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Hero-U is a turn-based PC RPG with adventure game puzzles and immersive story, by the award-winning designers of Quest for Glory.
Created by

Corey Cole

6,093 backers pledged $409,150 to help bring this project to life.

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The Eirish Connection

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St. Patrick's Day Kwirk
St. Patrick's Day Kwirk

 We’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll be having the traditional corned beef and cabbage because corned beef goes on sale this time of year, and we like it. Besides, we have our small connections to Ireland – Lori’s mother was an O’Brien, and I have Welsh ancestry on my mother’s side (close enough to Ireland for me J). We also love Irish traditional music.

First we had to get through Pi Day, with slices of homemade coconut custard pie on 3/14 at 1:59:26 and on 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 (yeah, it only works in American Month/Day/Year format). The next few days, we’ll be working that off, probably by running in circles.

Keeping Current With Hero-U

Exciting things are happening at Transolar Games. Keep an eye on www.hero-u.net for current project news, discussion forums, and the Hero-U stores. We’re working on a redesigned version of the site, so visit frequently.

We’ve added a Café Press page (http://www.cafepress.com/herouniversitystore) with designs based on our new Hero-Unicorn mascot.

Also “Like” our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheSchoolForHeroes) for the latest updates, polls, and links to other fun things we find on the web.

Shawn Goes Green

Shamrock Shawn
Shamrock Shawn

 As you might suspect from his name, Shawn O’Conner’s roots are in Eire, the Emerald Isle, a place suspiciously similar to our Earth’s Ireland. The major difference is that magic in Eire is real – There are leprechauns, banshee and other Sidhe, and much more.

Eire is beautiful, but sometimes circumstances force people to leave the Emerald Isle. Among these emigrants was Shawn’s father. Shawn doesn’t remember much about his missing father, but he will learn much more during his time at Hero-U. Shawn has the Luck of the Eirish, but that isn’t always good luck.

An important way for Shawn to learn the secrets of Hero-U is to talk to other characters. Conversation is a big part of Hero-U game play.

Talkin’ about Most Anything

In Hero-U, conversation “is the thing”. Choices you make in dialogue affect the flow of the game, and determine the story you get from the game; change your choices and the story changes. Although dialogue is menu-driven as in Quest for Glory and Secret of Monkey Island, Shawn’s conversations are designed to feel more natural and less scripted because our system does not repeat any lines Shawn has already “heard”.

Let’s say you’re in your dorm bedroom talking with your roommate, Aeolus. You’re back there every night, so you’ll get a lot of chances to talk to him. You innocently ask, “What’s new?” and Aeolus launches into a new song he’s written. He wants to know whether you like it, and you might have a chance to “Answer Politely (use Charm)” or “Answer Cleverly (use Smarts)”.

Once you choose to be clever, you can’t go back and be charming on the same topic - That conversation wouldn’t make sense. Also, when you talk to Aeolus the next day, you will have completely different dialogue choices. This is not a game of “go down the menu and try everything”.

As in most films with strong storytelling – let’s say a Woody Allen rather than a Michael Bay film – dialogue is the main way the story is expressed in Hero-U. When Shawn talks to the other students and school staff, he learns more about them and the mysteries at the school. He also develops relationships, making both friends and enemies, and occasionally finds out about a “quest”. These are not MMO quests – “Go fetch me a pristine conch shell.”

Rather, as in Quest for Glory, Shawn learns about another character’s problem, and can decide whether to help them solve it. One of the students is having troubles with assignments; is it worth taking the time to tutor them? Another is searching for a lost treasure, but their map has been stolen. Help them or go after the treasure yourself? Each choice has its own consequences and rewards.

Writing ever-changing dialogue that expresses our story and character personalities is Lori’s biggest challenge on the Hero-U project. A single scene might have 20 or more conversations, each with multiple branches. Lori has designed them so that there are no “essential” branches, but each path reveals a different part of the story or character arc.

Upcoming Demos and Events

We will have some exciting progress to show over the next two months. The combat system is coming along nicely, and we will make a stand-alone playable combat scene in the beautiful – and now fully 3D – wine cellar. Of course, the demo won’t reveal all the secrets that will be found there in the game, but it will give you a feel for our major combat features including traps and throwing weapons.

Shawn Meets an Angry Dire Rat
Shawn Meets an Angry Dire Rat

 We’ve also completely redone the “breakin room” that we showed as our first prototype. As it will be the first scene in Hero-U, we don’t mind “spoiling” actual game text and play in the new demo. The art is all new, and I’ve added a considerable amount of text including a few of my trademark puns.

The new demos, along with a revamped web site and more frequent Facebook updates, are the prelude to a supplementary Kickstarter campaign we plan to start in mid-April. It is unusual to run two campaigns for the same project, but it makes a lot of sense for Hero-U. Two years ago, we had only concepts to describe, and very little artwork. We also planned to make a relatively primitive game based on the assets we had at the time. Our optimistic project estimate of Oct. 2013 was based more on what we could build with the Kickstarter funds than on what it actually takes to do a high-quality game.

Since then, we have made enormous progress. We now have artwork for most of the game, professionally modeled and animated 3D characters, music, combat, and a significant amount of writing and game content. This time we have much more than concepts to show! We hope we will gain many new backers and that many of our current backers will find project rewards worth having. We’ve also spent a lot of personal money on the project; having more backers and presales will make it easier to complete the project without worrying about how we are paying the developers.

Crowfall - A Kickstarter MMO Worth Supporting

I’ve known Gordon Walton for many years by way of narrative game designers’ workshops. Gordon was a producer on Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and Star Wars: the Old Republic. Now he’s working with J Todd Coleman (creative lead of Shadowbane and Wizard101) to create a new type of MMO. The team also includes developers from every other major MMO, and even (as a consultant) Raph Koster, lead designer of Ultima Online, Everquest, and Star Wars Galaxies.

Instead of playing a stable of characters in a persistent world, you have a small number of “immortal” characters who participate in limited-time campaigns, each on a unique world. They promise “destructible” worlds using Voxel technology thanks to the worlds having limited existence anyway.

The game is Crowfall, and you can support it at http://kck.st/1FSZc6G. It has 9 days to go as I write this, and is currently at $1.2 million, 50% over the original goal. That's awesome, but MMO's are also extremely expensive to develop, so they can still use our support.

Who Do You Love?

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Happy Valentine's Day Kwirk
Happy Valentine's Day Kwirk

Project Progress

We are still on target for release on Oct. 15 thanks to our talented new programming team members (see Update 60). They are rapidly filling out the game and keeping Lori and me on our toes trying to write game text fast enough to keep up with them. We still have a long way to go on development, but the light in the tunnel is no longer an oncoming train.

We plan to release a playable combat test and an updated version of the break-in house playable prototype late next month. These will lead up to a supplemental funding campaign in April-May.

When we originally ran the Kickstarter, we planned to make a much smaller and simpler game. As the campaign proceeded, it became clear that our backers wanted much more, and we promised to deliver it. Unfortunately, this is taking far more time and expense than that small game.

Even with several of our team members (including Lori and me) delaying compensation until after the game makes a profit, we have stretched our personal finances to the breaking point. We think it makes more sense to return to Kickstarter now that we have much more art and real development progress to show, rather than making a publisher deal or looking for venture funding. We also think a new Kickstarter campaign will give us a chance to reach many players who did not see the first one.

We are keeping the “Christmas Special” active on the Hero-U Collectible Store. Come by http://hero-u.net/ to read Lori’s “What’s New” updates, purchase collectibles and preorders, or participate in the Hero-U forums (under the Community tab).

Shawn ♥ Esme
Shawn ♥ Esme

A Time for Love

Today is Valentine’s Day. Wikipedia says, “The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.”

It’s a good tradition, and relevant to Hero-U. As Shawn makes friends with others in the University, there is always the possibility that friendship may blossom into love. In case you’re having any challenges in this area, here are a few tips Shawn might learn:

  • Talk to your friends. Find out what interests them and what you and they have in common.
  • Everyone has challenges in life. Learn about your friends’ problems and try to help them.
  • Occasional gifts help remind your friends that you remember and care about them.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Conversation is a big part of Hero-U, and it affects your relationships. Anything you say during class or in a private conversation might be held against you, or it might increase someone else’s respect for you. Sometimes both reactions happen. You can’t please everyone all the time.

We are designing the dialogue to feel like a natural conversation. Each choice you make takes you down a different path, and frequently there is no return. After all, it’s pretty hard to answer someone’s question both politely and snarkily. Your choices help define Shawn’s personality and his friends.

To Reach the Unreachable Star

Our games have never featured “quests” in the sense of a modern MMO. Instead, we have characters with problems, and you can decide whether you want to help them. Not that Shawn is a complete altruist – He knows that helping people can lead to generous rewards and lasting friendships.

Shawn ♥ Katie
Shawn ♥ Katie

Take, for instance, the pirate’s daughter. She’s searching for the treasure that will make her fortune and earn her some respect. Sure, she can probably do it on her own. But just think how grateful she’ll be if you give her a little help. Did I mention that she’s really cute?

Shawn has his own share of problems, and it’s good to have a friend when things are hard. Help people out, and you’ll often find them willing to help you in return.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

No, no, not that kind. Sardonia may be a dangerous place, but it’s relatively free of disease. There are other gifts which the recipients actually appreciate.

Tasty food and wine are popular gifts, as are books. Jewelry is hard to refuse, although it’s also expensive. Of course it pays to get to know someone first and find out what they like. As for the One and Only Ring, choose carefully to whom you want to give it; there may be side effects.

The really tricky part is what to do should you happen to find a second One and Only Ring, or a third. How much love is Shawn ready to handle?

Who DO You Love?
Who DO You Love?

Speaking of Gifts…

Two interesting Kickstarter projects are closing soon, and at least two others also merit your attention.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/webeharebrained/shadowrun-hong-kong) ends in 3 days. It comes from Harebrained Schemes and Jordan Weisman, creators of Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and Golem Arcana. The new game is again based on the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, a cyberpunk game that combines fantasy and high tech. The earlier games were critically acclaimed and show that Harebrained Schemes can deliver on its promises.

Exploding Kittens (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/elanlee/exploding-kittens) is a ridiculously silly card game with a tie-in to The Oatmeal. It only has two available tiers – $20 and $35 – yet is busting all of the Kickstarter game records with over 155,000 backers and more than $6 million pledged so far. If you like crazy card games, this looks like a fun play. In any case, the campaign video is fun and has great music.

Underworld Ascendant (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/othersidegames/underworld-ascendant) is the “spiritual successor” to the excellent Ultima Underworld and Ultima Underworld II. Paul Neurath has reassembled part of his LookingGlass studio team that made the original games for Origin (as well as Thief and System Shock). Other team members have worked on such games as Neverwinter Nights, Deus Ex, and BioShock. These were great games; the new one looks as though it will also be fun. With 20 days left in the campaign, they are doing well but have not yet hit their goal.

Cryptozoic, the company behind the World of Warcraft trading card game and previous Kickstarter success story “HEX MMO Trading Card Game” is making a licensed Ghostbusters board game (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cze/ghostbusters-the-board-game) with plastic miniatures. They have already almost doubled their original $250K goal with most of a month to go. The game is pricy ($80 for the base version, $125 for the extended Kickstarter-exclusive version, plus shipping), but it looks really good.

Until next time, we hope you had a romantic Valentine’s Day and that your lives continue to be fun and exciting adventures. We hope to have even more exciting news for you next month!

Happy Heroic Holidays!

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Happy Holidays from Hero-U
Happy Holidays from Hero-U

Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, and a joyous season of rebirth as we pass through the Winter Solstice.

As a time of birth and renewal, we are delighted to announce the birth of a son - Cian Muir Cheatham - to our fabulous system and UI programmer, Jonathan Cheatham. A quick web search reveals the first name should be pronounce “Key-en”.

Cheatham Christmas 2014
Cheatham Christmas 2014

Programming Progress

We've had some serious challenges with our programming team. Two programmers had to leave due to health issues, three others for better-paying jobs to support their family. Last month we sent out the call for experienced Unity/C# programmers to help us complete Hero-U. We received several enthusiastic responses and gave each a challenge - Create a scene similar to the one in the Hero-U demo using art assets we supplied. Other requirements included documenting the process and tracking time spent on the task.

Three candidates took up the challenge and provided strong examples of their work. Each is also a dedicated Quest for Glory fan and brings additional talents to the team. We are excited to welcome them to Hero-U as we work towards our October release date.

Cidney Hamilton has a background in Interactive Fiction, Web, and UI design and is also a painter. Cidney developed the web sites for the Arisia SF&F convention and Wicked Faire; she plans to help update our web site as well as develop game content.

Joshua Smyth recreated our Hero-U demo for his test assignment, improving some of the interactions and including at least one clever line that I plan to include in the game. Joshua is already hard at work integrating scripts and improving the game. Joshua has previously worked on combat AI and will be helping our monsters behave.

Robert Kety had not used Unity prior to the test. No problem - He watched a few tutorials, then created a demo with a dark and moody atmosphere, working lights, and piano music. Robert will be working part-time and will help us with system tools as well as content.

All About the Art

We’ve been reluctant to “give away” too much of the game design or art assets, but you all deserve a closer look after two years of development of the game. Lori put together a presentation of the art process and many of the characters, along with music Ryan Grogan created for Hero-U. For the full writeup, visit http://www.hero-u.net/leaders/happy-holidays-2014.

Also visit www.hero-u.net to order collectibles, make a donation, join in the discussion forums, or pre-order additional copies of the game for your friends. Here’s the Christmas video without the text, but do visit the above link to get the whole story.

 Have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friends, Feasting, Gaming, and Gifts

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Meep Enjoying Autumn
Meep Enjoying Autumn

Next week is Thanksgiving. In America, this is a time to sit down together with family or friends to indulge in serious feasting. Turkey with dressing and cranberry sauce, spiral cut ham, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie are among our favorites. My birthday falls on or near Thanksgiving each year, so I’ve adopted pumpkin pie (with oodles of whipped cream) as my preferred “birthday pie”.

As (nominally) adults, we’ve maintained and extended the tradition of Thanksgiving revels by inviting friends over for an extended weekend of role-playing gaming. We’re looking forward to a great one this year.

Giving Thanks to You

Thank you very much for your continuing patience and support as we continue to add dialogue and other content to Hero-U. We couldn’t do this without your support.

We’d like to help you with holiday gift-giving, so we have lowered the prices on all Hero-U collectible merchandise by $5. We’ve also added a holiday special – the awesomely cute toy Meep along with a Hero-U keyring – at an additional $5 discount (limited to the first 100 orders). Quantities on t-shirts and baseball caps are extremely limited. When they go, they’ll be gone for good.

Meep and Chain
Meep and Chain

Visit http://www.hero-u.net/hero_u_collect.html to take advantage of our Holiday Special discounts. Friends DO give their friends Meeps.

Of course, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption preorders also make great gifts for your game playing friends. Our preorder store is http://www.hero-u.net/hero_u_preorder.html. Every preorder helps us polish and improve the Hero-U experience.

Two Years On

Today marks the two-year anniversary of the Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption funding campaign on Kickstarter. We’ve gone through many changes since then. Our original delivery estimate of October 2013 proved to be ridiculously optimistic. We based it more on the amount of time we could pay the team based on the Kickstarter contributions than on the actual requirements of building a unique new game. At that time, it didn't occur to me that we could use a combination of Kickstarter and other funding sources for the game.

I have resisted posting a new release date because we have had so many unknown factors, each causing more delays. Now that we are at 90% complete on art and music, and making good progress on the game writing, Lori and I have committed to a release date of Oct. 15, 2015. So, yes, two years into a one year project, we have exactly as much time remaining as I originally estimated the whole project would take. Project estimation is evidently not my top skill.

Actually, it’s that the project is not what we thought it would be when we began the Kickstarter campaign. However, the real issue turns out to be in the work Lori and I are doing, which in turn involves some promises we made during the campaign.

We promised that Hero-U would be a game in which relationships are critical, story comes first, and that the game would support multiple styles of play. Those were some pretty big promises, and they are proving very difficult to fulfill. The events in Shawn’s dorm room took almost two months to write and script, adding a number of improvements and new features to the Composer scripting tool as we discovered the need for them. The Rogue Classroom has taken about a month. Fortunately, those are the two most dialogue-intensive scenes in the game.

We expect to complete the writing and scripting in 4-6 months. We will need another 1-2 months to finalize and tune the combat system. Originally I planned on a 1-2 month testing period. However, now that we have a better idea of the scope and complexity of this game, we know that it will need much more testing than that. After much discussion and creating a “backwards calendar”, Oct. 15, 2015 stood out as the achievable delivery date for the game.

Gog Temple in the Sea Caves
Gog Temple in the Sea Caves

Kickstarter Projects – Large and Small

There are just 43 hours left (as I post this) in the HM Spiffing campaign for "a comedy 3D space themed adventure game". The project has just reached its goal and will fund. Check it out at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/billygoat/hm-spiffing-a-comedy-3d-space-themed-adventure-gam.

Our favorite adventure game designer is Ron Gilbert, lead designer of Maniac Mansion and Secret of Monkey Island among other awesome games. A key collaborator on those and other great LucasArts games was Gary Winnick.

Monkey Island might just be the best adventure game ever written, so it’s pretty exciting news that Ron and Gary are running a Kickstarter for a new retro-style 2D adventure game. Two days into the campaign, it’s already halfway to the goal, so we’ll get to play a new Ron Gilbert adventure in 2016! You can support Thimbleweed Park at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thimbleweedpark/thimbleweed-park-a-new-classic-point-and-click-adv.

Megara Entertainment, creators of the Arcana Agency game books, are developing a board game based on the Lone Wolf game books. This project is also halfway to its goal and has a good chance of success. Lone Wolf uses stand-up cardboard figures and appears to be a fantasy war game on a board. If you enjoy imaginative board games, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1615043334/lone-wolf-the-board-game to help them make this game.

Late to the Party (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pyrodactyl/late-to-the-party-a-cold-war-espionage-rpg-in-the) is a Cold War period spy RPG by the makers of Unrest (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pyrodactyl/unrest-an-unconventional-rpg-set-in-ancient-india). The latter is an ambitious project based on the traditions and mythology of India. I supported that project, and the resulting game is interesting, unique, and fun.

Have you seen a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project that Hero-U backers would enjoy? Join the discussion at http://www.hero-u.net/forum/viewforum.php?f=6 to share it with everyone.

Hero-U October Update

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Happy Halloween!

Why We Update

I put some thought this morning as to the purpose of these updates. I think an update:

  • Reassures you, our backers, that we are still working on, and committed to, the project.
  • Keeps you informed about the project status.
  • Shares some cool things (and occasionally an Inside Secret) about Hero-U development.
  • Entertains you and/or provides something of value.
  • Encourages you to spread the word about the project.
  • Occasionally gives me a soapbox to share ideas I think are important.

Of course we can rarely fit all of those into one update. As it is, each update takes up at least a full day of my time along with a week or two of agonizing about what I’m writing. I keep hoping that, if I write enough articles and essays, they’ll become easier. That hasn’t happened yet.

Last month we received more comments than on any previous Update, largely due to three paragraphs talking about sexism, hate, and harassment in gaming. I’m gratified by the responses, both those in support and those questioning my viewpoint.

Since posting that Update, I have read more news about death threats and other hateful letters to developers (Brianna Wu recently and Robert Bowling in 2012). This has to stop. Apparently hard work and even moderate success are crimes to some people.

Lori and I are very grateful that we have never had to deal with that. Still, it is difficult to write anything, knowing that any misplaced (or misinterpreted) word can lead to a firestorm of anger and even hatred.

Witch Way Did They Go?

This is our favorite time of year. The weather has cooled off, leaves change color, and Halloween will be here soon. We love looking at kids in costume, breaking our low-carb diet to eat too much candy, carving jack-o-lanterns, and decorating the house even though we rarely have visitors. I’m a big fan of pumpkin pie and pumpkin spice lattés.

Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption has a nod to Halloween and the Central American “Day of the Dead” celebrations in our “Noctes de Mortuis” or “Nights of the Dead”. This is the time when the wall between the natural world and the land of the dead becomes thin. Ghosts inhabit the castle, and with the proper ritual, the living can communicate with them.

Besides being cool, the Noctes allow the player to get more information about the other students and some of the past events at the castle. Hero-U is a mystery story, and players need clues to solve the mysteries. There are some major surprises in store if Shawn pays attention to the dead.

Paladin Memorial Sketch
Paladin Memorial Sketch

How to Succeed While Really Trying

What is success? It might be easier to define the opposite - What is failure?

The easiest way to fail is never to try. The person who is afraid to risk failure is one who will never have success.

Have I failed? Oh yes, over and over again. You can’t write computer code without failing repeatedly. You can’t write a novel or screenplay without throwing away multiple drafts that didn’t work out. The average successful entrepreneur has failed at least three times at previous businesses before succeeding once. I fail at multiple things every day. Without failure, there is no possibility of success.

I can’t even write an update or blog article without agonizing over it for days, weeks, or longer. It might only take a few hours to actually write the blog, but it takes a huge mind share and time to come up with ideas that I think others will want to read. I’m pretty good at failure because I’ve had a lot of practice at it. See my 2009 blog article on “SSECCUS” for some examples - http://www.theschoolforheroes.com/questlog/671/sseccus/.

There has been a disturbing trend lately of people complaining loudly about game developers that they do not “deserve” their success. I have never seen a successful person make a remark like that. We all know that, whether or not we like a particular game, every developer has put untold sweat, tears, and months or years of work into that game. If they get a spotlight as a result, that’s awesome!

With all that said, have Lori and I “failed” at making Hero-U? Heck, no! We haven’t “succeeded” yet, but we’re making great progress towards success. The background art and character design, in particular, are far beyond our original plan. As long as we keep working on the game, we are on the path to success.

Paladin Memorial Concept Painting
Paladin Memorial Concept Painting

Current Progress

The current status? Art is about 85% complete, design is complete, programming is at 50%, writing has just begun. Now that Lori has completed the game design, she is working hard on writing the game dialog. I am also much more available now to work on the other game text. We’ve completed 1,200 “lines” (some of them are really full paragraphs) of a planned 50,000. This will make Hero-U more text-rich than Quest for Glory IV, “the CD-ROM from Hell” according to John Rhys-Davies. John had 6,000 "lines" of narration to read; he told us they were the equivalent of 20,000 lines in an animation script.

We have spent, or have obligations to spend, about $150,000 beyond the initial Kickstarter income. We are still under the original $650,000 budget plan and expect to stay under that. However, obviously the schedule has suffered from the need to stretch out expenditures, team changes (we had to throw away $50,000 of work), and Lori’s and my time spent on other aspects of the business than writing the game. Making a dialogue-based graphic adventure game is neither fast nor easy.

The new Hero-U release date? I can’t promise a specific date, but it will be in 2015, and hopefully in the Summer. We should know much more by January or February.

Paladin Memorial in 3D - Work in Progress
Paladin Memorial in 3D - Work in Progress

Crafted With Love

Agustín Cordes’ company Senscape is making a game based on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H. P. Lovecraft. They are Kickstarting the project at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/agustincordes/h-p-lovecrafts-the-case-of-charles-dexter-ward. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe were the greatest authors of fantasy horror stories. Lovecraft was responsible for The Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Eldritch Abominations, and many other symbols of horror that have since become tropes.

Cordes has made several well-received horror games and the source material is great, so I think Charles Dexter Ward has a lot of potential. The funding drive is in the middle of the usual Kickstarter mid-campaign slump and could use some serious support to help make this game a reality.