Heroes Of Might & Magic 3 HD Released, Problems Abound

The list of games that have caused me sleepless nights (because I didn’t go to bed) or hindered my ability to get anything done (because I was playing them) is not a short list, but somewhere near the top is New World Computing’s indisputable classic* Heroes of Might & Magic III.

News of an official HD re-release was therefore exciting, though my family, friends and colleagues may have felt otherwise. The original HOMM3 (because really, who types the whole thing out every time) still has buckets of charm and is perfectly playable today, but the idea of re-drawn and re-animated creature sprites plus support for higher resolutions and widescreen appealed. The addition of Steamworks multiplayer sounded like another plus since it can be tricky to get a multiplayer game of HOMM3 going.

Sadly it is already sounding as if Ubisoft have dropped the ball on this one. Not only does the HD version of the game lack the Armageddon’s Blade and Shadow of Death expansion packs (as the source code has been lost), players are reporting that it also does not feature the random map generator. The latter is a big part of the game’s enduring popularity, so its exclusion seems like a bizarre oversight.

Steam’s user reviews are also already full of players complaining about numerous bugs and problems. To be fair, re-releases of cult classics are always going to attract a bit of unfair criticism, but recurrent reports of technical issues like having to issue every step of a move command separately, or basic stuff like mouse lag and end of turn hangs, don’t fall into that category.

Frankly I’d never forgive myself if I suggested that, right now, Heroes of Might & Magic 3 HD was something you should consider buying. Here’s hoping that Ubisoft decide to patch the game, and promptly. Perhaps if the base game at least works as expected, this won’t look so much like an inferior product when compared with itself.

I do love a silver lining, though, so I was able to derive amusement from the unhappy Steam user who complained that the game was locked at 30fps. It was? Really? And that mattered? For Heroes of Might & Magic III? From 1999?

Well, to each their own.

* Okay, you could theoretically dispute it, but now I’ve made you look all the way down here instead. I think this means I win, friend.

75 Comments

  1. golem09 says:

    lol, no RMG?
    I already skipped Heroes VI because of that. Now I won’t even buy this demake for my tablet…

  2. povu says:

    The problem with 30 FPS is that it’s not great for mouse movement. The HD mod for the original game actually made the mouse movement much smoother. I don’t know if it increased the framerate somehow or what, but the mouse movement is much better.

    • Shaun Green says:

      I did not know that. So thanks for mentioning it! It does put a different perspective on that comment.

      • Vin_Howard says:

        Yah, FPS isn’t just a visual representation; it also effects input-display delay

    • Catweasel says:

      That actually makes a lot of sense, I would have thought it was just kidding around but that’s completely valid.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      That’s why you have the “hardware cursor” options?

  3. mattevansc3 says:

    Could someone explain the issue around the source code to me please?

    If the expansions are available cant they just reverse engineer them? What is in the source code that couldn’t be ripped from an old retail copy?

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      Reverse engineering code is difficult to do, at least to the point where you have an easy-to-use code base to work from. If the expansions’ source code is lost, Ubisoft probably assumes that it’s not worth the extraordinary time and cost it would take to produce something workable out of them.

      • jrodman says:

        I’d say it comes down to two factors. The first is that there are far fewer people competent at reverse engineering than creation. The second is that it takes far longer.

        Together this would increase the cost to the point where this project would likely not have happened.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      That’s the big issue with software : the only programs that have the source code available are generally the non-commercial libre software ones. And decompiling that source code from the binary files is generally not possible. Therefore you would pretty much need to rebuild the source code from scratch… which is even harder to do than making a brand new game.

      • jrodman says:

        Source code is certainly available to the company who made the game. The problem is that company went out of business.

        As for generating source code from the binaries, this is either trivial or impossible depending upon your perspective. Hex-rays is a product that can generate source from a binary at the click of a button. However it won’t have any of the original names, comments, clarity, and structure. Which is a big problem when trying to actually do a significant freshening up of a game (less so when trying to just do an evil hack or two).

        • BlueTemplar says:

          .Net decompiler :
          link to ilspy.net
          (you get at least the variable names, not sure about comments)

          • Chalky says:

            Games coded in easy to decompile languages such as .net are almost always run through an obfuscation program prior to compilation to prevent them getting ripped off. This means not only do you not get variable names, but the resulting source code is intentionally scrambled to make it extremely difficult to read or understand.

            There are pieces of software that will attempt to unscramble them depending on what obfuscation engine you use, but it’s an extremely messy business.

          • jrodman says:

            And since this is not a .net program, this is relevant.. how?

        • BlueTemplar says:

          You said this was impossible for software in general. I gave a counter-example.

    • Dread says:

      I honestly don’t think the source code is even necessary. Look at the mod “Horn of the Abyss”, it adds a completely new faction with new art assets, new campaigns, new heroes and artifacts.
      The expansion packs aren’t that different. If a small mod team can create that for free, then Ubisoft shouldn’t have a problem with it.
      The only things from the expansions requiring some real work are the RMG and maybe the mechanics of the combo artifacts.

      I believe, Ubisoft simply went for the cheapest option to get HoMM3 HD out there, then looks at the sales and if they are good, they’ll release AB + SoD in half a year for another 15€.
      With their lost source code story, they even covered for themselves.
      If it’s profitable to release the expansions, they’ll say how much work they put into recreating everything and thus justify the additional pricetag. If it isn’t profitable, they can just say, it’s impossible without the source code and have a somewhat plausible excuse.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        Yeah some decent mod support and making the fancy new-lookin’ assets available would leave the door open for fans to remake the addons I would’ve thought. They’re just new factions and campaigns, right? Might be trickier if they actually altered the mechanics or what-have-you…

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Except that this becomes much harder if instead of releasing a mod you have to port the game to a different Operating System / Processor Architecture. Sure, we now have DOS and Windows NT emulators, but AFAIK this is mostly made possible because of Moore’s Law processor power explosion in the noughties. And even then we already started to run into quantum limits of classical computers, and it’s far from guaranteed that quantum or optical computers are going to keep it going. And we’re also going to run into thermodynamical limits of computation, sooner than later considering Moore’s Law exponential nature.

  4. Knurek says:

    It’s not Ubisoft in this case, the HD port was done by DotEmu.
    Yes, the same company that ported the locked to 15 fps FF4 PC version.
    The same company that continues to release terrible emulated version of old arcade games.
    I for one can’t wait to see what other classic they will desecrate next.

    • Baines says:

      Yes, it is annoying that these kinds of companies still get work outsourced to them.

      It’s more annoying than hearing Uwe Boll just got the movie rights to some videogame.

  5. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Given the fantastic HD mod and the cheap, readily available HoMM3 complete on GOG, there’s never been a more unneeded remake.

    • Crabtipus says:

      If the multiplayer worked properly it would be one thing, but when it’s just as buggy or worse than Gameranger there’s a serious problem. Plus they removed LAN play

      • BlueTemplar says:

        The removal of TCP/IP multiplayer (like for W40k:Dawn of War 1) is absolutely appalling. This is the access to the fundamental protocol the Internet is built on that is being removed (due to piracy concerns??).

  6. bee says:

    People keep complaining about the steam version, and rightfully so. Here’s the thing though… they keep overlooking the fact that this game ALSO came out for Android and iOS. I already own the GoG HOMM3 collection, but I bought this one anyways so I could play it on my tablet. Even if it doesn’t include the best parts I’m happy because I can play it on my tablet.

    • lomaxgnome says:

      Yeah the Steam version seems rather pointless compared to the GoG version, I’m also way more interested in it on my tablet. Do you have any comments on the quality of that version? I’ve heard the touch control system doesn’t work very well.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Except that you could do it before while paying less for a more complete product (which isn’t arbitrarily restricted to tablets only, and I’m willing to bet has better touchscreen controls) :
      link to play.google.com

      • lomaxgnome says:

        Why would you expect an emulator of a game designed for multiple mouse buttons would have better touchscreen controls? Updating the interface should be the biggest difference on a tablet. I’m not saying it can’t be functional via emulator, but a good touchscreen interface is entirely different than a mouse driven interface.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          Because I tried ExaGear Strategies’ emulator, and it has the best touchscreen controls I’ve seen so far for an initially keyboard + mouse strategy game (and two of them). Whereas DotEmu don’t seem to have a very good reputation…

  7. josch says:

    There was a long topic in the vcmi forum whether the HD remake by ubisoft is good or bad for vcmi: link to forum.vcmi.eu

    But now it seems that we had nothing to fear all along and that the HD remake doesn’t really add much and that vcmi still adds much more:

    – more platforms
    – open source
    – random maps
    – all expensions (AB, SoD and WoG)
    – higher resolutions
    – easy moddability

    You should try it out – by now it even found its way into some Linux distributions like Debian. Just sudo apt-get install vcmi. Or, if you have another operating system just head to their main page for the download links: link to forum.vcmi.eu

    • jrodman says:

      Does vcmi have a buttery-smooth getting started experience? I have been shy of trying it out for this sort of reason.

      • josch says:

        vcmi has more bugs than the original heroes and is still in development.

        If you want the old homm3, then you should play that. vcmi is meant to be an extension of the original game with more features – especially modding capabilities. If the additional features are not for you, then you’ll have more fun with the original game :)

        • jrodman says:

          Thanks; sounds interesting but not the kind of thing I tend to play around with any more as I age.

          However, I probably will check back in on the project in a couple of years. These things tend to have a way of getting polished enough.

  8. Giftmacher says:

    Man, just seeing the starting area in “All For One” gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. That’s not just me, right?

    • ztorm says:

      Oh aye. And I simply cannot see it as a still, silent image. I think part of my brain grew around HoMM3. It doesn’t get any more HD than this…

  9. Mario Figueiredo says:

    the source code has been lost

    Leave it to game development companies to protect video gaming legacy and history.

    • DanMan says:

      Sounds good to me.

    • jrodman says:

      It’s a bit tricky when you go out of business.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      link to technologizer.com
      And HoMM3 is not only a “classic” but barely 16 years old. Yet the source code for expansions has already been lost!
      It would seem the 3D models from which the creature sprites were originally made were lost too, otherwise why would they decide to repaint by hand each sprite (or did they not do that and that hydra photoshopping video is a lie?)

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      All companies should be forced by law to submit a copy of their source to the Library of Congress (or equivalent) before they publish any software. It would be kept secret for a limited time.

      In the meanwhile pirates are the next best bet to archive our software history…

      • souroldlemon says:

        That is an excellent idea!
        It would be more complicated than the way it currently works for books, but it’s doable, if it attained some momentum.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      It’s not new to the corporate world to do such things, there are lots of classic films which don’t have decent source material anymore because some major studios decided to junk the negatives and use microfiches to store them because they took less space, let’s just say that in the era of Digital Cinema Prints, HD televisions and Blu Rays that decisions came to bite them in the ass spectacularly.

  10. Kaeoschassis says:

    3 was never my favourite. I’ve put probably hundreds of hours into it, yes, but whenever I play it I always have the nagging feeling that one of the others has something it doesn’t. Heroes 2 was the one I wasted the most time on back in the day, and I still prefer its visuals if I’m honest. Heroes 4 was, let’s be honest, not great. But I really appreciated its experiments in hero + castle building, even if they mostly fell short.
    As far as I’m concerned, Heroes 5 is the high-point of the series now, and I have very little reason to go back and play 3 aside from nostalgia (and I do that sometimes, sure, who doesn’t?). Fully patched, it has effectively everything 3 offered, plus a far more interesting skill system. (Plus the necromancers, my favourite faction, were broken as all hell for ages. Fun times)

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      +1 I prefer Heroes 2’s (and even Heroes 1’s) visuals and music to Heroes 3. The latter felt like they had to throw every random fantasy creature in the blender.

      I agree that Heroes 5 is pretty good (interesting game mechanics all around, especially with the expansions), but I’m not sure which one I’d call the definitive version.

    • Frank says:

      I agree about everything except #5. I see it as the low-point of the series: ugly Blizzard-aping characters, a campaign that gives new objectives mid-mission, and nothing new except the square grid (which was not an improvement).

      I’m apparently the only person taken with HOMM6… I like the art, story and revamping of territory control and town portals. The only weak element of the series (since at least HOMM2) has been the need for one super-powered army with super-high mobility, and HOMM6 tried to address that problem (and I’d say it succeeded).

    • Jenks says:

      I actually showed some of my friends HOMM5 cutscenes just for a great laugh, and it never disappointed. One of the worst games ever, even worse than 4. I’ll stick with 3 and 2.

  11. DanMan says:

    Eh, Ubisoft! Still hard at work on building a track record of technical incompetence, eh?

    It doesn’t help much that DotEmu did the real work.

  12. pepperfez says:

    You probably also can’t install Wake of the Gods, which is unacceptable. If I can’t have total insanity in my HoMM, I want no part of it.

  13. racccoon says:

    I do not see HD remastered at all.
    All I see is maybe pixelised one x2 compression but not HD remastered. wtf is with these companies. this looks kind of a crap upgrade.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      “HD remastered” is kind of meaningless as a turn of phrase anyway. However, the new version does seem to have more detailed graphics.

  14. apecrap says:

    I’ve played six hours since release and I’ve had absolutely no issues. No crashing, no hanging, no multiplayer issues, nothing. I’m not saying there aren’t people having problems, but plenty of people are playing and not having any issues. The sad fact of the matter is that every PC release these days always has a sizeable chunk of users that has stability issues. This isn’t 1999 anymore, like when the game was first released – there are more resolutions to account for, more system makeups to account for, far more driver variations to account for, and when it comes to multiplayer, honestly, it is a bit of an archaic system. You need to know how to do port forwarding and create firewall exceptions in order for it to be stable. When’s the last time people have had to do this?

    It’s missing the expansions content and RMG… but there’s a workaround for the latter right now.

    As far as the visuals go, it’s inarguable that they are improved. It isn’t just a resolution bump with a filter applied. If you compare the 99 version in full screen vs the 99 version with the widescreen mod vs the current update, it’s a much sharper image. It’s literally the exact same graphics from the ’99 version, but redrawn so that they maintain their size in HD without losing detail (whereas the widescreen mod for the original shrinks everything to make it look HD, which isn’t even 1/100 of the workload). Someone on the Steam forums has provided this comparison already, and it’s very obvious that the improvement is genuine.

    People are going to love it or hate it, for me I don’t care that it’s just RoE. The visuals are completely remodeled, everything is 100% as RoE was when it came out in 1999. I knew that’s what I was getting for $15, I got six hours out of it, I honestly don’t know how much more I’m going to play (that six hours was for *one* Large scenario map and about an hour on an MP small map), this game is a massive timesink and I have other things to do. But I really enjoyed seeing it in HD glory. I knew what I was getting and I’m very satisfied with what I got.

    To each their own, I suppose.

    EDIT: That visual comparison I was talking about can be found here:

    link to steamcommunity.com

    Base game @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com
    Base game w/ HD Mod @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com
    HD Remaster @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com

    Base game @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com
    Base game w/ HD Mod @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com
    HD Remaster @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com

    Base game @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com
    Base game w/ HD Mod @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com
    HD Remaster @ 1280×1024: link to i.imgur.com

    • BlueTemplar says:

      You need to know how to do port forwarding and create firewall exceptions in order for it to be stable. When’s the last time people have had to do this?
      Wait, I thought TCP/IP direct connection has been removed in favor of Steam auto-matchmaking?

  15. Duckeenie says:

    Okay, gonna have to be the Hipster here. I’m loving playing through this again.

    Sure the mouse movement is a bit slow and sometimes it seems to miss mouse clicks but honestly by the standards of most game releases these days these quibbles are minor.

    The asking price seems high though for what is essentially just a texture pack.

    • jrodman says:

      I don’t think the point is that the game is bad, but that you can just buy the non-remastered version and it’s better.

      • Duckeenie says:

        From the POV of someone who doesn’t already own the game that is certainly true.

  16. Necrourgist says:

    I’d rather have me some more Ashan, to me it’s just an intriguing and awesome setting, although some may find it to be a little too “cookie-cutter-generic-fantasy”-y, i myself still love it. HOMM5 and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic were and indeed ARE still awesome :)

  17. Delicieuxz says:

    The “lost source code” argument doesn’t excuse missing content. There is already a community mod that adds the missing expansion maps and the random map generator to the game. Also, all content from the expansion is accessible without the source code: sprites, maps, monster stats – the only code needed is for the campaign sequences, which can be re-programmed in maybe a matter of days, or perhaps a couple of weeks. “Lost source code” was an easy reach for an excuse, not an actual justification.

    • Baines says:

      Possibly one of the perils of outsourcing. Both from the “lazy lowest bid studio” side and from the “given a specific job with no freedom” side.

      The lazy lowest bid studio bit is pretty obvious, and what people think of. We get lousy ports because they get farmed out cheap to bottom tier studios (and bottom tier teams) that have not the talent, resources, or drive to do better.

      The given a specific job with no freedom bit gets overlooked. When work like this gets outsourced, the hired studio might be given specific instructions to follow, and are not allowed to go beyond those instructions. After all, the main publisher just wants a cheap, no effort for them, HD port, not DevStudio X’s Fan-tastic Take On The Game. The main publisher doesn’t want surprises, but also doesn’t want to spend time making sure things are going well during development. When you’ve got source code, porting is not only an easier task, it is a task that can be more restricted and controlled.

      Hrm, remembering stories of old console porting reminds me of yet another issue… The freelance studio might not have known that some source code was missing when the contract was signed. You sign a deal based on the idea that you’d need X time and Y resources to complete the job, and then suddenly find out that half the source code is missing and you’ve signed a contract for half of what the job would require to be profitable.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      There is already a community mod that adds the missing expansion maps and the random map generator to the game.

      You can’t just say things like that and not even give a link!

  18. Delicieuxz says:

    Oh, and I agree that a locked FPS is unfortunate. Smoothness benefits experience regardless of year and graphical fidelity. AOE2 unlocked the FPS for animations of units and it makes a realm of difference. I also requested smooth screen-scrolling in AOE2 to be implemented after it released with the original tile-based scrolling, and it was implemented, and the difference is gorgeous and heavily satisfying.

  19. Bweahns says:

    Oh dear. No random map generator. That is the primary reason I still play this game. I also run the HD mod and a very small balance patch that actually makes Cyclops worthwhile. No idea why anyone who has the original would bother buying this latest crappy version.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Have to agree. The Gog version offers endless hours of content, and the random map generator is key. I spent so much time on this when it came out and its the high point of the series (although HOMM2 is excellent too).

      Hell, my son and his buddies play HOMM3 Gog version using hot-seat multiplayer on random maps and they love it. The fact that its old-school just makes it more appealing to them.

      It blows their minds that a game that’s so awesome came out before they were even born :)

  20. Althus says:

    When i first saw this announced, I thought to myself, money grab, and ubi will frak this up, and unfortunately i was not wrong, why does Ubi keeps screwing costumers?

    • Geebs says:

      Too true, for example they never paid me for that shipment of ruffs I sent them for Assassin’s Creed.

  21. vorador says:

    After such a crappy 2014 in when most of Ubisoft releases where bugged to hell, here’s to a great 2015 start!!

    Wait no, they’re doing the same thing as last year.

  22. froz says:

    Not only does the HD version of the game lack the Armageddon’s Blade and Shadow of Death expansion packs (as the source code has been lost), players are reporting that it also does not feature the random map generator. The latter is a big part of the game’s enduring popularity, so its exclusion seems like a bizarre oversight.

    I don’t understand what is surprpising about that. We knew since the start they are not going to include expansions and random generator was not part of the original game.

    I strongly advice everyone to just play the original version (you can buy it on GOG for example) with Heart of the Darkness mod. The mod not only adds extra castle, but what is more important, it improves interface quite a little bit. Little changes, like adding a button here or there, making some default slider position slightly different and suddenly you can’t play the original anymore, because those small changes are making the game so much better.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Who is that “we” you’re talking about? While many of readers of this article and comments are probably heroescommunity.com regulars, it’s certainly not the case of everyone.

      • froz says:

        I’m refering to RPS as a whole. The first post about this version included that information:

        link to rockpapershotgun.com

        Unfortunately, HoMM III HD will only be the base game, The Restoration of Erathia, without its expansions

        It’s just a little strange that something that was known since the start is now suddenly made out to be a negative surprise.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, the random map generator was added in one of the expansions, so of course it’s not in the HD version given that it doesn’t include the expansions.

  23. bonuswavepilot says:

    This has inspired me to revisit via the original version by getting the GOG complete thingy and applying the HD mod. In my investigations I also came across a fan-made balance mod by UndeadHalfOrc – anyone know whether it is worth bothering with? Has been too long since I played to really guess by the change notes…

  24. TrevorViking says:

    No interest in the new PC version, the complete GOG version is perfect.

    But the iOS version is wonderful. Sure, it’s limited to 80 or so maps; but it plays beautifully and I’m loving being able to play my game on the go.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      I suppose that ExaGear Strategies will make an emulator for iOS at some point?

  25. Frank says:

    Here’s my silver lining: they can learn their lessons from this and apply them when remastering HOMM2 and HOMM1.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      If they remaster Heroes 2, and get it RIGHT, I might just about forgive them for… well, everything.

  26. MrFlakeOne says:

    I have an impression that Ubisoft started hiring interns to cut the costs, that’s why all of their new releases are bugged and rushed.