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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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Behind the Scenes - from Story to Sardonia


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

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.

Caveat Emptor

Sea Caves Level 1 (work in progress)
Sea Caves Level 1 (work in progress)

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.

Zombie Pirate Sketch by Paul Bowers, Sept. 2013
Zombie Pirate Sketch by Paul Bowers, Sept. 2013

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".

Animated Pirate Captain by Al Eufrasio and JP Selwood
Animated Pirate Captain by Al Eufrasio and JP Selwood

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 (, 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
  •   1. Greet - "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
  •           Success: Add 1 reputation to Master von Urwald
  •           Failure: 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
  •           Success: Add 1 reputation to Master von Urwald
  •           Failure: 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.

The Hero-U User "In-Yer-Face"


Last Chance for BackerKit Add-On Survey

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.

Please help by answering your survey so that we know we have accurate information. I’ll have BackerKit send out a final reminder this weekend. Here’s the link in case you can’t find the BackerKit email -

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.

Do you have a friend who missed the Kickstarter campaign and wants to get in on the excitement? They can help us and the project by preordering Hero-U at Don't forget to keep up with the game on and

User In-Yer-Face

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.

The Hero-U Main Menu
The Hero-U Main Menu

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.

Screenshot of the conversation UI from April 2015. We used a boxier layout and rectangular portraits with a heavy font.
Screenshot of the conversation UI from April 2015. We used a boxier layout and rectangular portraits with a heavy font.
Conversation UI, as of September 2015. Lighter, more fantasy-appropriate typeface, portraits larger and taken out of the box.
Conversation UI, as of September 2015. Lighter, more fantasy-appropriate typeface, portraits larger and taken out of the box.
New Conversation UI, September 2015
New Conversation UI, September 2015

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.

Two Current UI Examples - School Store and Mr. Terk's Office
Two Current UI Examples - School Store and Mr. Terk's Office

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.

An Interesting RPG Project

The Dwarves campaign ends in 6 days and has just crossed its goal. It’s a fantasy RPG focused around the Dwarf race, and it looks great: Give The Dwarves your support if you like story-driven role-playing games.

Don't Sell a Dwarf Short!
Don't Sell a Dwarf Short!

BackerKit Survey for Hero-U – We Need Everyone!


For backers only. If you're a backer of this project, please log in to read this post.

More on BackerKit Surveys


BackerKit sent the surveys out (under my name - Corey Cole) yesterday, and you should have received yours by now. Please answer the survey both to make sure we have correct current information (such as your address) and to make sure we got all of your add-ons correct.

If you see a problem with your account, send email to so we can fix it. We've fixed several problems already, and I'm sure there are more.

I've heard there is an issue with "collapsing" your two pledges from the 2012 and 2015 campaign. I will work with BackerKit to resolve that.

Do *NOT* pay extra money unless you are ordering additional add-ons. Chris Fong and I did a tremendous amount of manually filling in spreadsheets based on text entries in our original backer spreadsheet. As a result, there will certainly be some errors. If BackerKit is asking you for more money, send email to and I'll fix it.

If your add-ons included preordering the second Hero-U game (Wizard's Way) or an extra copy of Hero-U, you should have paid $18 for each, but I listed them as $20 each on BackerKit. If you've already filled out the survey, that would have shown you as $2 short. I have fixed that by crediting all of those accounts an extra $2. I need to do a second pass for people who pre-ordered more than one copy; I'll do that tonight.

Add-on t-shirts were not added due to a conflict between our spreadsheet data and the BackerKit database. If you added a t-shirt to the first campaign, please put the price into the tip jar - we mailed out all of the t-shirts last year.

Any other issues - please let us know by email. Thanks for your understanding as we go through this very complicated process. The folks at BackerKit have been extremely helpful, but we are doing things their system wasn't really designed to do.

BackerKit Re-Survey and August Update


It’s been about two months since the second Hero-U Kickstarter campaign closed, and we’re making great progress in every area of the game. The current focus is on the thousands of tiny details that lift a game from “acceptable” up to “excellent”.

If you receive this update more than once, that means you contributed to the project in both Kickstarter campaigns, or on both our website and Kickstarter. In that case, make sure you read the section on “collapsing” your pledges into one pledge. This post is part of the November 2012 Kickstarter campaign.

Surveys Coming Soon

Later this week you will receive a link to a backer survey on BackerKit. We are using their service to track pledges, add-ons, address changes, and fulfillment accurately. The tricky part on our end has been combining pledges – especially those with add-ons – from our 2012 and 2015 Kickstarter campaigns, PayPal, and Humble Bundle into a single database.

In some cases, we were not able to do this. As a result, BackerKit will send new surveys to all of our backers from both campaigns. This will give you a chance to update your address and any other information that may have changed in the last couple of years. You will also get the opportunity to specify or request add-ons such as meep plushies, posters, and many others.

If you backed at the $20 level in both campaigns, we have automatically merged (“collapsed”) the two into a single pledge at a new $40 level that includes all of the promised rewards.

If you backed at any other level in both campaigns, you may choose to keep the pledges separate. You would choose this option if you want the rewards from one of the pledges to go to a friend. We expect that this will be a rare choice - most of you will prefer to “collapse” your pledges into a single larger pledge. Here’s an example of the BackerKit invitation page showing how to do that:

How to Combine Pledges on BackerKit
How to Combine Pledges on BackerKit

If you choose the “collapse pledges” option, the extra funds from your pledge will be available to order add-ons or to move up to a higher reward level. If you can’t do that within the BackerKit interface, there will be a support option you can use to request a reward level change.

Please respond to the survey as soon as you receive it even if you answered our previous Hero-U survey in 2013. We plan to ship most of the add-ons in November to help backers who want to use them as Christmas gifts. We need accurate add-on numbers as soon as possible so that we can order the add-ons in time for November shipment.

Programming - The Combat System

Joshua continues to improve the tactical combat system features. We now take account of movement in combat including tactical retreat (also known as “bravely run away!”) Al has improved the combat animation and added more attack and defensive moves and reactions.

Here’s how the tactical combat grid looks in the debugger – the color-coded “pegs” show where enemies are allowed to go, and which areas they try to avoid. The grid makes enemy movement look more realistic and causes some “emergent behavior” that helps make combat less predictable.

I also think the grid is really pretty – maybe we can make it into a different type of game someday. More importantly, it’s useful.

Combat and Movement Grid Example
Combat and Movement Grid Example

Our other team programmers - Cidney, Jonathan, Robert, and Judy - are concentrating on improving the Composer game design tool, cleaning up the game interface, integrating 3D art and animation, and generally raising the quality of the game play and appearance. Every piece of the game needs to be “just so” as we continually refine and polish the game.

Art and Animation

One of the stretch goals in the recent Kickstarter was “improved animation”. Former Sierra animator Al Eufrasio is now working full-time at bringing the characters and monsters of Hero-U to life.

There’s more to it than meets the eye – for example, students with capes have had trouble sitting down because their capes like to float through the backs of chairs. Some looked disproportionately large when sitting, and some seemed to float in mid-air. All of them tended to slide out of the way if Shawn walked too close to them.

As with everything else in Hero-U, we’re trying to walk a tightrope with character animation – it needs to make the characters feel alive without breaking the budget or adding too much time to the schedule. When in doubt, we try to err on the side of “make it look better”.

Speaking of tightropes, Lori recently added a tightrope challenge back to the rogue practice area. This is a side-effect of reaching the Gog Temple stretch goal. Shawn needs to have good climbing skills for the Temple, which means we needed to add a way for him to practice them. It helped that we can rely on Al to animate climbing and walking the tightrope.

Our dynamic duo of background artists - John Paul Selwood and Aaron Martin - continue to amaze us with great concept pieces deftly converted to full 3D environments. JP is also creating dozens of single-frame images for transitions and exposition. These fill out the story without the need for complex custom animation sequences or movie “cut scenes”. For example, the alley scene after Shawn escapes from the “break-in house” tells the story in a single image better than any movie.

These are just a few of the thousands of details involved in making a graphical adventure game. In some ways, it’s easier than an animated film because we are not creating custom animation for every event of the game. In other ways, it’s harder – each animation sequence has to work throughout the game.

Catacombs Exit (detailed concept by JP Selwood)
Catacombs Exit (detailed concept by JP Selwood)