer and hope it won't be overbearing.  There is an Inferno hero named Zydar.  His class is Heretic.  In the manual his race is stated to be Efreet.  His bio in the game reads:  "When Zydar isn't in the field leading troops, he is studying new ways to increase the potency of his spells.  While not the greatest of mages, he certainly shows more promise than any of his demon-kin."  His stated race is Efreet, him having horns also fits that description (another Efreets, like Octavia, have them as well), but due to the "his demon-kin" part some people assure Zydar is a Kreegan or some other type of demon.  Then again, "demon-kin" may refer to Eeofol Inferno creatures in general.  And Efreeti are part of those and can be described as demonic, just like Kreegan, Gogs, etc.  There's also the loading screen image in HoMM vanilla, where an archangel battles a person that looks to be Zydar.  And the latter has a similar sort of "fire wave" in the lower half of his body that Efreeti have.  Would be nice to hear your stance on that.


When I crafted the various 'factions' in HoMM3, I thought of them more as 'cultures', not as 'races’.  I suspect this is my ‘Americanness’ showing through in my work.  For instance, in the USA, you have regional cultures such as... New England, Rust Belt, Deep South, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, etc.  Each 'culture' is comprised of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, but with a shared regional culture.  Perhaps the most noteworthy comparison is the New York region versus the SoCal region.  Both are similar regarding their ethnic and religious composition, but culturally... they couldn't be farther apart.  With this in mind, I always considered the Efreets 'demonic', but not necessarily Kreegan.  Hope this answers your question.



HoMM3 Recollection: Demo Map and Map Makers (part 1 of 2).


It was early January, roughly a week after everyone had returned from Christmas vacation.  Finally, after ~16 months, we could see on the developmental horizon, the end of production for Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (HoMM3).  Of course, this didn’t stop new tasks from being created and added to our existing list of responsibilities.  I was sitting in David Mullich’s office when he gave me the news.


David, “I just got out of a meeting with Mark.  3DO’s arranged with Gamespot to host a demo of Heroes3.”


At the time, in the evolution of PC gaming, a demo for your game was considered a requirement.  This particular requirement had its roots in ‘Shareware’.  While Shareware had been around since 1982, for computer games, this specific approach to advertising your product was popularized by Id Software in the early 1990’s.  Specifically, we are talking about shareware versions of Commander Keen, Catacomb Abyss, and of course... Wolfenstein 3D.


Like myself, most people first encountered Shareware via a Shareware Catalog, either included with their computer or sent to them via unsolicited snail mail.  For a fee, these catalogs would mail to you, on 5.25” or 3.5” floppy disks, your Shareware of choice.  Little did I know, these game demos and numerous others, were all freely available for download via a web of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS’s) across the USA.  Unfortunately, I had no concept of a BBS, or the Internet foundation powering it all.


Fast forward to October 1996.  Less than 1% of the world’s population is online, and the Internet is still in its infancy.  Those fortunate enough to be online, are connecting via a copper phone line, with a 28kbps or 56kbps dial-up modem.  With these speed limitations, sending a game demo through the mail was still more prudent, but a new wrinkle had emerged.  Gaming magazines like Computer Gaming World and PC Gamer began shipping in transparent plastic bags.  Inside these plastic bags were the magazine and a 3.5” floppy disk.  On the 3.5" floppy disk were one or two game demos.  Eventually, when the costs were favorable, the magazines would discard 3.5” floppy disks in favor of CD-ROMs.


Consider the example of a game like Diablo.  Blizzard Entertainment had arranged for a demo of the game to be included with each copy of PC Gamer’s November 1996 issue (released in October).  This resulted in 10's of thousands of demo copies being released to the public... with who knows how many more being copied and shared.  To say this was pivotal to Diablo’s success would be an understatement.


Fast forward again, to January 1999.  Roughly 3.5% of the world’s population is online.  While this doesn’t seem like much... it was enough to encourage technical innovation from both the phone and cable television providers.  For most Internet users, speeds of 56kbps were now standard, but in select neighborhoods across the country, you could acquire a high-speed 'cable modem' delivering speeds of 10 Mbps.  For a modern comparison, my present internet download speed is 100 Mbps.  With this emerging boost in internet speeds, putting a demo on a snail mail 3.5” floppy disk or CD-ROM was now considered antiquated.  ‘Downloads’ from gaming websites was the new modern method for game demo acquisitions.

David, continuing, “3DO also wants to release the ‘demo’ before the game hits the shelves.”

Me, rolling my eyes, “Wonderful.”

David, continuing, “I’ve talked to John Bolton about making a stripped-down version of the game, but we need a map.  I was thinking we’d just use one of the existing small maps.”

Me, shaking my head, “I’m not sure one of our existing maps would really showcase the game.  Why don’t I just make a new one.”

David, “Do you have the time?”

Me, “Not really, but I’ll find the time.  Give me two or three days.”

David, thinking it over, “Okay.  Just be sure to run it past Phelan for ‘beautification’.”

Me, “Sure.  Not a problem.”


Truthfully, I could have handed this assignment off to Christian Vanover, Dave Botan, or one of the Map Makers, but I had an ulterior motive.


Originally, I wanted to conceptualize and build all of the campaign maps myself, but I had so much raw design on my plate, I never had the opportunity to realize this goal.  Instead, I was forced to give campaign map-making duties to Christian, who enlisted the assistance of DaveB.


With HoMM3’s development coming to a natural conclusion, up to this point, I had made only one map for the game.  Unfortunately, it was the fake, crippled map seen only by the attendees at E3 in Atlanta, in late May 1998.  This E3 map would never be seen by the public, and the thought of HoMM3 shipping without... at the very least... one map made by myself was... unacceptable.


Despite a ‘demo map’ being extra work in my already busy schedule, I had a twofold opportunity.  First, I could make a Demo Map specifically geared toward exhibiting as much of the game as possible, without giving away the entire game.  Second, once the Demo Map was finished, I could make a couple of alternations and slip it into the game as its own unique single-player map.  This would accomplish my goal of having at least one map in the shipped game.


For better or worse, neither David, Mark, or anyone else, had given me any guidance on making the Demo Map.  I was wholly on my own, and it was entirely in my hands to help market HoMM3 to anyone playing the Demo Map for the first time.  I wasn’t too worried.  I felt the game would sell itself... provided I showcased it enough.


To start, I sat down and took the needed time to conceptualize the Demo Map.  What were my goals?


Keep it concise and concentrated.

Give people a taste of the ‘old’ game, with plenty of new features, without giving them the entire ‘new’ game.

Via presentation and gameplay, do my best to convince anyone playing the Demo Map, to purchase a copy of HoMM3.

Leave the player wanting more.




Small Map.

3 Factions, including the most familiar Faction... the Castle.

As many terrains as is reasonable.

Magic Plains unique terrain.

Underground Layer.  Keep it small and limited.

Water Movement and Exploration.

External Creature Dwellings.

Creature Banks.

Obelisks and Grail.

Altar of Sacrifice.

Text event.

No indefinite gameplay.  Victory condition should be ‘defeat all enemies’.  Loss condition should be ‘time expires in 4 weeks’.

Make it as beautiful as possible.


On the first day, following an early lunch, from 12PM to 6PM, I closed the door to my office and focused on making the Demo Map.  Initially, after a quick draft in the Map Editor, I settled on a central island with a surrounding ring of lands, making sure the underground layer connected to some of the above-ground lands.  Next, I placed the ‘major items’ first (towns, mines, gates, etc.), the ‘minor items’ second (treasures, destinations, etc.), and the decorations last (trees, mountains, obstacles, etc.).  Along the way, like any artistic endeavor, there was a lot of back-and-forth and trial and error.


Of the two days, what I remember most, is the second day, where I was working toward two different deadlines.  Earlier in the day, I had spoken to Phelan and Chris, and scheduled time with both.


At 4PM, Phelan was supposed to review the map and make any 'artistic' adjustments.  Because we didn’t trust the artistic eye of the different Map Makers, David and Phelan had established a protocol where an NWC artist would look over every map and ‘beautify’ it.  Logically, we called this process ‘beautification’.  It created some friction between the Map Makers and the NWC Artists, but overall, it was a net positive process.


As for my Demo Map, I could have slapped it together and given it to Phelan for clean-up.  Instead, I spent most of my morning and afternoon, agonizing over the placement and layering of the various trees, mountains, decorations, mines, and objects.  Why?  Two reasons.  First, I didn’t want to burden Phelan.  She had enough to do, and the last thing I wanted was her spending time cleaning up my work.  Second, I took pride in my work and wanted the map to be mine as much as possible.  If a potential customer was impressed, I wanted to say, with all honestly, “It was my map.”


At 5PM, Christian was supposed to play the map.  In asking Chris to play the map, I had two goals.  First, was to test for any potential bugs.  Second, was to observe Chris playing.  Being an expert Heroes player, Chris was a good gauge of the map's difficulty, and personally... I wanted to see firsthand if he actually enjoyed playing the game.


Around 3PM, I wrapped up my work.  Referring to the map’s two enemy factions, Necropolis and Dungeon, I gave the map its title... ‘Dead and Buried’.


I called Phelan.


Me, “Hey, Phelan.  Did David talk to you about ‘beautifying’ my Demo Map?”

Phelan, “Yeah.  Is it finished?”

Me, “Yes.  Do you think you could finish it by 5PM?”

Phelan, “I don’t know.  Does it look like garbage?”

Me, “I’d like to think not.”

Phelan, “Is it on the network?”

Me, “Yes.  It’s in the Demo Map folder.  Under Design.”

Phelan, “Ok.  Give me a couple of minutes.  I’ll look it over and let you know if there’s any problems.”


Taking a small break, I grabbed a Coca-Cola from the NWC soda pop machine, eased into my desk chair, and relaxed with a bit of web browsing.  Not fifteen minutes after I had spoken to Phelan, she stopped by my office.


Standing in my doorway, Phelan gave me a thumbs up, “I moved a couple mountains and trees.  Otherwise it looks really good."

Me, “Did you make a new version of the map or just save the adjustments?

Phelan, “I just saved the file I opened on the network.”

Me, “Okay.  Thanks.”


As Phelan walked off, I picked up my phone's receiver and tapped out the extension for Chris.


Chris, answering his phone, “This is Chris.”

Me, “We still good for 5PM?”

Chris, “Yes.”

Me, “We can start early if you want.  Phelan finished looking over the map.”

Chris, “Want to do it at 4?”

Me, “Sure.  I’ll be there.”


Around 3:50PM, I grabbed another cold Coca-Cola from the NWC soda pop machine and left the main office. 


At this point in the evolution of New World Computing, the company was physically divided.  One portion, the main office, housed executives, producers, designers, programmers, and a small smattering of artists.  On the other side of the building’s second floor, was a significant collection of offices and cubicles accommodating mostly artists.


Opening one-half of the double doors leading into the non-descript ‘artist’s area’, I stepped inside and looked about.  I’d only ventured into this part of NWC on a couple of occasions.  It was mildly foreign territory, and I honestly didn’t know the location of Chris’ office.  Thankfully, I was tall enough to look above and across the collection of cubicles.  If Chris occupied one of them, I’d have difficulty finding him.  Luckily, on the far side of the office, I spotted Chris in a perimeter office.


Walking through the Artists Area, on my way to Chris, a couple of unknown artists threw odd glares my way.  I was definitely a ‘stranger in a strange land’.  Stepping into the open doorframe of Chris’ office, he looked up from his computer.  He was writing something in Microsoft Word.  It was something I didn’t identify, but assumed was for the 3DO forum.


Chris, chuckling, “You’re early.”

Me, “Did you want me to come back in five minutes?”

Chris, chuckling, “No.  Take a seat.”


Closing MS Word, Chris clicked on a minimized folder on his taskbar.  It was the Demo for HoMM3, which he had already copied from the network to his system.  He was prepared, ready to go, and I must admit... it made me smile inside.  I liked it when my co-workers were considerate enough to think ahead.


Grabbing the Guest Chair on the side of Chris’ desk, I pulled it alongside him and turned it about.  Sitting beside him, I took a sip from my Coca-Cola as he double-clicked ‘h3demo.exe’.  After a couple seconds, the HoMM3 Demo Main Menu appeared.


Almost immediately, Chris blurted out, “Ugh!”

Me, puzzled, “What?”

Chuckling, Chris started a ‘New Game’, “I gotta change the music.”


Upon seeing the map, Chris quickly read the ‘event text’, clicked on System Options, and set Music to ‘0’.


Me, “You don’t like the music?”

Chris, “No.  I love the music.  I’m just sick of hearing it.  I’ve probably listened to each track over a hundred times.”


Tabbing out to the desktop, Chris loaded up Winamp and ran it in the background.  After a couple of quick clicks, he sought and loaded several tracks from his system's hard drive to the empty playlist.


Reaching to the other side of his desk, he grabbed a CD and handed it to me, “I got this over Christmas.  It’s on the network if you want to grab it.”


Looking at the CD Chris handed me, I saw it was a copy of ‘Chef Aid: The South Park Album’.  I laughed.  At this point in time, South Park was two seasons old, and very much a cultural success.   Chris double-clicked the first track, and the South Park Theme began playing.  It was a very odd juxtaposition of music with the game, and I couldn’t help but laugh.


Me, looking over the back of the CD, “Wow.  They got a bunch of heavy hitters.  Ozzy Osbourne, Rancid, Puff Daddy, System of a Down, Elton John, Devo, Rick James, Meat Loaf, and Joe Strummer.”

Chris, “I didn’t really care for the songs not sung by the cast, so I set them aside.”


For roughly the next hour, laughing along with various South Park songs, I watched Chris play my Demo Map (1) (2).  It was a lot of fun, and for me, it provided an opportunity to break away from ‘real work’ to finally see HoMM3 in action.  I am, however, the worst person to have over your shoulder when you play any game.  For Chris, I quickly became a ‘backseat driver’... a bad habit learned from playing console games with friends.


Repeatedly, I harassed him about why he was doing certain things and not others, second-guessing almost everything he did.  Chris would push back, telling me it was his playthrough, and he could progress the game however he liked.  We were like two old men bickering about the best strategy as Chris clicked his way through the game.  I found it all rather humorous.


As I observed Chris’ play, I thought the map looked good.  Chris was also enticed about the map, into areas I wanted him to investigate, via deliberately placed ‘breadcrumbs’.  In addition to all of this, Gus Smedstad’s Ai performed well in combat, giving Chris a good fight, without being discouraging.


In the end, after his first play, Chris was unable to defeat the two map enemies before the time limit (as I’d planned).  Unfortunately, there was one bug.  If you reach the 7th Day of the 4th Week, you get the 'expiration event text', but the date also rolls over.   This shows you next week’s Astrologer's Report, before you are returned to the Main Menu.  We let it go.  As John Bolton explained to me, the game worked a certain way, and making a proper fix would have required opening a can of worms.  At least the ‘buy the full version’ graphic worked properly.


With our task complete, I looked at Chris and asked, “Thumbs up?”

Chris, nodding, “Yep.”

Getting up from Chris’ guest chair, I slid it back into its original place, “Thank you for your time.”

Chris, smiling, “Not a problem.”


Leaving Chris’ office, I exited the Artist’s Area, walked across the second-floor atrium, and re-entered the NWC main office.  While Chris wasn’t the most objective critic, he was typical of the audience we were attempting to reach... gamers who had played HoMM2.  I was happy he had enjoyed playing the map I had created, and I was happier he appeared to lose himself while playing the game.  He simply had fun.  This moment was the first... relatively objective glimpse... indicating all the pain and hard work of HoMM3 development was paying off. 


I must admit... I was on a personal high.

bottom of page