Heroes of Might and Magic 3
Title: Heroes of Might and Magic III
Platform: Red Hat Linux 6.1
Publisher: Loki Entertainment Software
Email: Matt Matthews
Defender of the Crown by Cinemaware was easily one of the most memorable and original games released in the halcyon era of the Commodore 64. As an Anglo-Saxon lord, you travel about Britain on horseback gaining control of land and castles and armies in an attempt to unify the isle under one leader. With some of the best 8-bit graphics and sound of that era, this unique game blended strategy and action was deemed, at the time, one of the most beautiful games ever created.
And now, back to the subject at hand…
Single Player – Scenarios
For a lone player, HOMM3 provides more than enough single player scenarios to take up the a good month for a moderately determined player. To keep the gameplay fresh, each scenario takes place on a different map (of varying sizes) and may provide a single or several computer opponents with which to compete. Since progess can be saved at any point during a turn, a player is free to freeze the gamestate and try different tactics and strategies. For those players enjoying the quest for a “perfect” strategy, these scenarios provide a fertile ground for cultivating ideas and plans.
The computer AI is an able opponent, and I found that watching him closely provided me not only with vital information of his whereabouts and and army strengths, but also with a good example of how to manage several cities and heroes efficiently. While there are times when the AI seems too efficient, riding the fine line between challenging and annoying, in the end I appreciated the level of skill it pushed me to achieve.
Here I’ll lodge my biggest complaint with the game’s structure: The tutorial scenario is a terrible example and, while bolstering a new player’s confidence may seem good in theory, in practice it fails utterly. It serves merely as a tour of the objectives in this game’s world but fails to introduce any of the real relationships between them or explain the work that a real scenario will require to acquire those objectives. The rest of HOMM3 is so polished that playing the tutorial leaves one with the definite feeling that it was tacked on at the last minute.
Despite the great number and variety of these scenarios, this mode is my least favorite. This isn’t to say that single player scenarios aren’t fun and entertaining; they can be great fun. Rather, the campaign and multiplayer modes are, quite simply, even better!
Single Player – Campaign
As an added incentive, not all campaigns included in the game are accessible at the outset. To gain access to these extra campaigns, one must first complete those few campaigns initially offered.
Multiplayer – Internet/LAN/Hotseat
Not to be left out of the multiplayer obsession in today’s game market, HOMM3 provides two modes with which you can challenge your friends to a game of hero-coaching wits. The scenarios are similar to what you’ll encounter in a single player scenario, but you play against human opponents (or a mix of human and computer AI opponents).
The first mode is Hotseat and it allows several users to play a multiplayer scenario from one computer by taking turns. This mode is a bit awkward since a crucial aspect of the multiplayer gameplay stems from not knowing what your opponents are doing. So keeping your friends (i.e. opponents) from looking while you make your moves could be a potential problem. Still, almost all the fun that can be had playing over a LAN or over the Internet is part of the Hotseat mode, and it’s a great option when only one person owns the game.
We encountered some very neat features in HOMM3 while playing multiplayer games on our LAN. First, when a user drops from the game a computer-controlled opponent takes its place. This is handy for times when not everyone in your group can stay for the entire game. Second, the multiplayer game can actually be saved, providing some interesting benefits. Notably for us, we had the opportunity to take a break for lunch and return to our machines without worrying about losing our place. Next, for those who like honing your strategy skills, any user can save the position of the game and go back later to replay
Graphics & Sound
The music in HOMM3 was a pleasant surprise for me. While some game music is the kind that you listen to once and immediately turn down, I find that the music here is quite well-done. The most impressive part, in my mind, is the dynamic way in which the music mirrors the current hero’s surroundings. The varied background sounds are fantastic as well, adding just the right atmosphere without being overly noticeable.
Linux Specific Issues
I’ve tried installing HOMM3 on three separate machines (all running some variant of Red Hat) and it installed easily on all of them. Loki gave the whole Linux gaming community an invaluable gift when they wrote the famous installer that now accompanies all of their games. Even with the minimal install (only 5Mb of HDD space), the game runs well, provided your CD-ROM drive is up to the task.
The K6-2/300 and Celeron 300A (at 450MHz) machines ran HOMM3 beautifully, and are well within the recommended system requirements. I had hoped that, given that the simple demands of the interface, this game would run well off of a laptop and so one of the test systems was a Pentium 166MHz laptop with 32Mb of RAM. As the system requirements implied that a “Pentium class processor” and 32Mb of RAM would be enough to run the game, this seemed a reasonable proposition, esp. since the 800×600 fixed resolution within the game would fit well on a laptop screen. However, even with a full install, the animations and music were choppy and degraded the gameplay and enjoyment significantly. My suspicion is that the limitation was really in the low RAM and laptop video card, but I’m not confident of that.
While it is easy enough for those running at higher resolutions to Ctrl-Alt-(-) and Ctrl-Alt-(+) to adjust for this, it does get a bit tiresome to do that on a regular basis. Users choosing to run HOMM3 as root on their machine will have access to a more convenient fullscreen mode. Fortunately, Loki has promised that the first patch will introduce a fullscreen mode for all users (not just the superuser) much like the one in the latest patches to Railroad Tycoon II Gold and Civilization: Call to Power.
For those that find multiplayer as compelling as I, be warned that all versions of HOMM3 will network only within a particular platform. That is to say, the game has been released for Win32, MacOS, and Linux but each version can only talk to clients on its respective platform. The Windows version makes use of DirectPlay, a part of Microsoft’s proprietary DirectX. The MacOS version makes use of OpenPlay, an open alternative to DirectPlay. Loki has said that they may incorporate OpenPlay functionality into a future patch to enable interoperability between MacOS and Linux users. I hope that this actually does comes to pass.
Also, those players familiar with the Windows version will tell you that a map editor came as part of the package. While no map editor shipped with HOMM3 for Linux, it is apparently in development and will be released eventually. Incidentally, maps created with the Windows map editor apparently work well with the Linux client.
Finally, there are rumors that the expansion pack that was released for the Windows version will eventually be available for Linux users as well. Nothing official, yet, but there is at least a chance that Loki will release the expansion as well.
Review Update (31 January 2000)
After posting my HOMM3 review, Stephane Peter and Scott Draeker from Loki Entertainment contacted me with some additional information and a correction.
First, I was incorrect in stating that the Apple Macintosh version of HOMM3 used OpenPlay. According to Peter, the programmer that did most of the porting work on HOMM3, the Mac and Linux ports share some common code and thus have “the same network backend.” However, the two can’t talk to each other because of the endian difference between the PC and Mac architectures. There are no plans at this time to implement OpenPlay in any version of HOMM3 on any platform.
On the topic of the map/scenario editor, Scott Draeker notified me that it is “well into development” and should be released when finished. This is good news for current HOMM3 owners and all the more reason for other Linux gamers to give HOMM3 a good long look. Grab the newly released demo and try it out; if it’s your cup of tea, then get out and buy it.
More sales of HOMM3, and other Loki games, will certainly increase the likelihood that more games will get ported. Draeker made it clear that they are talking with 3D0 about bringing the HOMM3 expansion packs to Linux. Also, if their relationship remains strong and the games are in demand, Loki would “like to continue bringing [the Heroes series] to Linux.” If the quality of HOMM3 is any indication, this is great news for Linux gamers.
So there you have it: The editor is definitely on the way and expansion packs are being considered. Given that HOMM3 is a great game already, these just add to its attractiveness. And while I find myself wishing that I could play against my Windows-using, HOMM3-playing friends, that is but a small part of this fine game.
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