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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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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:

 

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