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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.
Hero-U is a turn-based PC RPG with adventure game puzzles and immersive story, by the award-winning designers of Quest for Glory.
Hero-U is a turn-based PC RPG with adventure game puzzles and immersive story, by the award-winning designers of Quest for Glory.
6,093 backers pledged $409,150 to help bring this project to life.

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Finding the Balance in Hero-U

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Finding the Balance
Finding the Balance

Balancing the Testing Process

So far we’ve proceeded very cautiously with pre-Alpha testing of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Sierra never sent unfinished games out “into the wild” until they had gone through weeks of in-house testing. There was no Beta testing for any Quest for Glory or our other games

Looking back, I shudder at that process! It “broke” a couple of times, notably with Quest for Glory IV. Players started out in a cave, made it out… and frequently crashed the game in the next scene. Very few people had online access then, so there was no easy way to patch the game and fix the hundreds of problems with the shipping version

With Hero-U, we are making sure we don’t repeat those mistakes. We started out by letting a few backers test part of the game. Sure enough, something broke. Oddly, it wasn’t Hero-U! Instead, we found ourselves debugging the bug-finding process. Our ISP wouldn’t let us send out registration confirmation emails. Then the bug reporting tool itself broke

We are also balancing putting the final touches into the game while resolving hundreds of reports. Most of these are things such as corrections to spelling and grammar (in several languages due to the game setting). Some are more serious - players found they could get rich by finding the same leather jacket over and over, and selling the extras. (That also happened in Quest for Glory II, where players could get rich harvesting the Dervish’s beard.) A few have been actual game stoppers

This is normal and good. The small QA staff at Sierra often filed thousands of bug reports for a single game before they deemed it ready to ship. My personal best was about 100 reports on Castle of Dr. Brain, a relatively small and simple game that we all thought was rock-solid before we handed it off to QA. According to the QA lead, yes, 100 bugs *is* rock-solid. :-)

So You Want to Be a Tester

Bug? Or Advanced Hiding Skills?
Bug? Or Advanced Hiding Skills?

Over the next month, we will gradually open more areas of the game to testers, and we will also invite more testers with each “build”. If you backed Hero-U at a level that included Alpha and/or Beta test privileges, keep an eye on your email for an invitation from the support account at hero-u.net

I will offer test builds to the rest of our Alpha testers over the next few weeks, and we hope to move into the Beta phase in mid-November. Entering Beta testing will mean that we believe the game is completely playable, although it may still have some rough edges. Beta will continue until we are satisfied that the game is complete, crash-free, and fun to play. Being a playtester is both exciting - you get to be one of the first to see a new game - and at times frustrating. You will report a problem - possibly a showstopper - and it may take us two weeks or more to fix it. Playtesting is not for the faint of heart.

What does it mean to be a tester? You will get to experience the often chaotic process of bringing the game from “almost done” to “truly ready for release”. Lori describes it as attending a series of dress rehearsals for a theatrical play. At dress rehearsal, everything can and will go wrong – costumes don’t fit, actors forget lines, the door of the set falls open, and people keep missing their cues. It looks like “insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” (Shakespeare in Love)

Yet, somehow, when the curtain opens the next day, everything comes together and magic happens. How? “It’s a mystery.” (same film). In reality, of course, it’s a combination of hard work and getting the feedback we need to solve most of the problems with the game.

Streets of Caligari (Work in Progress)
Streets of Caligari (Work in Progress)

Getting the RPG Balance Right

Playtesting is also a “matter of balance”. As with most role-playing games, Shawn will face increasingly difficult challenges as the game progresses. To handle them, he will have to become smarter, more fit, more charming, and more agile.

How much money does Shawn need? How much time does he have to complete a challenge? Is he strong enough to endure the hardships he faces? We want to make sure that he has the skills he needs at each stage of the game without making the challenges too easy.

Hero-U is designed so that most, possibly all, combat is avoidable. Shawn can sneak around enemies, steal from them, and use diplomacy to avoid fights. Some of our playtesters may choose the “peaceful path” and make sure that the game is completable - though more difficult - without combat.

Others will specialize on checking combat and skill improvement balance. We want to make sure players can realistically improve Shawn’s skills enough to tackle challenging puzzles late in the game. Of course, it’s also fun to watch Shawn improve through his actions.

Then there are the relationships. Shawn should be able to make friends with most of his classmates, maybe even reaching True Love status with one (or two or three, if he plays the game that way). How many “One and Only” rings can one Rogue find and give away? Is Shawn a genuinely nice guy or a devious trickster? It all depends upon the choices that the player makes. All actions have consequences. That’s why we need a huge cadre of testers - there’s so much variation to the game.

Keeping in Touch

If you move or change your email address, please make sure you let us know on BackerKit. This page should work for all backers: https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/backer/review.

Let your friends know that Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is at last nearing completion. They may preorder the game at a discount, or order a Meep (yes, we still have some left) at http://www.hero-u.com.

What’s the Schedule?

We had hoped to reach Beta testing around this time, with a possible game release by mid-November. Realistically, there is still too much to do. We’re now looking to reach Beta in mid-to-late November, with a game release in December or January. Once you get your copy of the game, please check back regularly to see if we need to patch it post-launch.

We will likely ship the physical goods - mostly posters, yearbooks, and boxed copies of the game - about three months after the digital game release. That reflects a combination of lead time, leeway to make game patches before pressing physical disks, and time Lori and I expect to be devoting to publicity, preparing the physical add-ons, and the myriad administrative tasks that suddenly appear every time a game is released.

An Interview with the DOS Games Club

Lori and I had a chat with two of the leaders of the DOS Games Club (https://www.dosgameclub.com/interview-with-the-coles/). This is a group that picks an old MS-DOS game each month. Everybody plays that game, then meets to discuss it, similar to a book club. Back in August, they all played either Hero’s Quest or the remake, Quest for Glory 1. Martijn reached out to us to learn more about how we made those games, and we were happy to share our experiences. You can visit the above link for more information, or listen to the podcast directly at:

 

Mysterious Events in Hero-U

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There are mysterious forces behind Hero-U. It is not obvious who is actually financing the school, or why. As for the greater society of Sardonia, we don't spell it out in the game, but obviously Thief and Rogue are not the only professions. However...

Even though Shawn is a poor young man with an overworked single mother and apparently no connections, someone is looking out for him. Maybe more than one "someone". That results in an invitation to audition for the Thieves' Guild, and then a mandatory "invitation" to Hero-U.

Nothing happens by coincidence. The existence of the school, and the fact that it's built on a "haunted" old castle, is also not a coincidence.

Players will learn something about these mysteries in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Other stories will be developed in future games of the series, and some of it will stay locked in our “Game Bible” as background for all of the games and game events.

Exploring the Sea Caves
Exploring the Sea Caves

Equally Mysterious Hero-U Game Development

It would be wonderful if making a game was like turning on a light switch, or even like taking a collection of Legos and turning them into a stunning model.

Actually, it *is* a lot like that, only there are about 600 models to put together… or maybe 6000. The mystery is that we can even put so many distinct pieces together to create one coherent game.

Every week, Hero-U creeps a little closer to being a complete, fun game. Along the way, JP and Al continue to draw, paint, model, and animate the game. Joshua, Cidney, and our secret programmers move between bringing the game to life and squashing bugs.

For a little more about the importance of each team member to every game we’ve made, and to Hero-U in particular, I posted an article to the Hero-U blog, http://hero-u.com/it-takes-a-team/.

Ryan Grogan has recently returned to the team to help us finish the music and soundscape to make Rogue to Redemption sound as amazing as it looks.

Josh Mandel and Lori alternate between tickling your funny bones and writing moments of suspense, drama, and tenderness. Yes, they’re both still writing game content as we get feedback on parts of the game that need more direction or energy.

The story of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a difficult balancing act as we strive to make Shawn O’Conner a hero even though he’ll always be a rogue. Developing the game is like juggling hundreds of spinning plates at a time. Only when every one of them is in balance will the game be complete. After almost five years of development, it’s all coming together.

Now it’s time to begin outside testing and find out how much more still needs to be done.

The Tower Garden at Night
The Tower Garden at Night

Alpha Test Time

There are a lot of steps involved in getting a game to outside testers. We’ve developed our own built-in bug reporter that catches both software errors and player reports. Once they appear in our testing database, we do “triage” on them and assign them to specific team members to fix.

Another step is contacting and working with backers. I’m starting out with a small subset of our Alpha Test level backers to be our first guinea pigs, er, brave testers. Once we have the reporting tool adequately tested, I’ll expand that by stages to all 350 Alpha Test backers. We are asking each tester to sign a Beta Test agreement similar to the ones used by Electronic Arts and other major game developers. We don’t want anyone revealing the mysteries too soon!

Once our first testers have looked at the game in sections, we’ll put everything together for a full Beta test accessible to all 2000 backers who chose a Beta Test level. This will be a full, feature-complete game, but it will probably still have some rough edges. Waves of Beta tests will continue until we are satisfied that Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is ready for release.

The initial test build includes the first few weeks at Hero-U. We’ve disabled the second half of the game and all combat areas. Over the next couple of months, we’ll gradually open up additional areas of the game for testing. We’ll move from Alpha to Beta testing once we’ve revealed the entire game.

As always, keep your information current at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com and watch your email for your alpha or beta test invitation.

Discovering Dark Places
Discovering Dark Places

From Mystery to Discovery

This has been an epic game development process, and even when the game is tested and released, there will be much more to come. We will keep posting updates and stay in touch with the Hero-U community. Then it will be time to begin work on Hero-U: Wizard’s Way and the rest of the series.

Like the Starship Enterprise, once we complete our five year mission, there will be new ports, new destinations, and new crew to take us all where no one has gone before.

Speaking of which...

Space Station in Initiative: Red Dawn
Space Station in Initiative: Red Dawn

A Space Exploration Game Coming to Kickstarter

Initiative: Red Dawn looks like a pretty interesting game. You build a space center, hire scientists and other employees, craft buildings and spaceship parts, and trade with other players to build your rockets and launch vehicles with which to explore Mars and set up a base. I’d class it as a “business simulation, building, and space exploration” game.

The developers are currently building up their mailing list to prepare for a successful Kickstarter launch. They’re going about this the right way, so please check out the game and support it if it appeals to you. Their web site is http://initiative.online. You can watch a game trailer at https://youtu.be/1SetetQ79Wg.

Sprinting Towards Alpha Testing

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"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" - The Red Queen in "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll

Twice as Fast

We’re going through the “final” push towards outside alpha testing of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. I put “final” in quotes because this will be the first of several sprints towards releasing the game we’ve been working on for almost five years.

It’s hard to convey the thousands of things that go into a game. Small details make the game feel alive. Here are some of the non-game things we need to get in before we can start outside testing:

  • “Branding” the game as pre-release so people know it isn’t the final version
  • Choosing “first test” players out of our 750 qualified alpha testers
  • Adding bug & feature request reporting to the game
  • Setting up a QA/test database for tracking reports
  • “Triage” on reports to eliminate duplicates, already-fixed, and low priority items
  • Regression testing system to avoid breaking features while fixing bugs
  • Internal testing to make sure we don’t ship a broken alpha test
Just Enough Paperwork to Make a Game
Just Enough Paperwork to Make a Game

Once we have all of those elements in place (soon!), I will send a survey to backers who chose a reward that includes Alpha Testing. We will accept a small number to do the first outside tests and help us shake down the reporting system. The second alpha will go out to a larger number, and the full alpha version will be made available to everyone at that level. (Don’t worry - if you want to wait for the complete, polished game, just don’t download any Alpha or Beta version.)

The first tests will be solely in the Hero-U castle. Once we have some feedback and improvements to the castle, we will expand the test to include combat areas - the wine cellar, sea caves, catacombs, and finally the dungeon. These areas combine elements of adventure and role-playing gaming as in our Quest for Glory games.

With Hero-U coming down to the wire. Here’s what we’ve all been working on:

  • Al - new animation for Shawn and certain monsters
  • Charles - improving room behavior, fixing scripting issues
  • Cidney - Helping us with UI issues and testing
  • Corey - administration, achievements, and Shawn’s “task list”
  • Graham - cleaning up some rooms
  • Ian - improving the character sheet, journal and inventory screens
  • John Paul - showing Shawn’s status visually
  • Josh M. - text for examining and using things Shawn finds
  • Joshua S. - throwing items in combat, general problem-solving
  • Judy - Composer improvements, helping find errors
  • Lori - final dialogue, such as dealing with the Dire Rat Queen

A Torturous Process

Recently heard in a Hero-U team meeting, “I’m currently working in the torture chamber and having fun with it.” And Josh wasn’t even joshing. Yes, there is a “dungeon”, complete with torture chamber, left over from some former residents of the castle. This plays an important part in the “meta story”, the background behind game events, that makes it possible for us to plan a multi-game Hero-U series.

Having Fun in the Torture Chamber
Having Fun in the Torture Chamber

I’ve been in touch with Geekify about creating physical goods for backers. These will ship after the downloadable game release so that boxes can include a solid version of the game that incorporates early player feedback.

There is good news for “Game in a DVD case” backers. Once upon a time, we had three levels of physical boxed game packaging - DVD case, small retail box, large “big box” for collectors. Because of the way quantity discounts work, and to simplify fulfillment, I’ve decided to upgrade everyone to the “big box”. It’s going to be really nice and unique to our patient backers - no torture involved.

Look for another update by the end of June with detailed Alpha Test news and instructions. Thank you so much for being patient as we continue to solve the thousands of issues that come up in the development of every significant game. I remember one supposedly-finished game at Sierra that had a 4-foot tall stack of bug reports waiting to be addressed, many trivial, but some real show-stoppers. That’s why we have to take the time to get this game right before sending it out to you. We think you’ll find the result an experience worth the wait.

Please keep your information (particularly email and physical address) up to date on BackerKit: https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com.

Torture Chamber 3D Layout
Torture Chamber 3D Layout

 

Lights, Camera, Action!

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What’s New at Hero-U?

The University is preparing to open its doors for the Fall Semester! But first we need to have the Campus Visit (Alpha Testing), Entry Examinations (Targeted Beta Testing), and Orientation (Final Testing). It takes serious preparation to get the most value from a Hero-U education.

We added a couple of steps to the project over the last two months to dramatically improve the game’s visuals and reliability. First, with the guidance of two programmers with serious Unity credits, we upgraded the development system from Unity 4.7 to version 5.5.

We knew that would cause some disruption and extra work, but the change lets us take advantage of the latest Unity features and support. The biggest upgrade has been in our ability to effectively light scenes.

Catacombs entrance before lighting upgrades
Catacombs entrance before lighting upgrades

In the above image (just after porting to Unity 5.5), the contrast is low except on Shawn, who appears to have a spotlight on him. Everything looks a little muddy and indistinct. It's fully playable, but not as good as it should be.

Same Catacombs entrance with improved lighting
Same Catacombs entrance with improved lighting

The improved lighting highlights some of the detail and sets the mood. Shawn looks more natural.

Let there be Light!

When we started building a castle to house Hero-U, it felt a little empty. Sure, there were classrooms and corridors, the dining hall and the great hall, the vestibule and the recreation center, the garden and the courtyard. But you know how it is with a castle - all that stonework can get pretty cold in the Winter.

That’s when we brought in portraits and tapestries for insulation and warmth. They also help us tell the story and the history of the University and some of our notable alumni. Tapestries are also pretty good at concealing secret doors and hiding places. You didn’t read that here.

At that point, we naively thought we were done decorating the castle. Then our artists stepped in and turned on the lights. And the lights shone throughout the castle, and it is good. Man is it good! Maybe a few “before and after” pictures will help you see how important lighting is to establishing the drama and mood in each scene.

Meanwhile, we continue adding new vignettes, closeups, and custom animation to bring more of the game to life.

Courtyard Before Re-Lighting
Courtyard Before Re-Lighting

This nighttime Courtyard view got the "dark" right, but feels "2D" and loses much of the beauty of the scene. Unity 5.5 let us keep the feel of the scene while bringing it to life with better lighting.

The Courtyard with Strategically-Placed Lights
The Courtyard with Strategically-Placed Lights

Here's the same courtyard re-lit. It's still obviously nighttime, but now the lights work and some details come to life. Shawn has also been toned down. (By default, Unity 5.5 lighting is about twice as bright as in Unity 4.7.)

We've had to make these changes to every scene in the game - over 60 of them - so our artists had a busy February and March. But the difference is "night and day" in bringing out the details and quality of the artwork.

Getting Ready to Graduate

After over four years of work and more than twice the original Kickstarter budget, we can finally see the graduation stage not too far in the distance. The extra lights probably helped. Here’s our current schedule for the initial testing phase:

  • 1 May 2017 - Feature complete - all “adventure” dialogue and interactions
  • 1 June - Castle Alpha Test - All team members and Insider Backers
  • 1 July - Castle Targeted Beta - Test specific areas in the Castle
  • 1 July - Wine Cellar opens to Insider Backers for Combat Alpha Testing
  • Etc. Specific dates will depend on early testing progress.

For this targeted Beta, we will need a few dedicated volunteers to test the game. There’s nothing like game testing to spoil all the fun of playing the game. If you are sort of person who likes to continually throw rocks to build up your throwing skills to the max (not that we’d ever want to make you do that sort of thing in a game) or who pulls back curtains to look for the man running things behind them, or who uses a magnifying glass to reveal every last detail, we could use your detection skills to make Hero-U better.

I will set up a web page and database for alpha and beta testers, then issue invitations to volunteer backers next month. We’ll be trying something new - assigning each beta tester to a particular area or game day so that we can make sure every event is tested throughout the game.

Beta testing is much more than playing the game - you’ll need to keep a critical eye on everything you see, and play through the same sequence multiple times with small variations to identify bugs that only show up after a certain sequence of actions.

If you’ve ever wondered why commercial games could possibly ship with “glaring errors”, it’s because many of those errors only show up after a specific set of moves or in a particular case of random numbers. This will be a real challenge for everyone who volunteers. That’s why we don’t have a fixed shipment schedule - we’ll ship when the game is done - and fun!

Resource Reminders

Please keep your email and address current at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com 

Participate in the Hero-U forum at http://www.hero-u.net/forum/

Our FaceBook page is https://www.facebook.com/TheSchoolForHeroes/

Shawn Enters the Catacombs
Shawn Enters the Catacombs

 

Our Funny Valentine - Hero-U February 2017 Update

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Lori and I cannot express how much we appreciate both the initial support and continuing patience (or at least acceptance) from all of our dedicated Hero-U backers. Making this game is proving harder than anything else we’ve done, but you’ve also given us the opportunity to create something new and we hope wonderful.

So we wish a Happy Valentine’s Day with love to all of you.

Happy Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine's Day
 

New team members

I put out a call for Unity programmers in December, and we were delighted with the results. Ten people applied, and if I had the budget I would have hired all ten of them. Currently I’ve added three additional developers to the team. Each brings extensive Unity and game development experience to the team.

Thanks to everyone who applied. Lori and I were impressed with your level of talent and dedication.

Planned Beta and Release dates

The current plan calls for “Code Complete” – all features implemented and ready for outside Beta testing – in 2-3 months. Figure on April 30 for the start of Beta. We plan to distribute digital copies of the game through a download on BackerKit for backers, and through Steam, GoG, and Humble for new orders.

The Beta phase will also last 2-3 months, so we’re targeting late June to mid-July for game release. We are following the tradition of similar Kickstarter projects in releasing the digital version of the game first. After we’ve fixed most of the problems reported by players, we’ll manufacture the boxed games and send them out to the backers at higher contribution levels.

We might still slip, but it won’t be by much. Lori and I have strong financial and creative incentives to get the game out the door and into your hands.

It’s a Trap

Here’s a sneak peek at the trap disarming puzzle. As Shawn practices disarming traps and improves in skill, some of the incorrect letters will be removed from the dial of Shawn’s Trap Tapper. https://youtu.be/RW3JjZI5YKM

Remember, Rogues, it takes more than a disarming smile to bypass a diabolical trap!

Project upgraded to Unity 5.5

We looked into porting Hero-U to Unity 5 a couple of years ago, but decided we did not have the expertise to make it work. Now with the help of our new team members, we’re up and running on version 5.5. This brings the game some big improvements in lighting, performance, and stability.

Bob Bates Thaumistry game

Bob Bates is an adventure game hero going all the way back to the days of Infocom text adventures. Bob also co-founded Legend Entertainment and published our Shannara adventure RPG. Now he has returned to his text adventure roots with Thaumistry, a comical fantasy interactive fiction game on Kickstarter. The project is fully funded, but additional backers will help Bob reach stretch goals including audio.

Please support Thaumistry and help keep the text adventure market alive. The project is on Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1575848200/thaumistry-in-charms-way-a-new-comedy-text-adventu

Seriously, You’re the Best

Thank you for supporting our incredible journey into making a Sierra-quality video game in the new indie era. We wouldn’t be here without our generous backers, and we think you’re going to love Hero-U as much as we love making it.