Each game in our Quest for Glory series took players into a new land with a unique society. We based these lands on real-world locations to give players a taste of different cultures. As he became more experienced, the Hero traveled from Western Europe to the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and finally to the Mediterranean.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and the upcoming games in the Hero-U series all take place (or at least start) in the Hero University in Sardonia. The school is again on the Med Sea, but there is a strong influence from many different countries and cultures. While some of Shawn’s classmates are locals, others have traveled to Sardonia from all over the world - Yoruba, Arzmoor, Kriegsland, Mordavia, Marete, and many other lands.
Hero-U prides itself on its diversity. Students, faculty, and staff come from a wide variety of cultures and all walks of life. Nowhere is that diversity better reflected that in the University kitchen and dining hall. Each day Master Chef Ifetaya Kinah leads her staff and culinary students in preparing delicious meals from all around the world - Albion, Bellefrance, Nihon, and other exotic locations. Anyone who asks, “Since when is a Chef a type of Hero?” has never dined at Hero-U.
Our backers and team also reflect our quest for diversity and variety. I shipped packages to backers in over 30 countries, and I'm sure we have many more represented in our all-digital rewards backers. Our developers range from the Eastern and Western United States to Australia and New Zealand.
After the first two years, in which Lori was our sole female team member, the current team has equal numbers of men and women. We are unified in a few other ways - everyone on the team loves making and playing adventure games, and we’re all enormously excited about the way Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is developing. We’re doing our best to live up to every promise we made about Hero-U during the Kickstarter campaigns - beautiful graphics, realistic character interactions, and meaningful choices throughout the game.
User Interface Survey
We’ve tried multiple variations of the main user interface for Hero-U, and we’re still tweaking and refining them. I’ve put together a short survey of how you play games, and it will be very helpful to us if you and your friends take the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WGMC5CW.
We want to know how many of our players use both mouse buttons when playing games, and what expectations you have for the right mouse button. In Quest for Glory, the right button toggled between commands (such as Talk, Look At, or Use) that the left button would use. In our first Hero-U demo, the right button brought up action menus, while the left button. For the second version, I switched that - left button acts, right button gives a description.
We are continuing to refine the rest of the user interface, including the look and feel of the inventory, character sheet, and journal. It takes an amazing amount of behind-the-scenes work to make these screens work well with the right appearance and ease of use.
We’re in the last couple of months of creating “room content” for the game. This includes all the dialogue, text, interactions, animation, and “adventure game stuff” for Hero-U. This Summer we will refine and expand the combat system and working on “alternate interface puzzles” such as trap disarming. We will also start adding music and sound effects once all of the rooms are otherwise complete.
We plan to have a very long beta test to prevent the kinds of problems we had with several of our Sierra games. We hope to start Beta in late September or early October. As we get closer to the finish line, our ability to estimate the real completion date will improve.
We are delaying shipments of physical goods until the game is complete. It’s a very time-consuming process that takes time away from game development. We’ve sent out digital rewards such as Quest for Glory game keys and high-resolution travel posters and game images. Log on to BackerKit and visit your Hero-U page to get access to your digital add-ons.
Kickstarter Projects Ending Soon
Thanks to Unleasher for posting these projects to the Hero-U game forum. Visit the forum at http://www.hero-u.net/forum/index.php to keep up with game discussions and join them. Also check out the main page at http://www.hero-u.com for Lori’s game design updates (when she can find a few hours away from writing dialogue).
Three years and three months ago, Lori and I set out to make a modest computer role-playing game with some adventure-game-like story. I thought we could get it done in a year with one or two programmers and a few artists.
Thanks to changes in circumstances and team members, plus strong encouragement from our backers and maybe some masochism on our part, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption has grown into a full-blown adventure role-playing game in the Quest for Glory vein. If you check out the game credits (http://www.mobygames.com/game-group/quest-for-glory-series) for those games, you’ll see why that’s a really ambitious goal for a crowdfunded indie game without a publisher or development studio.
Actually, the main challenge has been working with mainly part-time developers. Lori and I are full-time, but split between design, writing, and administration. Our mainstay artist, John Paul Selwood, has also worked close to full-time. Everyone else is putting in a few hours a week working around their day jobs.
I spend a lot of my time working with numbers. I actually like them and thought I’d share a few of my favorites. First, the project financials:
Pledged income: $555,000
Actual receipts after fees and loan payments: $460,000
Payments to art, music, and programming contractors: $380,000
Pledge reward and shipping costs: $80,000
Project burn rate: $10,000/month
So we’re at break-even from the funding campaigns so far, and are now working on personal loans. The above does not include any income for Lori and me, as we won’t pay ourselves until Hero-U becomes profitable. We also owe about $50,000 to developers who have chosen to defer their contract payments until after we release the game.
This is all pretty normal for game development. Developers normally have a publisher contract that doles out funds as the developer reaches milestones. The publisher in effect "goes into debt" to make the game, then hopes to make a profit after they launch the game. They lose money on many games, and make it up on a few profitable ones... or the studio goes out of business. That happens a lot to both big publishers and small indie developers.
We’ve had a total of 28 developers work on Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption so far. 12 are still actively contributing to the project. That’s smaller than the teams on our last few Sierra games, but about as many as we had on Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire. Then again, all of those worked full-time for a year. In man- (and woman-) years, we're still well under the development time of any of our Sierra games.
Hero-U By the Numbers
I love statistics, so let me share a few with you. Rogue to Redemption is huge, and more complex than any of our previous games.
Art assets and test builds in Dropbox: 5,344 files in 617 folders for 17.7 GB
Unity and Composer game files: 33,275 files in 1,957 folders for 4.8 GB
Backer Paintings, Statues, Ghosts, and Wanted Posters: 40+10+20+20 = 90
Number of game scenes: 68
Game days with unique events: 50
Number of characters and monster types: 74
Number of interactable objects (“props”): 1,200
Number of scripts written so far: 815, with about that many still to come
Why so many props and scripts? 68 scenes was about the number in a Sierra game, say Quest for Glory II or IV. But each scene in those games was 320x200 pixels covering one screen. Step out into the courtyard of Hero-U and you will get to get to explore the equivalent of 10 or 20 such screens. There might have been five such objects in a typical Quest for Glory scene vs. 20 or more in each Hero-U scene.
Then there are the character interactions. These typically change on most game days and in each location – Aeolus has different things to say at night in the dorm than in the evening in the recreation room. It is impossible to see all of the dialogue in one play-through; you’ll probably get to half of it after four or five games if you take care to say something different every time. Lori is writing a monster here with a little scripting advice from me.
Naming the New Team Members
I spend most of my time wrangling team members and funds, but I’ve also been helping Lori with the game design, writing updates, and crafting game text. That took more hours than I have each week, so we reached out to Sierra veteran Josh Mandel to write many of the text interaction messages.
Josh got his start playtesting Infocom and Sierra adventure games, then got a job as a tech writer for Sierra. Ken Williams “discovered” Josh and gave him the chance of doing game writing and design. Josh wrote for Jones in the Fast Lane, The Dagger of Amon Ra, Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist, Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in the Spinal Frontier, and lots of other games. Most recently he worked with Al Lowe on the recent Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded game.
Josh also contributed game text to one of our non-Sierra projects, Shannara. We’re very excited to have him back on our team, this time writing many of the “incidental” messages for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The game will be much richer and funnier with his additions.
We’ve had a number of challenges on the programming side of this project. Some programmers needed higher pay than we could fit into our budget. Others left for full-time development opportunities.
We stabilized on our current all-star team of Joshua Smyth, Cidney Hamilton, and Robert Kety early last year, but they are only able to work part-time due to other jobs and health issues. We really needed to add a full-time developer to the team.
We’re now delighted to introduce Carolyn VanEseltine as our new programmer and design contributor. Carolyn plans to apply her strong design sense, interactive fiction background, and Unity 3D experience to helping make Hero-U great. Here’s a little about her background in Carolyn's words:
I started my game development career in 2002 on the Simutronics flagship game GemStone IV. Since then, I've held a wide variety of industry roles - programming, design, writing, production, and more - and I've worked on everything from Harmonix's Rock Band and Dance Central franchises to the indie game Revolution 60, as described in my resume. I'm also well-known in modern interactive fiction, both for writing award-winning IF games and for my craft and technique blog, Sibyl Moon.
We still can’t promise a specific release date, but Lori and I have committed to shipping Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption this year. Our best guess – and it is just a guess – is late October or early November. We’ve made enormous progress in the last few months, especially in the areas of art and animation. Lori continues to work hard on scripting the game dialogue and character interactions.
With the additions of Josh and Carolyn, we have all the resources we need to reach the finish line with a game that will make us proud and our backers very happy. We hope the Hero-U series will be a worthy successor to our Quest for Glory games.
Thank you, everyone, for your awesome patience and support as we fight against the mighty challenges of indie game development. This project has turned into far more than we originally hoped, and we look forward to sharing it will all of you and many other gamers.
The Hero-U team wishes all of our backers, friends, and fans a very merry Christmas, a happy new year, and a fabulous Winter.
We hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season leading into a fantastic 2016. Lori and I always have fun this time of year trimming the tree, singing carols, welcoming guests, feasting, and even doing a little shopping.
One of our stretch goals in this year’s Kickstarter was “more and improved music and sound effects”. As our Holiday gift for all of you, here is a video of the Budapest Scoring Orchestra doing a live performance of the Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption theme (composed and arranged for orchestra by Ryan Grogan). We’re very excited to have live orchestral music in the game.
More Presents Underneath the Internet Tree
We’ve made great progress in resolving unanswered BackerKit surveys. I spent most of last week going from 800 unanswered surveys to fewer than 100. As a result, we will soon start uploading digital backer rewards to your personal BackerKit pages. These will include:
Hero-U screensaver / wallpaper for all backers
Fantasy travel posters for backers who ordered them
Fulfilling Quest for Glory keys on gog.com is proving challenging because the way we set up our BackerKit does not distinguish between new orders and the ones we’ve already fulfilled. Chris and I are working to resolve this and email the new keys as soon as we can.
As for those last 100 backers, please respond quickly if you get an email from Chris Fong, Hero-U Support, or myself so that we can make sure you get the rewards you want. If you have any questions or problems, you can use the BackerKit help button or send email to us at support (at) hero-u (dot) com. Chris and I both read support requests and handle them as quickly as possible.
If you’re looking for last-minute presents, Lori has designed some Hero-U Christmas ornaments and other fun gifts that you can order on our Cafe Press page - http://www.cafepress.com/herouniversitystore. If you’re like us and keep the house decorated half the year, there’s still plenty of time to order something nice!
Team Changes and Challenges
Of course, as Ebenezer Scrooge pointed out, the Christmas season also tends to be a bad time for productivity. We’ve had distractions ranging from helping my mother recover from knee surgery to catching the obligatory Thanksgiving colds to doing Christmas things. In fact, life has been so busy, we haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet, potentially causing serious damage to our nerd cred.
Last week we had the pleasure of entertaining super-backer Katherine Owen. She was in a bad car accident several years ago that led to her becoming active in our How to Be a Hero and School for Heroes web sites. We’re happy to say that after many very rough years, Katherine is doing much better. She enjoyed visiting our rustic “lived in” home and watching me start a fire in the fireplace to take off some of the mountain chill.
Janet Weddle has joined us as project manager to help us keep development on track. She has helped us set up Kanbanchi boards to track tasks and took over our most recent programming meeting (allowing me to cough freely without blowing out everyone’s headsets). I’ve been stretched very thin between management, bookkeeping, writing, and dealing with Kickstarter rewards, so Janet will be a valuable addition to the team.
Sadly, key team programmer Cidney was also caught in a serious car accident a few weeks ago. She has had two surgeries and is doing well, but we’re much more concerned about her recovery than in shackling her down to the counting room - er, programming - desk just yet. However, Cidney assures us that she wants to get back to work on Hero-U as soon as she is able.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas Card, so here’s one JP Selwood created for all of you:
This is a guest article by Judy Feng with additional material from Corey. Judy has been helping us add new features to our Composer story editor and will be working on other parts of Hero-U game play.
Since the previous update, another 600+ backers have filled out their BackerKit surveys. We still need over 600 surveys. It will be a great help if we can get closer to 100% as it takes me 5-10 minutes to manually resolve each incomplete survey - a week or two of time away from the game. We can't realistically order t-shirts or other merchandise until all of the surveys are completed and resolved.
If you receive an email reminder to complete your BackerKit survey, please handle it or send email to support (at) hero-u (dot) net (sorry, but we've been getting many automated spam messages lately) to let us know of any problems you are having with the survey. You can also access your survey at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/.
A recent question asked, "What is the scheduled release date?" I've been saying Spring (June) 2016, but since we aren't in Alpha yet, Lori's estimate of late Fall (November 2016) may be more realistic. We'll try hard to complete the game earlier - it's just as critical to us as to our backers - but we won't release it until we're satisfied that Hero-U is an excellent game with no major bugs.
From Story to Sardonia
What's involved in making a game? Why does it take so long? The answers might surprise you - there's a lot more than meets the eye. Let's take a quick peek behind the curtains of Hero-U.
At the heart of every adventure game is the story. (You enter the room. What do you see? Who is there with you? What happens when you push the button?) The designer describes the scene and all of its possible interactions (and their consequences).
In an ideal world, everything would come together in a single glorious swoop. As the designer tells the story, the artists' brushes (or styluses) would be a whirlwind of color; scenery and objects and characters would pour out of every surface, which animators would immediately bring to non-motion-captured life.
A symphony director would gesture madly (5/8 time! Now 4/4!) and a full orchestra and choir would respond in perfect harmony without needing a musical score. Programmers would capture all of this real-time data - story, art, animation, music - dynamically generate a world, shove it into a app, and... voila! A game would be born!
Sadly, game development in the real world moves far more slowly. Shockingly, it actually takes hard work and a lot of it.
From the earliest design phases, Corey and Lori planned the Sea Caves as an important environment in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. One of Shawn’s classmates has a pirate father and is looking to recover his lost treasure.
But treasure is never so easily gained. Great reward requires great risk. Lori had visions of sea caves filled with diabolical puzzles, deadly traps, and dangerous creatures. Not least would be the Undead Pirates guarding the final treasure. Yes, it’s a trope, but a fun one! Hero-U would follow in the grand tradition of Tim Powers’ “On Stranger Tides”, Ron Gilbert’s “Secret of Monkey Island”, and of course Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”.
Waving their hands and saying, “Zombie Pirates - make them so,” would have been nice and so very efficient. In practice, first the Coles had to lay out the caves, figure out how to make them work - the backgrounds were still 2D at the time, come up with puzzles around the caves and the pirates, work with an artist to get sketches, other artists to make them look real, programmers to make it all work, and another half-dozen or so steps.
Paul Bowers sketched some zombie pirates and the pirate captain. Richard Aronson contributed some ideas about dead parrots and pirate hats. The cave maps went through four or five iterations as Corey, Michael, and finally Lori tried to create caves that would feel huge, but still be practical to paint and program.
By late 2014, they were ready to cut out the Sea Caves out of the game or make Hero-U episodic and move them to the second episode. The problem - the Sea Caves are a major part of the game story, and they’re Too Cool to Cut. Instead, Corey decided to run a second Kickstarter campaign to raise additional funding to keep Hero-U a full-sized game.
After multiple variations, here is the latest version of the Zombie Pirate captain, converted to 3D and animated by Al Eufrasio with textures from JP Selwood. The programmers will add the hat "at run-time".
The Whole Story
How do we even tell a story in a video game? Unity is great at showing things, but talking about them is harder. For Hero-U, we built a custom tool called "Composer" to describe the objects, participants, and interactions for each scene.
Composer is like a storyboard tool (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storyboard), but a bit more complex - it documents the direction of the player action, rather than the direction of the art. For example, the demo might be documented as one scene (the "Break-In Room"), multiple items or "props" (the desk, the bookshelf, etc.), at least two participants or "actors" (Shawn - aka the player - and the cat).
Composer also captures interactions. What happens when you click on the cat? You see a list of options to pet it, talk to it, kick it, or do nothing. This list is represented in Composer as a "script", like "Interact with Cat". The cat doesn’t say much, so it’s a pretty simple script:
Scene: Break-In Room
Props in the scene: Desk, Bookshelf, ...
Actors in the scene: Shawn, Cat
Scripts in the scene: "Interact with Cat", …
1. Pat the Cat
- "Do you like your back rubbed, cat?"
2. Talk to the Cat
- "Hello, Cat... Did your owners lock you in here while they went out for the night?"
2. Introduce Yourself
- "So, cat, you'll be able to tell your great-grand kittens that you met Master Thief Shawn o'Conner on his very first break-in success. Aren't you proud of this moment?"
3. Question Cat
- "I don't suppose you've seen a small silver coin with a shamrock symbol stamped on it, have you?"
3. Kick the Cat . . .
All of these options - and the dialogue - are created within Composer. Composer persists everything (scenes, props, actors, scripts) as individual objects with relationships.
Additional custom code which translates the Composer data into a format usable by Unity, a 3rd-party game engine. When all of the game assets are ready (the art, models, scenes, etc.), we hook up our Composer story logic to our game assets. This means we can tell Unity to associate a Unity Scene with our Composer "Break-In Room" Scene, and a Unity cat model with our Composer "Cat", so that clicking on the Unity cat will auto-magically trigger our "Interact with Cat" Composer script.
Of course, that’s a really simple case - you’ll meet that cat at most twice during the game, and it doesn’t say much that Shawn can understand. Writing believable conversations in our style of game is far more complex. Lori crafts custom dialogue for every character for each game event in each scene where they appear - sometimes that means 50 or more dialogue trees for one character.
Here’s a small excerpt from a Composer script that handles the meeting with the Rogue Instructor just after midterm exams:
GerhardsOffice: Add Tags: [09 After the Midterm]
Master von Urwald: Is this a social call, or did you have a purpose to coming here?
1. Say something Polite (Charm)
Shawn o'Conner: It's always a pleasure to speak with you, sir. I learn so much by what you say and do. You are an inspiration to us all.
Charm check vs 60
Add 1 reputation to Master von Urwald
Master von Urwald: You need to be a bit more adroit with your flattery, Herr O' Conner. Do not call attention to your motives by saying too much.
Master von Urwald: You are beginning to sound like Herr Sosi.
2. Say something Clever (Smarts)
Shawn o'Conner: I had a few questions to ask you about the university. I'm trying to better understand what being a hero really means.
Smarts check vs 60
Success or Failure: Add 1 reputation to Master von Urwald
3. Say something Snarky (Moxie)
Shawn o'Conner: I just came to see your smiling face and interrupt your afternoon nap with my annoying questions... sir.
Moxie check vs 60
Add 1 reputation to Master von Urwald
Remove 1 reputation to Master von Urwald
Master von Urwald: Get on with it, then.
1. Ask about the Master
Shawn o'Conner: Do you think of yourself as a hero?
Master von Urwald: Am I a hero? An interesting question...
Master von Urwald: What I do here at the school is evening the scale of justice, weighing a little more on the side of Good.
Master von Urwald: However, I do not think of myself as a hero. Nor am I villain. I am merely a teacher who hopes that my words will inspire others to be heroes.
And so on (this is just one small section of the conversation). Note the skill checks - if you haven’t been practicing your Charm, don’t expect to get away with flattery. However, even trying to use a skill unsuccessfully has a chance of improving that skill.
If you're familiar with programming, you might be wondering why we put this data in Composer, instead of directly in Unity. Although developing Composer was very costly, we only had to pay that cost once.
Now Composer decouples storyboard and dialogue from development. Lori and Corey don't need to wait for Unity scenes or models to be created before they can start writing, and artists / animators / programmers can work in parallel on different items. The less time we spend waiting, the more time we can spend working. And writing several thousand scripts takes a lot of time and work!
How Does This Sound?
One of the high points of any game comes when we add the music and sound effects. In the case of Hero-U, we were lucky to get much of our music from renowned composer Ryan Grogan early in the project.
One of our stretch goals in this year’s Kickstarter funding campaign was improving the quality and quantity of music in the game. We’re excited to announce that Ryan is currently in Budapest, Hungary working with the talented Budapest Scoring Orchestra to record a fully orchestrated version of the theme!
From art to programming to music and sound effects, everything in Hero-U goes through multiple stages and a gigantic amount of work. If we were sensible, the game would be much smaller, but we believe depth and fun trump practicality. We only have to build the game once, but we hope that many players will each play it multiple times when we’re done.
We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the inner workings of Hero-U.
I extended the BackerKit lockdown date to Oct. 5 to make time after this update. If you have not completed your survey, please get it done today. We have 6,900 completed surveys and 1,100 to go. Chris and I will have to go through each incomplete account - that could take 100-200 hours of work away from the game.
When we lock down on Oct. 5, you will still be able to make corrections to your email address and other information, but it will no longer be possible to order add-ons. We will use the numbers from the completed surveys to order posters, t-shirts, and other add-ons.
Cidney and JP have been working hard on improving the look and feel of Hero-U. We’ve evolved a long way from the early demos, and want the user interface to match the theme of the game.
Hero-U is all about conversation and your relationships with the NPCs in the world, so we updated the interface to emphasize that aspect of the game. Character portraits are larger and show more expression rather than being confined to a small box. Conversation menus have a less boxy and more storybook-style look.
The improvements might seem subtle, but they set the tone of the game. Conversations should feel real, and the environment should be as rich and interactive as we can make it. Shawn needs places to buy school and adventuring supplies, and to sell things he finds in the dungeons – or acquires from their hapless former owners.
In most modern games, you click on something and a fixed action occurs. Hero-U is much more complex, as we try to give the player choices as often as possible. Also, in the Quest for Glory tradition, the passage of time is critical.
For example, students might discuss adapting to school life in the first few days, but later on they have much more important – at least to them – topics. As a result, each character has hundreds of dialogue lines, varying according to the player’s actions and outside events.
The goal is to make you feel that you are Shawn and really present at Hero U. We think we’re making great progress towards that goal.