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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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It's About Time

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What would you do if you had all the time in the world?

Tempus Fugit
Tempus Fugit

At first, it would seem incredible, a boon that allows you to do everything you want to do.

But then, once you have accomplished all of your dreams, what will you do with the rest of that time? Where will you find challenge and excitement once you’ve had it all and done it all?

This is especially true for an impatient young Rogue such as Shawn O’Conner. Shawn has the run of the Hero-U castle (as long as he doesn’t get caught after curfew). He can check out the wine cellars, Sea Caves, catacombs, and dungeon. He can work out in the practice area, practice with locks and traps, play games with other students, or visit the library. There is definitely a lot to do.

But without time constraints, the choices go away. Shawn would try to do everything every day, and might find himself in a rut.

Using Time Wisely

Fortunately, time is a precious commodity at Hero-U. Even a Rogue needs to sleep sometime, and there is far more to do than anyone can reasonably manage in one semester.

Time is one of the major “economies” in Hero-U. Players constantly need to decide how Shawn should spend his all-too-limited time. Shawn can focus on social relationships, improve his skills, earn money, take elective classes, or uncover mysteries in the school and dungeons. There certainly won’t be enough time to get bored.

Every game action except for “look” takes time. Conversations take several minutes. Practicing a Rogue or a combat skill takes anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. Class sessions take hours. As you guide Shawn through Hero-U, you will find yourself watching the clock and thinking, “Do I have time for one more practice round? Or do I need to run to the library before it closes?”

As a Hero-U player, you will constantly have to make choices. You can’t do everything every day. That applies to conversations too - you need to choose what Shawn will say, then live with the results. Expect some frustration if you’re a completionist.

None of this is accidental. We want Hero-U to be compelling, and that includes forcing players to make choices. We also want the game to be replayable, so it’s fine if you miss out on some of the dialogue, or one of the classes, or even delving the dungeons. There are many different ways to play the game. We hope you will find Hero-U involving enough to try them all.

Suppertime
Suppertime

Taking the Time to Get It Right

In a way, time has been our greatest issue while developing Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Shawn’s “semester” at Hero-U consists of 50 game days, each with unique events and conversations. This is what we - and Lori in particular - have been doing over the last five years. She has been writing and crafting all of those events and keeping them from “stepping on each other.”

During the last year, we’ve found many places where the scripts are almost, but not quite, right. Every possible dialogue, each option for picking a lock or disarming a trap, has needed careful testing to make sure they work as intended. We’re getting there, but every day we still find minor (and occasionally) bigger mistakes somewhere in the game. We want to fix as many of them as we possibly can before releasing the game to a wider audience.

By now you might be asking, “What time is it at Hero-U headquarters? When will the game reach Beta, and when will you release it to the world?”

Last time I told you we are “so close we can taste it,” and I estimated a release date between April 15 and May 15. As we haven’t yet declared Hero-U to be Beta-ready, clearly we’re pushing the end of that range, and we could even slip a few more weeks depending on what happens during Beta. I expect to start the Beta process in 1-2 weeks.

If you backed at a Beta tester level, watch your email for a message from BackerKit with instructions on accessing the Beta test on Steam. We have all three versions - Windows, Mac, and Linux - available, but are only using Steam during the testing phases. We’ll add other ways to get your game when we “go live.”

The Taste of Success
The Taste of Success

Alpha, Beta, Soup?

Game industry use of the terms “Alpha” and “Beta” isn’t consistent. For us, we’ll be ready for Beta when the game is completely playable, all essential features are in place, and it has no known game-stopping issues such as crashing or freezing. I am also trying to make sure it is as free as possible of “uncaught exceptions”; these might not freeze the game, but they are often signs of deeper problems in the game.

The main missing features at this point are Achievements (which we will turn into Steam Achievements) and the game manual. I’m working on both of those currently. Also missing are credits for both developers and backers, and the opening cinematic. Other than those, the game is complete, but not yet ready for release. We are still tuning combat, making sure all combat items work as intended, and adding additional sound effects. We’ll continue to do all of that during Beta testing.

Lori and I are so excited that we will finally be able to put our game in your hands “really soon now.” Every week we get closer to the day we can say, “Ship it!” That was always Ken Williams’ favorite part of making a game at Sierra, and soon it will be ours.

Of course, then our real work - or the next stage of it - begins again with promotion, fulfillment, the Art Book, Bestiary, and planning Hero-U: Wizard's Way. This will be quite a journey!

Ship It In Ship Shape - Much Better Than the Ship That Sank
Ship It In Ship Shape - Much Better Than the Ship That Sank

So Close We Can Taste It

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Most of Us Are Happy
Most of Us Are Happy

 The Pareto Principle says that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. I’ve often parodied that with my “90-90 rule of software development” - “90% of the project takes 90% of the schedule, and the last 10% takes the other 90%.” I even gave a 90-90-90 rule (Luck, Inspiration, and Hard Work) in my previous update.

Zeno (the Arrow Paradox) would have suggested that means that no game is ever finished… and he would be right! There is still a lot of work we would like to do on each of our previous games. But sooner or later, the boss walks into the room and declares, “Ship it!” Only then is a game officially “done”, but not really...

Fortunately, I’m happy to report that we’re much farther along with Hero-U than 90%. But there is still a huge amount of work to do. Releasing the game is only one stage in our 5+ year project. We also have to fulfill physical orders (posters, game boxes, and the Yearbook), write the text for the manuals, set up Steam and other web pages, promote the game, port it to consoles, and get started on the next games. Just thinking about all that is exhausting!

We’ve just released (to Alpha Testers) the first build that players can play all the way through from the beginning to the end! That is a huge milestone that looked very far away even a few months ago. All that is missing to declare “Code Complete” and move into the Beta Test phase is to clean up a few “boss combats” and improve the endgame flow and polish.

We also need some logistics to handle thousands of additional player-testers. That will probably include a discussion forum just for testers that we may be able to turn into a general support site after game release.

As we get closer to the finish line, I think I can do a better job of prediction than I’ve managed in the past. Our scheduled Beta Test date is March 15, but let’s say “by the end of March” to be safe. Game release will be 4-6 weeks after we enter Beta testing. That puts it somewhere between April 15 and May 15. Yes, THIS year, 2018. :-)

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Keeping In Touch

As we approach release, it’s very important that you keep your information on BackerKit up to date. You can find and edit it at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/.

I received “hard email bounces” from five Alpha-level backers. I’ve managed to track four of them down, but I’m still looking for a current email for “GamerIntel”. If that’s you, please contact support (at) hero-u (dot) com and update your information on BackerKit.

For everyone else, please visit BackerKit and update your email and physical address information if either has changed.

You may also join in the discussions at http://hero-u.net/forum/. We plan to make a separate forum or a hidden area on the current forum for Beta test feedback.

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

If you are a Beta Test level backer, you will receive an email from BackerKit when your Steam key is available for testing. All Beta testing will be on Steam so that you will automatically get patches when we update the game.

Let's Keep In Touch, Y'All
Let's Keep In Touch, Y'All

 

Hero-U in the Final Alpha Stages

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Game Development Progress

We’ve completed the first Alpha test stages, and I will soon be inviting every backer entitled to the Alpha and Beta Test perk. We’re currently polishing the Catacombs area of Hero-U and adding the Dungeon. At the beginning of March, we plan to add the Endgame and open up testing to everyone with the Beta Testing perk. The game will be complete at that point, but will undoubtedly have balance issues and bugs that we missed in earlier testing.

As we get closer to Code Complete, I can start making better estimates of how long it will take us to complete everything else. Lori has finished writing the game dialogue, and Josh Mandel is finishing up the last few object interactions. I still have some writing work to do on the endgame, game manual, Bestiary, and art book, and polish work to do on the Yearbook.

Depending on further testing results, we are likely looking at a mid-April 2018 release. To do that, we will need much more than the finished game and manual. We need to integrate it with every release platform, get keys to backers, and much more.

A Zombie Chorus Line - “Hey, watch where you’re sheathing that sword!”
A Zombie Chorus Line - “Hey, watch where you’re sheathing that sword!”

“Racing to the Finish Line” on Hero-U.com

Lori posted a new blog entry on www.hero-u.com - http://hero-u.com/racing-to-the-finish-line/ - last month. Check it out. She writes most of the posts there, while I write most of the Kickstarter updates.

Alpha Testing - Watch for your Steam invitation

Earth’s listing in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy read simply, “Mostly harmless.” Now that our small cadre of pre-Alpha testers have helped us eliminate the most devastating bugs from Hero-U, I will soon be inviting all registered Alpha testers to experience the game-in-progress. It’s mostly playable now, with just the dungeon and endgame to be added over the next few weeks.

If your page on https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/ shows that you have the “Alpha and Beta Testing” perk, keep watch on your email for an Alpha test invitation within the next two weeks.

The team is looking forward to more testers with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and concern (“terror” is much too strong a term). They’ve quashed over 1100 bugs so far, and with your help we’ll do our best to make the game squeaky-clean by release.

Sneaking Through the Sea Caves
Sneaking Through the Sea Caves

What Do Our Testers Think About Hero-U?

So far the tester feedback has been very positive. Despite having to fight bugs, our testers have been very involved in the game and have good things to say about it.

I asked one tester, Raf M, to write up his impressions. Here are his concluding paragraphs. His full “impressions” report is at http://hero-u.com/hero-u-playtesting-feedback/.

"Based on what is currently playable in the alpha (and that is already quite a lot), I think that the gamers who liked Quest for Glory, will like Hero-U. I think it is clear that Hero-U is also a Lori and Corey Cole game."

"In my opinion, the game succeeds in making you feel that Shawn is at a school, but it’s essentially still a story driven RPG/adventure game hybrid, not a “school simulator”."

"I have spent quite a lot of time playing the alpha. I immediately liked the core of the game. If I didn’t, I would not have invested so much time playing an unfinished game with inevitable bugs. I am always looking forwards to new builds, so I can make more progress in the game."

"There is still more work to be done, but there is already a lot of content in the game. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is getting bigger and bigger. In my opinion, the alpha is strongly indicating that the long wait for the final game is almost over and it will be worth it."

Unsolicited, tester Richard Baxter wrote:

"I am finding the game really enjoyable (at day 30). The character interactions, visual emotions, music, atmosphere, lighting, environmental depth, story, comedy, portraits, statues, textures, and 3D animations are all incredible. I also find it (like Quest for Glory) a great learning programme in the finer points of heroism and ethical philosophy - which is one of the underlying themes (school)."

"I think Lori should become a director for a film, and do writing for similar games. Her characters are so much more interesting."

It’s difficult - maybe impossible - for us to judge our own work. It’s always a big relief when we release a game and find out that players like it. We’ve been very fortunate with that so far in that players say they like almost all of our games. We hope that Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption will continue that lucky legacy. (Game Success = 90% Luck, 90% Inspiration, and 90% Hard Work. It’s possible I should have taken that Statistics class I missed in college.)

Happy Holidays from Hero-U

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Merry Christmas and an Awesome New Year!
Merry Christmas and an Awesome New Year!

First, and most importantly, we wish all our backers and fans a wonderful holiday season. Have a great Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Lori and I are doing something special this year - our first real vacation in 30 years or so. We’ll be spending Christmas in Barcelona, Spain, recharging our energy before the final push on Hero-U.

Testing and Project Progress

After some initial challenges, we opened Alpha testing to a few backers in August. Since then we’ve invited 100 top backers and have 30 testers exercising the game.

And boy have they been exercising! The testers have reported over 1000 bugs and suggestions for design improvements, most of which we’ve been able to address. We’ve also addressed several hundred automatically reported issues with the game.

This has, as expected, been quite a challenge for our small team. Every day we face the question, “Do we keep polishing the parts of the game we’ve been testing, or spend the time getting the next section ready for testing?” For the most part, we’re making sure there are no story-wrecking problems anywhere in the game.

What we didn’t expect was the passion this small group of playtesters has applied to playing Hero-U. Many of the suggestions have been incredibly insightful, causing Lori to rewrite and add entire sections of dialogue to improve the game flow and responsiveness to player actions.

Our next steps will be to open the testing process to all 340 backers who supported us at an alpha test level. Once all of the game content is ready to test, we’ll open the floodgates to over 4000 Beta testers. At each stage, we raise the stakes for the team as we continue to develop the final sections of the game while fixing and improving the parts that we thought were “done”.

We’ve made a great amount of progress thanks to the team and our testers, but there is still quite a bit to be done before release.

Remaining to be done:

  • Opening cinematic is coming along really well, but still needs time to finish.
  • The Catacombs need to be polished, then submitted for testing.
  • We’re currently doing a major rework on one Catacombs puzzle that required combat. We promised Adventure-Treff that Hero-U could be completed without combat, and we’re delivering on that promise!
  • The Dungeon area needs some polish before we can add it to the testing queue.
  • The final scene of the game - the endgame - has not yet been programmed and needs a little more dialogue.
  • We need to get the Steam achievements integrated into Steam.
  • Final testing, and then release.

We’ve just released a “sneak preview” of the Catacombs to testers. All of the scenes are navigable, but occasionally a bit crazy - Shawn steps through a doorway and ends up on his back in the next scene. We plan to have full Catacombs functionality in place for the next test build in mid-January.

The adjusted schedule:

  • Catacombs about Jan. 15
  • The Dungeon early in February, with the endgame added in late February.
  • Meanwhile, we’ll improve game settings, add additional sound effects, implement Steam achievements, and finalize the opening cinematic.
  • Game release - between March 15 and April 15.

I would love to say a flat “March 15 is the release date”, but as we’ve seen, many things can happen during testing that can cause us to step back and spend extra time reworking an area of the game. Still, March 15 is our target release date.

Shawn isn't the only Hero at Hero-U
Shawn isn't the only Hero at Hero-U

Walking through the Uncanny Valley

We first heard the term “Uncanny Valley” while working at Sierra. As long as games were obviously low-resolution and cartoony, players had no problem ignoring glaring flaws in graphics quality, sound, and storytelling. Games were obviously not films, and that was fine.

At the same time, we knew we could do a lot better, and we did. Through the 1990s, Sierra games went from 4 colors to 16 to 256, doubled their resolution, and started to experiment with 3D graphics. Audio went from PC speaker single-voice “beeps and boops” to 3- and 4-voice sound and MIDI to fully-orchestrated tracks and synthesizer-quality sound cards. The user interface went from typing to point-and-click - I still think there is much more to be done in that area. Storytelling went from simplistic “game logic” to something approaching Hollywood and even art films.

But there’s a danger to coming too close to the domain of the gods. The ancient Greeks called it “hubris”. In modern terms, there is an invisible line between acceptance of game flaws as “fantasy”, vs. getting close enough to real life that players start expecting the game to *be* real. Based on tester feedback, we’re coming perilously close to that line with Hero-U.

We’ve been getting “uncanny valley” feedback on Hero-U much more than with any previous game. Players get so involved in the conversations and action, they feel as though they are really at Hero-U. This means we can’t just take the easy way out that Sierra used so often - “Oh, they’re doing that? We can’t handle that. Kill the character if they try it.” Instead, we add additional dialogue chains, obstacles, and puzzles.

This feedback is one of the reasons we are taking a lot of extra time making sure we get every sequence in the game “right”. We don’t want Hero-U to feel like “just another adventure game” or RPG. If players notice that a character’s dialogue in one scene or event doesn’t seem to match up with what they’ve said or done earlier, we change it to improve continuity. In many cases, the correct dialogue already exists, but there is an error in the scripting code that causes lines to come up out of order. As we walk through the Uncanny Valley, it’s no longer good enough to have some characters that talk - they have to feel real.

Game Play Video

Al Eufrasio put together this game play video to highlight how Hero-U plays.

Incidentally, there is a graphical glitch in one scene of the video due to processing, but don't worry - that doesn’t happen in the game.

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/.

And of course our project updates are on Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/transolargames/hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game/updates.

Check out A Tale of Two Kingdoms on Steam (art by JP Selwood) - http://store.steampowered.com/app/603870/A_Tale_of_Two_Kingdoms/ This game features our own JP Selwood’s background art, and was recently re-released on Steam. It’s an adventure game based on Celtic mythology.

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: