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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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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

 

Showing the Story

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How do you tell a story in an interactive medium? How do you give players agency while giving them a good story and keeping the game size manageable?

How can a game writer tell a strong story while also making it the player’s story for each and every player?

There isn’t any single answer. Action games minimize the story, and instead provide an experience to players. Most role-playing games focus on combat while telling a bit of story between (and sometimes during) fights.

Lori and I set a higher bar in our Quest for Glory games. We told stories in which the player was the hero, but players also had the freedom to explore. And yes, fight some monsters to prepare them for tougher challenges.

Sneaking into Danger
Sneaking into Danger

A Balancing Act

How are we balancing story and player agency in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption? It hasn’t been easy, and that’s the main reason this game is taking so much longer to develop than we predicted. We’ve had to balance our ambitious storytelling goals with some practical compromises. Some of the decisions we’ve made along the way were:

  • Each game will feature a single character class, and a particular character. This lets us tailor each game’s story for that character.
  • There is a traditional, linear story that progresses around the player.
  • If the player fails to act, another character may become the hero for that scene.
  • Reputation and relationships are important, and mostly controlled by player actions.
  • No movies or long cut scenes once the game has started.
  • No voice acting, at least in the initial release.
  • Combat is mostly or entirely avoidable at each player’s choice.
  • The story is developed in dialogue, and players have many choices.
  • Exploration is important, and everything in the game responds to players.

We originally pictured Hero-U as a place where players could walk around and explore. The first attempts, as pictured in our 2012 Kickstarter campaign, were chessboard-style maps. The problem is that those aren’t immersive. We quickly switched to an isometric “stage” view, then to using 3D so that scenes could be much bigger than a single screen.

Last year, when Al Eufrasio joined the team, we started adding much more animation that we originally envisioned, following the storytelling rule of “Show, don’t tell.” But we still needed a way to advance the story visually.

Beware the Deadly Pizza Tornado!
Beware the Deadly Pizza Tornado!

Enter the Vignette

The 1990s answer was “cut scenes”, or non-interactive film-like sequences. LucasArts made these work very well in games such as Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. But cut scenes have a lot of problems in a game like Hero-U.

One problem is that the player has to sit and wait for the cut scene to complete before going back to exploring and saving the world (or at least maintaining a passing grade). Another is that many cut scenes destroy immersion because they are not from the player’s viewpoint, nor under her control.

But the main problem with cut scenes is that they’re small movies. They have to compete with Hollywood artistry, and that’s beyond both our expertise and budget.

Our solution is the “vignette”, an image that illustrates a particular event in the game. This gives players a closeup showing how their actions affect the game. When a vignette appears, it also represents time passing.

A simple example is suppertime in the dining hall. When Shawn sits down to eat, we bring up a vignette showing a closeup of the Rogue - er, excuse me, “Disbarred Bard” - table. We have several variations on this image depending on how Shawn and the other characters feel about recent events in the castle.

Game text can appear over a vignette. Images and words together tell a story much more effectively than either alone.

An Unwilling Student
An Unwilling Student

State of The Game

We’re making great progress. Adam immediately started to bring new tools to our development process, such as ways of showing the interaction points for all of the objects in a scene. This is a great way to make sure that every object has a waypoint and that they’re in the right places.

Currently we’re working on mini-games such as trap disarming and puzzles. Joshua is getting back to the combat system after adding many new features to the game and Composer systems.

Our target is Beta at the end of the year, and release once the game is absolutely solid. Due to the complexity of character interactions and the scripts, we expect to have an extended beta of around 3 months.

Please keep your address information up to date at www.backerkit.com so we can ship your addon items. We have additional content and a place for your friends to pre-order and support the game at www.hero-u.com. That’s also where you can join us on the Hero-U discussion forum.

Hero-U T-Shirt Back
Hero-U T-Shirt Back

The development history of Quest for Glory 1 and 2 is featured in this long Digital Antiquarian article - http://www.filfre.net/2016/09/so-you-want-to-be-a-hero/.

Check out Woven on Kickstarter - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1355836783/woven-solve-puzzles-by-reknitting-your-character. The tag line is “Explore a woolen world threatened by metal insects. Customize your character to get past obstacles. A unique narrated adventure game.” It’s a unique look and might be a fun game.

Characters in Woven
Characters in Woven

 

The Hero-U Olympics

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As I write this, the top athletes in the world are striving - questing, even - for glory in Rio de Janeiro. Our fantasy heroes have been in the questing business longer, but everyone is looking for heroes.

Olympic Glory

Currently the sporting event best representing the final stages of quests for glory is the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Getting to the Olympics at all is the toughest part, but once there, an athlete must be among “the best of the best” to medal. In the end, the medal is really a memento of years of dedication, hard work, and talent.

Winning the Rogue of the Year award at Hero-U may not have the same popular awareness as an Olympic gold medal (especially since officially there are no rogues at Hero-U), but it’s still a difficult and challenging feat. The winner must excel at charm, intelligence, skill, and athleticism to take the prize.

Can He Do It?
Can He Do It?

Rogue of the Year is the Disbarred Bards version of the “all-around” competition in a gymnastics event. It isn’t so much an event by itself as an award for being the best at many different skills.

Skills to Pay the Bills

Hero-U features seven skills: Combat, Defense, Stealth, Tool Use, Climbing, Throwing, and Gaming. Each has a unique role, and together they are one of the major differences between a traditional adventure game and a hybrid adventure/RPG such as Hero-U and Quest for Glory.

Instead of a series of puzzles, each with only one solution, Hero-U presents “problems” to the players. Frequently there is more than one solution to a problem depending on Shawn’s skills and the player’s play style. We made a design choice to have a small set of skills that each apply to many situations. For example, “tool use” helps with picking locks, disarming traps, and other tools you may find in the game.

As in Quest for Glory, players can improve their skills, and even their “stats”, through study and practice. Let’s say the player decides Shawn should spend an hour practicing on the tightrope or climbing rope. Either will improve his climbing skill and slightly improve his Fitness and Agility. Playing Poobah is not just a way of earning Lyra; it also improves Gaming, and helps with Smarts, Perception, and Luck.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice, Practice, Practice

Challenges within the game are “gated” – Shawn must have a high degree of skill before he can even attempt to use a Houdini 42 toolkit to disarm the most dangerous traps. There is also a mini-game for the player to analyze each trap. As Shawn improves his Tool Use skill and Perception and Luck stats, the game provides more clues to help the player solve the trap puzzles.

Team Changes and Schedule Update

It also takes a lot of skills to make a game like this. We are fortunate to have a team of dedicated developers who are each contributing part of the heart and soul of this game. However, four years is a long time to devote to a single project, and many of our team members have moved on to other jobs. While we miss their presence, we also want to thank them for their contributions and wish them success at their new pursuits.

Our most recent alumni are programmer Carolyn VanEseltine and 3D background artist Aaron Martin. Aaron completed his work on Hero-U, then moved on to another full-time art position. Carolyn also has a new non-gaming day job. In her “free time”, she is one of the founding directors of the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation. Read more about Carolyn and her work at http://www.sibylmoon.com/author/carolyn/.

3D Model of the Nido King Wing
3D Model of the Nido King Wing

Fortunately, we were able to immediately find a programmer to finish the Hero-U room programming. Adam Thompson of Auckland, New Zealand. Check out Adam’s indie games at http://www.emotiontheory.com/. Adam is a Unity expert and a fan of adventure and role-playing games. We’re very happy to have him on the team.

Where does all that leave our schedule? We plan to reach “code complete” before the end of the year - I’m shooting for mid- to late- November. At that point we will put the game through an extensive testing process, including making builds available to everyone who backed at the $35 or higher level in Kickstarter. We’ll put out the final release when we have a clean version, likely early next year.

I plan to ship non-game physical goods such as Meeps and posters this Fall. Please keep your address info up-to-date at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/ if your pledge included any physical goods.

Shawn Triumphant
Shawn Triumphant

 

A Tale of Two Castles

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The Castle Home of Hero University
The Castle Home of Hero University

The university for Heroes is located in an ancient and foreboding castle with a long and storied history. Here you will explore the mysteries of the past and how they affect the present and future games. As part of our research into the the broad topic of “fantasy schools in medieval castles,” we recently explored another famous school - Hogwarts, the School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts is quite close to Hogsmeade, a charming traditional village. Both are apparently located in Universal Studios Hollywood, although it’s possible some interdimensional rifts were involved in our visit. (You don’t often see snow on the rooftops of buildings in Southern California in the summertime… nor in Sardonia.)

Hogwarts Castle inside Universal Studios Hollywood
Hogwarts Castle inside Universal Studios Hollywood

Walking the Line

It took about 40 minutes to get from the entrance of the Harry Potter attraction to the actual ride. We spent most of that time walking around the castle grounds and inside the castle itself. There were always new things to see and examine, and the exercise was undoubtedly good for us couch potatoes.

Shawn will get plenty of exercise as he walks around the Hero-U castle and improves his skills in the practice rooms. As for “new things to see and examine,” they are everywhere in Hero-U! Our castle is filled with curios from around the fantasy world, and Shawn can interact with all of them. There are surprises everywhere.

Talking Heads

One of the first things we noticed inside Hogwarts was the profusion of animated, talking portraits. They carry on conversations with each other, many played by actors from the Harry Potter films. (See https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/hogwarts-portraits for more details on magically-animated portraits.)

The portraits in Hero-U are much better behaved, mostly staying within their frames. However, each portrait in the halls of Hero-U has its own story to tell. Many of them are portraits of backers, but each is also an artwork in its own right.

Portrait of Lenkyl Greatstorm in the Hero-U Basement
Portrait of Lenkyl Greatstorm in the Hero-U Basement

There are some “interactive people” in Hogsmeade Village, actors representing vendors and townspeople. Most of them could have been in any store, but a few took their acting seriously. I particularly enjoyed talking with a Hogwarts Express conductor - he really knew his Harry Potter lore.

Hero-U is another matter entirely. Lori has spent most of the last three years crafting dialogue for each of the dozens of actors at the University. Everyone has unique things to say that fill out the background of the school, provide important game hints, or are just for fun. Shawn’s roommate Aeolus loves to compose lyrics to music, but the melody is not always completely original - see how many popular songs you can recognize as his inspirations.

By the way, most of the dialogue changes every day, so don’t assume you can get to know people in a single conversation.

Rogues Meet in the Practice Room
Rogues Meet in the Practice Room

3-D Action

Like most of the attractions at Universal Studios, the Harry Potter ride is a 3-D motion simulator. Your broomstick seems to soar above and through Hogwarts as you encounter some of the scenery and situations from the Harry Potter films. It was definitely fun, but also a challenge for those of us - such as Corey - who suffer from motion sickness.

Corey has a similar problem with 3-D action games such as first-person shooters. The sometimes jerky, uneven motion is more than he can stomach, so to speak. That’s one of the reasons why we are going out of our way to make Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption a very different experience. Yes, we have 3-D environments, but you control the action. Combat in particular is turn-based - it’s about strategy and tactics, not about how fast you can click.

Top Five Similarities Between Hogwarts and Hero-U

  • Both are schools situated in ancient castles.
  • Wizards study their Gramarye there; magic is in the air.
  • Deadly terrors lurk beneath, and sometimes in, the schools.
  • Filch and Mr. Terk both think their schools would be better without any students.
  • Harry and Shawn find both staunch friends and malicious enemies at their schools.

Top Five Differences Between Hero-U and Hogwarts

  • Hero-U offers many other disciplines than Wizardry, even Roguery.
  • Hogwarts students play Quidditch, not for the faint-of-stomach. Hero-U students play Poobah and other games that do not require flight.
  • Mundanes and magicians mix freely in the halls of Hero-U.
  • While many Hogwarts teachers have quirks, only Hero-U has Kwirks.
  • There is no “chosen one” at Hero-U; anyone can be a Hero.

There is another big difference between the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and the Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption game. Their development budget was over $500 million; ours is closer to $500 thousand (or $1 million counting deferred costs). As a result, Universal charges about $100 per visit. We let you visit Hero-U as often as you want for $30 or less. What a bargain!

We look forward to opening the doors of Hero-U to our Beta testers late this year. Depending on the results of the tests, we’ll release the full game either at the end of this year or early next year. Both Wizarding World and Hero-U took several years to develop, but they are experiences you will enjoy exploring.

Snowy Rooftops in Summer at Hogsmeade Village
Snowy Rooftops in Summer at Hogsmeade Village

BackerKit Reminder

If you have moved, and whenever you move in the future, please update your mailing address on BackerKit. I would like to gradually fulfill physical goods orders as I have time available, and I become really sad when a package with $5 or $10 of postage is returned because we didn’t get a change of address.

You can reach any of your BackerKit projects by logging in at https://www.backerkit.com/master_backer_accounts/sign_in.

Interesting Kickstarter and Indiegogo Games

Buck (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1441684765/buck-2d-post-apocalyptic-noir-action-adventure-gam) has potential. They have a demo available from the project page so you can check it out before backing.

Unity (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/215931791/unity-tabletop-rpg) looks really nice and has some interesting concepts. This is a tabletop RPG, not a CRPG. If you like experimenting with new tabletop systems, consider giving this game book a try.

Herbert's Quest (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/herbert-s-quest-a-medieval-madness-adventure-game#/) is an interesting experiment - a game created in a week using only Unity Store assets. It’s by Oded Sharon, an Israeli game developer with whom we worked on the Bolt Riley game. You can pledge as little as $1 to get a copy of the game.

Zartana (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/zartana-an-interactive-storybook-adventure#/) is a paper (book-based) interactive adventure game that looks gorgeous.

Indivisible (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indivisible-rpg-from-the-creators-of-skullgirls#/) looks impressive. It’s a high-budget Japanese-style RPG, already funded at almost $2 million, but looking for extra backers for their community and stretch goals.

Around the World in 80 Ways

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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.

Shawn meets Master Chef Ifetaya
Shawn meets Master Chef Ifetaya

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

School Store User Interface
School Store User Interface

 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.

Project Status

Hero-U Reception Area
Hero-U Reception Area

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).

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/13978330/masquerada-songs-and-shadows) is a “pause for tactics” RPG. It needs about $7,000 more to reach its $65,000 goal within the next 3 days.

Chronicle of Ruin (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/954260789/chronicle-of-ruin) is a real-time tactical Japanese-style RPG. It’s at $6,000 of a $36,000 goal and has 16 days to go.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows

Thanks for reading! Invite your friends to help support Hero-U by pre-ordering the game at https://hero-u-adventure-role-playing-game.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders.