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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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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

 

Lights, Camera, Action!

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What’s New at Hero-U?

The University is preparing to open its doors for the Fall Semester! But first we need to have the Campus Visit (Alpha Testing), Entry Examinations (Targeted Beta Testing), and Orientation (Final Testing). It takes serious preparation to get the most value from a Hero-U education.

We added a couple of steps to the project over the last two months to dramatically improve the game’s visuals and reliability. First, with the guidance of two programmers with serious Unity credits, we upgraded the development system from Unity 4.7 to version 5.5.

We knew that would cause some disruption and extra work, but the change lets us take advantage of the latest Unity features and support. The biggest upgrade has been in our ability to effectively light scenes.

Catacombs entrance before lighting upgrades
Catacombs entrance before lighting upgrades

In the above image (just after porting to Unity 5.5), the contrast is low except on Shawn, who appears to have a spotlight on him. Everything looks a little muddy and indistinct. It's fully playable, but not as good as it should be.

Same Catacombs entrance with improved lighting
Same Catacombs entrance with improved lighting

The improved lighting highlights some of the detail and sets the mood. Shawn looks more natural.

Let there be Light!

When we started building a castle to house Hero-U, it felt a little empty. Sure, there were classrooms and corridors, the dining hall and the great hall, the vestibule and the recreation center, the garden and the courtyard. But you know how it is with a castle - all that stonework can get pretty cold in the Winter.

That’s when we brought in portraits and tapestries for insulation and warmth. They also help us tell the story and the history of the University and some of our notable alumni. Tapestries are also pretty good at concealing secret doors and hiding places. You didn’t read that here.

At that point, we naively thought we were done decorating the castle. Then our artists stepped in and turned on the lights. And the lights shone throughout the castle, and it is good. Man is it good! Maybe a few “before and after” pictures will help you see how important lighting is to establishing the drama and mood in each scene.

Meanwhile, we continue adding new vignettes, closeups, and custom animation to bring more of the game to life.

Courtyard Before Re-Lighting
Courtyard Before Re-Lighting

This nighttime Courtyard view got the "dark" right, but feels "2D" and loses much of the beauty of the scene. Unity 5.5 let us keep the feel of the scene while bringing it to life with better lighting.

The Courtyard with Strategically-Placed Lights
The Courtyard with Strategically-Placed Lights

Here's the same courtyard re-lit. It's still obviously nighttime, but now the lights work and some details come to life. Shawn has also been toned down. (By default, Unity 5.5 lighting is about twice as bright as in Unity 4.7.)

We've had to make these changes to every scene in the game - over 60 of them - so our artists had a busy February and March. But the difference is "night and day" in bringing out the details and quality of the artwork.

Getting Ready to Graduate

After over four years of work and more than twice the original Kickstarter budget, we can finally see the graduation stage not too far in the distance. The extra lights probably helped. Here’s our current schedule for the initial testing phase:

  • 1 May 2017 - Feature complete - all “adventure” dialogue and interactions
  • 1 June - Castle Alpha Test - All team members and Insider Backers
  • 1 July - Castle Targeted Beta - Test specific areas in the Castle
  • 1 July - Wine Cellar opens to Insider Backers for Combat Alpha Testing
  • Etc. Specific dates will depend on early testing progress.

For this targeted Beta, we will need a few dedicated volunteers to test the game. There’s nothing like game testing to spoil all the fun of playing the game. If you are sort of person who likes to continually throw rocks to build up your throwing skills to the max (not that we’d ever want to make you do that sort of thing in a game) or who pulls back curtains to look for the man running things behind them, or who uses a magnifying glass to reveal every last detail, we could use your detection skills to make Hero-U better.

I will set up a web page and database for alpha and beta testers, then issue invitations to volunteer backers next month. We’ll be trying something new - assigning each beta tester to a particular area or game day so that we can make sure every event is tested throughout the game.

Beta testing is much more than playing the game - you’ll need to keep a critical eye on everything you see, and play through the same sequence multiple times with small variations to identify bugs that only show up after a certain sequence of actions.

If you’ve ever wondered why commercial games could possibly ship with “glaring errors”, it’s because many of those errors only show up after a specific set of moves or in a particular case of random numbers. This will be a real challenge for everyone who volunteers. That’s why we don’t have a fixed shipment schedule - we’ll ship when the game is done - and fun!

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/

Shawn Enters the Catacombs
Shawn Enters the Catacombs

 

Our Funny Valentine - Hero-U February 2017 Update

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Lori and I cannot express how much we appreciate both the initial support and continuing patience (or at least acceptance) from all of our dedicated Hero-U backers. Making this game is proving harder than anything else we’ve done, but you’ve also given us the opportunity to create something new and we hope wonderful.

So we wish a Happy Valentine’s Day with love to all of you.

Happy Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine's Day
 

New team members

I put out a call for Unity programmers in December, and we were delighted with the results. Ten people applied, and if I had the budget I would have hired all ten of them. Currently I’ve added three additional developers to the team. Each brings extensive Unity and game development experience to the team.

Thanks to everyone who applied. Lori and I were impressed with your level of talent and dedication.

Planned Beta and Release dates

The current plan calls for “Code Complete” – all features implemented and ready for outside Beta testing – in 2-3 months. Figure on April 30 for the start of Beta. We plan to distribute digital copies of the game through a download on BackerKit for backers, and through Steam, GoG, and Humble for new orders.

The Beta phase will also last 2-3 months, so we’re targeting late June to mid-July for game release. We are following the tradition of similar Kickstarter projects in releasing the digital version of the game first. After we’ve fixed most of the problems reported by players, we’ll manufacture the boxed games and send them out to the backers at higher contribution levels.

We might still slip, but it won’t be by much. Lori and I have strong financial and creative incentives to get the game out the door and into your hands.

It’s a Trap

Here’s a sneak peek at the trap disarming puzzle. As Shawn practices disarming traps and improves in skill, some of the incorrect letters will be removed from the dial of Shawn’s Trap Tapper. https://youtu.be/RW3JjZI5YKM

Remember, Rogues, it takes more than a disarming smile to bypass a diabolical trap!

Project upgraded to Unity 5.5

We looked into porting Hero-U to Unity 5 a couple of years ago, but decided we did not have the expertise to make it work. Now with the help of our new team members, we’re up and running on version 5.5. This brings the game some big improvements in lighting, performance, and stability.

Bob Bates Thaumistry game

Bob Bates is an adventure game hero going all the way back to the days of Infocom text adventures. Bob also co-founded Legend Entertainment and published our Shannara adventure RPG. Now he has returned to his text adventure roots with Thaumistry, a comical fantasy interactive fiction game on Kickstarter. The project is fully funded, but additional backers will help Bob reach stretch goals including audio.

Please support Thaumistry and help keep the text adventure market alive. The project is on Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1575848200/thaumistry-in-charms-way-a-new-comedy-text-adventu

Seriously, You’re the Best

Thank you for supporting our incredible journey into making a Sierra-quality video game in the new indie era. We wouldn’t be here without our generous backers, and we think you’re going to love Hero-U as much as we love making it.
 

Happy Hero-U Holidays

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Lori and I, and the entire Hero-U development team, wish all our loyal backers and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. (You can check out last year’s holiday card and poem at http://hero-u.com/happy-holidays-2015/.)
Have a Very Meepy Christmas
Have a Very Meepy Christmas

 

I recently shipped all of the “soft goods” – Hero-Unicorn baseball caps, All the Heroes t-shirts, and Blue Meeps – to backers who chose them as rewards in the 2015 Kickstarter campaign or BackerKit. Much thanks and appreciation to Eric Varnes, who designed the images on both the new hats and t-shirts.

Check your pledge at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/backer/welcome. If your pledge included a t-shirt, cap, or meep toy, you should have received it by now or at least received an email saying it’s in the mail. If you think you are missing a toy, meep, or t-shirt, contact support (at) hero-u (dot) net.

While you’re at it, please make sure your email and mailing address are up to date on BackerKit. We’ll need them to hook you up with digital and physical game rewards, including the game itself.

I still need to print, package, and mail poster prints to backers who ordered them, and canvas prints to high-end backers from both campaigns. Lori and I decided to wait on shipping prints until we release the game, as it makes much more sense to have a Hero-U poster or painting once you also have the game.

Oh, That Door Looks Perfectly Safe
Oh, That Door Looks Perfectly Safe

The Year in Review

2016 has been a roller-coaster ride for us. There have been some great and exciting moments, and some sad and terrifying ones. If I needed to describe it all in one word, it would be “unpredictable”. Sadly, I could use the same word to describe most of the development of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption.

The hardest part of running a small indie business has been turnover. To date, we’ve had about 30 people work on Hero-U, but currently we’re down to four regular developers, three occasional contributors, and Lori and me. Health, family, and computer issues have cost almost every team member at least a month during the year, and much more for some. I’m not going to go into details, but many events unrelated to the project have created huge stress for us and the team this year. These challenges have continually impacted the schedule, but we’ll keep pushing until the game is done.

On the positive side, we’ve made tremendous progress with the game. I’m personally funding it at this point, and that’s appropriate. “With great risk comes great reward.” – Dungeonmaster or maybe the D&D Player Handbook. Fortunately, Lori and I turned 60 while working on Hero-U, which opens access to our retirement accounts. We’ll try not to exhaust them, but the game comes first! We’re much too young to actually retire.

I hope that sword is just for scaling the marlin
I hope that sword is just for scaling the marlin

A lot of that progress is filling out the fine details of the game text and dialogue. Lori is down to the last few conversations. Josh Mandel has done a wonderful job of filling out the characters and game world by making every object in the game interactable. Our “Explorer” players – and everyone has some Explorer in them – are going to love the fine detail and humor that Josh has infused throughout the game.

Joshua Smyth continues to fill out the game with improved rooms and regions, better lighting, and of course the role-playing game combat. Each monster type has its own “personality” and behavior, although most share the common trait of enjoying the taste of rogue (or any other careless student). We lost Joshua to a “day job” for several months this year, and I can’t emphasize how critical he has been to the project since returning.

Al Eufrasio has had a tremendous impact on the look of the project as our animator. Al wrote a great post about the decisions involved in animating characters that I will share in the next update.

Unity Programmer Help Needed

I’ve had a balancing act throughout the Hero-U project. We need the right developers to complete and polish the game. But we also had to reach “critical mass” on the design, writing, and asset creation so they could get their work done. We also have a limited budget by game development standards, so we’ve had to run with a very lean team. That’s fine except when there’s turnover. In 2016, we lost most of Cidney’s time to recovery from an auto accident, Carolyn left for a full-time job, and most of Adam’s time to a triple-whammy of a dead computer and illness in the family. And now he’s moving on to a full-time day job, which will limit his time in 2017.

Lost in the Sea Caves
Lost in the Sea Caves

To finish Hero-U, we need one or two programmers to work with me on polishing individual scenes. The work will be a three-month contract with possible extension. If you have the right qualifications and want to join our small team, please contact me at jobs (at) hero-u (dot) com. (Note that this is a .com address, not .net as in the support email.) You must meet all of these requirements:

  • Experience developing games with Unity and C# (at least six months).
  • Available to work at least 20 hours a week, up to 40.
  • Able to work independently with a minimum of supervision.
  • Ability to communicate well with other team members.
  • Since this is a short-term contract, we prefer that you have your own Unity Pro license valid for Unity 4 (this is included in Unity 5 licenses).

RPG Investment Opportunity

Artcraft Entertainment – developer of the upcoming Crowfall RPG – is selling shares on Indiegogo and Microventures. This is an opportunity to invest in the long-term success of the game, although it is of course also a high-risk investment. Visit https://app.microventures.com/crowdfunding/artcraft-entertainment to learn more. For more about the Crowfall game, visit http://crowfall.com/.

Artcraft is headed by Gordon Walton and J. Todd Coleman. Gordon was an executive in charge of Ultima Online, The Sims Online, Star Wars: Galaxies, and Star Wars: the Old Republic. Todd was creative director on Shadowbane, Wizard 101, and Pirate101. I know Gordon through conferences, and I rate him One of the Good Guys.

Crowfall RPG Concept Illo
Crowfall RPG Concept Illo
Merry Christmas! We’ll see you all in 2017. We’re all wishing for a much better year and a Hero-U release that will bring joy to you and us. Have a happy New Year!

Risk and Reward

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Beyond Random

I learned a lesson in improbability many years ago while playing Risk. My 12 armies were about to eliminate a player’s last two defenders. When the dust cleared multiple dice rolls later, my lone remaining army stared helplessly at the remaining single defender.

The lesson – high probability is not the same thing as certainty, and low probability is not the same thing as guaranteed failure. We all watched those lessons hammered home in last Tuesday’s U.S. Presidential election, and before that with the Brexit vote.

It’s an important lesson for game designers – there is no such thing as a 90% chance in a one-time puzzle. That puzzle is really a 100% chance for 90% of the players, and a 0% chance for the other 10%. If you want players to solve the puzzle, make it 100% solvable, or allow players to try multiple times until they solve it.

Lockpicking in Hero-U works that way – you might encounter a lock Shawn can’t open, but he’ll get a little practice attempting it. After enough practice and study, and a more advanced toolkit, Shawn can come back and open the lock. Trap disarming involves both Shawn’s skill and the player’s, but every trap can be disarmed with practice and cleverness.

I'll Need Some "Lock" to Open This One
I'll Need Some "Lock" to Open This One

 

Risky Business

Risk and Reward applies to other aspects of games as well. Backing a Kickstarter project is risky because any project could fail or turn out to be a mediocre game. The hoped-for reward isn’t actually the game itself – it’s helping to make that game become a reality.

From the developers’ viewpoint, the risks are immense. Crowdfunding rarely provides the full budget for a game, so the developer has a monetary risk. They are also committing years of their lives to making the game and other rewards for backers. If the game sells well, they’ll be rewarded. If it fails, all that time and money is gone. However, we’ll have made a game – or hopefully several – of which we can be proud, and that’s its own reward.

Then there are the unforeseen risks, and occasionally rewards. Turnover has been a schedule – and sometimes momentum – killer for us. Thirty people have contributed to the project to date, ten of whom are currently working actively on Hero-U. With our limited budget and distant communications, I don’t know how we could have done much better in that area.

The rewards have come from some amazing team members making terrific contributions to the project. JP Selwood has been with us from the beginning, and his portraits and backgrounds are a beautiful and essential fabric for the game. Our New Zealand contingent of Joshua Smyth and Adam Thompson have added a lot of programming muscle and creativity to the project in the later phases. Finding the right team has been our biggest challenge in making Hero-U.

A Golem Guards the Path
A Golem Guards the Path

 

Project Status

Several team members have had personal and family challenges recently, but we’re working through them. I’m shooting for “feature complete” and alpha testing in January, with Beta testing in February or early March and release 2nd quarter 2017. It’s been a long, stressful journey, but the end is in sight.

After release, we’ll be very busy for several months. First we’ll fulfill the rest of the physical rewards that depend on the game - the boxed games, art book, and canvas prints. Then we’ll visit our super-backer in Germany and make some publicity stops in Europe. Meanwhile, the team will continue to fix any problems reported by players, and we’ll investigate porting Hero-U to other devices such as tablets.

Then we’ll move on to Hero-U 2. We hope to see you on Wizard’s Way!

Sending them Softly

The “soft goods” are ready to roll. I purchased the Hero-Unicorn caps and “All Kinds of Heroes” t-shirts last month (see image at bottom), but a family situation delayed shipping them. I plan to get them out by the end of November.

If your reward tier included a t-shirt, cap, or meep toy, or if you ordered any of those as an add-on in the 2nd (2015) campaign, please visit BackerKit and make sure your address is up to date. Visit https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com to verify your rewards and contact information.

References

For more on the surprising frequency of unlikely events, read: The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand, or The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I haven't been keeping up with recent Kickstarter adventure and role-playing games, so instead let me give a shout out to Serena Nelson's Cliqist site - http://cliqist.com/. Her team does a great job of covering relevant game projects.

Clothes Make the Meep
Clothes Make the Meep