Amid some controversy and a lot of heart-warming support, we returned to Kickstarter for supplemental funding for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The project was successful, ensuring that we can finish the game without maxing out every credit card and life insurance policy loan.
Between overfunding of the campaign and some very generous backers on PayPal, we have also been able to restore some content to the game that we previously planned to cut. Hero-U will be a much better game as a result.
It's our final day on the supplemental Hero-U Kickstarter campaign - 30 hours to go as I write this. The funding campaign ends Monday night (midnight PDT). The funding from this campaign will ensure we can complete Hero-U in style without going deeper into debt than the Marianas Trench.
We reached our $100,000 stretch goal on Saturday thanks to over 1600 dedicated backers. We’ve also passed the first two stretch goals - the Tower Garden and Improved Animation - and hope to reach several more in the final hours of the campaign.
We are rapidly closing in on the $110,000 stretch goal - Better illustrated and more complex puzzles in the Sea Cave area.
Share the campaign with your friends so we can make Hero-U the best game possible. Every stretch goal dollar will be a big help in making Hero-U better.
We hope you've enjoyed the more-frequent updates during the supplemental fund-raising campaign. I've enjoyed the opportunity of sharing more about the Hero-U game to our backers old and new.
We currently have backers from four sources - two Kickstarter campaigns, PayPal, and Humble Bundle - so it's been a challenge to keep everyone informed. We will be using BackerKit to track all backers, and I think we'll be able to use them to communicate with all of you in the future.
Thank you so much for supporting Hero-U! With our now-solid team, completed concepts, and the funding from the new campaign, we should be able to make rapid progress on the game. Our target is Beta testing late this year and release in early Spring (around March or April) of 2016.
One of the things that makes adventure games special is the emphasis on story. You aren’t just running around solving puzzles, you’re participating in a shared-storytelling experience. Obviously story and characters are essential features of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.
Throughout the game, you will learn small threads of the story. How you put them together creates the tapestry that is your version of the story. Some sections may be incomplete until you play the game several times, because the way you play Shawn helps direct the story.
There are story threads as early in the game as the opening “break-in house” scene. Some of them are subtle, but designed to raise questions in the player’s mind. Clearly Shawn is special - how many young men do you suppose the Chief Thief pulls off the street and assigns to a special test with no training? Who is the man in the alleyway, and why does he care what happens to Shawn? Who has sponsored Shawn to attend Hero-U, an elite University that does not normally cater to street people?
Inside the break-in house, why are shamrocks a theme in a game set in the Mediterranean? What do you learn about Shawn by examining the piano or the globe? What is going on with that safe that looks specifically designed to thwart expert thieves? Why does Shawn think about his mother, but never mention his father?
The answers to those questions are intentionally ambiguous for several reasons. One is to set up later plot development. Another is point of view - in Rogue to Redemption, you play as Shawn, and he doesn’t know the whole story.
There is also the nature of “interactive fiction” - we can’t tell you the whole story at the beginning because we’re writing it together. Each decision you make in the game affects some part of the story and character development. It even helps create the style of the game.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Is Hero-U a suspense thriller in which danger lurks around every corner, and Shawn must keep on his toes to avoid disaster? It could be if you play it that way. The monsters are waiting.
Is Rogue to Redemption a coming-of-age story where a young man of modest means improves himself and “becomes somebody”? Yes, it is, to the degree you make it that story. Even the subtitle implies that, but the story doesn’t have to go that way if you choose otherwise.
Is Hero-U about the relationships between characters, possibly even a romance story? It can definitely be that if your focus in the game is talking with other characters and romancing one - or two or more - of them. Traditional romance or alternative relationships? Possibly - it’s up to you.
Is Hero-U a mystery story in which Shawn and the player consider many subtle clues and try to unravel the secrets of the past and the present? The clues are there - what you do with them is your choice.
Maybe Hero-U is a contest where you try to maximize Shawn’s attributes, skills, and wealth while winning the Rogue of the Year contest.
There are also stories (“character arcs”) for other characters besides Shawn, and you have some influence on them. Each character has a back-story, personality, goals, and challenges. Sometimes Shawn can help with one of those challenges and have an effect on the outcome of the character’s story in Hero-U. Examples? That would be telling. :-)
Whatever your adventure or role-playing gaming style, we think you will find the experience of playing Hero-U fascinating and challenging. You’ll want to watch your friends play too, because each of you will have a different experience each time.
Beautiful and Free
There’s only so much I can fit into these updates. To learn more about Hero-U, and see some of the beautiful game art our team is creating, visit Lori’s “What’s New At Hero-U” blog at www.hero-u.com/leaders/.
Each day through the end of the Kickstarter campaign, we are giving away a new game art desktop background. Visit every day to get your free wallpaper, and check the older posts to learn more about Hero-U. Don’t forget to click on the Share buttons at the bottom of each post; we’re coming down to the wire and want everyone to know about Hero-U.
I've added two new digital add-ons to the Kickstarter campaign - $20 for an additional copy of the game, and $5.89 to join the AGL 589 - The Adventurers’ Guild Local 589 created by our backers.
Shouting Across the Internet
We all want to see more games with great story and gameplay. That’s why I make a point of sharing other Kickstarter projects here, and why we all support each others’ campaigns. It’s really important for you to share Hero-U and other interesting games on Facebook, Twitter, reddit, and other sites. Talk about them in our comments, and about us in theirs (but be respectful in both cases!).
Brian Fargo and inXile Entertainment are currently running a major campaign for the Bard’s Tale IV. They are asking $1.25 million and have promised to add at least another $1.25 million from the company coffers to make a great game. Based on their first in-game trailer, the new game looks much more immersive (and beautiful) than the original Bard’s Tale games. I played the first one in the mid 1980’s even before I broke into the game industry. Support Bard’s Tale IV at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/inxile/the-bards-tale-iv.
Previous celebrity supporters have included Jane Jensen Holmes and Robert Holmes of Gabriel Knight and Moebius fame (http://pinkertonroad.com/); Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe of Space Quest and SpaceVenture (along with Chris Pope of SpaceVenture) (http://guysfromandromeda.com/); Josh Mandel and Al Lowe of Freddy Pharkas and Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded (https://www.replaygamesinc.com/); and many others too numerous to name. We really appreciate the way game designers promote and support each other.
These aren’t just gaming celebrities - they’re good people who deserve respect and support. All of them care about making great games and are good at it. Keep an eye out for their upcoming games and buy a copy, or give them some support on their web sites. Making games is a very tough business, and support from our fans is one of the main things that makes it worthwhile.
A central feature of Hero-U is conversation with other characters. This is probably the feature that sets us most apart from other games.
Sure, there is dialogue in almost every game, but it is usually a filler. Dialogue helps to flesh out a character’s personality, but it’s often one-dimensional. Either you see the dialogue in a cutscene (in-game film clip) or you get the same dialogue over and over when you click on a character.
Hero-U treats dialogue as a simulation rather than fixed scripts or filler. Conversations with the same characters change constantly. This can happen because of what Shawn said to them previously, or because of his reputation with the character, or simply as the result of passing time.
There are still rules to dialogue - we aren’t up to the level of artificial intelligence in Ex Machina yet. When Shawn enters a scene for the first time in an event, it’s likely a character will greet him with the latest news. If the player clicks on that character, Shawn can start a relevant discussion.
The discussion topics change for every character on most days. If they’ve already talked with Shawn about something, that dialogue option will no longer appear.
Can I Interest You in an Almost New Lockpick?
For example, let’s say Shawn meets Joel Kayro outside the rogue class early in the game. After the initial greeting, Shawn has a few possible discussion topics:
Talk to Joel
Buy from Joel
Choosing Talk to Joel might lead to:
Ask about Joel
Ask about Tools
Ask about Information
Those topics are available because Joel has just introduced himself, the class lecture was about rogue tools, and Joel has mentioned that he sometimes has useful information… for a price.
In this case, Joel’s priority is to sell tools to Shawn, so even if Shawn asks about Joel, he’ll get a sales pitch on Joel’s useful stock of equipment. Asking about Tools gives more detailed information about them.
As for actually buying the tools, some options will only appear if Shawn has enough money to afford them. In addition, Joel’s stock changes throughout the game as he begins to sell more expensive and valuable goods.
Let’s say Shawn Asks about Information. Joel knows that one of Shawn’s first unpleasant encounters was with Mr. Terk, Hero-U’s disciplinarian. So that topic might interest Shawn (and be valuable to the player). In classic “the first one is free” fashion, Joel doesn’t charge for that information. Later on, everything he reveals has a price.
Each time Shawn meets with Joel, they can have a different conversation. Nothing in dialogue is mandatory in terms of puzzle solutions, but sometimes characters give Shawn useful hints. More importantly, as in a film or a novel, dialogue is the heart of the story. By talking with other characters, Shawn learns about the University, the characters, local politics, and various mysteries.
Dialogue is also the key to building relationships. Most characters like it when you talk to them, especially if you talk about things that matter to them. Every time Shawn talks to a character, he has a chance to gain or lose reputation with that character or with others who may be listening. Shawn might also improve a character skill such as Charm, Smarts, or Moxie.
Dialogue Choices - Much More than Words
Creating the game dialogue for Hero-U is one of Lori’s major responsibilities. Besides writing tens of thousands of individual messages, she is using the power of our proprietary Composer scripting system to create dependencies.
Composer allows her to decide if game text is only available once, once per day, or repeatedly. She makes other dialogue dependent on previous game actions. For example, if Shawn and his roommate Aeolus are discussing Sophia, the receptionist, it makes a difference whether Shawn has met Sophia and talked to her.
This is handled by “script tags”. When Shawn talks to Sophia in the reception area, the dialogue script sets a tag. Some of the conversations with Aeolus in the dorm later only appear if Shawn has talked to Sophia first. Here is one of many possible paths through that dialogue. On the next day, the conversation will be different, but may refer back to the choices made in today’s conversation.
You will not be able to go through every dialogue option in one playthrough of Hero-U. Subtle differences in conversational choices and meeting other characters affect the available choices. This gives a different mood to similar conversations across multiple playthroughs.
It’s hard to convey just how many dialogue scripts Lori is creating for Hero-U, and the degree of complexity of each one. When you play the game, you will follow the path you choose through the dialogue, seeing just a fraction of the available possibilities. Each path will be part of a satisfying story involving Shawn and the other characters. The next time you play, you will likely see different conversations.
Keep on Talking
Please share this update on Twitter, reddit, Facebook, Google+, and other social media. The more people who learn about Hero-U, the better we will be able to fine-tune and improve the conversation systems and individual dialogue choices.
Please share our new Kickstarter campaign with your friends and on social media. The amount we raise in the final two weeks will have a huge impact on our ability to fine-tune Hero-U with better animation, sound effects, and additional help where we need it.
We invite you visit the new campaign to see more screen images and other improvements to the game. Please also visit www.hero-u.com and vote on the polls for the Yearbook cover design, travel posters, castle painting, and more. Lori posts a blog there with more game images and information.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption Project Status
Art is about 150% complete according to the original plan, which is to say about 80% complete with the new animation we intend to add and one 3D area that is still in progress.
Programming: Estimated 50% complete. The hardest parts are out of the way – we have a scripting system integrated into Unity, we’ve worked out the combat basics, UI, and object placement and handling.We think it will take about six months to finish all the scripting and system programming.
The player can walk around the entire University and the wine cellar, but we are refining all of the areas to make them look and play better. We also have a lot of work to do on refining combat.
Game Design: 100% complete. All of the basic design and story structure is done, but we have a great deal of writing and scripting to do.
Dialogue and Other Text: Estimated 30% complete. Our process for design and writing involves specifying the key elements of all scenes, then writing detailed text and dialogue after the basic implementation is complete.
Since this is a key area that is being done by Lori and me, it is on the critical path for completing the game. We estimate we have four to five months of work to do on writing, given the distractions of managing the project and team.
Testing/QA: We plan to have a 3-4 month testing and refining cycle. That’s the part that got shorted on some of our Sierra games, sometimes resulting in buggy releases.
We expect to complete development late this year, and have the game ready for release early next year.
We have achieved Greenlit status on Steam Greenlight, so we will definitely have a Hero-U release on Steam. We will also have a DRM-free version on Humble Bundle. We are in talks with other potential distributors.
Reward Fulfillment Status
We’ve come a long way since the original Hero-U Kickstarter campaign in November 2012. 30 months in, here’s what we’ve accomplished and what we’re working on next.
As the chart shows, we have made great progress on fulfilling most of the rewards from the first Kickstarter.
A major reward in the campaign was inclusion in the physical and virtual Yearbooks. Lori has posted a full article on the Yearbook at http://hero-u.com/we-got-class-the-yearbook-report/ along with a poll for possible cover designs. If you are in the Yearbook, or have a strong artistic opinion, please vote in the poll.
We delayed shipment of the posters, but are now ready to send them out. We will do that in July or August so that we can do them and shipments from the supplemental funding Kickstarter at the same time. Those will complete the physical rewards from the first game except for the boxed games and autographed Yearbooks.
New Rewards in the 2015 Hero-U Kickstarter
We’ve added a new “Digital Deluxe” reward tier at $150. It’s designed for international backers and those who have limited shelf space, as all of the rewards are digital or virtual. Those rewards include:
All-digital - No physical rewards
Alpha and Beta Test Access
"Insider Reports" on the Making of Hero-U
Secret Thieves Guild Password
Game key for Quest for Glory 1-5 on GoG
Mention in the in-game credits (optional)
Set of Hero-U screen saver images
Digital Hint Book
Digital "Art of Hero-U" Book
Digital Hero-U Soundtrack
Receive a special Thank You
Access to project updates
NOTE: The Quest for Glory game key is not included in higher tiers, but is available as an add-on.
All of the other rewards apply to all higher tiers in both campaigns.
We’ve also added more add-on options. To get add-ons from the new campaign without upgrading to another reward, pick the $10 Supporter tier. Instead of pledging $10, pledge the total price of your chosen add-ons. Most add-ons will be shipped separately from the game.
NOTE for backers of the previous Hero-U Kickstarter campaign: The add-on we called “Set of 4 high-resolution game art images in PDF” will receive a free upgrade to the current add-on called “Set of 5 Hero-U Concept Art Images”.
Physical Add-Ons (prices include postage and handling):
Two Hero-U Key Rings $15 to any destination
Autographed Postcard $25 to any destination
Cloth “Varsity Letter” Patch $25 to any destination
Shawn’s Lucky Coin $30 to any destination
Set of Four Travel Posters $40 U.S. / $50 International
Hero-Unicorn Baseball Cap $40 U.S. / $50 International
All Kinds of Heroes T-Shirt $40 U.S. / $50 International
Customized Wanted Poster $250 anywhere
The Wanted Poster also appears in-game for all players. The Travel and Wanted Posters also include high-res digital copies.
Please tell your friends about the new Hero-U Kickstarter campaign
If you prefer role-playing to adventure, there’s a new large company indie project on Kickstarter. From Brian Fargo and inXile Entertainment comes Bard’s Tale IV (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/inxile/the-bards-tale-iv), based on Fargo’s first major game (yes, I played The Bard's Tale before I went to Sierra to make games).
That project already has over 12,000 backers and $500K in funding on its first day. The goal is $1.25M towards a $2.5M game budget. The remainder will be funded with profits from Wasteland 2 and potentially Torment: Tides of Numenera once that game is released.